“Nemoj” – Tolerance in Service in Croatia

Total Croatia News


August 6, 2023 – Chris Smoje continues his look at aspects of the service industry in Croatia. “Nemoj.”

If you were to immerse yourself in the Croatian culture for a few months like I have, you’d certainly get a good exposure to the language just by listening. Sitting on the beach around literally hundreds of young families, there’s one word that I constantly hear, which is “nemoj”. When exclaimed, this literally means “DON’T!”.

Fortunately, growing up with a Croatian family, I’ve heard that word used so many times particularly by my baba and dida. All the time as kids, if we were play-fighting with siblings or cousins, right through to touching things we shouldn’t or that could break, we would hear the word “nemoj” or sometimes even “pusti” which means to “let go”.

As children, and confirming this by having children of my own – they like to push boundaries. To see how far they can get away with something without being caught or told off. I’ve already previously written about how aware Croatians can be, and as a child we wouldn’t get away with much, before finding baba, dida, or our parents watching over shouting “nemoj”. The key here, is you’d never know what would set them off – hence testing the boundaries.

I see so many similarities as I look at this in relation to the Croatian service culture. In the height of peak season, or in moments of short staffing, there’s definitely an element of patience required. Yet at the same time, people won’t always be patient without the colourful expressions that go with it.

These articles have often explored some of the more transactional types of service – the things that usually take place without problems. For a foreigner coming to Croatia especially for a holiday, these make up most of the service interactions that take place, but what about the more complex ones.

Whichever country you are in, a measure of good service should be in how helpful someone is to you in solving the problem you are experiencing. There’s no doubt that Croatian’s work hard, however there are certainly situations where you may experience some push-back from a service provider.

This occurs when a request you make just becomes too difficult in terms of time and effort. As a customer, you generally would have a good idea of what can be a reasonable request or not (granted not always), but sometimes when you ask for something you can be met with excuses. All of a sudden things tend to be “komplicirano” (complicated), “puno daleko” (very far away), “bezveze” (nonsense), or “neprilika” (trouble). You might hear these words in resistance to a request.

This fascinates me, for one reason – how these words are translated to in English. When I think about good service, responses are usually the opposite of these words. For instance transferring an item from somewhere else – it may literally be far away, but we’d play it down and say “it’s not so far away”. You’d hear “it’s no trouble at all”, or if it’s complicated – you’d hear that “it isn’t that complicated really”.

Some of the previous articles have explored about the red-tape that you’ll find in Croatia. These things create complications, yet there are other more customer led complications that simply aren’t tolerated from a service perspective. As a customer you can request something, and you certainly can be met with the answer “no”.

Perhaps this is why. Service for a service provider is already complicated enough as it is, why would anyone want more complication if they can avoid it? Because there are certainly situations where the opposite is true.

I’ve found myself sometimes over-apologising for asking something, to be told “nema problema” (no problem). It takes a lot of getting used to, just like as a child to test the boundaries as to what can be tolerated and what can’t.

This is an area certainly worth discussing inside your organisations. Everyone’s perception of difficulty is going to be different. The same words in service were used by my baba (grandmother) in particular. If we were going out, say 20 minutes into the City away from home, she would say “it’s too far”. Perhaps when you grow up in small village the perception of distance is different. But for us, 20 minutes is nothing. As Australians, living so isolated, it’s normal to get on a plane to Europe, yet for many Europeans, Australia is simply just too far away.

Getting a glimpse into the tolerance of service providers is a great way to understand other cultures without being too critical. As humans we all have our days. Things that we sometimes can’t be bothered doing, or things that’s just in our nature not to enjoy doing (like assembling furniture for instance). There are many cultures in the world where nothing is a trouble at all and I’m sure there would be some where everything is a trouble.

Perhaps as Croatia develops digitally with systems and processes, so too might tolerance for solving bigger problems, and problems that are more meaningful to customers. I’ve certainly noticed many leaps in the right direction on visiting this time, compared to my last visit 5 years ago.

For leaders of service, my best advice would be to look at how tolerant your people are and watching for the times where their instincts are to not help instead of help. You might uncover some valuable insights into how to streamline the service experience or the areas that need greater investment to make problem solving all that easier (or tolerable).

On a humorous note, while baba and dida would certainly yell out “nemoj” to us directly, if our parents were to ever tell us off, they would yell “nemoj” at them. Telling them not to have a go at us, or to simply let it go. They had a huge soft side when it came to their grandchildren, and you can certainly see that being evident when it comes to how they serve and treat children over here.

There are so many cultures in the world that only have time for the paying customer (the mum and dad) and not the whole family (the children). The inclusion, time, attention, and tolerance they give to children over here is next level.

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, “Čekaj” – Patience and Understanding: Understanding that Patience is Needed, and “Ajme” – Expressiveness in Service.


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