Time is relative in Croatia – business etiquette

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Croats are well known for their relaxed attitude to life, as well as to business. They simply enjoy life and do business in a more relaxed way than many other European nations. Why? That is a million-dollar question. It is perhaps because Croatia remains a country in transition and it takes time for such a country to step into the business world as others have done, or because Croatian independence goes back only about three decades. I honestly don’t know, but one thing I know for sure – you’ll need a couple of tips, before you do business with Croats. I hope this blog post will help you to present yourself professionally in Lijepa Naša (Croatia, Eng. Our Beautiful).

The keys for making a good impression are dressing appropriately, your body language, presenting yourself, giving gifts, your conduct of meetings (in Croatian: sastanak) and many other essential elements. Punctuality is one of them. But you will notice that there is some uncertainty in what you might expect when it comes to time.

Time is indeed relative in Croatia

I discovered the Croatian stress-free attitude to punctuality when living and working in Austria (I was born and raised in Croatia). I even remember attending a course, when the teacher asked us: “Are we going to stick to German punctuality or Austrian?” At first, I didn’t understand what she meant by that, but my colleagues explained it to me: Austrian punctuality 

means you could be some 15 minutes late to the class, and German means you shouldn’t be late at all. I immediately went into shock. What? German and Austrian punctuality?

I didn’t even have time to process that information when the teacher asked another question: “Is there anyone here from some other country?” I, of course, still confused, answered it with a joke: “Croatia over here, and… well, it is okay if you even show up at the course.” Of course, everybody laughed… not too loud, of course – they were trying to be polite. I, on the other hand, didn’t know what hit me. I do realize that my answer was perhaps too harsh, but when you think about it, what was I supposed to say? How important is punctuality in my home country? Back then, I honestly didn’t know the answer to that question. In fact, I’ve never thought about it before.

I went home that day, and I tried to come up with the answer. Here is what I came up with: it is very important to pay particular attention to your time-keeping skills, but not all Croats will agree with you. If you are invited to a business lunch or a meeting, you are expected to be punctual, yet, if you are late, some Croats won’t mind it. After all, buses and trains often run late in Croatia.

Photo by: #croatiantragedies
If a public holiday falls on Tuesday or Thursday (or even Wednesday), Croats and Croatian institutions do their best to turn it into a four-day or even five-day weekend by declaring also Friday or Monday to be a non-working day as well. If your workplace does this, you would say “spajamo”, which means “we are connecting it”.

If you are late in Germany, if you make them wait, you basically tell them “My time is more valuable than yours”. Germans think that being late doesn’t mean that you’re busier than other people; it just means that you’re inconsiderate. In Croatia, business is conducted slowly, you will have to be patient and not appear ruffled by the strict adherence to protocol. However, you never know who you might run into, and many Croats maintain a high degree of professionalism when it comes to punctuality.

Initial meeting and greeting

When meeting someone for the first time, Croats usually shake hands. It should include a firm handshake (in Croatian: rukovanje) and direct eye contact; a limp handshake means that you are weak. Greetings at initial meetings are sometimes formal and reserved: “Dobro jutro!” (good morning), “Dobar dan!” (good day), “Dobra večer!” (good evening), and “Drago mi je!” (Nice to meet you!).

Business dress code

Dressing well is a sign of respect in Croatia, demonstrating your attitude to business and attention to detail. Plus, Croats love good looking (well dressed) people. Don’t be surprised if you see an astonishingly well-dressed woman with great hair and make-up at your business meeting. Croatian people think caring about their looks is very important (in Croatian: važno). It is the way it is: it is hard to give any further explanation.

It is also good to know that you look so good in your business suit wearing your necktie (in Croatian: kravata) thanks to Croats. The modern tie traces back to the time of the Thirty Years’ War when Croatian military in French service, wearing their tie, awakened the interest of the French. The tie gained the name cravat. The word cravate in French is derrived from the Croatian word for Croats: Hrvati). Croats simply call it kravata.

Business cards and gift giving

Business cards (in Croatian: posjetnice) are usually simple, including only the basics such as company logo, name, business title, telephone number, address, e-mail, and web address. Business cards are exchanged without formal ritual.

Giving gifts is very common in Croatia, but they don’t have to be expensive. Suitable gifts might be wines, flowers, souvenirs, clothing, etc.

Delays

The type of business you do will determine how much interaction you have with the Croatian government. The more interaction you have with the government, the more chance there is of delays in your business. You could be ready, punctual and optimistic, but be prepared to wait for basically everything, such as information, licenses, registrations, etc. 

To conclude, in general, Croatia is a country with quite slow economic growth. Still, Lijepa Naša is gradually attracting foreign businesses and tourists, and by doing business or only visiting Croatia, be aware that there many people with a high degree of professionalism and responsibility, as well as those less professional and responsible – as in many other places in the world.

Do you have any of your own experiences of time being relative while doing business in Croatia?

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