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Growing up Ethnic: Tips on dating in Croatia

Diane Kolanovic-Solaja grew up in the US, but made frequent visits to Croatia, where her family is from. She is president of CNYLA, a non-profit promoting unity, education, and culture amongst young professional Croatians and their colleagues. Any readers in the US might be interested in knowing their annual Croatian Cruise is just around the corner.


On the CNYLA webpage, Diane keeps a blog, inspired by all the quirks of being a 1st generation Croatian-American. And with love still lingering in the air after this past Valentine’s day, she shares with us a post about her thoughts, experiences and advice on dating Croatians:


“Hey, Tata. What does dupe mean?”


This is how I opened up morning coffee conversation with my father one day.  I was 17 and completely clueless.


Sto!? Tko ti je to rekao?”(What?! Who said that to you?)


“I dunno.  Some random person.  I said thank you, but I didn’t know what it meant.”


My mother laughed.  My father walked away mumbling to himself.


Obviously, my “game” in dating was non-existent back then.  My version of flirting was to daringly look at a guy, look away and giggle.  Then I would most likely scribble in my journal on how good looking he was or how one day we’d get married and have 600 puppies, and rainbows would fill our landscape every day.  I pretty much invented unrequited love.


Oh, boy.  How things have changed!


I got over the awkwardness of high school.  I went to college and frat parties.  Recently, I even got hitched.  My maid of honor toasted to the day we met since I had a keg in the trunk of my SUV.  It’s been a long road of adolescence — including all of my 20s.  But, I’m grateful that the dating scene is over for me.  Long gone are the days of exhaustive dates that went nowhere, the checking-of-your-phone-for-that-text-message-that-will-never-come, trying to concoct the perfect response, waiting for the next phone call… dating is terrible.  But, what’s worse?  Croatian dating.


There is a reason why proklet (damned), zao (regret) and sudbina (destiny) are repeatedly found in sad, Croatian love songs.


After my dupe discussion with my father, I searched out my cousin and asked him what it meant.  He told me straight and forward that some guy was complimenting my behind, in Serbian.  Hmm, ok.  Weird word to use, I thought, but whatever.  Maybe that’s why I didn’t know what it meant – I thought I wasn’t advanced enough.  I used to find myself caught in between languages and struggling to express myself in general.  (Croatian is not a language that you can translate literally or word for word.  The delivery is completely different than English.)  But, now I had to express myself, not only for regular things, but feelings too?  This is ridiculous.


Also, at 17, I wasn’t very versed at flirting either.


Summers in Croatia are sexy.  Awkward flirting, misunderstood pick-up lines and gossip are not.  I would have to take Croatian dating into my own hands.  So, with Valentine’s this week, I decided to explore Croatian dating – the ups, the downs and the hilarity.


Keep it to yourself

So, what did I do when a boy first caught my attention during the summer in Croatia?  I did what any normal teenager would do –  I told my best friend there – who happened to tell her other best friend who told her best friend who told her sister and so on.  Back then, I also did not know that secrets in the Croatian community are far few and in between.  My heartfelt conversation hit the Croatian gossip train and smacked my crush right in the face.  I learned quickly to keep my mouth shut.


And, honestly, it’s the best way.  Why does it matter who you like or what others think of your love interest?  It’s all in your own heart anyway.


When you date in the Croatian community, it seems you can’t tell anyone about it at first.  Tell your parents, and they immediately plan the wedding and the dowry.  If you mention it to your friends, your crush may be revealed (see above).


My advice: always be true to yourself and not others.  Don’t be so quick to express every detail of your love life.  Word may spread and trouble might brew for no reason.  When you are both in it for the long haul, then casually bring up that you are seeing someone.  People will be shocked to hear that you have been dating for a while, but none of the b.s. will be attached to your relationship.  Win win.


Weed out the fakes and gossip

Croatian men tend to say “I love you” the second they meet you.  I’m not sure why this is, but I would like to blame it on too much sun, the romantic Adriatic Sea and way too many Croatian love songs.  These are the main ingredients to inspire even a major love pessimist to the very depths of passion in their little sad souls.  But, to drop the “L- bomb” one day or one week after meeting a girl is a bit extreme.


Ulterior motives run rampant amongst some Croatian men. So, just be careful if someone sounds too good to be true or is trying to marry you as soon as he brings you home from the club.  If this happens to you, question it and laugh.


“You don’t love me.  You love that I can give you a green card.”


I said that once to a suitor in Croatia.  The look of shock on his face was priceless.  Just how girls have their gossip line, so do men.  I just so happened to have a great friend who warned me.  Now, I’m not saying to listen to gossip.  I am saying you should confront the gossip whenever possible.  I asked the guy to be honest with me when I called him out on his bullshit.  Luckily, he was so humbled by my confidence and straightforwardness he admitted that part of my charm was that I lived in America.


Hmm.  Ok.  Fair enough answer.  I understand how foreigners have this certain intrigue and mystery about them.  But, there was more to this.  I never tried to fool someone for an opportunity.


If there is anything that I dislike more in this world is to be brushed under the category of a “stupid American.”  Do not stereotype me just because I was not born in Croatia.  Do not judge me when I do not judge you.  We are from the same country.  I am a citizen just like you.  Let’s respect each other and celebrate the fact that we continue our roots no matter where we are living in the world.


It’s a draining situation.  Just be aware of anyone that may want to use you – Croatian or not.  You are worth so much more.


Explore your options

For Croatian-Americans – how many times have you walked into your local Croatian event and felt awkward since you may or may have not flirted with a small percentage of people in the room?  Or, perhaps, and even worse, when an old crush of yours is now flirting with your friend?  It’s worse than high school!  Either you kissed one or two guys in the room, or just know the “dirt” on everyone.  Now, all of a sudden that new cute guy is now “tainted” somehow.


