“Ajme” – Expressiveness in Service

Total Croatia News

July 23, 2023 – Chris Smoje continues his look at aspects of the service industry in Croatia. “Ajme.”

Growing up in any Croatian family, it’s likely you’d be familiar with the phrase “ajme”. For me, I heard it called out by my baba and dida, usually with their hands up in the air or touching their heads. The phrase can be used for both positive and negative situations, and when used in a sentence its modern translation in English would be “OMG”, or “oh my” at the very least.

The phrase or word is more used as an expression, rather than having any meaning around it, hence why it was used so frequently. I guess you could say that Croatians are very expressive people like many other European cultures. The words along with the hand gestures say it all.

There are some viral videos going around the internet where an American girl, secretly records herself doing things to provoke an expressive reaction from her Italian boyfriend. Breaking spaghetti, ordering pineapple on a pizza, coconut milk in cappuccino, and carbonara with hotdogs are little ways to get that European reaction that millions have viewed worldwide.

As an Australian-Croatian I’m very used to hearing these expressions, which has made me tune in a lot more in service situations during my three-month stay in Croatia this year. However, the expressiveness of Croatian culture, particularly in service situations is also helpful for all cultures to know.

This series of articles has always been intended to respectfully and with intrigue look at the way service is delivered in Croatia and the themes have always evolved from a word or phrase used by my Croatian grandparents – similar to many other Croatian families throughout the world. Communication is fascinating, and by looking at expressions you can understand a lot more or perhaps even take things the wrong way. I hope to explore both sides here today.

Being of service to someone in public has two very opposing and difficult extremes. On the one hand, true service is authentic, being present – connecting with each person at the same level. On the other hand, service can be theatrical. In other words, creating an experience for a customer, especially in knowing what not to say, or removing things that detract from an overall positive experience.

The “ajme” expression in service sits at the intersecting point of both of these extremes.

Summer in Croatia can be expressed as “luda” which means crazy. In a short window, temperatures rise as does the number of tourists. Airconditioning is either absent or just can’t keep up. Doors are constantly opened, people need to eat, drink, and shop – it’s very easy for staff to become hot and bothered. And, they are very human for feeling this way.

It’s not uncommon to hear a sigh, or the word “ajme” used in between customers when there’s no end in sight of the queue. Or if a customer isn’t familiar with a way of working causes an unnecessary delay, it’s very easy to make an expression like that.

How would you feel as a customer if you were on the receiving end of “ajme”? There’s a good chance you could feel sorry for the person serving, but there’s also a chance you would feel sorry for being a customer in the first place. Yes, my family and I needed to do our weekly shop at the supermarket, but it did feel like we were inconveniencing the person serving us as they remarked at how long the queue was.

But while this could be seen as a negative, it teaches customers to be kind and respectful, something that is far more demanded and often in signage or even spoken (in recorded messages) about customers to servers in Australia. I have never seen any aggression from a customer’s perspective toward any staff member at all while travelling here.

People who live here would be used to it, and it would be interesting to see how these expressions are used in the winter. Especially in government offices, I would imagine the staffing levels would be the same all year round, and therefore it’s not just a summer thing. But a sharp change in customer numbers after a quiet winter would be a shock to any system no matter what.

Christmas recruitment in Australia is very deliberate about making staff aware of the expected increase in trade. You would think that the same happens in Croatia too – and for some, at least the summer in Croatia is without the incessant Christmas carols that some detest back home!

It’s clear though, that the expressiveness in Croatian service does not always contribute to a theatrically better service experience from the customer’s perspective, but at least when interacting with staff, you know where you stand as a customer. Sometimes the lack of expression doesn’t give enough away as to what might be troubling someone. Suppressing an expression can therefore result in a more robotic and less human service experience which is certainly seen back home.

If I was to compare something between service across the world, I would want to compare what organisations are doing to give their staff time to refresh, so they can be fresh to customers. Rosters and opening hours are usually fixed, but there can be a fine line between easy rostering and staff burnout. The compromise is to spend more time on rostering (not an easy thing) but have staff less likely to express reactions when things get busy. It’s a struggle that every business around the world would need to address.

Hearing baba and dida yell out “ajme” always made me stop in my tracks as a child. Looking back it’s hard to say they were tolerant, yet their upbringing and life would influence this for sure. This segues perfectly into the next article that will take a deeper look at tolerance in service.

Chris Smoje is an Australian-Croatian expert educator and thought leader on customer service cultures. He is an Amazon best-selling author for his book “All-In Culture: Lead your people to be of service” and is a professional speaker delivering his programs to organisations and conferences globally. www.chrissmoje.com

Previously from Chris: Polako – the Art of Service: Slowing DownPazi! Croatian Service Awareness, Pamet – Croatian Service and Sensibility, Bjezi – When Service Comes to an End, and “Čekaj” – Patience and Understanding: Understanding that Patience is Needed.


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