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The Adriatic Bride The Adriatic Bride

Ten passwords to the Dalmatian soul

By  Dec 16, 2016

Did you consider buying a brief English/Croatian phrasebook and leafing through it during your flight to Dubrovnik? Nah...You know you won't. And I tell you a secret: you don't need to. As long as you know "hvala" and "dobar dan", it is fine. Most local people speak very good English. But there are words that are worth for you to know and understand before you come here, if you want to unveil how people live and think here. Here is a selection of my favourites.

1. Pomalo. In Croatian, the correct word for "slowly" is polako. Pomalo, the Dalmatian version, upgrades things to another, complex level of slowness: pomalo is the synonym of a consciously relaxed lifestyle, relaxed walking, relaxed eating, relaxed attitude. It is a reminder that you better don't worry and the shield against stress of any kind. Perhaps that is why in Dubrovnik, you don't find rush lines, take aways and other inventions that make a fast life even faster. When locals meet and ask how are you, the answer is pomalo - normal, fine, slow. If you come from areas of the world where life is rather fast forward and - worse - it is considered a desirable standard, the mindset of pomalo would probably irritate you at first, but I guarantee you would get used to it and get addicted. Because when you look at it, in reality there are just very few true reasons to stress out.

2. Gužva. The opposite of pomalo, and undesirable state of mind, work or traffic. It means jam, cram, crowd, scramble. A concentration of people, tasks or vehicles which distracts the peace and calm of a pomalo attitude. The people who are currently at a temporary guzva (for example someone dealing with a tight deadline or with unexpected problems at work) are generally pitied by those who are enjoying their pomalo coffees. The goal in life is to avoid guzva by all means. Those who spend their time rushing and under the never ending pressure of commitments and responsibilities and regarded odd, unhealthy, poor and foreign to local philosophy (which they usually are - it is mostly us, foreigners).

3. Fjaka. A blue, sulky, malicious, desperate and helpless mood, that is believed to be caused by the weather (the southern humid wind called "jugo") when you don't feel like doing anything and if you must do something, you might do it wrong. So it is better not to do anything and let your fjaka pass. In the times of the old Dubrovnik republic, court and public decisions were postponed until the weather switched back to dry and sunny. This prevented fjaka to impact governance and public affairs. (If only this could get implemented in politics throughout the world.)

4. Marenda. A Sunday brunch that takes place any day of the week. A 10,30 a.m. break over a coffee and a set of local delicacies. The point is to chill and to discuss the outrageous discrepancy between the number of working days and the days of weekend.

5. Komin. A traditional part of a Dalmatian house. It is a room that looks like an obscure pantry at first, before you realize that the raw sooty walls accommodate a large open fireplace, long wooden table and generous chunks of smoked ham hanging from the ceiling. Here is where people get together during winter, when it is too cold to get together on their terrace. An open fire at a place where for some reason people ignore central heating, is like a hottub in Siberia. In combination with the plates of grilled meat, home-made wine and the collective singing of nostalgic Dalmatian songs, that inevitably follow after the food, komin is a true spa for the soul.

6. Domaće. This means "home-made" and it is no less than the religion of food production here. In the villages, most families will proudly offer you their home-made wine, sausages, olive oil, or tangerine marmalade, and you will have an epiphany, laughing at organic food that costs you a fortune back home and that doesn't get close to what people eat here on regular basis. Domaći also means local: when ordering squid at a restaurant, locals often make sure with the waiter that the squid is domaći and not Patagonian.

7. Gradele. A grill, another obligatory equipment of a Dalmatian home. Feel like eating fish? Grilled only. Don't launch discussions about steamed fish or sushi. You will earn a worse reputation than a vegetarian. Similar to cars and driving, grills in Dalmatia are the domain of men, each of whom have their ways, tricks and secrets about how to best grill a chunk of meat. (Such as that the best wood to grill on is grapevine or that you must sweep the grill with a sprig of rosemary for taste, etc.)

8. Festa. This is "party", Dalmatian style, so it goes hand in hand with heaps of food, streams of wine and an endless pjesma, which means "song" or rather "singing": if you attend any of the local parties, you will be surprised to see, that most people are good and eager singers who know dozens of songs. Many parties feature live music composed of accordion, guitar and double-bass, so you rarely get the chance to have a conversation with anyone (at least that was what I hoped when I attended the first party at the house of my future husband. "When can I talk to anyone here?" I said, desperate, because the music went on and on and I could barely ask the names of the people next to me. My husband-to-be was puzzled: "What do you think you need to talk about? This is a festa. Just chill and enjoy yourself."). After midnight, a festa often turns into a dernek - a sort of accelerated turbo-party, when an enthusiastic singing crowd entours the musicians and, getting faster and louder, it lasts until 6 a.m.

9. Đir. That's what you do on Stradun: you walk around the beautiful square, you watch what people are wearing, you watch if people are watching you (trying to guess what they think), and you watch out for friends and acquaintances. (If you are local, you meet one of them every twenty seconds.) It is like a continuous meeting of the entire town, a fashion show and an institution: it is good manners to take džir around Stradun every once in a while. If you stay nearby and feel like strolling to a bakery in the morning in your comfy HM fleece pyjama pants, it's a guaranteed fashion suicide. There is a dress code which applies to everyone including babies in prams, and that reads "When in Stradun, wear only the absolute best and the most expensive clothes you own. Don't be shy to show off that handbag which cost like a solid car (be sure somebody will pass by with a bag that cost more).

10. Hajde. This translates like a universal "Let's..." - go, do something, get up, take off, move on. Enjoy!


Blanka Pavlovic a.k.a. the Adriatic Bride is a Czech writer. She studied law (Prague) and creative writing (Oxford). As a lawyer, she specialized in international human rights law, first working for the European Court of Human Rights, then for a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. She wrote five books, among them Total Balkans, The Handbook of the Adriatic Bride or The Return of the Adriatic Bride. She now lives with her family between Dubrovnik and Donji Brgat. More information and English translations of her work are available through

The Voice of Dubrovnik


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