You Can’t Do, Eat Or Say That If You’re In Croatia

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Post author SJ

Written by our local expert SJ

Sarah-Jane has lived in Croatia for 10+ years. SJ, as she is known, has been traveling the Balkans & beyond since 2000. She now shares her passion for traveling with her husband & kids.

You’ve had a shower, you get dressed, and then you realize the time.  Damn it; you’re late. You grab your keys and head out the door, But wait…..who is watching you? You have wet hair, which means you can’t leave the house if you’re within 50 meters of your Croatian Aunt, Uncle, Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, neighbor – hell, you can’t leave the house with wet hair if your Croatian dog is watching.

Dammit, I said ‘hell’… I’ll pay for that one too. I better do the Rosary tonight. Don’t use any curses related to God, Jesus, or Mary unless you really need to. We did a guide to swearing like a Croatian part one &, even worse, swearing part two – you can go and read those later to catch up.

Forgive me father, for I have sinned
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.

I guarantee that if you leave the house with wet hair, that Croatian relative, friend, acquaintance, or even a stranger who is walking the dog will intervene. Their wet hair detectors will go off, an alarm will sound, and they’ll rush over to you, begging (or barking) for you to return to the safety of the indoors before you get pneumonia and die a frozen death.

You can’t leave the house with wet hair. Why, may you ask? No, you can’t ask; you must just go back indoors and whip out that hairdryer.

The Wind Will Kill You

If the Bura can do this to a tree... imagine the horror it will cause to your neck...!!!
If the Bura can do this to a tree in my suburb… imagine the horror it will cause to your neck…!!!

Now that you’ve got dry hair, you can meet your Croatian friends for lunch. Waaaaaaaaait. Wait just a second. Is that a bare neck, I see? Perhaps a T-shirt? No jacket, no scarf, no pullover? Back inside, you go. Don’t you know (according to Croatian culture) that a draft or propuh, as it’s known in Croatian, is deadly? Yes, it will kill you. The draft on your neck is just as ferocious as wet hair. Drafts cause infections, flu, and even muscle aches and pains (or so I am told).

My mother-in-law was very lax with this rule in Australia, which left me very unprepared for living in Croatia, where the irrational fear of wind is at epic proportions. Now, I figure that she must have relaxed her approach to pestering about the propuh because she came to her senses and now knows that having two windows open at the same time in the bus, car, or house creates a lovely fresh breeze, allowing one to breathe, and it’s not a death trap.

I live in Dalmatia, where there is a wind known as the Bura, a powerful north-easterly wind that is so strong that it will clear the sky of any clouds and uproots giant trees when it blows. So, on a day when the Bura blows, you must be dressed accordingly. Side note: You can read about how the Bura can also be blamed for you being all kinds of stuff.

According to my sources here in Croatia, the deadly propuh is likely to cause you all kinds of grief if that delicate part on the back of your neck is bare when there is just the slightest hint of a draft. In Summer, you’re (mostly) safe; in winter, not so much. I’d invest in a few scarves and leave them in the car, your house, and at work. Just. In.Case!

Hair dried, neck covered, you are now safe to leave to attend lunch.

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At Lunch, There Are A Few Cultural Things You Need To Remember…

Finished Sarma ready to devour - just take one!

Grace. Not the lady’s name. But the prayer before the meal. When dining with SOME Croatians (not all, so calm down your hate mail to me, you will need to wait for just a second to see if anyone will be saying a little pre-meal prayer.

With the majority of Croatians being Catholic, you should know it’s customary for some to say a prayer of thanks before the meal. So wait, just a little to be sure you’re not digging into those stuffed peppers too early.

Hair dried. You’re rugged up on a summer’s day, and the Prayer said. Now you’re free… Okay, I lied.

First, you need to know what to do when that giant pot of stuffed cabbages has been placed on the table. Listen closely. You should take one. I know you want three cabbage rolls, but if you take three, you’ll be forced to eat four – maybe even five.

Here is why.

Croatian hospitality requires the host to ensure that you are completely FULL and happy when having a meal at a friend or relative’s house. I don’t often write in CAPS in my blog posts. So when I do, you should heed the warning.

Never Say No

You’d be hard-pressed to find any Croatian family where there is no emphasis on family, friends, and food. Hospitality towards your guests is critical.

Offering drinks, pre-meal snacks, a meal, a second helping, even a third helping, cake, coffee, and then more drinks to your guests is necessary.

Then your responsibility in return is not to decline… ever. Saying no would be plain rude.  Here is what I suggest you do to avoid being rude (or, in some cases, being nagged).

