There is something incredibly attractive about the way we live in Croatia. A certain je ne sais quoi that makes you fall in love with the country... Your intuition tells you it’s something to do with the people and the lifestyle but you can’t quite put a name to it.
I’ll give you the name. One word that sums it all.
You’ll hear this word in Dalmatia most often. But everything that it stands for is practised all over the country.
Pomalo is an adjective. In a sentence, it can mean all these things: a little, somewhat, fairly, considerably, partly, kind of, slightly, tolerably, more or less, to a degree.
Linguistic translation, however, is not our focus here. To get to the heart of pomalo, you must understand how this motto shapes our daily lives. Experience all its shades and hues, and witness its variations and tonalities.
Only then can you get a light bulb moment.
Pomalo is not only a word. It’s a mindset, a lifestyle, and a philosophy.
Let’s see what are the main ingredients of the pomalo way.
Browse more posts about Croatian culture and mentality.
1 - Pomalo is an expression of local time
If you grew up in a large city in the West, your sense of time is out of sync with pomalo. But this is good. Because the bigger the difference between your internal time and the pomalo clockwork, the easier it is for you to notice things.
So, what will you notice?
First, life in Croatia seems slower. You are continually surprised by the amount of time people have on their hands. When you see us drinking coffee for hours, you wonder if anyone works in this country. Sure, we do. We just believe that we have time for both.
Croatian meals can take hours too. To us, food is a source of sustenance and pleasure. So, slowing down eating is one of our top priorities.
Second, Croatian time can seem less structured and more spontaneous. We always respond to a spur-of-the-moment call from a friend. It’s a ‘Let’s meet for coffee in half an hour’ type of thing.
We also keep our homes open to unannounced visits. Basically, nothing much can surprise us because our coffee pot can be on in a jiffy.
Let’s see a potential scenario where pomalo can challenge your sense of time.
Pomalo in action: a question of time
You planned your trip to Croatia a year in advance. Everything is firmed up and pencilled in. The one thing that remains elusive is when and where you'll meet your Croatian friends. They just don’t want to plan so far in advance. ‘Pomalo, there’s time’, they probably reply.
But once you land in Croatia, they shower you with their attention. Your phone is ringing off the hook. ‘Let’s go for coffee’, ‘come round for lunch’, ‘let us take you on a boat trip’. Now you feel overwhelmed because you’ve planned so many activities. How can you fit all of it in?
Then, one day you meet your Croatian friends for lunch. Oh, the food is so delicious... but the courses keep coming. And the drinking goes on and on. Cheers and živjeli take turns, and as glasses are clinking, you notice it’s already dark. Time for dinner.
Of course, you stay on. Your friends bring out more food and more wine. It’s quite hard for you to explain your state of mind. You are not drunk but sort of spellbound. (Ne pijan nego opijen). Once you stop checking your watch and forgive yourself for missing all the scheduled activities, you get an a-ha moment. You are living pomalo.
Allow yourself to live slowly, little by little, and in the present moment. Schedule as few meetings as possible and jump at impromptu coffee invitations. Let events run over, turning into something you never planned before.
2 - Pomalo goes hand in hand with the weather
The fact that the weather can influence our mood has been recognised for some time. You might know it as a seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or winter blues.
Some people are just weather-sensitive.
If you are one of them, the Croatian pomalo attitude will help you feel better about your sudden inexplicable sadness or grumpiness. Here, we don’t think weather-induced mood changes are a problem. It’s normal to be happy when the sun is blazing and withdrawn on a murky winter day.
If you stay longer in Croatia, you’ll notice our special connection to various types of winds. Especially the moments when they change course.
Bura is a cold, strong wind that blows in gusts. When it sweeps down from the mountains onto the coast, it can reach a speed of over 200 km/h. Land and sea traffic might get suspended. People will huddle indoors, making sure all the windows and shutters are shut.
Bura’s nemesis is jugo. A warm, constant wind from the south, jugo can create enormous waves on the sea. Believe me, it’s not pleasant to be on a sailing boat when jugo is at its strongest.
Pomalo in action: the question of jugo
Our mood swings are strongest when bura gives way to jugo or the other way around.
The moment when the wind starts switching to jugo (okreće na jugo) is when you want to avoid highly-strung people. This particular weather condition gives them headaches combined with unattractive grumpiness.
On the other hand, a shift to bura after gruelling days of jugo is a welcome change. All the heaviness in your mind and heart is swept away in a single blast. It’s like clearing the cobwebs away.
Our pomalo mindset is our alley again. We never bear a grudge against the people who are susceptible to jugo grumpiness. ‘Pomalo’, we say again. ‘Go easy on yourself and on others. Bura will soon save the day.’
Go easy (pomalo) with the sun
People in Croatia love to slow down after a big lunch. On the coast, we call such afternoon slump fjaka. It stands for a time of the day (similar to siesta), but it also includes a state of mind. During fjaka, the mind is empty and happy to just be.
