Things Croatian culture has taught me- Part I
Croatian culture has taught me many things about people, life, and, most significantly, about who I am. It’s has compelled me to change and grow because it’s forced me to look at life through a very different set of lenses.
I’ve broken this article up into two parts as I want to provide details and stories that have led me to these lessons. Let’s dissect some of the things I’ve learned since moving to Croatia.
Be direct and say what you think
I love Croatian culture because people here are extremely direct. Don’t want a cup of coffee? Respond with one of my favorite Croatian words, “neću”, which means “I won’t” or “I don’t want”. While you can always say “no thank you” in Croatian, I love the directness of this response:
“Would you like some coffee?”
“I don’t want that.”
To je to. (means that’s it in Croatian)
Maybe it’s just me but see how direct that is?
Aside from that small example, Croatian culture has given me a confidence like I’ve never known before to say what I think. Keep in mind a lot of this is my personality: I used to hold back my own honest thoughts (and still do sometimes) out of fear for being rude but here?! Say what you think! Saying what you think isn’t viewed as rude. It’s not even viewed as frank or brash like we might call it in America.
One situation that occurs that I’m rather fond of is when you’re waiting in line somewhere and someone cuts. This happened while I was in my local post office waiting the worldwide, dreaded 45 minute wait- or more- with a room full of others (seriously, is this a universal post office thing?!)
A little elderly woman decided she would step in front of the some-fifteen of us but NOPE. The whole room busted out in their rolled-Rs, “shh”s and “ch”s and demand this woman take a number like the rest of us. Even the post woman at the counter had her say to this lady! And while I was absolutely and utterly shocked, I smiled to myself as I loved how people aren’t afraid to say what they think!
The people of Croatia have taught me to be direct about what I want, don’t want, like, and don’t like and that hey- that’s okay.
There is direct, and then there is rude
While the people of Croatia have showed me how to say what I think, some of them have also showed me that there is a fine line between honest and rude. Like that time I saw a man at the counter in the grocery store yelling at the cashier.
And while this man may have viewed himself as honest and direct, this poor woman and essentially stranger was being yelled at and possibly having her day ruined! I know any Croatians reading this are probably hardly surprised at all but me- I was shocked!
At the same time, something else I’ve learned is that Croatians definitely know how to handle their own people- it’s possible her day wasn’t ruined and hey, she knows how to navigate these situations far better than I ever would. But, in a world where lines of appropriateness and tact exist, I’ve learned that sometimes, no matter how frustrated you are, you cannot just go yelling and cussing at every damn person who crosses your path. So, like the previous lesson I’ve learned, by all means, say what you think! But also remember that finesse and kindness are important too.
*Note: I’ve spoken with many of my Croatian friends about these kinds of instances and they are all in agreement: this fellow at the grocery store was rude. Please know kindness is extremely valued in Croatian culture. I’m only writing from my American perspective where I have rarely ever seen an incident such as the one I saw in the grocery store (or the post office for that matter)that day! I believe it all ultimately falls under the same characteristic here in Croatian culture of being direct.
Don’t take shit from anyone
This has less to do with Croatian culture as it more relates to just growing up and speaking your mind. I’ve been in so many situations in my life, both here in Croatia and in the States, where things were said to me that you know what? They were just downright rude, inappropriate, and offensive.
Here’s what I’m talking about.
This past summer, I had a good learning lesson. I was wearing a pair of jeans when an acquaintance, a young man, made a comment to me.
He said: “Your butt looks bad in those pants.”
What the fuck?
I should probably say right now that this guy was not Croatian, just a guy from the region who lives here(I’ve never encountered such gross behavior from a Croatian).
Additionally, please know right now: I am NOT saying that this is a Croatian cultural trait! I have countlessss instances of this happening to me in America (and honestly, probably more so there, as men are a very different type of aggressive in the States).
But in that moment, I responded something to the effect of “Wow, way to nitpick me” which, looking back, was a poor response. Afterwards, I felt so wronged and disrespected.
Now I know I just talked about having finesse and kindness in situations even when you’re frustrated but come on people, this situation is one of the exceptions where those rules do not apply.
And thank God I’m in a culture where I can and could’ve said exactly what I should’ve: maybe something to the effect of “fuck you and never talk to me or a woman like that again you piece of shit, pathetic pig that clearly has no social skills and wasn’t raised right”.
Or something like that.
But hey, it was a good learning lesson for me. I definitely would have a much different response today than I did before.
In the end, it wasn’t necessarily Croatian culture but merely just living abroad that has taught me this lesson: put up your wall, protect yourself, and don’t put up with shit from anyone.
We are all in this together (life)
In America, we’re super individualistic. Your problems are your problems; mine are mine. And while I’m not saying that people don’t care for one another, I will say that living in Croatia I’ve seen a whole new level of what it means to care for one another.
My first realization of this was when I noticed I wasn’t seeing any homeless people sleeping under bridges or in abandoned buildings. I asked my husband about this.
“Do you have homeless people here?” I inquired.
“We do…but people usually help,” he responded.
I was fascinated by this. On top of a restricted and even hidden homeless population, I learned that many people are struggling to get by (this is in big part to the economics of Croatia that I won’t get into right now). And while wages hardly meet the cost of living standard, I noticed one thing about the people of Croatia: they are all in it together.
People loan money often to each other.
Or people will help you wherever they can.
Can’t afford a coffee today? Don’t worry, I’ll buy.
Need some new clothes? Here, take some of these ones I’m not wearing.
Need more household items? Bowls? Silverware? Sheets? Toilet paper? Here, take it.
I’ve seen this so many times. My husband’s family is a perfect example of this. I believe they would literally give you the shirt off their backs if you needed. And honestly, I think that most, if not all, Croatians would do the same and the biggest difference? They will do this for people they don’t even know well.
It’s such a beautiful and wonderful cultural trait that I’ve noticed as an American expat living here- something I wish America would take more from. I’m not saying Americans aren’t giving. What I’m saying is that often, you have to really have a strong connection to someone before offering assistance.
And here- no. You wanna know why?
Because we’re all in this together.
That’s enough from the first part of my Croatian Culture series! I hope you see some of the biggest things I’ve learned and the ways I’ve grown since moving abroad.
What are some things you’ve learned, either from the culture you moved to or merely moving abroad?