Let me tell you a secret about Croatian people.
If you’re planning to visit Croatia or are already Googling the best things to do in Croatia, know this…
Meeting Croatian people is the country’s top attraction. It’s the most memorable, most immersive and most rewarding experience you’ll have on your travels.
It’s actually the one and only thing that will turn you into a raving fan of Croatia.
Why? Because visiting Croatia is double special if you meet the locals.
Croatian people have the best travel intel
Remember the last time a friend persuaded you to go and visit some place. Which stories hooked you in most? Was it the one about nice buildings? No, I didn’t think so.
But when your friend told you about going fishing with this local guy, and how his wife then made a scrumptious fish stew… yes, your eyes lit up. You were sold.
And you had every reason to be. Because we all want meaningful travel experiences. And parachuting in and out of a country like any old tourist doesn’t cut it any more.
Especially not in Croatia. Sure, you can have a week of the sun and the sea galore. You can whizz through our gorgeous national parks, or drink good wine in a good restaurant.
If you’re lucky enough to meet locals along the way – you’ll unlock a whole new dimension of Croatia. You see, this is the country where information, as well as emotion, lives in close-knit communities.
So, if you want to find out what are the best things to do in Croatia, the ones that will blow your mind and touch your heart, you need word-of-mouth intel. And the only way to get it is through making friends with Croatian people.
Now, here’s the problem.
It’s really difficult to meet Croatian people on a short trip
With throngs of tourists arriving here every year, most of us can’t wait for the season to be over. (and for you to go back to your home – oops!)
If you tried to strike up a conversation with a Croatian local and failed, don’t worry – it’s not your fault. Most of us are terrible at small talk. And most of us don’t get you when you offer us a random kind smile. (why the heck is this guy laughing at me???)
If you want to get friendly with Croatian people, you need a different approach. The one that I’m going to teach you here. So, in a moment, I’ll show you the quick and easy way to meet your first Croatian local.
But before we start, there’s one thing you need to know. Croats are far better at forming deep bonds than at casually chatting to people.
Without understanding this first, you won’t be able to follow along. So let’s dig deeper into this mystery.
The one and only thing you need to know to make friends with Croats
I once asked my readers a simple question: Croats are rude – yes or no?
(Go ahead, answer it yourself and drop me a line in the comments below.)
The final result took me by surprise – it was a tie.
Some people had their holiday ruined ‘because Croats didn’t smile’ and ‘customer service was sh*t’. Others claimed we were the warmest people in the world. Wow! What’s going on here?
Just bear with me. We’ll solve the riddle in a moment.
You see, there are three types of connections we make with people around us: acquaintances, casual friends and best friends. Many psychology books describe our social life through the metaphor of concentric circles.
We’re at the centre, surrounded by a small number of close friends, which is embraced by a larger group of casual friends, which is immersed in a wider world of contacts.
This is all good and true – up to a point. Can you guess what’s missing? Yes, the picture doesn’t show how different cultures value those circles.
A friend in Croatian is not the same as a friend in English
For example, the English word friend translates into the Croatian prijatelj with no problems. But if a friend and a prijatelj come together, without knowing what I’m about to show you, they can get their wires crossed in all kinds of ways.
This happened to me when I expected a British friend to water my plants while I was away. Silly me!
So, take a look at this comparison and notice the difference.
Croatian people invest most of their time and emotion into the inner circle. They make close friends early on in life and stick to their tribe. It’s warm and fuzzy inside because Croats walk an extra mile for their close friends.
Over in the English-speaking world, a large network of contacts is the strongest social currency. When I’m in London, I always notice how much time people devote to casual acquaintances. They give everyone a chance, they obsessively exchange business cards, because you never know who can help you move up in life.
Once I asked a British person how often he sees his best friend. He replied: quite often, maybe 4-5 times a year.
Croatian people are rude – yes or no?
Let’s get back to solving the riddle of Croatian rudeness.
Croats are rude? No way.
When you make friends with Croatian people, they’ll go above and beyond to help you. You’ll always be able to count on their heartfelt generosity and honesty.
Croats are rude? Heck yes.
If you stay dabbling in a Croat’s outer circle, expect a lukewarm response. Heck, expect even a few stroppy replies. Especially when you’re a customer and someone is having a bad day. We don’t see a point in pleasantries.
I know, I’ve taken you on a long winded journey. And you’re probably wondering: Andrea, why on earth should I care about making friends with Croats if I’m here only for a short while.
OK, hear me out.
