Whether it’s a jar of homemade fruit jam waiting for you when you’re leaving a house, a little souvenir to remember your visit, or a fresh cooked lunch in a family home… Croatian giving is “od srce” – from the heart.
The gifts are not expensive, showy or pretentious – these are traits Croatians are not. They are usually handmade or homemade, often sharing homegrown fruits or herbs, some homemade rakija, occasionally a craft lovingly handed down by the precious hands of a baka.
Don’t expect to “go dutch”, “potluck” or help with the dishes in Croatia; if you are a guest, you are taken care of. An old embroidered cloth has the saying, “A Croat gladly receives his guest and shares with him everything he has.”
All these things show a natural generosity of spirit that I have never experienced anywhere else. Call me cynical, but in America, giving seems to have an underlying thread of cost or payback. “This is free because I’m expected to buy something.” “They brought a really expensive wine the last time, I’d better step it up.” “Is something handmade appropriate?” These kinds of concerns add to holiday stress and shove our shopping budgets out of control. What if we could leave a little container of homemade soup at someone’s door, just to say “I’m thinking about you”?
If you buy products from an artisan, you might be given an extra one as a gift with a whisper of “za tebe”. If you have dinner in a restaurant, you may be given a small glass of rakija after you’ve already paid your bill. If you stay in a family house, you might find wine, cheese or fruit waiting in the frig, or be given a wrapped thank you when you leave.
And some day, like me, you’ll take the huge leap across the pond to live in Croatia full-time. I’m not talking a week in a holiday home, I’m talking investing yourself in another culture. And you’ll be in for another surprise… no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to outgive your family, friends and neighbors. It may be some fresh-cut herbs from your neighbor’s garden when they catch you out for a walk. You may find a small container of a cooked specialty like sarma, grah or juha waiting by your door. Your neighbor will offer their time to help you with a translation, phone call, or paperwork. The lady from the vegetable market or bakery will add a little something to your bag with a wink. A heart is a symbol of Croatia, and no wonder – it symbolizes the generous hearts of its people.