drinking in Croatia

Drinking (one post of many on this subject)

The only thing that comes close to Croatian’s love for coffee is alcohol. Croatians really know how to drink. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics the average Croatian household drinks 27 liters of alcohol a year. This probably explains why they (and other inhabitants of Southeastern Europe) make booze out of everything. I mean EVERYTHING: cherries, plums, grapes, walnuts, honey, quince (I don’t even know what that is) ROSES, and GRASS! Yes! Grass! But all this shouldn’t leave the impression that Croatians are a bunch of drunkards. Drinking in Croatia, while it may be a part of daily life is treated with a certain reverence and elegance that is lacking in the US.

In America the days of Madmen, where beautiful, well dressed people stoically drink martinis are gone. Elegant drinking has been replaced with the beer bong and beer pong. Nothing spells elegance like four feet of plastic tubing and a funnel that lets your drink 4 beers in 3 seconds! Or how about beer pong? All over the US undergrads drink according to whether or not they can toss a plastic ball into a plastic cup. Here’s a picture



In Croatia a lot of alcohol is treated with the same care and reverence as if it had incredible medicinal properties, because well... a lot of people believe IT IS MEDICINE! Especially rakija. In most houses (maybe next to the secret cupboard of gifts) exists a cabinet filled with various, often unlabeled bottles. Floating within the opaque liquid inside are gestating leaves and herbs, clipped from various plants that give the spirit its medicinal qualities. According to local lore its healthy to drink a shot of rakija every morning in the winter as it warms you up AND somehow it is equally important to drink a shot of rakija in the summer as it COOLS you down. I’ve also been told that if you have a fever you can rub rakija all over yourself as a means of lowering your temperature.

My first time in Croatia I was beset with a horrible cold, until I was given some travarica (grass rakija) and a bag of lemons! All that (plus some cold medicine) made me feel much better. Many people make their own rakija. So it’s not uncommon to get a gift of cheery or rose flavored booze (but of course we don’t drink it, we give it someone else).


Probably the biggest difference between drinking in the US and in Croatia is that you can drink in cafes. While in America you usually have to go to the bar. I’ve always found most American bars depressing, especially bars in my home state, Oklahoma. Dark and dingy you can feel the years of spilt beer soaked into the ratty carpet, surrounded by thick coats of cigarette smoke painted across the wood-paneled walls. You can also feel the drunken desperation of the people who have come before you. The bar is much different than the cafe. Bars are scenes of drunken, physical dalliances, where inhibitions are suppressed only with copious amounts of alcohol. Or it is a place to kill time. Where you drink after work only as a means to more easily stand on the bridge between today and tomorrow. My memory of bars are like blurry photographs captured in the naked light of a neon sign. They are staggered, stinking, and sloshy.

Cafes, on the other hand, are clean and well-lighted. Sitting on the terrace of a Zagreb cafe in the spring or summer can be an experience filled with zen like contentment. With the sites and sounds of the city surrounding you, the night air still and endless, you feel elated with life. Everything is charming: your company, the bored waiters, the passersby. Rather than being shut away from the world in neon hues, you are out in the world, a part of the harmonious ambience. Surrounding you is a diverse cliental that demands you behave. Your drinking has to be elegant. Since an older couple is talking over tea next to you, a group of women are having coffee beside you, there is no place for the sloppy drunk (that place is across the street in the park). No place for loud chanting and body shots. No whoo-girls. No ping-pong balls. This is not a place to get drunk. It is a place to converse over drinks, or if you are by yourself it is a place to sit and just BE, a place to reflect on passing trams and the drip-like passage of time.

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