Saturday, 13 February 2021

Learning Croatian: Articles of Clothing in Hvar Dialect (VIDEO)

February 13, 2021 - Continuing our look at the Croatian language through Hvar dialect, some important things to know about articles of clothing, with a cameo appearance from a famous winemaker.

Learning Croatian on a Dalmatian island is not recommended, unless you find a teacher who can teach you classic Croatian rather than the local dialect. It was a lesson I learned at great cost when I went to Zagreb some time later, only to find out that my shiny new Croatian words were actually unintelligible to most people who were not from Hvar.  

Add to that the famous Dalmatian Grunt, perfected by the one and only Frank John Dubokovich, and the concept of a video series on Hvar dialect was born.  As previously mentioned, the original YouTube series dating back to 2011 was taken down for some reason, but some of it has survived on an old camera. 

Today's lesson is probably my favourite, focusing on articles of clothing in Hvar dialect. Over the years, the lessons achieved something of a cult status on Jelsa's main square, and various people were quick to add their expertise, sometimes even to contradict the great Professor Frank John Dubokovich, Guardian of the Hvar Dialects. 

The other problem, which was probably linked to the number of cold ones consumed prior to recording, was that filming (always one take only) often coincided with the ringing of the midday church bells. This week's episode descended into chaos, with a combination of those bells, as well as the linguistic intervention of the Three Wise Men, including legendary Jelsa winemaker, Andro Tomic. 

You can subscribe to the TCN Talks YouTube channel for the latest language instructions from The Professor. 

For the latest news from the island of Hvar, check out the dedicated TCN Hvar section.

Looking to improve your Croatian as a foreigner? 25 Mistakes Foreigners Make When Speaking Croatian.

Friday, 5 February 2021

Learning Croatian: How Do People from Hvar, Dubrovnik Understand Each Other?

February 5, 2021 - Croatia is a country full of dialects. How do the people of Hvar and Dubrovnik understand each other, for example? The latest Hvar dialect lesson from Professor Frank John Dubokovich. 

My Croatian is by no means fluent but I get by pretty well and am happy to do television interviews in Croatian, for example (much to the amusement of locals), but when I moved from Hvar to Varazdin four years ago, I thought I had entered a different country.  The Varazdin dialect was REALLY hard to follow after being brought up on Dalmatian. 

Things are a little better these days, but I still struggle a lot, and I do look in wonder at my kids who switch effortlessly between the two during the school holidays back in Jelsa. 

The dialects of Croatia have fascinated me, even since we started a fun Hvar dialect video series with the self-styled linguistic colossus, Professor Frank John Dubokovich back in 2011. His iconic Dalmatian Grunt, above, took the Internet by storm, quickly racking up 50,000 views before the channel was removed by YouTube for reasons unknown. 

We are now reintroducing some of the original videos which I came across offline last year. As the series developed, we invited people visiting from other parts of the country to take part, so that we could compare the dialects of Hvar and that region with the classic Croatian dialect. 

In the latest episode, we were delighted to welcome a Dubrovnik resident to the Total Office in Jelsa, and we put The Professor, our Dubrovnik guest and classic Croatian speaker through their paces with a range of phrases to highlight some of the differences. 

It is hard for me as a foreigner to recognise that they are all speaking the same language. How about you?

For more linguistic genius from Professor Frank John Dubokovich, Guardian of the Hvar Dialects, subscribe to the YouTube channel. 

Saturday, 30 January 2021

Learning Croatian: the Hvar Dialect Language of Love

January 30, 2021 - Visiting Hvar and looking for the perfect language of love? Help is at hand in the latest in our Hvar dialect series with Professor Frank John Dubokovich.

Within a week of moving to Hvar all those years ago, I had met the girl of my dreams in the library in Jelsa and have been married to her for many years now. As such, I have never had any need for the language of love, Hvar-style, that is the focus of this week's lesson in Hvar dialect from Professor Frank John Dubokovich, Guardian of the Hvar Dialects. 

The Professor, you may recall, became an Internet sensation several years ago when his iconic Dalmatian grunt was unleashed on an unsuspecting public, quickly racking up over 50,000 views before YouTube removed it for reasons unknown. 

