Handymen in Croatia: Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

Total Croatia News


There I was, a young, independent, accomplished woman, waiting for a man to call. With an added bonus of having the privilege to pay him for being late

Here’s an idea for a fun social experiment: ask any person from Croatia what their greatest fear is. And then, right when they open their mouth to cite death of a loved one, some horrible disease or drowning in debt, cut them off to add a small caveat. Nothing major, though; think a level of small everyday inconveniences. For example, having a leaky pipe in the bathroom, you can say. I can guarantee you’ll see their eyes widen in horror.

See, here in Croatia, we have a category of people we can’t live without, but really, really don’t want to deal with either: handymen.

We call them majstori: masters of every imaginable branch of construction or home improvement. Utter the word majstor to any Croat out there and watch them spiral down into the abyss of frustration and despair. We all had to do some maintenance in our homes at one point of our lives, be it a broken water-heater or a large-scale renovation project. No matter how handy you might be, there’s not a large number of people out there who can glide through life without ever needing some help from repairmen, and when it comes to Croatian majstori, their no.1 character trait is being extremely unreliable.

They might be skilled, they might be really good at what they do, but however you look at it, the majority of interactions with majstori will leave you ripping your hair out. They never arrive on time. Sometimes, they don’t show up at all. On occasion, a mysterious obstacle will arise that will lead to you getting overcharged. Whenever you have to deal with majstori, you can only keep your fingers crossed and pray for a favourable outcome – the work getting done. The timeline, the expenses and your level of sanity after the ordeal are all very fickly, unpredictable factors. If the work is done, regardless of the circumstances, consider yourself lucky. Those rare individuals who get blessed with reliable handymen in Croatia can compare their experience to spotting the Loch Ness monster or winning the lottery. Save that number and treasure it as you would treasure your firstborn child.

The rule of thumb is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst: set some extra money on the side, clear out your schedule for the entire day instead of a couple of hours you were counting on, and stock up on liqueur to help you cope. That last part is not to be enjoyed until they’re done and out of your apartment – you’ll probably have to do a lot of negotiating, debating, discussing and coordinating. Best to keep a sober head.


The following story doesn’t even come close to the worst possible majstori scenario – no no. The worst stories involve batches of expensive tiles getting broken, heating systems getting installed in wrong places, entire design plans falling apart due to a couple of misjudged centimetres, bathrooms getting flooded, roofs collapsing. In comparison, my story isn’t even a bad one. Instead, look at it as a rundown of an average experience you’ll be served with when you try to employ people you don’t know to help you with some handiwork.

Mise-en-scene: at the moment, I’m sharing an apartment with two fab roommates (shout-out to I & T!). The place is a dream, great location, great price, more square footage than we’ve ever hoped for, but there’s a small caveat: our beds are a nightmare. We have a newly renovated bathroom, a high-end setup in the living room… and then there are the beds. Squeaky, screechy, wonky, rickety pieces of furniture, lined with bumpy mattresses that have us unwilling to go to bed and wake up stiff and in pain in the morning. To quote the classic, we’re too old for this shit. We’re not college students anymore, willing or able to crash just anywhere. So we called the landlord and informed him we’ll be getting some new furniture in near future, and kindly asked for it to be knocked off our rent.

For weeks now, every family member or friend of mine has been subjected to me yapping about my slatted bed base being welded into the bed frame – who the hell does this? It would have been such a simple (and cheap) solution to just replace the squeaky base, but I wasn’t that lucky. Instead, I decided to buy a new one, and chance had it that a friend of mine recently refurbished his bedroom and had some relatively new beds – and mattresses – to get rid of. He offered them to me at a price that was… next to nothing, really, and having spent a weekend despairing over the cost of new bed sets, I was happy to take them off his hands.

Enter the majstori: I had to arrange for someone to transport the beds from his place to mine and install them in my room. I posted an ad on a Facebook group, found a guy, arranged for us to meet on Friday at 2 in the afternoon, only to have the job cancelled on Thursday evening. Argh. I did a quick online search, found a couple of people offering transport services in my city, called all of them – to no avail. No one was answering. Not the best course of events, as we really had to get it done before the end of the week.

Then, a stroke of luck – one of them called me back, and again, we agreed on Friday at 2. As my friend has a 9-5 sort of job, his mom agreed to wait in the apartment to let the movers in, so I told the man I’d call him on Friday morning to give him the addresses and sort out the details.

No no, I’ll call you, he said. After all, you’re the one who’s paying.

Okay, I thought. Nice.


Rest assured the one I’ve got wasn’t in that much of a hurry.

And then, on Friday morning, I got up earlier than usual and made some coffee, waiting for the call.

8. 9. No call. I removed my bedspread. 10. Nothing. I went to an ATM to get some cash. 11. No call.

Noon rolled around, and thinking about the poor woman who was waiting in my friend’s apartment, I called the guy.

Hi, we talked about the move last night –
Oh! Yeah, hi, um…….
You forgot about me, didn’t you? I asked.
No no, he said in the tone of voice I like to employ when someone calls me early in the morning and asks whether they woke me up. No no, I croak sluggishly, I was just… around… just… what’s up? Yeah, that one.

No no, I was just… Something came up, I had to take care of a thing, he said. Extraordinary circumstances. So, what’s up?
What about our deal? I asked.
Oh yeah, about that. What time did we say?
Today, 2.
Yeah. Um. We’re still on, but it’ll have to be later in the day, something came up.
Okay, when do you think you could make it?
Yeah, not sure. I’m in Trieste.

