Several centuries ago, a wire instrument called the tamburica took the place of the gajde (drum pipe, similar to its Scottish cousin), the main musical instrument to accompany the traditional form of dancing in kolo (where dancers holding each other’s hand or waist make a fully closed or open circle).
It is easy to distinguish a Croatian kolo from similar dances in the region: with very few exceptions, a Croatian kolo always rotates clockwise.
Now the soft, lyrical sound of a tamburica orchestra, together with the traditional red and white chequered field has become the unmistakable trademark of Croats, especially those who have emigrated to other countries. In Croatia itself, it is saved for special occasions such as folk festivals, local celebrations and some country restaurants.
A more urban sound is that made by the usually melancholic, subdued singing of octets called klapa, one of the trademarks of Dalmatia and until recently, an exclusively male domain.
The meeting point for teenagers, time-pressed managers and pensioners alike is the kafić, a type of coffee bar. You can choose from espresso, duplu (double), cappuccino, bijelu (white – with milk) or produženu (larger black coffee, similar to the Austrian ‘Verlängerte’). Whatever you choose, brace yourself for the noise produced by several people at the table all talking at the same time at the top of their voices, the force of the voice prevailing over the strength of the argument.
It is still customary to invite friends to a slastičarnica (patisserie), where the range and appearance of cakes are very similar to those in Viennese coffee-houses and the taste is perhaps more home-made.
Traditional ballroom dancing still features at formal receptions, New Years’ Eve celebrations, weddings and similar occasions. The atmosphere in a typical disco or dance club is much the same as anywhere in Europe, and people get to know each other easily. Although Croatian womenfolk are anything but shy, good old-fashioned romance is still very much appreciated.
Croats will gladly invite you into their homes, unless they are embarrassed because of their modest circumstances. You are expected to accept it without hesitation or lame excuses!
Flowers for the hostess (on their own or with a box of chocolates) are an absolute must and a bottle of wine for the host is very appropriate for a home visit. For God’s sake, don’t kiss the man, but you may kiss your hostess on the cheeks. (Remember, no hand-kissing unless you are Hungarian, Austrian or Polish!)
Kissing three times is strictly forbidden in Croatia, and keeping the lips on the cheek too long is considered inappropriate. Make sure to pay attention to the children and try your best to sound sincere and convincing when admiring their appearance and cleverness.
Should the poor children be forced to mumble a few words in your language (say English, German or Italian), possibly learned in an expensive, private Kindergarten, it is obligatory for you to sound very impressed with their perfect pronunciation!
Your hostess is sure to apologize profusely for something that supposedly went wrong in the preparation of the delicious food she sets before you, and the only way to comfort her is to take a second helping when it is offered. But don’t worry, you’ll most probably enjoy it, as good home-cooking, including a variety of sweets, can be taken for granted.
Resistance towards smoking (including passive smoking) is rapidly growing, and even if there is an ashtray in sight, make sure to ask your host’s permission first.
For those of you who live in Croatia, it’s good to know that guests in your home will gladly follow your ways, but be sure to serve some local delicacies to show your appreciation of the local cuisine.
Remember that offering some refreshment to workers carrying out repairs in your home is seen as basic courtesy and good manners and is also taken as a sign of appreciation of their work.
A warning: Be very careful of using words which you would not normally use in the presence of ladies or children, as the tolerance of such language varies greatly and depends on region, education, family background, tradition etc. And please, don’t fall into the trap of acquiring some of the local swear words, as the initial enthusiasm for your imitation skills can evaporate much faster than you might imagine!
Tipping here doesn’t follow any strict rules and is linked to your satisfaction with the service provided. The usual minimum tip is obtained by rounding up the amount on the bill for taxi rides or pizza deliveries, typically by declining to take any small coins (and sometimes even notes) given in change, and some 10 % of the bill in restaurants. It is also a nice gesture to tip your postman and chimney-sweep at special times of the year such as Christmas time.
It used to be the privilege of a popular girl, the town beauty to be deliberately late for a date (which used to be called a rendez-vous, and now is called a spoj). Also, university lectures traditionally start 15 minutes later than scheduled (the “academic quarter of an hour”). Otherwise Croats tend to be rather punctual, unless, of course, the traffic was too heavy, the business lunch, conference or… whatever, lasted longer than planned.
And after all, that has to be the privilege of a nation which is proud of being part of Central Europe and the Mediterranean.