Croatia and Croatians - things you should know

Both my parents are Croatian. My dad grew up in a small town called Tenja, near Osijek, in Croatia's east. My mum grew up in Split on the Dalmatian Coast. They each came to Australia and met in a Croatian Club in Sydney. Then I came along, then my sister.

We left Sydney and moved to Narrandera in NSW's Riverina, then my brother came along.

Despite growing up in Narrandera, away from the Croatian community and with no other relatives nearby, we had a strong sense of our parent's Croatian background. We spoke Croatian at home and mum prepared traditional Croatian dinners daily. School holidays would be spent with relatives in Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne, attending Croatian clubs, churches and hanging out with Croatian cousin's Croatian friends.

Despite growing up "Croatian", the Aussie in me thought a few of mum and dad's habits and beliefs were a little odd. I also hold these oddities true about my cousins in Croatia as my boys and I discovered today. We've only been here one day and have already experienced everything below.

This is one of the most important things you should know about Croatians - they will want to feed you. A lot. ALL.THE.TIME. They will never be convinced that you've had enough to eat. Their need to feed you is testament to their genuine hospitality, openness, desire to please you and make you feel welcome. A meal will go something like this:

First course: Soup. No matter how hot the weather is, soup will be served at the start of the meal. The soup will be boiling. The chef, usually Baka (grandmother) or mama (mum) will have toiled over a pot for hours preparing fresh stock. Regardless of the weather.

Second course: The first two types of meat dishes, served hot, well done and salty.

Third course: The next two types of meat dishes, served hot, well done and salty.

Table decoration: A bowl of chopped iceberg lettuce and sliced tomato, drizzled with a little olive oil, vinegar and salt. Feel free to eat this. 

Not a table decoration: Salt. It will already be plentiful in the prepared dishes and more will be placed on the table in case you don't find your meal salty enough.

Fourth course: Sweets. Nothing major, just a small selection that baka, mama, aunts and godmothers would have thrown together that afternoon and each contributed something to this course. Later, after dinner, should you feel a little peckish, you will easily find yet another selection of sweets on the bench and in the pantry and in the fridge.

Fifth course: Cake. This will have been made with painstaking love. It will be rude not to eat some, no matter how much you've already had to eat. 

True story
Before arriving for my first visit to Croatia over 10 years ago and meeting my relatives for the first time, my parents told them I was a vegetarian. They didn't understand what my parents meant and it had to be explained in great detail. My relatives' exact words were "Is she normal?" It's a little better now with vegetarianism becoming more common (and my eating habits a little more relaxed), but they do love their meat!

Anything, but don't expect it to be too cold. Today was a hot day, over 30 degrees C and walking around the kids and I were parched and gagging for an icy cold drink. We stop at a lovely outdoor bar with my cousins and order beers and cold water. The beer is cool-ish. The water is from the tap and almost lukewarm. 

The kids look at me in horror. I call the waiter back and ask for cold water. He tells me it IS cold. I ask for ice. The waiter and my cousins look at me in horror, but the waiter obliges and goes to get some water with ice. He brings back another glass of water with one cube of ice in it which has melted by the time it reaches our table. The kids are too hot to have their own meltdown.

I explain to my cousin the cold temperatures at which drinks are served in Australia. How a glass is practically filled with ice before any liquid is added. I tell him (with much longing) how beer glasses are kept refrigerated at pubs so the beers are really, really cold when served. My cousin's look of horror continues and he wonders if all these cold drinks make us catch a cold. My cousins, the waiter and even the eavesdropping table next to us are all clearing their throats as if just the mere mention of cold drinks will make them catch a cold.

Catching colds
This is a big thing. My Dubai/Paris/sleeping on planes plan has worked. We were in bed before midnight last night and the kids and I all awoke before 8 am feeling refreshed and excited. We walk out to the kitchen at my cousin's house and my cousin's wife's first reaction is one of concern as we all have bare feet. It's summer and the temperature is already almost mid 20's C. She is worried that we will catch a cold and tells me she can lend me some slippers and even a robe if I feel a chill. She also shows me where more blankets are for the bed. I explain that slippers are a winter thing and she just shakes her head in bewilderment.

More on beer
Like all good Aussies, when in a new place I always try local beers first. I already knew the local beers from my first trip here years ago. When planning our few days, my cousin tells me that some of his friends remembered me and hoped to cross paths again. My trip was about 13 years ago. I can't believe I'd be remembered and I ask why, waiting to be flattered. "It's how you drank your beer." What??? "None of us had ever seen a girl drink beer so fast and with so much enjoyment." Hmmmm, they can't have met a lot of Australians. 13 years later and I still have a reputation.

Kids are absolutely, unconditionally loved and adored and cuddled and played with. You MUST have kids. My cousin and his wife have been married a couple of years but don't have kids yet. I asked if they wanted any or if they were concentrating on careers. They didn't understand my question - how could anyone not want kids? They've been trying and will continue to do so. I explained that some of my closest girlfriends, for their own various reasons didn't have or didn't want children. That question again, as with my vegetarianism - is she normal?

Needless to say, after day 1 in a small town in Croatia, my kids are having an awesome time. They are so happy!!!! We met my other cousin's baby boy whose Christening happened to be this afternoon which we attended and gave us a great opportunity to catch up with more family from my dad's side. We've been walking around Osijek, visited a museum (separate post) and played at home with my cousin's dog - Frodo (yes, as in Baggins).

This evening my brother arrived from Australia which is also exciting as we'll have a couple of days together here before the boys and I head off on our own way.

So happy to be here again and to share this with my boys.

Julia xo

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