So, you’re fresh in Croatia and you want to learn how to say thank you in Croatian.
I hear you. And I take my hat off to you.
Saying thank you to a local, and in their own language, is one of the easiest holiday phrases you can learn. But it is also a friendly gesture – a way of saying you want to be part of the Croatian conversation.
Lucky for you, thank you is a pretty easy Croatian. Especially if you compare it to the rest of the Croatian language that most foreigners find a tongue and a mind twister.
So here it is: Croatian for thank you is HVALA.
Everything that derives from this basic Croatian is a minefield. The weird expressions I am about to teach you do not easily translate from Croatian to English.
They are part of our daily folklore which has peculiar gratitude customs. Who thanks whom and for what. When thanks are given or withheld and how long they last. There are many combinations and some are pretty colourful.
So let’s begin with the simplest ones.
1 Basic thank you in Croatian
#1 Most foreigners struggle with how to pronounce Croatian words that begin with hv. Like for example hvala or Hvar (the famous island)…
This is because you concentrate too hard on the h, so it gets stuck in your throat. You need to be in the flow and let the h quickly roll into a plump v on your lips.
But don’t waste your life trying to do it. You can skip the h altogether and just say fala. This version of thank you comes from a local dialect so you’ll sound even more native.
#2 If you are looking to say thank you very much, the translation from English is not literal. You can say hvala puno [thanks a lot], but you should also learn hvala lijepa.
This means a pretty thank you. Strange, isn’t it?
#3 Now imagine how many thank yous get said over the course of a lifetime. One is surely prettier than the other. There is even the prettiest of them all. So to give the biggest thank you ever, you say hvala najljepša [the prettiest thank you].
#4 You already know that Croatian family ties are very tight. Actually, when we say family, we also mean siblings with their spouses and children. Brothers and sisters keep helping each other out no matter how grown up they are.
So when someone does something grand for you, you can thank them by saying hvala ti ko bratu [I thank you like a brother].
This way you are recognizing that a person did you a favour that only a family member is entitled to expect. Like counting on them at any time.
#5 Now imagine being in a pickle without close friends to help you. A stranger comes from nowhere and helps you out. Like lending you the money to avoid losing your home. Or hooking you up with the best heart surgeon which actually saves your life.
You may never socialize with this person later on. But you’ll cherish what they did for the rest of your life. At this point you will say hvala ti do groba [I thank you to my grave].
Save this one for rare occasions. You don’t want to deflate the value of gratitude.
2 Thank you in Croatian to divinities and higher beings
Croats are not easy on giving thanks face to face. Yes, formal situations do resemble a typical English etiquette. We politely acknowledge your presence and your effort.
But in close relationships, thank yous tend to be taken for granted. For example, you will never hear a husband thanking his wife for cooking a meal. Or a friend thanking another friend for taking the time to meet them.
Our attitude is: you’re either in or out. If you’re in it with me, I don’t need to thank you for it.
#6 On the other hand, we love to thank those with higher power. Like God, for example. You’ll often hear people say ‘hvala Bogu [thank God], I passed this exam’. As if this was God’s doing, not yours.
Or after a long week ‘hvala Bogu da je danas petak [thank God it’s Friday today]’. As if Friday wouldn’t have come on its own, without God’s help.
Of course, it’s only our own thinking that someone or something out there has more power than us. Croats love to pin any outcome, fortunate or tragic, to outside forces.
#7 The best example of one such appreciation is when we say hvala kurcu [thanks to the cock]. (pardon my French!)
This bizarre, yet frequent, expression is actually short for hvala kurcu na udarcu [thanks to the cock for the thrust]. It’s equivalent to sighing in relief when something finally happens.
Let’s say you’re expecting to get paid for a job you did months ago. You employer keeps promising the money will be in your account. This week, this month, this year. When the payment finally clears, you say: hvalaaaaaaa kurcuuuuuu!
As if it wasn’t the employer who paid up. See my point?