Maybe you’re not after finding a best friend in Croatia, but this is your route to having any kind of friend in Croatia. Once you break the ice, dive deeper. This is where we keep our care, devotion, pleasantries – and, of course, a smile.
Now you have your what (your goal): make friends with Croatian people. And your why: so you can have the best possible time here. The next step is how.
How do you break the ice when the ice is an iceberg?
Simply follow my quick and easy strategy.
1 | Get to know just one Croat before you arrive
Knowing a single Croat can open more doors for you than chatting to a bunch of locals in the street. If you know someone who knows someone in Croatia – jump on the chance to get introduced.
This one Croatian local will let you in because they are a friend of a friend of your friend. Log into this network and enjoy the bandwidth. There is no more need to break the ice because you’re already in. Your local’s friends are suddenly your friends. And you already know what that means.
You’ll discover the best things to do in Croatia. You might get invited to a Croat’s home. You’ll have a blast. (You can thank me later.)
Connect with Croatian people in diaspora
Did you know there are Croatian communities all over the world. A few million of 1st, 2nd, 3rd generation Croats living in the USA, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, Germany, Ireland, Chile, Argentina…
Now it’s time to tap into your wide circle of contacts. There’s bound to be one Croat among them who can hook you up with a local.
Meet that local online. Chat, ask questions, seek advice. But make sure you don’t stop there. If you want to make true friends, you must meet in person. There’s no better way to solidify a bond with a Croat than to drink coffee together.
Connect with people who’ve traveled in Croatia
Find someone who’s already been to Croatia. Maybe they made friends during their visit? Ask for that introduction and get online.
2 | Start the small talk at the right places
Travel bloggers often rave about social apps for making friends with the locals. In many places this approach works like a charm. In Croatia – it doesn’t!
You see, a tool invented in the USA doesn’t work in the same way around the globe. Travel is all about discovering different places. But what gives a place its appeal if not the local people?
OK, so what can you do if you haven’t lined up your one Croat before you arrive?
Get talking to Croatian people in real-life situations. This is the only way small talking will lead to a meaningful connection.
Now, you’re facing three challenges.
One, Croats chit-chat in a different way to the English-speaking people. If you don’t know the rules, the locals may seem aloof to you. Two, the best situations for breaking the ice are not what you think. And third, Croatian people who hang out together are almost always close friends. They are so immersed in their inner circle, you’ll have a difficult time getting your foot in.
You don’t want your opening line with a Croat to feel like a cold sales call, right? So…
Hang out in a cafe during daytime
Try to engage a local in the so called ‘over the table’ conversation. You’ll still be up against a group of good friends because Croatian people never drink coffee on their own.
But if you sit near their table and casually drop a line or two, you’ll get their attention. Better yet, ask a question or two about their city. Croatian people love helping others. At that point, gently turn your chair towards their table and you’re on your way to chatting.
Attend local events where people are not sitting down
Once a Croat is seated, they won’t budge from their friends. Go to open-air festivals where people are moving around. Or where there is queuing to get a drink.
This time, you can turn around and drop a casual comment to the person behind you. ‘What a great event’… or ‘I’d love to try a local beer, can you give me some suggestions’… or ‘what’s that local band playing, I love the sound of it’…
Avoid breaking the ice in a noisy bar
Croatian people don’t go out to meet new people but to have a good time with their close friends. If you only have this opportunity, do this…
Park yourself at a bar near the toilette. (Everyone needs to go at some point during the night, right?). Wait for one Croat to leave the company of their mates. When they walk past you on their way back, strike a conversation. Use similar topics: local beer suggestions, music… etc.
Make one place your own
Pick a cafe, a bakery, a shop – and visit every day. As a tourist, you’ll be tempted to see as many different places as possible. Resist that. Visit your haunt every day until people there begin to recognize your face. Then start talking to them.
Pick to go on less popular tourist tours
Imagine, if you’re exploring something with only 3-4 other travelers, the local guide will be more approachable. Ask them questions beyond the tour topic. Be inquisitive. There is a big chance such a guide will take you up on an offer to have drinks afterwards.
3| Small talk in the right way
Once you’ve broken the ice, then comes the tricky part. Croatian small talk! You can read my complete (and funny!) case study here.
An English-speaking person can quickly conclude that Croatian people don’t know how to small talk. Actually we do, but we use small talk to bond with friends we already have.
You see the problem? We always come back to that inner circle.