Only Take A Small Portion

Take a small serving the first go, thus allowing plenty of wiggle room in your jeans for that second helping you will be required to consume. Failure to heed this warning will see you having to hear repeatedly how you are too skinny, you must be hungry, and so on. Your host may also use guilt to force you into a second helping. My favorite one (yes, I have become one of ‘them’) is “Oh, did you not like the food”? Boom! Host 1-guest 0.

If you have listened to this very sane advice, by this stage, you’ve only had one slice of fried eggplant and one cabbage roll – and now you’re about to make your host’s day. Of course, you are still hungry, so when your hosts asks you to take another serving – you eagerly oblige. Everybody wins.

The tricky part is the third serving; you may want one, but chances are you’ve already indulged in two plates of sauerkraut and yummy grilled fish, so when that time comes, you’ll need to be polite and say no thanks. If you want” to show off, you can use the phrase “ne mogu više, hvala,” which means you can’t take (eat) anymore. Word of warning: be sure not to overuse this phrase, as your hosts may come not to believe you.

Do Not Drink Water

Seafood is tasty… but NOT WITH WATER.

Remember that grilled fish we spoke about? If you ate it, don’t, I repeat, do not drink a glass of water with your meal. Why? I do not know why. All I know is that you’ll risk your host slapping the water out of your hand and muttering something about being sick. After 15 years of being with my husband’s Croatian family, no one can tell me why I can’t drink water after eating fish – well, seafood of any kind, actually. So, now I don’t fight it and instead enjoy the homemade wine.

Update: I was explained that fish must swim in 3 liquids: first the sea, then in oil as you cook it… and finally wine. Mystery solved.

Flip Flops, Jandals, Thongs, And All Open Toes Footwear Are Banned

A few days ago, I had a little rant on our Chasing the Donkey Facebook page about how it was so lovely that the warmer weather has returned, yet I was being nagged about how I was close to death by a flip-flop. The act of not wearing appropriate footwear at the slightest sign of cold(ish) weather can see you with an infection, a cough, a cold, and even pneumonia if you’re not careful. Ignore the sun, and always, always be wearing shoes and socks.


I am not making this up, and this is not just the crazy rules of my husband’s side of the family. No, no, no, this is very real. I was hoping you could take a peek at what some of my readers had to say in response to my Facebook rant. Click where it says ’18 comments’, and you’ll see some hilarious responses, like the one where you have to take off your perfectly dry bikini in the middle of summer.

Ladies first

Now, I’d like you to know that Croatians are very normal and deadly wind & gluttony aside.  They know that women come first. Here in Croatia, a man must always shake a lady’s hand first. As women, you’ll never be asked to lift something heavy or do any ‘man’s work.’ I like that. On the flip side, it also means you’ll never see a man doing the dishes.

Crazy winds and being forced to eat more food than I really need are just two of the reasons I heart Croatia!

Have you ever experienced any unusual ‘rules’ in a country you’ve visited or lived in? Are you Croatian? What other things did your Baka nag you about?

Comments (172)

  1. Gotta love those strange customs nobody can remember the origin of.

    The fish/water one is intriguing, because, you know, it’s like a natural habitat for fish. Maybe that’s the problem? The fish will be strengthened to the point of revenge? The water you’re drinking is not salty enough for the fish in question and will ruin it in your stomach?


  2. ‘ “Ohhh, did you not like the food”? Boom! Host 1-guest 0. ‘
    This! Here in Japan, we get slapped with this all the time! Over here it’s the same, it’s rude to say no to hospitality. I was in a bit of a pickle with this a few weeks ago. I was invited to the house a very wealthy family to tutor two children. When you visit a house in Japan, you will always always always be served tea/coffee and a small cookie or cake, and it is polite to finish what they give you. However, I was there to teach two small children who did not receive any snack or drink, and obviously I can’t teach with a mouthful, so I politely stirred some cream and sugar into my coffee while the children were finding crayons, and stole a sip here and there to make it look like I drank it, at least, but I never got a chance to eat the cookie.

    The next time I visited the house, I wasn’t served coffee at all, but was given tea instead. I remarked afterward to my boss that the matron of the family likely thought that I hadn’t liked the coffee, and had thus given me something else. He said yes, that was probably the case. A shame too, since it was probably the best coffee I’d ever tasted!