The Professor is the most successful man with the ladies I have ever met on all my travels to almost 100 countries in my 51 years, and while it is tempting to assume the Dalmatian grunt instantly melts female hearts, it turns out that the Professor has a whole arsenal of Hvar dialect terms dedicated to the language of love.  

In this week's episode, which was recorded in early 2013 and is now once more back online, the Professor is joined by Hvar tour guide Dijana Moskatelo, whose classic Croatian phrases of the language of love seem to be a lot more comprehensible than the Professor's utterances. But who am I to judge? 

If you would like to learn more about the dialect words spoken on Hvar, we are slowly restoring the popular series from the early days of Total Hvar to YouTube. You can subscribe to the TCN Talks YouTube channel for the latest updates. 

For the latest news from Hvar,  check out the dedicated TCN section

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Learning Croatian Vegetables the Hvar Dialect Way (VIDEO)

January 23, 2021 - Continuing our alternative look at the Croatian language through Hvar dialect, this week Professor Frank John Dubokovich shows us his moves in the mysterious world of learning Croatian vegetables.

I sometimes wonder how Croatians from other parts of the country understand each other. I know that all countries have dialects and dialect words, but Croatia seems to take the regional vocabulary to a different level. 

One of the fun projects in the early years of the Total Project, before TCN, was an occasional language series on Total Hvar looking at the Hvar dialect compared to standard Croatian with Professor Frank John Dubokovich, Guardian of the Hvar Dialects. 

What started out as a bit of fun with the infamous Dalmatian Grunt in the first episode above, quickly got quite a following, with more than 50,000 views for that first article. About 20 more videos followed until they were taken down by YouTube for reasons unknown.  

We continue to restore the Professor's linguistic colossus to the Internet with the latest in the series, a rather illuminating look at the differences in various words on the subject of vegetables and how they differ between standard Croatian and Hvar dialect. 

The Professor confessed to me before shooting this lesson that there was something about the Hvar dialect word for 'aubergine' that made his want to get up and dance. He was even kind enough to demonstrate some of his moves during the lesson. 

With thanks to Zdravko for his more understandable version for those learning Croatian vegetables, as well as to Marion in her role as Executive Aubergine Holder. 

You can follow more of the linguistic musings of the Professor as the series develops by subscribing to the TCN Talks YouTube channel

For the very latest from the island of Hvar, follow the dedicated TCN section.  

Sunday, 27 December 2020

Learning Croatian: The Months of the Year v Hvar Dialect

December 27, 2020 - Continuing our look at the Croatian language through the unique viewpoint of Professor Frank John Dubokovich, Guardian of the Hvar Dialects, time to learn the months of the year.

One of the many things that baffled me when learning Croatian during my time in Jelsa were the months of the year. 

With every language I have learned (or perhaps, more accurately, attempted to learn), the days of the week and months of the year were usually one of the earliest - and easiest - things to master. 

Not so with Croatian, or should I say the version of Croatian I was exposed to. 

And it seemed that I was not alone, and that locals seemed to get a little confused too. At first I thought it was due to the fact that the use of the months of the year in modern Croatian were being deliberately used to move away from Serbo-Croat, in the same way that 'aerodrom' was replaced by 'zracna luka' (literally 'air harbour'), and there were wonderful Croatian versions of Serbo-Croatia - listopad (leaves falling) rather than Oktober being my favourite.

But over time, I realised that it was just the way that people speak here, especially in dialect. Rather than refer to June by its real name, I would often here 'sesti mjesec' or 'sixth month.'

My experience of learning Croatia was hardly classical Croatian grammar at its finest. My main teacher was a man in my local cafe, who went on to become christened Professor Frank John Dubokovich, Guardian of the Hvar Dialects. The Professor's iconic Dalmatian Grunt, above, amassed 50,000 views on YouTube back in 2013 and inspired an alternative language series with the Professor's teachings, which was mysteriously removed by YouTube a few years ago.  

I chanced upon some of the original footage recently, and so I am posting the lessons once more, in the hope that the Professor can inspire a new generation. Today, we look at the months  of the year, comparing the months of the year in standard Croatia and Hvar dialect. Did the Professor simply run out of words, or do you think he was demonstrating his prowess at counting?

You can follow more of the Professor's linguistic genius on our YouTube channel.

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Learning Croatian: Did the English Language Originate from Hvar Dialect?

