How to understand the Croatian culture: Part 1

Split, Croatia celebration for 2018 World Cup
Dalmatians waiting for their local vatreni to arrive after the 2018 World Cup

If you ask a Croat what Croats are like, they would probably say that we are passionate with a good heart and always ready to help. We love and respect our stunning mother Croatia, our fellow Croatian people, nature, and our culture.

Like every other nation, we have good and bad ways. There are certain things to which we pay a lot of attention and appreciate like our family, language, and athletes. And then there are other things that garner less attention like politics and work.

To better understand Croatian brains, we summed up the most significant features of Croatian culture. Because my people cannot possibly be understood in one post, this is only Part 1.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

#1 Croatia is a very patriotic country

Croats are a pretty patriotic nation. While we may complain a lot about everything, it doesn’t change the fact we adore Croatia, our roots, and our people. Croats are proud of building their own houses, cultivating their land, and growing their own food. We are all very lucky to live in Croatia, a country of unique nature, climate, and benevolent people – even though some Croats do not feel like luck has anything to do with it.

Try not to say something negative or degrading about Croatia to a Croatian. Someone may take it seriously and personally and will get offended. Don’t insult our family, athletes, the land, the sea, our wine, or our home, because it is rude. We can complain about Croatia. You cannot. 🙂

#2 The majority of people are Catholic

We could say that Croatia is a Catholic nation because the most represented religion is Catholic and the majority of Croats claim they are Catholics. However, the elderly visit church and practice religion more often than the youth. If you rent an apartment, most likely there will be a crucifix or image of Mary waiting for you. This is also not strange if you visit someone’s home.

However, many young Croats (and also adults) are Catholics only on paper, but they don’t follow Christian customs nor go to church. Regardless, everyone enjoys celebrating Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter because it is a part of our culture. There are also other religions including Orthodox and Islamic minorities.

Croatia celebrates many Catholic holidays throughout the year, many of which are state holidays when everything shuts down. Most cities and villages also have at least one patron saint who they celebrate with an annual festival. Those are usually the best parties.

[Read: Croatian national holidays]

#3 Croatia is proud of its rich culture

Croats strongly value their culture.

We respect Croatia and everything about Croatia. We love our outstanding musicians like Josipa Lisac, Dino Dvornik, Oliver Dragojević, and Parni Valjak, and actors like Goran Višnjić and the actress Mira Furlan. We are an intelligent nation and our scientists enjoy worldwide fame. The list of notable people is, again, endless, but we shouldn’t forget inventor Nikola Tesla and the scientist Ivan Đikić.

Dalmatians waiting for funeral procession of Oliver Dragojević
Dalmatians waiting for the funeral procession of Oliver Dragojević on Split’s Riva (2018)

Here is an example of how proud Croatia is of its people…

In 2018, legendary and adored musician Oliver Dragojević died. Oliver was Croatia’s music soul and everyone respected him. We grew up with his songs and babies were created because of it. The entire country was devastated when he passed, so Croatia declared a national day of mourning in his honor.

The ceremony was organized at Split’s riva and tens of thousands of people came. People lined riva waiting for the mass to end – many in tears – as his music echoed off the palace’s outer walls. After the Holy mass, Oliver was carried down riva with his family alongside. His body was transported to his hometown of Vela Luka on the island of Korčula by the Croatian navy. The boat was followed with numerous private boats sailing right next to it – escorting him home.

The air force even did a flyover. Public buses replaced their route numbers with messages honoring Oliver. He will live in our hearts forever.

You can view pictures of the ceremony here.

Dalmatians celebrating World Cup in 2018 in Split's harbor
Splićani awaiting arrival of the Dalmatian players from the 2018 World Cup team in Split’s harbor

Here is another example…

We have a special tradition of preparing welcome parties for our athletes when they return home from world competitions – whether they win or not – as a sign of respect.

Since Croatian football players are amazing, we call them “vatreni”, which is the adjective of the word vatra (fire). In 2018, vatreni won silver at the World Cup in Russia. Croatia prepared a massive party in their honor. Croats from all parts of Croatia (and Bosnia) traveled to Zagreb to celebrate the win. More than 1 million people lined the parade route, which is significant since Zagreb’s population is less than 800.000. The country was in total chaos. The event began at Zagreb airport in the afternoon where vatreni were welcomed by their most passionate fans.

Vatreni then traveled by bus at a snail’s pace to Trg bana Jelačića where the main party was held. Fans wearing T-shirts of Croatian football with the famous red-white kockice (checks) design followed them all the way to Trg. Vatreni sat on the open part of the bus and greeted fans. It took 9 hours for the bus to reach the square, and then the real party commenced. We all celebrated together and it was totally crazy. Those who couldn’t be there in person watched intently on HRT – the national television station.

You can view photos and videos of this event and the party at Trg here.

The next day, each player traveled to their home towns where they were greeted with the same parade and party. Split welcomed home three players from Dalmatia. Tens of thousands waited on Riva for 4 hours as their bus, and then, boat creeped from the airport to Split’s harbor.