3 Troubles with thank you in Croatian
Remember the saying ‘a road to hell is paved with good intentions’? We have a special thank you for that occasion too.
#8 Imagine you’ve been single for a long time. You best friend worries about you so they set you up with a promising candidate. You warm up to the idea and go out on a date.
But then everything that can goes wrong. The guy slurps his soup, the girl won’t stop talking about her knitting projects… __________, _________, (fill in the blanks).
So the next time you meet your conniving friend, you can tell them ma baš ti hvala [thank you really]. It’s ironic, of course!
#9 Sometimes even people you don’t like give you a precious gift. Let’s say your boss is smart and capable, but a real shark. They encourage your creativity only to steal your ideas.
There’s no way you can get out of their shadow. So it’s time to move on. You need to stand up for yourself. And that, you realize, is a gift.
This is the time to say hvala i doviđenja [thank you and so long]. Without irony, of course.
#10 As much as Croats aren’t bothered with getting profuse thank yous, there are moments when we feel gratitude is in order.
When we invest ourselves in a close friendship, we’d do anything for that person. But just as our close ties are wonderfully warm, they are not without conditions. We expect something in return, and a simple thank you won’t cut it.
Let’s say your friend is having a rough time with an aggressive partner. You give her a shoulder to cry on, you coach her, you offer her a place to stay. When it’s time for her to take the leap, she makes up with the man. Maybe she even stops talking to you.
You say i to mi je hvala [this is a thank you to me]. You never expected a verbal thank you, but the right to influence the outcome.
#11 Croats often do favours for each other and repay them with small or large gifts. This is the driving force of our close-knit community.
A friend may help you refurbish your house. They know someone who knows someone and you end up paying much less. You thank a friend with a nice gift, for example homemade sausages or olive oil.
If you forget this token of appreciation, your friend has every right to say pa ni hvala [not even a thank you]. See the scale here? A gift is worth more than words.
4 Quantifying thank you in Croatian
We value solidarity, but we still need to eat. The problem is that Croats find it difficult to charge friends for their services. This is when chumminess backfires.
#12 Your friend the dentist may have been fixing your teeth for free. You make sure you always say thank you. But there comes the point when he may think: hvala stavi sebi u grah, pa ćeš vidjeti hoćeš li se od toga najesti [shove your thanks into a bowl of beans and see if that fills you up].
OK, maybe they’ll never say that to your face.
#13 If you keep abusing your friend’s soft side, you can end up with the substandard service. Not a good plan if they’re indeed a dentist.
When we know in advance we won’t get paid, we think to ourselves ako je za hvalu, dosta je [if it’s only for a thank you, it’s enough]. What we mean is that we won’t go overboard to deliver the results.
Now, should you always pay a friend?
This one is difficult. Which is why I warned you our culture of gratitude is a minefield.
Sometimes a friend may get offended if you offer them money. The way they say you’re welcome is the best gauge of the situation.
So let’s learn these useful Croatian phrases.
5 You’re welcome in Croatian
The simplest way to say you’re welcome in Croatian is nema na čemu [nothing to thank me for].
But as always, there are variations.
An old saying is that you should never thank for a cure. This still applies if someone gives you an actual painkiller. They will say za lijek se ne govori hvala [you never say thank you for a cure].
But it can also be a metaphor. Many things can actually be a cure to your problem.
When someone is happy for being able to help you, they’ll say i drugi put [no problem to do it again].
If giving help wasn’t a trouble, a Croat will say ma ništa za to [nothing to worry about]. Or simply sve je u redu [everything is fine].
Sometimes you could be over-thanking a Croat. They will then say ma daj molim te [come on please]. This is your cue you shouldn’t have offered money to your friend!
Now you have it. If you only learn hvala and nema na čemu, you’re golden.
The closer you get to Croats, the less you’ll struggle with pronouncing your throaty h.
By that time you’ll be in.
Now go and check if passing this lesson has made you more Croatian. I made the special ‘How Croatian are you’ quiz that has the answer.
BTW – thank you Sanjin Kaštelan for you great photos!