There’s nothing comparable to the feeling of being “home” with the freedom to do anything. When visiting close friends, we feel completely comfortable and at ease. You may help with preparing food, greet other guests, or cleaning up.
But, what if your host isn’t a close friend? How should you act when you’ve been invited to someone’s home that you don’t know very well? For the day when you get invited to lunch at a Croatian’s home or are planning a drop in, it will be valuable to be familiar with good Croatian manners.
Croats like to say “osjećaj se kao kod kuće/doma” (meaning “feel like you’re home”), but there are still some unspoken rules we should all live by.
Announce your visit
If you are not invited to visit someone, it is best to announce your visit in advance. Give them a quick call or send a message to see if your host is at home and free when you plan to visit them.
Our daily schedules are pretty messy these days, so giving notice will prevent a stressful situation and save everyone time and energy. Additionally, an advance announcement is a polite gesture. You probably wouldn’t like to visit anyone at the wrong time.
Of course, if you’re visiting your family, friends, or someone else who is very close to you, you probably have an open invitation. A quick call, again, is useful because you don’t want “poljubiti vrata” (a Croatian phrase literally translated as “to kiss closed doors”), especially if you are traveling to see someone.
Bring a symbolic present
There is an unwritten rule in Croatia to bring a small symbolic present with you for the host. This is usually common when visiting someone for the first time. This will cheer up the host and you’ll make a good first impression. It is acceptable to bring coffee, cookies, a box of chocolates, a house plant or something similar. You can wrap the gift in decorative paper or just put it in a decorative bag (which your host can then repurpose, naravno).
If you’re invited to a party, it is good to bring some food that you made at your home. You can also bring something to drink (a bottle of wine or beer) or bring homemade liquor. Croats will never complain that someone brought alcohol. An alternative is to bring accessories for the party (like balloons) or a board game, if they make sense for the occasion.
An old Croatian custom that does not seem to be practiced anymore is that men would bring flowers to host if she is a woman. TIP: Be the guy that brings that chivalrous tradition back. The next time you go for a visit, pick up some flowers from your garden or a nearby field. This is a wonderful gesture and will definitely have a positive impact.
How to act when you arrive at someone’s home
So, you’ve arrived at someone’s home and rung the doorbell. Your host will open the door with a smile and invite you to come in. This is the moment when you say hello, give a hug, or a double kiss from left to right (depending on the person), and give the gift that you brought. Everyone likes gifts, and it is polite to give it to the host as soon as you arrive so they can open it immediately.
However, don’t be offended if a host puts away the gift and forgets to open it. Your host is probably excited to see you and would like to please you from the very start. You may remind them to open it if you’d like to see their reaction.
Once you enter, ask if you should remove your shoes. A host will likely offer you a pair of guest slippers (called “papuče”) to wear so that you feel comfortable (and aren’t wearing shoes in the house). Although, some will insist not to take off your shoes. Just don’t assume you can wear your shoes in the house. Best to address it upfront.
Once the state of your shoes has been covered, your host may introduce you to the house rules. If they don’t mention anything and you don’t know how to act, it is better to ask than to feel uncomfortable. In the end, every house maybe has some specific rules you wouldn’t like to break.
Practice respect and good manners
There are some general house rules you should be aware of that apply to all households. Croatians can party like nobody’s business, but being polite and civilized (or not being polite and civilized) is something that everyone will notice.
You should definitely avoid some inappropriate habits. Here are some tips:
- Don’t check your phone while at the table. People will find you uninterested.
- Don’t walk on carpet in your outdoor shoes. It is not hygienic (unless you have guest slippers on) or if your guest explicitly says it is okay.
- Don’t enter bedrooms without asking. This is a private space.
- Don’t open the fridge without asking, unless a host asks you to grab something from the fridge.
- Don’t put your feet on any tables and chairs.
- Try not to refuse any food offered. If you’re not interested, just take a little bit to try because your host put their effort into preparing food for your visit.
- Don’t bring your pet without asking. Some people are allergic to animal hair, others have their own pets.
… and our last and best advice: just relax. People are fairly casual nowadays. Enjoy the time spent with your host!