Cursing, culture, and friendship.

One of my friends told me she was sick of my posts about economics, so this post is about culture. It will involve some neighbors, cursing, and generalizations --for anyone offended, my apologies.

Question: In Croatia is it better to tell someone to “f*** their mother” or use the word “no?” The answer is of course its much better to indicate some impolite form of fornication involving one’s mother than to say no. I’ll explain why in a minute, but first let me give you an example of the appropriate context for telling someone that you want to have intercourse with their mom. This kind of potty-talk can actually be used to enhance a compliment. One time a neighbor (in her 50s) came over to our house while Mara was eating. She saw Mara and said: “Ti si najlepša cura na svijetu, jebem ti mater!” Which basically translates to: you are the most beautiful girl in the world, f--- your mother! In Croatia this a huge compliment!

Now on to why “no” is more offensive than mentioning sexual relations with one’s progenitor. Its all about friendship. Wha? I know sounds CRAZY! Croatia is a country with what we could call “THICK” relationships. Whereas in America we make friends willy-nilly. Par example:

Person A: Hi, what’s your name?
Person B: Dave.
Person A: Hi, Dave. I’m John.
Dave: Nice to meet you John.
John: Say do you like stuff?
Dave: Stuff? Sure do!

And both are now friends. In Croatia, on the other hand friends are not something taken as lightly. Friendship is something earned and respected. After John and Dave are friends, if John asks Dave for a favor, Dave can easily refuse and say: “no.” Not so in Croatia. Part of being one’s friend means you need to be there for them whenever and wherever they need you to be, and if you can’t, you need to come up with a really good excuse that makes it sound like the only reason you couldn’t be there for them was due to EXTREMELY extenuating circumstances (this is basically why I have no friends in Croatia).

Once when I was giving a talk about cultural differences between Croats and Americans in Split (which is on the Adriatic Sea), I mentioned how I know that when you live on the sea everyone always wants to come and stay with you. My audience nodded. Then I related how sometimes this can be a big inconvenience, like when you have a four month old baby and are not quite ready for a bunch of houses guests booked into your very living room for an indefinite stay. Again an audience of nods. I finally added that in America, under such circumstances you could say no to someone wanting to come and stay with you. Afterwards a lone hand went up, its owner looked at me with this gaze of disbelief while asking: “and they would still be your friend?” See, THICK relationships.

Why the differences? I don’t pretend to know (oh wait I do!), but I have some theories. One, we Americans move around all the time. Its hard to keep strong ties when you are always on the go. You also need to be able to make friends easily in all the new places you live. I’ve lived in three states, attended three different universities and lived in three different countries, and I have made numerous, casual, friends. In Croatia on the other hand, most people only move to Zagreb, if they move at all. And even then there is a connection between people who are from the same place as you. (Ask someone from Croatia about Imotski). Second, here (in Croatia) you depend on people more than we do in the states. Calling someone your friend means you need to know you can depend on them. Apparently it also means you can tell them “f*** your mother,” but not tell them no.

Good night.
I’m here all week.