    Another famous example was when we took a vacation to Hokkaido in the north. We were staying at a nice traditional inn where the meals cost extra. We were students at the time, so all of our money was going to paying for the inn. That said, every time we went to go out exploring, our hosts tried to give us breakfast before we left. We politely refused each time (we didn’t want to say we were dirt poor, because how pitiable would that have been?). It got to the point where they wouldn’t let us leave without stuffing our pockets with candy. Finally, one day one of the owners of the inn offered us a rice ball for the third day in a row as we were out the door, and when we refused again she asked us in a very meek voice, “Can you not eat it?” (the Japanese, indirect way of asking, “You don’t like it?”) Guilt went through the roof! Of course, we had to explain that no, no, we like rice balls, we just don’t have the money to pay for extra meals. We were practically living on dollar store cup noodles at that point. The poor woman instantly shoved the rice balls into our hand and cried “Service! Service, you don’t have to pay anything!” ^^; After that, they stuffed our packs full of food every day we stayed. We felt so bad that on our last day there we pooled our money and asked to have the regular breakfast meal, but the family just laughed and told us that they’d been giving us the regular meal every morning. Still, on our last day, they made us a huge platter of food, and we all sat together and chatted. They then drove us to the train station where we had lots of tearful good byes.

    After the big 2011 earthquake, the called us, and asked if we were all right. We still exchange communications with them. It was a great experience.

    1. How awkward, and yet with such a great ending. Small cultural things can really weigh heavy, yet they can be so refreshing also. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  3. Hahahaha! I love these customs!! In Morocco poeple LIE about what their job is, because they don’t want the ‘evil eye’ on them. Same reason why they don’t parade a small child around (like we tend to do with babies). The evil eye is apparently everywhere (I just think it’s my mum, and that’s why I moved away, haha!). Thanx for the story!!

  4. Well, being a vegetarian in Croatia is very rude, too. Most people I know eat some meat for every meal and, very often, you can find meat in every single dish (except salad, if there is any). And also, meat in food you wouldn’t even expect, like salty cookies (or just animal fat, but it’s still something I wouldn’t usually eat). But the most funny thing is that people who know you don’t eat meat will almost regularly emphasize how there “is NO meat in that” when you can see it with your bare eyes, without much trying :). So, beware, vegetarians in Croatia!

    And, I don’t know if it’s everywhere like that, but people are usually in so much wonder when they find out I’m a vegetarian, like it’s something you only see on TV, so they continue for like a half an hour with questions like: “but what do you eat then?” “do you eat fish?” “not even fish?!” “how about chicken?”, and so on…

    Also, sitting on the ground without a pillow – if, for some reason, you decide to do that, you better be careful that nobody sees you :). This is the similar case as with going out with your hair wet.

    1. Can I tell you I was a vego when I joined my Croat family 15 years ago and I was given pork from the spit roast and told ‘this does not count’…. now I am big meat eater. I could not win :) So yup, I know exactly what you mean Ema.

  5. Thanks for making me laugh out loud! Some of these things are the same in Italy; only taking one small helping when you’re a guest, the wet hair, wind (general bad weather)…..but the one about water and fish is new, so far, but doesn’t mean it’s not the same in Italy too.

  6. That is all true… Sometimes Croats here in Dalmatia have such funny ideas… In the summer I go out after the shower with the wet hair… Now I’ve learned not to do it any more, since whenever I did it and run to the shop for example the ladies looked at me at asked. Oh you swam… No, I didn’t. But your hair is wet… Yes, I took a shower. And after that a get this strange glaze… Also washing hair and showering every day is something not in place here. How many times I was told that I am ruining my hair or skin…

  7. Ha! This made me laugh…..I can’t think of any really quirky “rules” that we have here in Britain – although older people will tell you off for the wet hair thing as well. It sounds like a minefield!

  8. This made me really laugh… The Bavarians are like that about the wind and wet hair… they like to visit the doctor ALOT… But I am afraid they don’t agree with your flip flop point!! :D

    1. Haha you guys make it up by wearing white socks with your sandals! :)
      The best way to recognize a german person in Croatia, we kinda make fun of that a lot! ;)

  9. This really made me laugh. i think the multiple helpings of food can be applied to Chinese mothers, too. In Malaysia, certain foods have “heaty” properties while others are cooling. You cannot have too much heaty or else inexplicable bad things will happen to your body. Both beer & durian are heaty, so never eat them together.

  10. Haha This is so funny ~ I had this when we lived in LIthuania funny things you could not say or do LIke Never sit on the ground, steps, anywhere outside except a warm chair (if your a woman) or you will damage your hoohoo LOL Fun story!

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