December 17, 2020 - Continuing our alternative look at the Croatian language with linguisitic colossus Professor Frank John Dubokovich, is the English language actually derived from Hvar dialect?

One of the most popular features in the early years of Total Hvar, the precursor to TCN, was an impromptu language series I recorded with my good friend, Frank John Dubokovich, with whom I would share a late morning cold one each day on the square in Jelsa. 

Frankie, of Jelsa stock but born and raised in New Zealand until his family moved back to Hvar when he was 8, is trilingual, although there is a case for saying not all of his language is understandable. He is fluent in English, Croatian and the very unique Hvar dialect. And it was his expertise in Hvar dialect that catapulted him first to a national televsion audience, and then to an international one, as he gave Croatian language lessons - at least his version of Croatia - to participants of a British reality TV show.  

Professor Frank John Dubokovich, Guardian of the Hvar Dialects, as he quickly became known, was an Internet hit, with more than 50,000 views on his iconic Dalmatian grunt, before YouTube removed my channel for some reason. 

Thankfully, I came across some offline versions of some of the Professor's teachings recently, and TCN is gradually reintroducing these linguistic treasures to the online world.  

Today's lesson shows the depth of the Professor's intellect and capacity for detailed research.  After toying around with his Hvar dialect, the Professor noted a number of similiarities between Hvar dialect and the English language. He enlisted the assisted of Jelsa Mayor, Niksa Peronja, to present his findings to his faithful audience. You can see the results in the video above - conclusive stuff. 

The only thing left to explore is the following conundrum. Were English speakers the first inhabitants of Hvar,  or is Hvar dialect actually the birth of the Croatian language?

You can see more of the Professor's linguistic genious on the TCN Talks YouTube channel

Friday, 4 December 2020

Learning Croatian: Comparing Kiwi Croatian to Hvar Dialects with Professor Frank John Dubokovich

December 4, 2020 - Croatian has a reputation for being a difficult language to learn. It doesn't have to be, you just need the right teacher or dialect. A look at Kiwi Croatian compared to Hvar dialect. 

One of my favourite all-time interviews on TCN was with the two fabulous Aussie Croat ladies behind Zinfandel, Brasserie on 7, Split Hostel and Charlie's Bar. Apart from documenting Korana and Maria's phenomenal story over the past almost 20 years in Split (which you can read here), one thing I remember about the interview was asking if they spoke Croatian before they moved to Croatia.

"We thought we did," they answered simultaneously, before bursting into laughter. 

I can imagine how shocked they must have been at the difference in Croatian spoken back in the Homeland compared to what they were exposed to back home. Over the years, I have spoken to many people from the Croatian diaspora. Some speak better Croatian than the majority here, others have just a few words, and the majority are somewhere in between. As such, there are different levels of Croatianness in the language spoken. 

I became aware of this first several years ago when I was recording our very popular YouTube series, Learning Croatian with the Guardian of the Hvar Dialects, Professor Frank John Dubokovich. 

The series became an instant hit after the first impromptu episode. As I explained last week, The Professor's iconic Dalmatian Grunt was watched over 50,000 times before YouTube removed the channel for reasons I can't figure out. Having found some of the lessons on the original camera recently, I am starting to repost them again - here is the article on the first - and the best - lesson of all

The Professor was born in New Zealand, where he lived for 8 years before his family moved back to Hvar. During the summer, he has several Kiwi visitors from his younger days, and The Professor suggested a lesson with his schoolfriend Michael, who is proficient in Kiwi Croatian.

A great lesson with Michael on Kiwi Croatian, Vivian in standard Croatian and The Professor in his inimitable Hvar dialects on important topics such as fishing, cooking, getting married, getting a job, and taking the kids for a walk. 

I think even I could master this Kiwi Croatian version. Perhaps there is hope. 

Learning Croatian? Here are 25 common mistakes foreign students make, and how to fix them.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Croatian Lessons via Skype, It’s Better than you Think

4th April 2020, thanks to the Coronavirus we are all on lockdown; I decided to use this time to pick up Croatian lessons again and am studying with a teacher via Skype. While this may not work for everyone because I understand that everyone is facing different challenges and stresses right now; I still wanted to share my experience of studying Croatian via Skype and why it works for me.