Oh okay. Trieste, Italy. Two borders away. No problem at all.

When are you coming back?
I’m just on my way back, how about I call you when I get back to Rijeka?
Okay. Sure. Any idea of ETA? I’d like to let the lady know when she can expect you.
Not just yet.

Alright alright alright.

It takes approximately an hour and a half to get from Trieste to Rijeka by car. Three hours passed. There I was, a young, independent, accomplished woman, waiting for a man to call. With an added bonus of having the privilege to pay him for being late – or showing up at all.

With no word from my man of the day, I called the woman and apologised profusely, saying I had no idea this would happen and there’s not much I could do about it now. She was very understanding, having dealt with some majstori on her part recently. Will anyone be home later that day? Well, we were planning to run some errands this morning, but we pushed them to this afternoon ’cause you said you’d be here around 2.

Great. Another accomplished woman indirectly subjected to a man who promised to call.

So I told her to go run her errands and promised to call her as soon as I get word from him. Go with the flow, go with the flow, I said to my anxious self. Not the end of the world. But you want to make a good impression when it comes to your friends’ parents, y’know? Messing up her daily schedule and coming off as unreliable wasn’t the best first impression to be made. Sorry, Mrs B.

Looking for something to do while I waited, I turned to the torturous screeching pits of hell that were my old beds and realised that a), they were too big to be carried out the door in one piece and b) I forgot to let the man know I’d also need him to get rid of the old furniture. Shit.

I can do this, I thought. I’m a daughter of an engineer. Also, a granddaughter of an engineer and a niece of another one. With so many engineers in the family, I must’ve picked something up along the way. I can fix pipes. I’ve installed a dishwasher before. I can surely rip a couple of old beds apart. Worse comes to worst, I’ll channel all my hate towards the cause of insomnia I’ve been experiencing in the last couple of months and destroy the damned things.

Only, c), I had no tools in the house. I felt a faint twinge of all three engineers sighing with disappointment.

I went through my room and found a pair of pliers. A very delicate pair of needle-nose pliers I use to repair my jewellery – a perfect tool to unscrew massive bolts. This was going to be fun.


Just what you need to take a bedframe apart.

I grabbed the first screw and tried to rattle it a bit to see how much effort this was going to take. Lo and behold, the thing was loose, and it only took a pinch and some gentle rolling to get it out of its place. I took the other one out, then removed the bedpost and disassembled the entire structure in a couple of minutes. It fell apart just as easily as if I’d run my hand through some cobweb. I was staring at the IKEA-like spread on my floor in utter disbelief. And I was wondering why my back hurt.

Rinse and repeat, and ten minutes later, a pile of metal and wood was laid out in the hallway. Take that, engineers.


Halfway done.

1:45. My phone rang.

Hi, said the man. I’m back in Rijeka. I can be there in 15.

I’ll spare you the detailed rundown of the process that followed and just say it involved hastily preventing a woman from running her errands, some repairmen failing to operate an elevator, a van causing a traffic jam in front of my building and a lot of huffing and puffing. They dragged some timber and two mattresses up three flights of stairs. My designated gentleman caller of the day grabbed onto a railing, trying to catch his breath. Okay, we done? he gasped. I put on my best puppyface.

Actually, while you’re here… Would you maybe be willing to get rid of these old things for me? I said, pointing to the junk on the floor.

I’ve never seen such a perfectly crafted display of ‘ugh’ written across someone’s face before.

Pleeeease, I said. I took them apart myself. With no tools! Please take them away. You can leave them on the side of the road as far as I’m concerned. Just not on my street. I don’t want to see the bloody things as I pass by.

I kept getting the ‘ugh’ face.

I’ll throw in another 100. Please.

The ‘ugh’ suddenly softened.

The man nodded to his young assistant. He rolled up his sleeves and grabbed the bed frame, confident he was going to lift it up with ease. He didn’t. He whistled in surprise and tried another approach, pulling at the slatted base. It remained firmly jammed in its place.

What the f*ck, he blurted.

It’s welded in, I said, oozing with satisfaction for having a new person to inform that someone, at some point, decided to weld a bed base into the frame.

Why would anyone…

I don’t know, I said, brimming with glee.

Okay, I can see why you want to get rid of them, the young hunk said, and promptly picked up the entire structure and carried it out of the apartment. I was positively in love for the next five seconds, then noticed the older man smirking at me.

It’s always him who gets all the attention.

So I laughed, and I gushed with gratitude, and handed him the cash. Thank you thank you thank you. I was quick to forget he chose what was probably a well-paid job in Italy over my quick delivery stint. All was forgiven.

So, for a quick recap of the experience: I employed a guy to perform a simple service for me that would take an hour tops, agreed on a price that was pretty generous in regards to the service at hand, agreed on the time, only to have him forget about the deal, go to Trieste instead, come back to Rijeka, fail to call me, cause a fair amount of panic and unnecessary phone calls, and then actually show up at the exact time we agreed upon, deliver the goods, not have to install any furniture as I’m a spawn to a couple of engineers so I both assembled and disassembled the beds myself, and then he got an extra hundred to get rid of some junk.

That’s Croatian majstori for you. And I’ve had it good.


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