Worried about making a good impression as a guest in a Croatian home? Don’t worry, the locals are not really that complicated. Nevertheless, here are a few tips on the customs and things you should know about the domestic culture.
First off, Croats have an unwritten rule of initially refusing invitations to gatherings which demand considerable work on the part of the host. This may include a family dinner. If invited, your first reaction should be a kind refusal, with a statement insisting you don’t want to disrupt a family affair. This will trigger the person offering the invite to be even more insistent you come, stating that it’s no bother at all and that the family would love to have you as a guest of honor. And thus you’ve got a date.
If you are a vegetarian or have some other special diet, state it immediately in order to avoid an unpleasant situation where the host has prepared a meal you won’t have one bit of. This is what you do everywhere, it’s true, but after a bit of a stay when you get to know how much Croatians love their meat you’ll understand why we point this out.
Bringing gifts for your hosts is very important. The usual “combo” is a flower bouquet for the hostess and a bottle of wine for the host. Bringing sweets or children is not mandatory but will show you care about the house you are visiting. The best thing you can do though is to bring something from your country. In addition to Croats being quite interested in gifts from faraway places, it will also show that you had them in mind even before arriving. One other tip: Slavic nations use chrysantemums to decorate graves. Don’t bring them as a gift. Also, if you recieve a gift, it is polite to open it immediately, showing everyone at the table the curtuosity of the gifter.
The custom of taking off your shoes in the hall upon arrival is still often practiced in Croatian homes. In most cases, Croats have guest slippers ready, although in less formal gatherings, you can feel free to enter with only your socks on (especially in the summer months). The best way to deal with this situation is to see whether your host will show you where to take off your shoes.
The usual procedure is for the host is to introduce you to the other members of the household, or possibly other guests, when you enter. A general perception exists that Croats are usually slightly reserved and very official during the first meeting – don’t take it the wrong way. A handshake and direct eye contact followed by a greeting and introduction is the best way to start with most Croats.
More traditional Croats will be pleased if you refer to them with Mr. or Mrs. (“gospodin” for gents, “gospodja“ for ladies) followed by their last name. First names are usually used by family members and friends, and newer generations are also far less formal.
At the table, you will most probably receive a small appetizer, such as a home-made rakija. Be prepared, this drink is very strong and has an intense taste. However, you will probably want a bottle of it in the baggage on your way home.
The meal begins with host’s signal to begin. It is very impolite to eat before everyone else. If lunch or is being served (the main meal of the day in Croatia), you can expect a bowl of soup followed by the main dish. Salads are usually served as a second side-dish, sometimes in their own bowl. Don’t expect one as an appetizer.
Croats rarely debone their meals, and in most cases provide a small plate to store bones as you eat. As for eating with your fingers, common rules apply. Dishes usually consumed in such a way, suck as chicken drumsticks, can be approached with the hands without any fears of making a scene. Take notice that Croats in more coastal areas also tend to use fingers when eating fish. Feel free to join them if you’d like.
The dessert in Croatia will most likely be home-made cake or cookies, served with turkish coffee. Mixing sweet with bitter is common in the country. If you really want to shine as a guest, offer to make something for desert yourself and bring it with you. Food is probably the only subject in which Croats will show a universal interest.
Finally, when leaving, take note of the kissing habits of Croats. Those who are very close have a habit of kissing each others’ cheeks when they meet or part ways. It’s a gesture of true friendship and loyalty, consisting of a single kiss on each cheek. For comparison, Serbs have a similar custom, but with three kisses (usually left-right-left). Don’t mix the two customs, as Croats won’t expect a third kiss, which may lead to awkward situations (for example, accidentally kissing the person on the mouth). As for hugging, it’s not customary. Stick to a handshake and two kisses.
And your customs? What is it like being a dinner guest where you are from? Let us know in the comments below!