Just over a year ago, I’d finally had enough of my own excuses; I had been living in Croatia for five years, it was time to learn Croatian. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I spoke zero Croatian, my comprehension was ok and I could get by with basic, superficial conversations but that was it. I wanted to be able to have more meaningful conversations with locals but to do that, I was going to need to study with a teacher because the Croatian language and grammar is a minefield, I needed someone to help me navigate it better.

Before I found my teacher, I actually wrote this piece on TCN “The 5 Stages Before You Learn”, which is about the emotional stages we go through BEFORE we even get to the learning part. I likened this process to the stages of grief: frustration, depression, anger, bargaining and finally we reach acceptance. I had finally reached the stage where I had overcome the self-defeating emotions and was ready to take responsibility for doing something about improving my Croatian.

I was on the hunt for a Croatian teacher.

As life and fate would have it, I met someone for a coffee who recommended a Croatian teacher to me, “She is fantastic”. This person went on to describe her lessons and I had never seen someone talk so enthusiastically about learning a language; I was interested. The only downfall? She did her lessons via Skype. This teacher lives in Split but chooses to do her lessons via Skype because she considers it more efficient than having a classroom and people travelling to make a lesson. I wasn’t convinced.

Being the empathetic social butterfly that I am, I was hesitant because I felt that the ‘in-person’ human interaction in the exchange was a necessary element so I wasn’t convinced that doing Croatian lessons via Skype would be for me. However, I had been thinking about starting Croatian lessons and by chance met someone who was raving about a Croatian teacher – no such thing as coincidences, right?

I reached out to Zrinka and we chatted; I let her know my hesitation in doing Croatian lessons via Skype because I mean, could it really be as effective? Zrinka was very sincere and said “I understand your doubts and many people feel the same way. I honestly think it is the same as sitting together and having a coffee but everyone is different; so, I always say – ‘let’s try one lesson together and then you can see for yourself?”

This seemed fair.

Before our first lesson, Zrinka sent through some materials and the two Croatian language books I would need for the lessons. I got everything together and we had our first Croatian lesson via skype, that was all it took to convince me. It turns out, Zrinka was right; doing Croatian lessons via Skype was just like sitting opposite her, having a cup of coffee. It was even more convenient because I could roll out of bed, make my cup of coffee and not worry about getting dressed up and getting into Split. I tried Croatian lessons with a tutor a few years ago but it was only for a month, the lessons themselves were ok but I wasn’t inspired (possibly my own headspace) and I lost half a day travelling to and from Split. Needless to say, I gave up easily.

I not only survived my Croatian lessons via Skype with Zrinka but I also enjoyed and even began to look forward to them. I saw immense progress in my comprehension and confidence to speak. Unfortunately, summer came so I stopped with lessons and didn’t pick them up again – until now. Turns out this whole isolation thing is positive in some respects; isolation has forced me to drop many excuses around some of my goals - time being the usual culprit. Improving Croatian has still been on my mind (it’s always there), so I started lessons again last week. Right now, we are revising everything I learned last year because I forgot a lot and slipped back into old habits and mistakes but it is slowly coming back and I can see improvement already.

Before I go any further, I want to say a little disclaimer: this definitely isn’t the moment where I say that everyone should be learning Croatian because I know that everyone’s isolation looks different. I am in a space physically and mentally where I have the capacity to learn: I don’t have kids, we own our apartment and for now – our income isn’t affected. So, I have none of the stress and pressures that many people are facing; hence, I have the mental capacity and energy to use this time productively. We each need to do what is right for us – now more than ever. So, if you want to learn or improve your Croatian but you just don’t feel you have the mental energy to do so, that’s fine. Now is not the time for putting undue pressure on ourselves.

However, if there is anyone else in a similar position to me, who feels that they have the energy to learn, this may be a good opportunity and I am here to tell you that Skype lessons work just as effectively; I did them before isolation and they obviously make even more sense now with the whole social-distancing thing we have going on.

What are some of the benefits of doing Croatian Lessons via Skype?

Saving time: as I mentioned, I was previously travelling in and out of Split to attend Croatian lessons (from Omiš) which meant I lost half a day for a 1.5-hour lesson. Hardly efficient. Not so with Skype lessons – we set our schedule at the beginning of the week and I am always on time because there is no faffing with transport and traffic. I also save time by being able to rock up to lessons dressed in trackpants and a comfy hoodie rather than needing to ‘dress up’ (which one always feels a need to do in Split).

