DUBROVNIK: Croatian humor


Sea kayaking on the Adriatic with my roommate. What a beautiful and tiring experience!

Culture shock, communication errors, and confusion are always to be expected when one is traveling to another country. I’ve been to Europe several times now, so I thought I generally knew what to expect to find when I got here. Of course, Croatia has managed to surprise me yet again. 

Perhaps the most blatant aspect of culture shock that I’ve been faced with is adjusting to the distinct and sometimes perplexing personalities that are common in the Croatian people.

The Croatian sense of humor was particularly confusing when we first arrived. Many Croatians are very sarcastic and enjoy a dry, sometimes even biting sense of humor. Where most Americans tend to follow their sarcasm up with a bit of a smirk or eye roll to clue one in on their joke, Croatians hold a perfectly straight face and stare you dead in the eye.

If a Croatian waiter or bartender greatly exaggerated the price of our drinks or fib about the menu, instead of picking up on the joke and laughing, we would just stare wide-eyed and open mouthed until they gave up and chuckled at our clueless faces.

Even more shocking was the Croatians’ choices of humor about the Yugoslav War. It is not uncommon for Croatians to now joke with people from Albania or Slovenia and tease them for not taking part in any of the fighting. Croats will say, “Oh what do you know? You’re from Albania! We had way more action than you did!” At the war museum Croatian guides joked about how they all have post traumatic stress disorder and can’t sleep at night. 

“Yes, many times I still wake up from nightmares at night and yell. Don’t let any loud noises go off near me… I’m just kidding! Sort of…”

Of course none of us new how to react. Torn between looking sympathetic and amused, we mostly ended up with twisted grimaces and forced awkward laughs while we quickly found something on the other side of the room in which to feign interest. 

Other than their sometimes uncomfortable sense of humor, Croatians tend to be very laid-back people. They tend to stick to jeans and sneakers; ten minutes late is generally considered on-time; and several cups of coffee a day is an absolute ritual. 

Croatians are not quite as friendly as I expected, but still quite helpful and kind. While I have ran into a few flat-out rude people that will body-block me to be the first on the bus or try to take advantage of me as a tourist in a shop, Croatians are generally very nice people who just prefer to keep to themselves. 

Raised in the South, I am used to being smiled at wherever I go and hearing someone’s entire life story within two minutes on an elevator, so this was a bit of a change. I still hold on to the hope of making Croatian friends, even though I’m treading on foreign waters, literally and figuratively. I’m just going to show as much Southern hospitality as I can and hope for the best.