Expat, Life Abroad

Social Differences: Croatian Culture v.s. American

3 Biggest Social Differences I Encounter Everyday

There are MANY social differences when comparing Croatia to the U.S. but I will just hit on a few right now. 

Seriously, too many to count.


Or forgive me, in Croatian.

BUT- that’s what makes it so great and interesting!




If you haven’t checked out my story about how I landed in this mystical land, by all means read it here.

If you already have, let’s jump right to it!


1. Hanging out- AKA, coffee

Sipping coffee in Belgrade, Serbia!

First, I’m pretty introverted a lot of the time and prefer to be alone. So “hanging out” on a regular basis, if at all ever, isn’t in my nature. Second, I’ve learned that American culture is all about planning. In the States, people usually meet with a purpose and plan that meeting well in advance.


“Hey, it’s been awhile! We should get drinks sometime and catch up!”

“Yeah, that’d be great! When are you free?”

“This week’s pretty crazy for me- how about next Monday?!”

“That works for me! I’ll message you before just to confirm!”

Note two things: they planned for it, it was about a week later, AND they had a purpose: to catch up.


In Croatia, it is not like that.


Like AT ALL.


This is how meeting up conversations go in Croatia:


*friend calls friend*

“Di si?(Where are you, in Croatian)? I’m at *insert cafe bar*, come for a coffee!”

“Okay, I’m at coffee with Ivan but I’ll be there in like 20 minutes.”


That’s it.


Notice: they did not plan for it, the meeting occurred immediately that day or minutes after, and they didn’t have a purpose. OR, the Croatians might debate and say they did have a purpose: they were going to have coffee!


I could elaborate more on this, but for now, I’ll leave it for another day (and perhaps another blog post) and hit on other social differences I face every day.


2. Lunch and other gatherings

Gathering of friends and family at our wedding.

So, I’m not saying American friends and families don’t sit together for lunch and talk and drink and enjoy. No no, I’m not saying that. They definitely do.


But I’ve always felt some weird underlying sense of urgency at American gatherings, like Okay, I can go, be there for around 1.5-2 hours, then I’ll go grocery shopping, then I’ll go…


Maybe part of it’s we’re planners. Maybe part of it’s a much faster-paced lifestyle.


But in this Croatian life, you come;

You drink.

You eat.

You sit.

And you stay.


This is something I find both a blessing and a curse as it depends what your goal for the day is!


Trying to be productive? Clean the house?  Finish that book? Learn something new?


Forget it.


But, if you’re trying to slow down, be present, be with loved ones, and just enjoy…


You’re in luck.


Because you couldn’t come to a better place than Croatia to do just the thing. And it’s totally normal to spend 5 hours for lunch- you arrive at 2, drink a shot or two of rakija (an aperitif liquor, aka the liquid of life here in the Balkans) eat, maybe have dessert, drink wine, then drink some coffee, smoke some cigarettes, and just BE together. Then, the next thing you know, it’s 8 pm and you’re wondering where the whole day went! I can’t TELL you how many times this has happened to me!


But, it’s one of the things that made me fall in love with Croatia. It’s just a much more relaxed vibe than in the States.


It’s the “polako” lifestyle! The Croatian word that you will always be told anytime you are even thinking about doing anything- which is why it’s in the very blood of these people to sit, eat, and enjoy- slowly.

Pronounced “poh-lah-koh”.

3. Physical Touch/Affection

My husband Dominik and I.

This is always an interesting trait to observe in any culture. The ways in which people show their affection to each other and meet new people is so fascinating.


I definitely know that affection ranges from family to family, so I will only be discussing the biggest observations that I noticed and also based on my personal background, ok?


U.S. Affection

We are HUGGERS. I don’t know about others, but I definitely grew up in a family FULL of huggers!


Haven’t seen you in such a long time! Hug.


Congratulations! Hug.


Merry Christmas! Hug.


I just met you but I hear you know my cousin really well! HUG!


Croatian Affection

As we know in America, many Europeans (but not all) kiss each other once on each cheek– and Croatians are a part of this group of Europeans!


I adore it.


Really, I do.


Such an elegant display of affection that, like a hug, can also say many things. I’ve seen it replaced where I would’ve inserted a hug and felt the double-cheek-kiss was so much more appropriate.


Like the time I wrote a letter translated into Croatian to my husband’s mother.


After she read it, she approached me, a little teary eyed, and kissed me on both cheeks.

So sweet, huh?


Of course, my natural inclination is ALWAYS to hug first- I can’t help it! It’s in my blood okay?! It’s also a rather awkwardly funny situation when a Croatian is going to kiss me on the cheek and I’m going in for a hug (go ahead- just picture it for a second).


As far as meeting new people, you can always shake hands in Croatia (thankfully we have that in common) or if it’s someone close to someone that YOU are close to, go for the double-cheek kiss!


Or, if you’re an American like me– just lay a big ol’ fat hug on ‘em! They’re pretty great about it.


Or at least with me, they are lol.


All in all, Croatians are pretty affectionate people, also something I love. I don’t think I could do a cold, rigid culture where hugging and kisses weren’t allowed!



There you have it! Those are some of the biggest social differences between Croatian culture and American culture. There are sooo many more small and subtle social differences I could comb through and I hope to be able to share those with you in the future!


But for now, I hope you got a pretty good feel about how social life works here in this Croatian life!

If you wanna read more about the ways in which I’ve changed after moving abroad, visit this page. 🙂


If you’ve lived/live abroad, what are some of the social differences you’ve noticed? You can stem/relate to some of mine (such as affection traditions) or share your own!

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