Flexibility: an obvious benefit to Croatian lessons via Skype is their flexibility. You aren't limited to needing to be in a classroom which means that if your job or lifestyle demands travel, you can still keep up with lessons if you wish. After this isolation period is over, I imagine more people will start to use and appreciate the benefits of video calls in many aspects of life.

Emotional buffer: this is one aspect that many wouldn’t think about but learning another language is difficult and can be confronting as we come up against our own limitations and frustrations. A few times in the lessons I was doing in-person, I felt my cheeks redden and frustrations rise – which, being the emotional creature that I am, made me feel super-embarrassed (will I cry?) The beauty of Skype lessons is that by not being in-person, there is almost an emotional buffer. Frustrations can still arise but it feels less confronting because the teacher isn’t standing directly in front of me; the physical distance allows me a chance to regain my composure (aka not lose my shit and breakdown).

Lessons are the same: I can not see any difference or limitation with Skype vs in-person. We work through physical books together, Zrinka can even send notes and materials in a screen-shot through Skype in that moment. The only thing we don’t use, which we had in the classroom was a whiteboard but there is no real loss there. We practice comprehension on many levels; reading, listening, speaking and I email homework through to Zrinka so she can check that my written Croatian is also correct.

Proper Croatian versus dialect: This note isn’t specific to Skype but I think it is important to add. While we should all learn the correct way to speak Croatian, because I live on the Dalmatian coast, I want to understand and speak the local dialect. To me, it makes no sense to only learn a formal way of speaking if most people don’t speak that way where I live. This is what I love about Zrinka, she always teaches the ‘proper’ way to say something but she will also tell me the most common phrases, words, expressions etc in Dalmatian.

Important attributes of a Croatian teacher, especially via Skype.

They need to know how to teach: This seems obvious but not all teachers are great at teaching; being a great teacher is not a given, it’s a skill.  When we are learning something, especially grammar, if I don’t understand something one way, Zrinka has numerous ways to explain it. She never makes me feel stupid but will adjust and adapt until she finds a method or explanation that works for me no matter how long it takes – eventually, we get there and I learn various tactics for myself in the process.

A big personality: For Croatian lessons via Skype to be successful, I believe the teacher needs to have a big personality to help ‘break down’ the physical distance. We have all had Skype or video calls with people who are a bit awkward or cold, which can make the conversation feel stilted or lack flow – this isn’t what you want when learning a language. I say this because I realised that Zrinka has such a natural, light-hearted way, her personality shines through the screen and it helps put me at ease and set a fun, relaxed tone for our lessons. I don’t imagine I would stick with it otherwise.

Empathy: This could possibly fall under ‘knowing how to teach’ but I think empathy deserves a mention on its own. Empathy is essential in teachers, to be able to read and adjust to their learners and this takes exceptional skill to be able to do it via Skype. There were many instances in our lessons where I started to hit a brick wall and come against frustrations in myself; somehow Zrinka noticed and was able to give me ‘space’, reassure or give me just enough of a push to get me past my block. Again, the emotional buffer helps here but the teacher needs to be adept at reading people and finding ways to bring out their best.

All in all, I am thrilled to be learning Croatian again; if we weren’t in isolation I never would have started because we should be sailing right now. However, life (and the Coronavirus) clearly have other plans, which means I have no excuses because I finally have uninterrupted time. Again, please don’t consider this an article to pressure you into studying or make you feel bad if you aren’t; as I said, we all need to do what is right for us right now. But, if you do have the energy and some expendable income, I truly recommend learning Croatian via Skype - I wouldn't have it any other way now!

If you are interested in learning more or talking to my teacher Zrinka Madunic Spiljak, you can contact her on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I obviously recommend her but I need to state that this is not a sponsored post; in fact, this is going to come as a bit of a surprise to Zrinka as she has no idea I am writing this. I believe in recommending people who are great at what they do, especially right now with so many jobs affected, we should support our communities, small businesses and entrepreneurs.

 Croatian lessons 3.jpg

Zrinka Madunic Spiljak

For more stories like this, follow our dedicated Lifestyle section on TCN

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Croatian Customs: Jeste za Jednu Kavicu? Fancy a Coffee?

