It hits you right away, in the shop, at the market, on the street when asking directions. Croatians are friendly, happy to help, and most social interactions are carried out with a smile. True, they can also be abrupt, but that’s just the way of things in the Balkans. ‘Friendly’ is invariably the go-to attitude most of the time.
Usually well read and well educated, Croatians can hold their own in conversations about the latest best-selling novel (or biggest films). In terms of popular culture, they’re ahead of many Europeans, particularly when it comes to rock, pop, punk or rap. Theatres and classical music concerts are always well attended – culture is a sacred cow as far as Croatians are concerned.
Croatian hospitality is best observed when you go to someone’s house. The guest is treated to at least two and probably three helpings of food, with all the trimmings; the finest drinks are brought out, everyone will do their best to make you feel welcome and at ease.
Croatians know the natural riches they have at their disposal – a pristine coast, beautiful national parks, unspoiled landscapes – and are justifiably proud of this bounty. Many locals feel a close affinity with nature that perhaps those living in major cities like London can appreciate but may not have experienced.
Once you get to know them, and even before, you will find Croatians to be extremely generous, and not only in terms of paying for drinks or meals. Croatians are also generous with their time and are happy engage in long conversation and may even take a while during a passing chat in the street.
Humour here is as dark as deep-red Dingač, wine but locals tone it down when dealing with foreigners. All the same, they like a joke or two, injecting some wry comment into the conversation once you break the ice.
Tradition plays a huge role in Croatian society, people hold on to familial and folk roots that may have been lost elsewhere. Folk dance and music are still living cultural genres, and traditional festivals are an important element of the annual calendar in towns and villages across Croatia.
Croatian society is a very communal one, neighbours tend to know and look out for each other, people exchange a few words most mornings with vendors in local shops, the postman may pop in for a quick coffee in the café next door. Even in the capital of Zagreb, districts are more like villages, with their own everyday life and interaction.
Croatians love animals. Not only in the cities where you’ll see a few stray dogs and street cats that are regularly offered food. Across the country, sanctuaries such as the Falconry Centre outside Šibenik and Griffon Vulture Visitor Centre on Cres highlight the care taken to protect wildlife and involve the younger generation in this process.
Not quite a mañana culture – excluding certain parts of Dalmatia – Croatia tends to be quite laissez-faire in everyday life. True, rush hour in Zagreb is no joke, but otherwise Croatians have a relaxed attitude. Things run on time, but you don’t feel as if locals are slaves to the clock.
Croatians watch American and U.K. films and T.V. shows in original language, so are up on the latest trends, in jokes and sayings. Hotel, restaurant and service staff will all speak reasonable English, almost everywhere; anyone under the age of 50 will have a fair grasp of the language.