Op-Ed: How To Be The Tourist Croatians Dream Of

Lately, mainstream tourism throughout the coast of Croatia has been picking up, and for many Croats and tourists alike this has created a win-win situation. Relatively cheap stay on the Mediterranean when compared to Spain, Italy, or France, and some extra needed income and development in the Balkans … However, a pesky rhetoric keeps popping out in media like the mosquito in your hostel room that you can never get away from: that Croats are unfriendly, dislike tourists, and struggle with hospitality.

Sunset on Splendid, Dubrovnik (Photo courtesy of Nina P.)

As a half-croatian, half-american child who has grown up every summer of her life on the coast of this country, it’s time to do some myth busting.

For starters: Croatians are intense. They say it like it is, and many older generations have grown up with harsh conditions throughout the Balkans in the 90’s (genocide, war, poverty, etc) that could very easily have them come off as “mean”, “unfriendly”, as portrayed by many Western visitors. However, this is definitely a generalization, and one angry old Croatian man does not set a precedent for the entire country.

Sveti Jakov Beach, popular tourist destination, Dubrovnik
(Photo courtesy of Nina P.)

While some cultures would interpret it as rude, Croats value sincerity, in many ways that are the opposite of other Westerners. Typically, they won’t sugarcoat things, they will tell you like it is, and if they are upset: you will know about it.

However, this also means that a Croatian smile is typically always genuine. If a Croatian likes you, you’ll know it (probably over an invite for coffee or some free home-brewed rakija, a powerful brandy made from fruits or berries).

Pool at Palace Hotel, Dubrovnik (Photo courtesy of Nina P.)

To me, the tourist-Croatian controversy come largely from this miscommunication of sincerity.

In the Balkans, sincerity is as ingrained in us as our love for burek (a meat or cheese filled pastry) and vino (wine); whereas in the United States and United Kingdom, sincerity is often found inferior to other social norms like politeness and courtesy.

Inside the Old City of Dubrovnik (Photo courtesy of Nina P.)

So, how do you become the tourist of every Croatian’s dreams? The answers are pretty simple. Just because it is a hot, non-english speaking country, does not mean that you can have zero respect for law, workers, and authority (contrary to the belief of many 20 year old males on “lad” holidays). Treat the locals nicely, and follow the rules.

Along the Croatian seaside, many workers in the tourism industry work the entire season with only a few days off, working over ten hour days to keep family businesses running. Often, but not always, entering the tourism industry is more of an economic necessity than an active choice, considering Croatia’s developing economy and lack of other industries along the seaside.

Point is? Be nice to your waiters, AirBnb hosts, bus drivers, etc. They work long hours that they probably never asked for.

Learn some basic phrases: “bok” (hi/bye), “hvala” (thanks), and “molim” (please/ you’re welcome) really do go a long way, especially when workers in the tourist industry are speaking every language but their mother tongue for 3 months a year. 

Exploring the ancient city of Zadar, Croatia (Photo courtesy of Nina P.)

Nevertheless, the most important key to winning a Croat’s heart is the golden rule: take your relaxation seriously. If there is one thing Croats, especially Dalmatians, love, is their time off. So drink the rakija, smoke your cigarettes, swim in the sea, binge on wine, and go clubbing until the sun rises. But please, understand that the people working are people too, and treat them with the same respect, if not more, that you would at home.

About the writer:

  Thank you Croatian goddess for this lovely op-ed! More to come from our darling dalmatinka about some other interesting spots in the Balkans soon. As for me, I will continue to update y’all on what’s happening in scenic and summery Vancouver. Travel safe and often hvala ti again to Nina P.!