Over time, fjaka received negative connotations. Even if only jokingly, some people think that fjaka equals laziness.
This is far from true. Fjaka is simply a reflection of how we wisely ebb and flow with nature - the sun in particular.
In Dalmatia, most hard work is done very early in the morning. It’s the time of day when the sun is pleasant and the humidity is low. By 3 PM, most Dalmatians will have finished their chores and eaten their lunch. They will take a couple of hours just to rest and be - fjaka time. This gives them the energy to resurface in the evening.
No one in Croatia feels guilty about taking a fjaka. In fact, this quick rest is what we advise all those visitors who are eager to seize the day. I am talking about people who cycle in the scorching sun or who jam-pack their holiday schedule.
Be gentle with yourself if you are weather-sensitive. When you notice a headache coming on, it’s probably jugo. Pomalo, go easy, and know the bura will save the day. Live your daily life in tune with the sun. Wake up early to do your outdoor tasks. Rest indoors when the sun is strongest.
3 - Pomalo is enjoying life, to a degree
The Mediterranean diet is among the healthiest in the world. But things are not as simple as eating whole, unprocessed food and lots of olive oil.
The magic that keeps everything together is the lifestyle. Not so much what we eat and drink, but how we do it.
First, let’s consider food. Most Croatian people still keep a farm-to-table relationship with food. Even if they don’t produce their own, they know who grows their veggies and raises their chickens.
Once food enters their kitchen, Croatians make sure to cook it from scratch: on a daily basis. What you might know as clean or slow food is our normal take on eating. We enjoy soups, stews and all types of one-pot meals. This is why a bit of fast food now and then can’t throw us out of balance.
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Drinks share the same story. Many families produce their own wine, rakija and all sorts of sweet liqueurs. These homemade beverages are shared with friends far and wide. So, most Croatians end up drinking the good, artisanal stuff.
Pomalo in action: the how of eating and drinking
In this case, pomalo means in small doses. It doesn’t mean we’re controlling our appetite or depriving ourselves. Quite the opposite. Eating and drinking pomalo instructs you to do it slowly, frequently but in small quantities.
The effect can surprise you. Once you teach your mind and tummy that you can always grab another bite, your hunger subsides.
Even though we eat and drink throughout the day, we never consume too much. Take my friend from Vis island as an example. He drinks a bottle of wine every day - his homemade stuff. But he is never drunk, nor hungover. How? He starts at 11 AM with his marenda (elevenses) and spreads his glasses throughout the day.
Some of my friends in the UK, on the other hand, drink twice as much alcohol. And they cram all of it in a weekend. When I tell them we drink a bottle of wine a day in Croatia, they think this is way too much. ‘And to drink in the morning? Argh... not acceptable.
Be happy or sad, but to a degree
Our pomalo moderation doesn’t stop at consumables. We absorb our pleasures and our pains in balance. Not too much, not too little. Just pomalo.
For example, here’s what happens when you bump into a Croatian friend on a street:
‘How are you doing?’
‘E, a, pomalo...’
And you’ll get the same answer on their good or bad day. No, we are not resigned or flat, we’re just enjoying whatever life throws at us, to a degree. (more on this contradiction in chapter 5).
The pomalo motto is all about moderation. Consume small amounts of just about anything. Spread them throughout the day. Then repeat. This is a recipe to teach your mind not to binge. Once it realizes there is plenty of everything to be had, the cravings and binges will even themselves out.
4 - Pomalo means relying on others
When you begin slowing down your eating and drinking, you'll notice something interesting. You can only do that if you share your experience with others.
Imagine having a sit-down lunch every day. Add a glass of wine to the picture. How do you make it last at least one hour? Usually by talking to your friends over food. Note, if you ever tried those health techniques of chewing every bite 42 times or showing appreciation for each ingredient on your plate, it never comes to longer than 20 minutes.
The only way to properly slow down is to add others into the equation.
This has immense positive effects on your body and your emotional well-being. But, as with all things, it’s a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, relying on others makes you stronger. You feel rooted, taken care of, protected. Your people are not only here to share lunch in a restaurant. They can provide food for you in your hour of need.
Pomalo in action: sharing food and caring
For example, when Nikica and I are in the middle of a large, time-sensitive project (think moving to a new house), our people come carrying pots and pans full of delicious, home-cooked food.
We also get lots of home-grown fruits and vegetables from our family members and neighbours. This is precious and it gives me the sweetest feeling of being connected.
These days, we have 3 baskets filled with apples, pears and walnuts on the terrace. And we think: we’ll use them up, pomalo. Each time I bake with these goodies, I will share them away as well.
In this situation, pomalo can mean a little bit at the time. But, on a much deeper level, it is a reassurance that there are enough resources for all of us. As long as we share with the people around us, we never have to fear scarcity.