Gospođo, nešto Vam curi iz torbe! / Madam, something's dripping out of your bag! – a nice older lady addressed me that rainy cold morning just a few days ago as I was dragging myself into a crowded tram desperately trying to get people’s elbows out of my back.

For a moment or two I was living in hope that she was talking to someone else, but a quick look to a steaming-hot, black liquid dripping on the tram floor through my bag soon convinced me otherwise. I rolled my eyes and panicking tried to reorganise the contents of my bag but as the tram suddenly pulled away, the entire content of my coffee-to-go cup spilled down my jeans.

And then I realised, in that exact moment, standing in a tram with a huge coffee stain on my light blue jeans, and coffee dripping from my leg while raindrops were slowly dripping on the tram window, that I had a whole day of lecturing to people in the classroom in front of me. Okay, this is it. You've now officially hit rock bottom with your coffee addiction, I thought to myself.

It wasn't actually supposed to look like that, this morning. I was supposed to get up, get dressed, do my morning workout, prepare a nice, healthy fibre rich breakfast and then enjoy one of my favourite moments of the day - the peace and quiet with my first cup of steaming, black coffee.

Things went wrong when I slept through my alarm, I think. You see, yesterday evening I needed to get some paperwork done, so I had just a bit, well a cup, okay, maybe two cups of coffee, just to keep myself awake. So when I finally woke up that morning, I realised I had no time for aerobics, a fibre rich breakfast and rest, but to find some clothes, get the kids out of bed and make myself some coffee to go! Not necessarily in that order, I'm afraid.

In my own defence, however, if you've ever been to one of my early lessons, when I hadn't had my first coffee yet, you'd probably realise why it's essential for me to carry coffee cups around ewith me in my purse!

Thank God half of the students in the room are still sleeping through their morning lessons, so they're not paying any attention to the nonsense that I ramble on about without my caffeine kick!

A passionate approach to everything connected to black coffee actually runs in my family.

A legendary story involves my aunt Branka or teta Branka. Teta Branka is a very tall and strong red-headed woman, and a passionate coffee lover, by occupation, she's a nurse. You know how these people who work in the health care system tend to sometimes be the most stubborn patients? Well, teta Branka was no different. Once she was feeling really ill, with a high fever, a serious cough and was unable to get out of bed that morning. Her daughter came to take care of her.

''Do you need anything, anything at all?'' she asked her.

''Nothing... thank you I'm fine, I told you!'' teta Branka coughed in response, adding that there was no need for her to have come.

''Mum, you're trembling, we need to get you to the doctor!'' her daughter stated in a concerned manner.

However, teta Branka was determined she wasn't going to see any doctor, despite her shivering and coughing.

''Can I get something for you then, before I go to work?'' her daughter asked.

''Nothing'' coughed teta Branka, until she stopped and said... ''Oh, wait ...just one thing...''

Her daughter asked if she needed some tea, perhaps a warmer blanket...

''Please... if you you can just get me... samo malo crne kave / just a bit of black coffee!'' teta Blanka uttered with a broken voice.

I'm aware that all around the world people are in love in this dark hot liquid that, as the legend says, was found by coincidence, when some shepherd in a land far, far away let his goats eat some berries. The goats stood up late partying all night long, and the rest is history.

But, there is a certain special connection between Croats and coffee. I'm not just talking about all the business meeting taking place in local cafes, or those people with huge sunglasses sitting for hours and hours over one cup of coffee on one of Zagreb's many little squares just enjoying the sun. I'm talking about a real coffee ceremony that takes place in these parts.

Growing up in Croatia, some of the first scenes from your childhood involve a bunch of people gathered around the table, around a little steaming coffee pot with a tail. Usually that image is accompanied with the jingling sound of little spoons and cups, and you just knew that meant that it's coffee time. Some nations have their tea time, some have whole ceremonies developed around a simple action such as drinking a cup of tea. So why wouldn't we have coffee time here in Croatia? Well, we do. But it seems that in Croatia, any time is coffee time.

In the morning, after breakfast, before lunch, after lunch, in the evening, any time a visitor approaches your doorstep, it's time for coffee.

Being a kid, I thought that this coffee drinking ceremony was wrapped up in some sort of great secrecy. Women sitting around the coffee table would hold their cups, their heads would get closer to each other, they'd lower their voices, whisper and giggle occasionally. I would try to get closer to hear the conversation and be a part of this great coffee conspiracy ceremony, and ask if I could drink just a little bit with them, but my grandma would just look at me and yell: ''Children aren't allowed drink black coffee! You'd grow a tail on your back!''