As an outsider, you’ll need to take the initiative, and in the right way. Get into the role of a journalist and start asking questions. Your Croatian locals will want to feel special and you can do that in a few ways…
Be enthusiastic about Croatia
Talk about your best impressions of the country so far. Compliment the food, the climate, the gorgeous countryside, the wonderful Adriatic Sea. Hint – Croatian people believe theirs is the most beautiful sea in the world.
Be careful with comparisons
Let’s say you landed in Croatia after having traveled in Italy. Now you want to express your admiration for olive oil or prosciutto because you know this is also the staple food in Croatia.
You are, of course, being enthusiastic. But a Croat could turn into a prickly pear. You are making comparisons whereas everyone on the planet knows that the Croatian olive oil is the best. Ouch!
Never criticize Croatia
An hour into your chit-chat, Croatian people will probably say something critical about their country. This doesn’t work, that is broken… This is not an invitation for you to agree. Croats have the right to complain, you as a foreigner don’t. Instead, ask more questions… ‘How so?’… or ‘Is this really what happens?’…
Show how much you know about Croatia
You don’t need to know a lot. Croatian people are used to not being in the center of the world’s attention. So even a small detail will do. Dig out something. Do you know a Croatian sports person? Have you heard of Nikola Tesla? Did you know that Marco Polo was born in Croatia? This is gold.
Avoid politics unless …
You are well read on the history of the region. Croatian people will be keen to explain a complex situation and this may take hours. Maybe you won’t be interested in so many details. Maybe getting in the middle of a heated discussion will be too much. There is no simple when it comes to Croatian politics.
Keep taking initiative
A good talk with Croatian people still doesn’t mean you’re in. Take further initiative and suggest the next meeting. Don’t just hand them your business card or say ‘we must do this again’. Be concrete and set the day for your next coffee.
4 | Fit into the daily rituals of Croatian people
Every person has a daily ritual. Something unique or quirky. Cultures too live by collective daily rhythms. The sooner you learn a few that define Croatian people, the easier it gets to fit in.
Croatian people hang out in cafes
Let’s say you want to invite a local for drinks in the evening. You might say ‘let’s meet in this or that bar’… because back at your home people drink in bars. Croatian people drink coffee, and beer, and wine – in a cafe.
Croatian people eat big lunch
If you want to share food with your new Croatian friend, you might be off with your timing. Instead of inviting them out for dinner, suggest to grab lunch together. Or just say ‘let’s meet for a bite to eat’ and wait for them to name the time and the place.
Don’t go overboard with suggesting activities
In London I usually meet with friends to do stuff together. There, it’s normal, and it’s a way to bond.
Croatian people bond over food, drinks and lots of talking. On the surface, it seems we’re not doing anything. Unless you’re good friends with a Croat, don’t go suggesting ‘a lovely walk in the countryside’ for the sake of bonding. Embrace the 5 hour session of just being together.
Preferably leave Sunday alone
Ever wondered why Croatian cities seem deserted on a Sunday afternoon? Or why you can’t find a restaurant that’s open? Everyone is eating lunch with their family. This is a special time devoted to the most inner of circles. Leave it as it is.
When Croatian people invite you for coffee at, what to you seems, a very short notice – jump in. This is the secret of our close friendships. We make ourselves available to the inner circle. If you really can’t make that one coffee, be sure not to decline too many of such invitations.
5 | Become irresistible to Croatian people
You might think that all this strategy is necessary because Croatian people don’t like foreigners. But nothing could be further from the truth. We love foreigners, just not so much the tourists. When you single yourself out from that group, we’ll adore you like we do our friends.
And the single best way to do it is by speaking a bit of Croatian. We all know how difficult our language is. We don’t expect much. Just a few sentences.
Your pronunciation can be wrong, your declinations and conjugations can be non-existent, you can cross the line by addressing us informally too soon… Just start babbling the lingo!
Do it with a cashier, a waiter or a random local and see the magic happen. You instantly change your status from being a customer to becoming a friend. Inner circle, remember?
One of my readers told me he once made a mistake with the correct type of hvala [thank you] – and we have so many! The result? He made a lifelong friend out of this Croatian person.
So go out and make mistakes with your Croatian. Even if you only have one sentence to show off with. You can then switch to English and say ne razumijem [I don’t understand]. This counts too.
Take it to the next level and learn some swear words. Oh, do Croatian people love to swear! And hearing a foreigner try to imitate us is double irresistible. Just be ready to speak words you’d never say to someone in your own language…
It’s your turn now.
Go out and make friends with Croatian people. You won’t regret it…
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