All problems are solved pomalo
Pomalo is not only our way to enjoy life. It’s a strategy to tackle life problems too.
If you have a leaking pipe or you need to paint your walls, you call your friends to share the problem. Sometimes the solution is simple and free. Your knowledgeable friend fixes your pipe or your neighbour paints your walls (for half the market price). On other occasions, people around you have all the info you need.
You almost never use google for that!
Why is pomalo important here? Because it might take longer to get things done. So, you need to be patient.
That number you got for the best handyman? Well, he is a friend of a friend and he’s just the person you need. Great. But he’s also booked up with too many gigs for other friends of friends. You’ll just have to keep your cool. Things always fall into place when you live according to pomalo.
Sometimes your people may not have the solution you need. But what they are great at is offering emotional support.
For instance, you might be fuming at the plumber who connected cold and hot pipes all wrong. So now you are flushing your toilet with hot water and having freezing cold showers. I am not inventing this – it happened to our cousin.
What can I do for her? I don’t know anyone who can fix the bathroom in her town. But I’ll listen to her woes. In fact, I’ll pepper my replies with nasty comments about the incompetent plumber, just to soothe her pain.
Pomalo in action: giving and receiving support
We draw our strength from groups larger than us. Family, friends, and neighbours. Our lives are intertwined, both in the amount of time we spend together and the depth of emotions we exchange.
On a good day, we feel invincible. On a bad day, however, we can feel disappointed and betrayed by our people. It’s normal and inevitable. Because the more open you are, the more vulnerable you become.
Logic is irrelevant here. Once our feelings are hurt, the ‘guilty’ party is all we can talk about - with another member of our people.
These conversations are crucial if you want to practice the pomalo philosophy. Your Croatian friend will complain and grumble for days on end. And, as their person, you need to generously remind them:
‘Hey, pomalo, OK?’
This pomalo can mean three things. Pomalo as in ‘it’s not as bad as you think, cut them (the ‘guily’ party) some slack’. Next, it might mean ‘come on, you’re tough, you’ll get over it soon’. And lastly, it’s an invitation to wait for justice to be served. As in ‘they’ll get what they deserve eventually’.
Focus on sharing your time and experience with others. Eat and drink with friends. Most of all, don’t try to solve all the world’s problems on your own. Ask for help, show you’re vulnerable, and then just be pomalo.
5 - Pomalo is letting go of control
Everything you’ve learned so far about pomalo boils down to a simple recipe: relax. But, for all of us who are perfectionists and conscientious type-A personalities, relaxing doesn't come easy. So, the moment you hear the pomalo mantra, you get even more aggravated.
It’s because relaxing requires you to place your trust in something other than your own resources.
When your Croatian friend suggests you do things pomalo, it doesn’t only mean slowly. They are teaching you a different kind of logic. An attitude that life has a way of doing things for you. That there is an energy that puts solutions to problems if you only give it time. And faith.
Deep down, Croatians believe they are not alone. On the one hand, we live to belong to a group of similar people. It’s a collective that counts. All those helping hands that make each day easier and sweeter.
On the other hand, we are also good at delegating. It’s a different kind of management than in the West. We entrust at least half of the workload to some type of higher power. Sure, we’ll do the legwork. But, at some point, if we hit a bump on the road or a dead end, we turn the pomalo switch.
‘Pomalo, things will sort themselves out.’ or...
‘Pomalo, we’ve always managed somehow and we’ll do it again.’ or...
‘Pomalo, what will be will be.’
This 'somehow' or 'someday' is our profound trust in life. It means we know we’re not in charge completely. Maybe we have a guardian angel, maybe it’s destiny. Whatever it is, we are free to relax.
Neither happy, nor sad, but pomalo
Pomalo mindset shapes our sense of happiness and well-being. You only need to ask us how we’re doing to see how.
‘Pomalo’... which means not too great, not too bad, but tolerable.
Now, remember the Danes, arguably the happiest people on the planet, right? Do you think life in Denmark is that much greater than the life of a grumbling Dalmatian?
I doubt it. But the Danes are deliriously happy. Because happiness is subjective.
Dalmatians, on the other hand, are never happy through and through. No matter how much they have or how good they have it in life.
This Dalmatian life that is just acceptable (pomalo) is not a problem for Dalmatians. We are not unhappy about not being happy. Nor do we strive for some kind of crazy happiness. We just love living pomalo.
You have to be a philosopher to understand this contradiction. Or a Croat. Or go native in Croatia.
It’s all about moderation, again. But as Oscar Wilde said ‘Everything in moderation, even moderation’, we know how to fly off the handle too.
Remember some of those fiery quarrels you saw on the Croatian coast? Ladies in gutsy brawls at food stalls or guys overtaken by road rage.
Have you heard us swear?
Sure, you did. But now you know how to react. Just tell us: