going out in Croatia

Friends Don't Let Friends 'Break Parties'

Croatians hate to end a good time. Is it getting late? Got an important something in the morning? Need to go home? The HELL you DO! Sit! Stay! Drink! Americans, on the other hand, we have no problem torpedoing the night’s fun. The music is thumping, everyone is dancing, BUT its 1:30 am, gotta go home. Just let me pay for my OWN drinks and c’ya. Bye-bye. We will even suggest, STRONGLY, that you leave our party when we, your hosts, have had enough. Well, its getting late. YAAAWN! And I’ve got a big...um... in the morning. So...

There are probably lots of reasons why we there is such a big difference between Croatian F-U-N and American fun. But I think a lot has to do with social expectations. In Croatia, no one wants to be the “party breaker.” This is a term Croatians use in English, that doesn’t even exist in the American lexicon. The first to leave an evening out is the party breaker. Its like the party is in some happy state of equilibrium, and the first to move will alter the stability, creating an exodus of party-goers streaming into the street. So you, and everyone else, are basically held hostage by each other (and by fun). You just can’t leave, even if you wanted too. If you leave, well buddy, YOU, and you alone, will be responsible for ending everyone’s good time (way to go JERK).

Trust me, this game of festive hostage taking extends even to birthday parties for little kids. Its 10 p.m. and all the two year-olds are still having a great time, so no one leaves. Even though its waaay past every kids’ bedtime. Nope. Stay. Eat more cake. The party must go on!

The social ramifications for misunderstanding the differences between US and Croatian definitions for fun are profound. I’ve had South Slav friends (the party breaking rule, in my experience also applies to Bosnians and Serbs) in the US who after being ejected from a get-together (I won’t even pretend it was a party) at 2:30 a.m., spend the next few days wondering what they did to insult their host, who was soooo hurt, felt it proper to kick them out into the waning night. My friends and family here still cannot accept that this is acceptable way to treat friends in the US (really, they think I’m LYING). From our perspective, if I’m tired, drunk, and about to pass-out then we think its rude that YOU are STILL hanging around. GO HOME! I want to go to bed! I’ve aggressively looked at my watch 50 times in the last 30 seconds! I know several CRO-AM couples who have nearly broken up over the AM’s desire to kick everyone to the curb at 5 a.m. and the CRO’s complete and total shock at even suggesting such a thing. This kind of behavior in Croatia destroys friendships! Friends don’t let friends break parties.

Playing the party hostage game is wrapped up in the responsibilities of friendship and hospitality. Its like a self-perpetual motion machine: the host, hosts the party and its then the friends’ responsibility not to break it, while the friends went to all the trouble of coming to the party, so the host has to be sure the party doesn’t break. The party can go on into perpetuity (or at least until the break of day).

I asked a Croatian friend who studied in Chicago what the parties were like. After laughing for five minutes, he said something to the effect that a ‘party’ in Chicago involved a cheese platter, everyone bringing some food and their own drinks, talking nicely, showing up at 8 and leaving before midnight. Those massive house parties you see in the movies mostly died with the 1980s and John Hughes. Now they can only be spotted, rarely, at Fraternities and Sororities.

Parties in Croatia are much more um... fun? (and they don’t even have college Frats). Its normal to bring a bottle of alcohol or coffee (see earlier post). You never ever bring a dish of food. Ever! I was at a party for New Years, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and the hosts provided us with drinks and home cooked Indian food! It started at 10:30 p.m. and ended at, around 6 a.m. And this isn’t some young people versus old people issue, everyone there was between 30 and 45! (Last year, a 70 year-old relative stayed out until 4 a.m. with her septuagenarian friends, dancing at a wedding.) What’s more is that as the night goes on, the hosting never falters. Like a watchful member of the party-police, the host is always aware of how empty your glass is, and is there to replenish it. Then, as the early morning approached our hosts, like stewards and stewardesses on a transatlantic flight, shifted to a small breakfast service, providing us with earl gray tea and light morsels.

By then, with the gray light of dawn slipping through the curtains, the party had broken. But no one was the breaker, instead it is the resumption of life’s natural volatility that carried us home. The day had brought change, and change is inevitable. Stasis cannot last forever, no matter how hard we try.

So now you can imagine what would happen if I had these hosts over for a party and then at 5 a.m summarily expelled them from my house. Not only would it be a personal insult, but it would ruin an otherwise good time.

Given all the expectations, responsibilities, and reciprocity involved in having a good time in Croatia, its no wonder that having this kind of a good time is socially acceptable. For us in the US staying out all night is something only ‘wild’ teenagers should do. We see it as irresponsible and something the ‘town fathers’ certainly frown upon. Whereas in Croatia it means you are a good friend, a good host, or both. The guilt-ridden cab ride through the foggy dawn doesn’t exist. I find that in those early morning moments, after a fun evening, amid the bad breath and stale smell of cigarettes, I become more reflective, thinking ever-so-lightly on the passing night, and how great it is to have such exhausting fun with friends. In those moments, I feel we could stay young forever.

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