I didn't believe her one bit. None of them had tails, and as far as I could see, they were drinking gallons of coffee every day.

At the age of 10, they realised that we weren't really buying this whole tail story and they'd usually ask you if you wanted to join them for a cup of coffee.

And, well.. everything else is history.

My grandma was from Bosnia, where the whole coffee drinking ceremony was even more developed. It included pretty little cups called fildžan, cubes of white sugar, little spoons and of course, fildžan viška, an extra cup put on the side of a tray for an extra guest who might just pop for a cup of coffee that afternoon.

I know a lot of coffee admirers in this country, but one of these is absolutely my sister. She can literarily drink coffee at any time of the day. The story goes something like this. She comes for a visit with her kids and mum at around 19:00.

''Coffee, anyone?'' I ask.

''Oh, no, I couldn't! I had five already today!'' my sister says.

''Five? Are you insane!? You need to stop drinking so much coffee... It's not good!'' mum retorts.

''It's seven... but shhh! Don't tell her, she'll go crazy!'' my sister whispers to me behind mum’s back.

The culture of drinking coffee in Croatia can mean having an espresso by yourself in a local café. It can mean starting and ending every business meeting with the question: Jeste za jednu kavicu? Fancy a coffee? Or drinking coffee to go on your way to work. We adopted that culture along with so many things from Western culture.

But, enjoying a cup of coffee in Croatia generally means that someone will take out that funny looking coffee pot with tail out from the kitchen closet, that maybe they'll bake the coffee for a few minutes, then pour steaming water over it, that they will serve all of this in some nice cups, maybe they'll even put that extra cup on the side and get involved in some serious, interesting, meaning of life type conversation, or a highly confidential conversation which usually starts with the words: Između nas... Just between the two us... making that special bond between the two people built on trust, the scent of coffee and the steam from those little cups.

Because that's what coffee in Croatia is really all about.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Croatian Mondays - Speaking, Talking, Telling and Saying

