Since Croatia is located in the center of Europe, it’s not hard to understand why the Croatian language offers a little bit of everything. It shares its northern borders with Austria and Hungary, the former mega empire. Towards the north, you’ll hear many German based expressions and idioms.
Along the coastline there is a strong Italian influence, thanks to sea communications and 400 years of domination by the Venetians. A great deal of Dalmatian lingo is sprinkled with Italian, Latin based and even Spanish words. Here, the word for grandmother is not “Baka” as in the north, but “Nona”.
When you speak anything in Croatian, it’s not an exaggeration to say that you will probably have your choice of two or three word options.
For example, take the word “Tomato”. In Zagreb, a tomato is “rajčica” – (Rye-chit-za) which means something from heaven (“Raj”). In Split, it is known as “pomedore” (po-meh-doe-ray) or simply “Pome” (po-may). This interpretation means “golden apple”, because apple refers to a lovely fruit – and the golden part is the ring around its stem. A similar word is “Pomegranate“, which is “apple” – but in tiny pieces (like granite). If you listen to a person speak in private life, you can usually figure out where he was born and raised.
When you face the new day, “Jutro” is “morning” (J is pronounced Y). Jutro is of the neutral gender, whereas “Daytime”, or “Dan”, is the male gender, and “evening” is the female gender. Equality reigns in Croatia!
On an everyday basis you will hear the normal daytime greeting, “Dobar Dan!” (Doh-barrr- Dahn!). This means, simply, “good day”. More often than not, close friends and acquaintances may shout out to you “Pomalo” (poh-mah-low) – which translates to mean “little by little”, or “easy does it”.
In the early morning, before 10 am, the greeting is “Dobro Jutro” (Dough-broe-you-trow). We are dealing with the male, female and neutral genders. Around 4 pm or later, you will tell your friends “Dobra Većer” (dough-bra-Vet-cher) and “Dobra Noć” (dough-bra-Notch). Notice how “Dobar”, “Dobro” and “Dobra” have all changed. These grammatical differences are attributed to the gender of the word following it. They all mean the same thing: “Good”, or “Pleasant”.
Between friends, these greetings can be shortened even further to simply “Ej!” (Ey!). A conversation may be accentuated, by the intent listener, with a half dozen or so Ej‘s to indicate understanding and agreement with the speaker.
Croatians tend to be longwinded. Many English speakers have a conversational style like a tennis match, you speak, I speak – so, when is it going to be my turn again? It can also be compared to an interview – “Where are you from?” “What do you do?”. If you ask a Croatian too many personal questions, he will probably tell you off – or ask you why you need to know such information.
Here in the Mediterranean, you say what you have to say, even if it happens to be a very long, run-on, but informative sentence… On the other hand, if you have nothing special to say, there is no pressure – it’s not a crime to be silent. People here are fairly natural, though taught to be refined, and an all or nothing approach is more the rule than the exception!
There is a theory that the more southern a country’s occupants, the more they open their mouths. This may be due to – of all things – the weather. Cold air causes illness, hence people in the north tend to cover their mouths and speak less. In the south, due to the warm weather, a conversation (with or without gestures) knows no bounds…
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