Why does this happen?


To grow up Croatian-American means that you will have parents that will nag you until you settle down and marry a fellow Croat.  Considering how ethnic I was in America, this should have been an easy task, correct?  It wasn’t.  It is very hard to find a man that shares the same passions, likes, ideas, etc. as you, but to find a Croat too?  In local Croatian communities, you have better odds at winning the lottery.


Although most Croatian-American communities are very large, they reflect the same gossip and “small town” talk.  This, combined with pressure from your family, doesn’t really set you up for success here.  What to do?  Get out.


There are a TON of Croatian communities in America.  Go to other their events.  (Or, go on the Croatians Cruise.  Ahem!)  Explore outside of your normal schedule or places.  You will never know what you will experience or the people you will meet.


Of course, you can always venture to find the love of your life in Croatia, but the long distance may be tough as well.


I have a ton of frequent flyer miles.  Why?  Because I traveled so much for CNYLA.  And, before that, I would just go with friends to hang out in other cities with Croats, go to concerts, kolo festivals, whatever.  Attending these Croatian events around the world made me appreciate my culture so much more.  And, every single time, I came back with a sense of self and a new friend.


Be careful what you wish for

Young Croatian men are very…what’s the word – forward.  The brave ones will seek you out and basically hunt you.  Think Pebbles & Bam Bam style.  All that is missing is your leopard print dress.  This type of primal flirting is arousing to some.  You know, when a “man acts like a man” and all that.


But, what if Bam Bam just isn’t your style?


Then you have a problem.


Chivalry gets mixed up often with typical stereotypes of what men  and women should and should not do.  I am not an extreme feminist, but I believe woman should have the same opportunities as men.  In my experience, opening doors, going on actual dates, being properly asked to be someone’s girlfriend is all part of the courtship.  But, a man expecting his woman to cook and clean all day while he drinks at the konoba is a whole other topic.


So, just be careful what you wish for – you may want a Croatian girl or boy in your life, but it’s sometimes difficult to connect on the same level for the long term – even if you both come from the same ethnic backgrounds.


I dated someone once who said that my education, my job, my friends, where I live and my life experience is unmatched to him and that’s now how it’s supposed to be – “the man” is supposed to provide, etc.  He was embarrassed that his girlfriend was more successful than he was at the time.  What a shame.  For all the things that I am proud of, I was being judged due to his lack of confidence.


Being a “man” is much more than trying to give in to gossip and to entertain other people’s ideas of what is right or wrong.


Bam Bam would have kicked him out of Bed Rock.  That’s for sure.


In other words, don’t settle.


Practice your pick up lines

Back in 2009, I compiled a list of my best worst pick-up lines ever.  “Oh, Beautiful, for Bodacious Thighs” explores a little bit of what I truly experience quite often.  I recently read this little entry again and giggled at myself.  Hence, the Valentine’s inspired post.


During my research this week, I came across a book called Flirting in Croatian: A Vacationer’s Guide and laughed myself silly. If only this existed when I needed the help! It’s a light-hearted view of the tourist experience in Croatia.  There is nothing worse than meeting eyes with someone and then having not a clue of what they are saying to you.  To avoid the drama I went through, practice your pick up lines when working on your Croatian. But be sure to…


Try to stray away from dirty talk

I believe Croatia is the most beautiful language.  There are songs, writings, poems and sayings that are so often lost in translation that one cannot begin to explain the passion and feeling behind certain pieces of art, music and literature.  But, have you ever tried to talk dirty in Croatian?


To begin with, dirty talk is ridiculous and most people are not cut out for it.  If you were born in America, it may be almost a third language that you need to learn.


Go ahead.  Try it.  Take a second right now and try to translate a sexy phrase in your head.


What did you come up with?  I bet it sounds awkward and awful.  If not, high five yourself.  You deserve it.


It’s all in the delivery.  I honestly sound like a ridiculous tourist guide if I attempt to translate sexy talk.  This is where I just stick to my English skills and go along my very merry flirting ways.


Don’t give up

Or, maybe you should.


That’s what I did. I swore off Croatian men.  I was done.  I was not going to be subjected to such old traditional ways or be put down for just being me.  Now, this is not to say that I only dated Croatian men during my single days.  No, no, no.  I dabbled, of course.  (For some reason, “taste the rainbow,” just popped into my head.  But, I digress.)  I do live in America.


Then, in the middle of a CNYLA event, things changed.  Ironic that I met my Croat husband at a Croatian event, right?


Ti is momak za pobjede 

So, where is the love in Croatian dating?  It’s not in the gossip.  It’s not at the events.  It’s not at the bar where you kissed everyone one drunken night.  The love comes the second you believe in it – no matter who you date or where you are in the world.


I don’t regret any of my experiences in dating, especially with Croatian men.  I was taught a lesson every single time.  But, trying to connect two different worlds is sometimes difficult.  Just be true to yourself and everything will fall into place.


So, to all the dupe that I have ever dated – thank you.  If it wasn’t for all of you, I would have never met my husband.  (#truth, #stepbystep)


And, a very special Valentine’s day message to my husband: We might be asses together, but I’d rather be an ass with you than with anyone else in the world.  I love you.


Written by: Diane Kolanovic-Solaja


Find your best dining options wherever you are in Croatia with Like Croatia’s Good Restaurants app, available on iTunes now!


  • david

    Dated a croation women,got to admit i have been thru hundreds of American women it seems now it is ruined for all american girls trying. One the coolest women i have ever meet, a croatian women i was so intrigued with the culture i am going soon and i think i will love it way to much if she is a taste of the culture.”then i am hooked on Croatian women” they are fnnn Awesome. Peace David


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