20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years: 8. Business Meetings

Total Croatia News

Updated on:

Photo credit: Vivian Grisogono
Photo credit: Vivian Grisogono

One of the things that really confused me during my early days in Croatia, especially in the cities, was the fact that the cafes seemed to be pretty full almost all of the time. Did these people do ANY work, EVER? It seemed that the order of the day was to sit in the sun nursing a 2-hour espresso, watching the world go by with friends. How could the economy possibly achieve anything when most of the workforce was out drinking coffee all day?

It was one of my first lessons in how my Western mindset was very much at odds with my new surroundings.

“But don’t you see that there is lots of business and work going on all around you,” a local friend pointd out. “Cafes as offices for business meetings are part of the culture here. Look at that table, for example – big discussions. And that one. And that.”

And when I took a closer look, I could see several business meetings taking place. Not long afterwards, I came across some research which claimed that 56% of business deals in Croatia are concluded over coffee (or something stronger) in cafes.

How civilised is that?

I started to do the same. 

Not long after I moved to Hvar, I opened a real estate agency, Hvar Property Services. The 2003 Croatian property boom was in its infancy, and even though I did not know a lot about Croatian property, I knew people that did, and I knew how to deal with British and other foreign clients. How hard could it be… 

Rather than investing in furnishing some swanky office, I decided to go local with my official meeting point, and I did a deal with my local cafe on Jelsa’s main square to use it as an office. Lots of business for the cafe, a prime location for me, as well as a handy place to leave papers, or for clients to have a drink if I was running late (which I usually was – I was already becoming part-Dalmatian). 


(The Office. Captain Nijazi provided excellent backend support for years at Caffe Splendid on the main square in Jelsa. Do not leave the island without trying the cherry strudel)

My new office was also part of my sales pitch. I would welcome my potential buyers with a cherry strudel and cappuccino, and we would marvel at the beauty, safety and wonder of life on the main square, then give them an overview of the perfect expat life on an idyllic Dalmatian island. The aim (and it worked) was to get them to see what looked like a wonderful lifestyle (it really was) and think that if I could achieve that, then why couldn’t they?

After coffee and strudel, before we went to look at houses, I would drive them around the island to showcase its magic and make them fall in love with the island, then 1-2 properties before lunch, then a business lunch in a restaurant in the old town of Stari Grad, accompanied by wine. The seduction had begun, and I would always show my best property immediately after lunch, with great sales results. The end of the tour would return to where we started with a debrief over a drink.  And then we would meet again in the evening to close the deal and discuss paperwork and next steps. Was I hanging out in cafes much of the day? Absolutely. Was I getting any business done? You betcha. 

The cafe and business also have another function, one more sharp difference from my own culture.  I wanted to meet the Mayor to discuss a business initiative, and so I made the logical step of going to his office to try and make an appointment. The secretary was evasive. he is away today, can you come back tomorrow and we can see. And so it went on for days. I vented my frustration with a local friend over coffee at my office on the square.

“Haha, but you really do not understand how to get a meeting organised in this society, do you? There is the mayor in the cafe opposite. He comes for his coffee every day at 11 to the same cafe. Go over tomorrow morning before he arrives, pay for his coffee, so that he will enquire who paid for it. Then walk across, wish him a good day and ask him when might be a good time to get 15 minutes with him. Over a coffee of course.”

It is a little trick that works wonderfully. 

After we moved to Varazdin, I managed to orgainse my time so that I was working from home 6 days a week, with one day a week in Zagreb. Arriving at 10:00 on the bus, leaving at 22:00 on the bus – 12 hours of solid cafe time – meeting, meeting, meeting, with the occasional social gathering if time permitted. They were some of my favourite days at TCN, for we covered so many topics that I would be bombarded with incredible stories and features from all sectors of Croatian society one after the other. And then I would have 6 days to digest and write about them, until I repeated the cycle. The relaxed backdrop of the cafe always helped the conversation move along. 

And the flexibility of the cafe for business meetings should not be underrated. Digital nomads are all the rage these days, but I guess I have been one for 20 years now, working with a laptop and internet connection, wherever I found one. Sometimes meetings are cancelled, or there is a gap between business meetings. Or an article needs to be written urgently. In all those cases, order a cold one from the waiter and get to work. Business cafe life, unbeatable.

I should mention the dress code. 

On February 24, 2001, I walked out of my local pub near Oxford with a small rucksack and a hitchhiking sign saying ‘South Africa’, walking out of my old life and starting completely afresh at the ripe old age of 32. I never looked back once, and you can read about my 9-month journey to South Africa in my first book, Lebanese Nuns Don’t Ski.  One of the many things I promised myself is that I would never wear a suit again, except for weddings and funerals. 


And – for a full 15 years – I stayed true to that until a client offered me a job that required me wearing a suit for the evening. And then, really rather hilariously, given my lack of good looks, rounded physique and sartorial elegance, I was chosen to be the first-ever international male model in the illustrious 100-year history of Varteks. The reason was soon clear – my imperfections, for the fabulous campaign was called Imperfect Guy in a Perfect Suit. If I could look good in a suit, imagine what a suit could do for you. 

If I was looking to avoid wearing a suit, then I could have chosen no better home than Dalmatia. With the majority of meetings taking place in cafes, so the majority of them saw me (and others) turning up in shorts in the midday sun. Even when there are more formal gatherings in Dalmatia, there seems to be a wide range within the dress code. There are those who wear suits to everything (apart from the most formal meetings), others who will turn up in a shirt even to weddings. My kind of space. 


(Business planning with real entrepreneurs – planning the Entrepreneurial Mindset conference in a Zagreb cafe with Jan de Jong, Ognjen Bagatin, and the team from EY)

As I have never tried to win any sartorial elegance prizes, I saw no point in developing myself as the Brit with suit and tie at every occasion (despite my international model status), but a more casual shirt and slacks standard (with shorts for cafe meetings), bringing out the power suit only on the finest occasions. People seem to have accepted me that way, and I find it incredibly comfortable. 

As is the whole culture and setting of business meetings in Croatia. If only doing the actual business was not so hard…  


What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning – Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email [email protected] Subject 20 Years Book


Subscribe to our newsletter

the fields marked with * are required
Email: *
First name:
Last name:
Gender: Male Female
Please don't insert text in the box below!

Leave a Comment