Croatian Bureaucracy, a Love Story: 2. Foreign Father Attending a Birth

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There are many things which change in life when you find out that you are about to become a father. It was something I had never planned, as I really couldn’t imagine myself responsible or capable enough to raise another human, let alone two – and my kids will no doubt confirm that my fears were not unfounded). One of the main early decisions to make was of course:

Would I be attending the birth of my first child?

The answer was of course an emphatic yes – what an incredible moment for any man. I gave little thought (at the time) about whether of not there would be any issues as a foreign father in this beautiful land attending the birth of his child. 


Welcome to the second in our new series, Croatian Bureaucracy, a Love Affair, an attempt to snapshot the absurdity of life in Croatia in a time of massive change. My grandchildren will have no concept of Croatian Bureaucracy as It Once Was, and so this is a humble attempt by this foreigner to give something back for future generations. Croatian bureaucracy has been good to me over the years in terms of writing material, from having to deal with the indignity of having my third name Raymond shortened to Raym to being told by Privredna Banka Zagreb that I would have to travel 160 kilometres round trip to Zagreb and wait two weeks until I could open a bank account, Thankfully, my new best friend Nenad allowed me to open an account at Raiffeisen in Varazdin, a wonderful experience would took precisely 46 minutes

Before we relieve that unforgettable Sunday night in Rijeka back in 2006, I must reference the first article in this series, whose theme inspired the series. 

It all began when I got a parking ticket in Varazdin, despite having paid by SMS parking. The next day, the same thing happened in Zagreb. The car I was driving was not the one I usually do, and so perhaps there was an issue with the licence plate.


Boy, was there an issue with the licence plate. You can read all about it in Croatian Bureaucracy, a Love Story: 1. The Car Licence Plate.

When is a 0 an 0, and when is it a O?

One of the things I love about Croatia is that there are a number of people much better versed in the peculiar ways of Croatian bureaucracy, and they take great pleasure in celebrating its absurdity at every turn. The champion of this, of course, is my good friend Marko Rakar, the man who put ‘anal’ into Croatian bureaucracy analysis. He is currently engulfed in a quite superb series of correspondence with one of his service providers. 


Marko shared the article on Facebook, and his dedicated disciples in absurdity helped to provide some more insights, my favourite of which was from Sasa, above. 

My long-suffering wife wrote emails of appeal to both Varazdin and Zagreb, pointing out I was a stupid foreigner, and it is impossible to detect any difference.

And we have a response!


Varazdin, which has always been super efficient in my experience, wrote back the next day agreeing to cancel the ticket, but with a warning that this will not be possible in future. Very reasonable.

From Zagreb, nothing yet, but it has only been 4 days, and there are 11,000 people working at Zagreb Holding, so it could take some time to find someone who actually does any work. 

Back to 2006 and my imminent change in status to foreign father… 

We (ok not me) decided to have the birth in Rijeka, as KBC Rijeka had the best reputation in Croatia for the birthing experience back then. I absolutely wanted to be there at the birth, by my wife’s side at this amazing moment for us both. 

But there was a problem. 

In order to attend the birth, I would have to attend a pre-natal course. This wasn’t a problem in itself, although I tried to point out that I was not the one actually giving birth. 

We were informed that there was a 4-week course twice a week, after which I would receive a certificate. The certificate would grant me entry into the delivery room. 

All clear and understood. 

But there was a problem. 

Living on Hvar, the closest course was in Split, which wasn’t a problem in itself, the problem was in the timing. Twice a week for four weeks, Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting at 20:00.

The last ferry to the island departed at 19:30. 

Unable to commit to two nights in Split each week for a month, I resigned myself to not being allowed to participate in the birth. 

“Let’s see if we can find a way when we get to Rijeka,” suggested my sage wife. 

Slightly higher blood pressure one afternoon led to us taking the decision to drive to the hospital early as a precaution. This meant the last ferry from Stari Grad to Split, followed by driving through the night to Rijeka. We arrived in Opatija at 06:00 and decided to have one last coffee together before she went into the hosptial. 

Having driven all night, I was gasping and ordered a beer.

“Sorry, Sir, by law, we cannot serve alcohol until 08:00.”

 Who came up with that one? If it is an attempt to battle alcoholism, then fine, but then why allow people to start at 08:00?

And so we settled into a routine. My daily visits as she prepared to let Nature do its course.  My wife explained that this foreign father wanted to attend the birth but was unable to attend the course. Was there any possible way?

Of course!

We were told that at the moment my wife went into labour – but not a moment before – I should go to the reception, fill out an official payment form (uplatnica) for 300 kuna, then take the receipt to the delivery room and bang loudly on the door.  Upon presenting the receipt, I was given the protective clothing and allowed to be with my wife for the birth. My left arm still has the fingernail marks to prove I was there. 

it is important to note that this was not a bribe. I was effectively buying a ticket to watch the show. 

My British friend in Split had the same decision to make a couple of months later. He spoke no Croatian whatsoever, but paid for and attended the course faithfully for 4 weeks. He had no idea what was being said but passed the course with ease and gained entry to the delivery room. 

My experience with Croatian bureaucracy as a foreign father was not yet done, as I still had to negotiate the official handover of my new-born treasure to my punica, or mother-in-law.

As we returned to Jelsa, she was waiting for us at the bottom of the steps. I have the best punica in the world, but I will never forget this moment as long as I live. 

My wife went up the stairs to our apartment, followed by my punica, with me carrying my daughter bringing up the rear. 

My wife went straight into the bedroom to lie down and rest, followed by my punica. I was just about to enter when my punica turned around, took my daughter, thanked me kindly, then shut the bedroom door in my face. 

My job as a foreign father was done. 

You can follow progress on this and other wonderful adventures into Croatian bureaucracy in our new Croatian Bureaucracy, a Love Affair section.

If you have a story of bureaucratic pain that deserves a wider audience, send your submission to [email protected] Subject Bureaucratic Love. 


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