The Rough Guide Croatian Phrasebook Review: Learning Croatian Dangerously

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I have lived in Croatia since 2006, and Varaždin is my home. I have learned a lot over the past 15 years, and luckily my Croatian has improved since my first days in the country. As time passes by, I collect more and more memories. Recently, I came across a Croatian phrasebook that I thought I had lost: the Rough Guide Croatian Phrasebook. Since it helped me so much, and at the same time got me into some potentially sticky situations, I think it is time to review this handy little grenade thoroughly. 

First of all, what’s Rough Guide anyway? 

Rough Guide, well-known for its travel guidebooks for backpackers and tourists on a tight budget, also publishes language guides and phrasebooks. This phrasebook targets the typical English-speaking tourist without any previous exposure to the dynamics of the Croatian language.

In this particular phrasebook, a Croatian novice will be schooled quickly in the art of being Croatian. Numerous daily situations are covered, including visiting the bank, ordering food at a restaurant, asking for directions, booking a hotel room, etc. The common questions that an English-speaking tourist will have at certain places and sites are translated into Croatian. The authors use phonetics to ensure that the proper tone and pronunciation are used by the brave tourist visiting Croatia. Overall, the translations are presented in an easy-to-understand way that is useful to any tourist. There is also an English-Croatian/Croatian-English dictionary in the phrasebook. Although it is short, it provides most of the keywords that tourists need to use while visiting the country. The last section of the book provides the reader with a crash course in Croatian grammar. This section does not cover everything, but it does provide the reader with the basics. The size of the handbook should also be noted.  It is just right. It can fit in your pocket, making it convenient for any tourist visiting Croatia.

Although the phrasebook provides a Croatian language learner with the basics, Rough Guide ought to review the content of this phrasebook before publishing it further. It seems that they watched the classic sketch “The Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook” from Monty Python and decided it would be funny in real life. I have used this guide in Croatia, and my Croatian friends and colleagues have pointed out that some material is dangerously inaccurate.  I point your attention to page 122 – Colloquialisms.  

Not realizing that the translations on this page were completely wrong, I used them in public with my new friends back in 2006. To my dismay, the phrase “dobit ćeš kurac (doe-bit chesh koo-rats)” did not mean “you’ll get lucky” as presented in the phrasebook. Instead, that phrase meant something very rude and insulting. I will allow you, the reader, to put it into Google Translate and figure it out for yourself. I said this to my friend after he told me how horrible his day was. In my case, I got lucky. I could have been beaten up if I were with the wrong crowd. Not taking offense, my friend pointed out the exact meaning of each phrase on page 122. I should note that the majority of the words on that page are mistranslated. In fact, they are very rude, sometimes sexist, and absolutely insulting statements. This page should be used with absolute care. If any of those phrases are used in public with people you don’t know, don’t be surprised if you get into a fight. It should be noted that the phrasebook has been in circulation since 2006, and only minor changes have been made to the book since. Page 122 remains unchanged. It is odd to me that there have not been any lawsuits or incidents reported relating to the phrases listed on that page.

Despite the dangers of using page 122 in public, this phrasebook is a useful tool for any novice Croatian language learner. It provides many useful phrases that can be used in everyday situations. The dictionary and grammar rules are also presented well. Due to the potential disaster that page 122 poses to an unsuspecting tourist in Croatia, I give this phrasebook a 3/5 rating. 

Buyer beware!  This phrasebook can be as dangerous as a hand grenade if used improperly. 

Picture 1.1. The cover of my personal copy of the phrasebook                                      

Picture 1.2. The notorious page 122 with my notes included. Thanks to my Croatian friends,  I was able to get the right translations. The stars on the left side mean that the words are dangerous!

To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page.


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