Maybe you've noticed that for some time now, I haven't written a single word about the Croatian language, Croatian life, Croatian ways... or about anything, to be honest. I must say that I was a bit taken aback by the fact that my emails weren't exactly cluttered up with fan mail inquiring about an obvious absence of my profound thoughts in the media!
I did get one complaint through email though... but that one was from my editor who was kindly inquiring if inspiration had paid me a visit yet and, perhaps more to the point, will it ever visit me again? So, I'm not entirely sure that that one counts. Either way, it's nice that someone notices that you're actually being quiet when you are.
Why didn't I write?  It's very simple. Believe it or not, I just didn't have anything wise to say.
I'm not one to keep quiet usually. You know that person at your workplace that everybody is always nudging with their elbows under the table to speak up at the staff meeting and to tell the boss that obvious thing everybody is thinking, but nobody wants to say out loud? Well, I am that person, at least I was. As the years have passed by, I have learned that sometimes I just have to keep my big mouth shut. Well, I'm still in the learning process anyway...
If we exclude the conversational conflicts in which the average Croat might confront his boss, we might say that Croats really like to talk. That's why, I presume, we have so many different verbs which describe talking itself. If you're learning Croatian, you might find yourself a bit puzzled and slightly irritated with the number of verbs that are in some way connected to such a simple thing, such as making conversation.
Govoriti / to speak, to talk
Reći, kazati / to say
Pričati / to tell a story
Razgovarati / to converse, to talk to each other
All of these verbs are pretty similar in meaning, but in standard Croatian, they aren't used with the same purpose. For example, the verb govoriti can be used to say: Ja govorim nešto, a ti me ne slušaš / I'm talking/saying something and you are not listening to me! which is a very useful and multifunctional sentence in parenting one-on one.
But, if you're talking to another person in the sense of holding a conversation with them, you need to use the verb - razgovarati. Ja razgovaram s prijateljicom. It is uncommon to say: Ja govorim s prijateljicom. In standard Croatian there's a difference beetwen the verb pričati / to tell a story and the verb govoriti / to talk, so it wouldn't be proper to say: Ja dobro pričam hrvatski, (which many Croats wrongly say, just by the way), you should instead say: Ja dobro govorim hrvatski.
However, when you find yourself wandering through the Croatian streets or going somewhere on the tram, these verbs often do get mixed up, so, as mentioned, you will often hear people say: Pričam s nekim, which is not proper, as well as: Razgovaram s nekim, which is correct, meaning: I am talking to someone. That is if you actually ever even happen to see anybody actually talking to each other on the tram and not writing an essay on their smartphones.
Croats like to converse, a lot, to each other. But even better, they like to talk to themselves or to an audience. Do you think I'm exaggerating? Try to walk through the streets of Zagreb on a busy Monday afternoon. Every few metres you will see a person vividly explaining to themselves why they didn't come for coffee yesterday or having an argument with their boss. Who is not at the street at that exact time.
Giving monologues to an audience in which the other person can just nod their head and slide in an occasional Mhm... Ma nemoj mi reći! / You don't say! is also a very Croatian thing to do. Just look at the back mirror of your car while waiting for the green light, usually there is a woman giving a monologue and the guy with a completely lost look in his eyes, just phlegmatically nodding his head during all the wrong times throughout the monologue.
We just love to have an opinion on everything, from the weather forecast to football, to Severina's new husband, to the national GDP, the current political situation in the Middle East... We have an opinion on everything and we are not afraid to talk about it. I'm guessing that is a consequence of all those political decades during which we weren't supposed to have (or share) our own opinions on anything relevant.
However, a strange thing happens to all those loud ''opinion providers'' if you remove them from their favourite coffee place and put them in a conference room instead. If you happen to see a bunch of Croats in a conference and the lecturer asks: Does anyone have a question? All you will hear is a mix of silence and that annoying fly buzzing around the light. The clock is slowly ticking, the lecturer is sweating through his shirt and then some poor soul from the last row raises her hand and asks something in a quiet and timid voice.
At that time, you'll see all of  the Croatian audience turning towards her with the same angry yet astonished  look in their eyes: How dares she? Who does she she think she is? Hah, I could have though of that stupid question myself! Not standing out in a group, keeping a low profile and being just the same as anybody else is part of the ''heritage'' of our colourful political history.
The verbs mentioned earlier are far from the whole selection of verbs connected to speaking or talking.  Let's see what else we have:
Nagovarati / to talk into
Pregovarati / to negotiate
Ogovarati  / to badmouth
Prigovarati / to nag / to make a fuss about
Dogovarati se / to agree on or arrange something
As far as that last one is concerned, it is one of the most commonly used verbs in the Croatian language and one of the favourite verbs of my mother.
Mum, can I go to the store with my sister and buy an ice cream? asked five-year old me with her eyes full of hope.
Dogovorit ćemo se! / We'll have to arrange it! / We'll sort something out! mum would reply with a conspiritive smirk on her face.
Mum, can I  go to the New Kids on the Block concert with my sister this weekend? (Yes, yes, New Kids on the Block was a huge hit when I was growing up, I know, I'm old, no need to remind me!) - fourteen-year-old me asked my mum, filled with a sense of naive hope and some tears, prepared just in case...
Dogovorit ćemo se! / We'll have to arrange it! she  gently smiled at me.
Mum, can I borrow your car on Friday night? nineteen-year old me ambitiously asked mum that hot summer afternoon. Dogovorit ćemo se! / We'll have to arrange it! mum answered patiently, grinning at me.
As time passed by, I realised that the answer dogovorit ćemo se! is a secret code for no way, kid! / nema šanse, mala! I hated that sentence like nothing else. In time I completely forgot about it and all those promised arrengements with my mum which never took place, until one evening a few months ago, my daughter approached me asking: Mum, can I invite my friend for a sleepover this weekend? and I replied: Dogovorit ćemo se! She slammed the door and yelled: You always say that!
Later I realised that dogovorit ćemo se! is not only the favourite ''mum sentence'', but also a favourite sentence for any kind of meeting business deal. Every business meeting in Croatia ends with a handshake and those three words: Dogovorit ćemo se!  
And as for these other verbs like ogovarati, prigovarati, nagovarati - I don't think we should waste any time in writing about them! You see, we people in Croatia never badmouth eachother, we rarely ever fuss about things and we never ever let somebody to persuade us to do anything that we don't want to do, right? We'll leave that one up to you!
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