#4 Each region, island, city, village, and neighborhood is different

Differences in local culture are obvious not only in certain regions but also from town to town – even neighborhood to neighborhood. Every location has its own cultural significance, manners, micro-climate, language, and subculture. Some characteristics that people attribute to certain regions are only prejudices, but some of them are more meaningful.

For example, there is a belief that Dalmatians are lazy since they like to go slow and chill. Zagorci, residents of Hrvatsko zagorje, are accused of being drunks. This is because they like to spend time in their vineyards and klet. People from Dubrovnik are considered snobs. But, no one ever mentions that Dalmatians are excellent hosts in tourism. Zagorci are diligent in agriculture and like to meet their friends in klet, and those in Dubrovnik are very hard workers.

Every part of Croatia has some reason to complain about the other parts of Croatia.

While it can be entertaining to hear a Croat complain about the rest of the country, it is never good to generalize. Experience all parts of Croatia with an open mind and make a decision for yourself. We are all human and everyone is different. Croats are kind people.

#5 Fast driving is common

Most Croats are decent drivers who try to avoid troubles. However, always be careful while driving in Croatia and don’t get too relaxed. There are lots of horrendously bad drivers who endanger everyone around them all the time.

There is nothing worse than a nervous, visibly aggressive, driver because you can never know what they are capable of doing. Some use driving as a stress relief method. They are angry at everyone around them and pretend to be gods of traffic. However, this can happen everywhere else in the world. We just want to warn you.

Especially pay attention to traffic if you are a cyclist, pedestrian, and during night drives. Some drivers ignore crosswalks and some drive drunk.

If you drive in Croatia, you’ll see some crazy stuff that will make your jaw drop to the floor. Always be aware of your surroundings if you are anywhere close to a street, whether you are driving or not.

#6 Cursing can be heard in everyday conversation

Many of us swear on almost all occasions – when angry, frustrated, or scared, but also in everyday conversation just for fun. You’ve probably heard someone saying jebote (fuck) or jebiga (fuck it) in every other sentence. I have to admit that jebote is my favorite, but I don’t curse a lot. You’ll even hear children and grandmothers utter some phrases with reckless abandon.

Some of us have pretty cuss-rich dictionaries. If someone would listen to us, it would sound like we are fighting. Don’t worry, we are not. It is just our conversational style. We even sometimes swear at work in Croatia.

#7 There are many passionate smokers

Many Croats are pretty passionate smokers and they smoke too much. It is not uncommon that someone smokes 2 boxes of cigarettes a day.

We smoke when stressed, depressed, on a coffee, having fun, digesting, drinking, working, or relaxing. A lot of people like to smoke a cigarette while enjoying their coffee and it is their little daily ritual. It is a pretty expensive habit, but most smokers simply don’t want or can’t give up.

Most caffe bars allow smoking inside. Because of this, you may smell like an ashtray by the time you leave. 🙂

#8 Drinking is part of the routine

Alcohol is a part of our culture and we like to drink alcohol on all possible occasions. Every situation may be the perfect time for a little toast or celebration. Many of us enjoy a glass of alcohol every day, usually beer or wine. We also have our own vineyards with tasty eco wine.

During the past few years, a bunch of local Croatian craft beer producers appeared and they offer delicious beers. Because of this, I have become quite picky about my beers.

[Read: 5 ways to connect with Croatian craft beer culture (from Zagreb to the coast)]

At home, we usually relax with a glass of wine or beer. In caffe bars, we celebrate or hang out with our closest ones. Hard liqueurs are not strange to us either. Do you remember rakija, a traditional Croatian hard liqueur? Rakija is always our good friend 🙂 We drink it as a morning ritual, to celebrate, drown grief, or cure a health problem. Take a sip of šljivovica, and consider your problem solved! Don’t overdo it though, or you’ll create new problems.

[Read: Rakija, Croatia’s legendary liqueur]

#9 Croats are in love with love

Croats love love. Their whole world is built around love and their families. We like to be in a relationship and share our lives with the people we love the most. Sometimes we are too dramatic, but who isn’t vulnerable when it comes to love? We also love our pets and as well consider them family.

[Read: How to bring your pet to Croatia (and care for them once you arrive)]

#10 Gossiping is rampant

Some people like to talk about other people. There is a difference in culture between rural areas and bigger cities. In villages, people are closer which means there is a possibility that everyone knows everything about everybody. You may even get a feeling of being watched and that others are more familiar with your life than you are.

In cities, people are mostly concerned with their own business, so you have a little bit more privacy – but not by much. While it may seem that people in cities are strangers, it is not true. A building, a neighborhood, a caffe bar, the market, a beach – all of them function as their own little villages with their own gossip mills.

That grandma you see hanging out the window all the time? Just think of the information she is absorbing – and it’s on purpose.

Croatia is a small country where everyone seeks to know everything about everyone. Since Croatians love long coffees and chats, they need something (or someone) to chat about.

If you have lived in Croatia for any amount of time, it is guaranteed that someone you don’t know has talked about you. Meh, jebiga. However, keep in mind that the reason someone talks about someone else often means that they are just worried if you are doing okay. After all, Croats are dear and caring people, always ready to help.

View how to understand the Croatian culture: Part 2 here.

Please note: All information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. For legal advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant. We can recommend one if you contact us.

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