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similarities and differences at work in Croatia

Posted on March 9, 2010 at 9:01pm Madrid / 3:01pm Cincinnati by Kelly Larbes

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Family and friends regularly ask me what it’s like to work here in Croatia, and I usually just say, “It’s different.” I often find myself lacking the right words to explain how it is different, thinking, “You just have to live in this crazy place to understand.” Sometimes I tell the story about how I was flipping through photos of a client’s vehicle fleet that I was designing graphics for and I noticed one truck belonged to another company. I figured that photo had mistakenly ended up with these others somehow, so I asked my boss about it. He said it was supposed to be there. That company owed our client money and didn’t have it, so they gave them a truck instead. Somehow, for me, that sums up what it is like working in Croatia.

Most of the differences aren’t good or bad; they’re just distinctive. The more I pondered the differences, I realized that there are a lot of similarities too – and perhaps some of these are universal design studio truths.


  • Language: Most business is conducted in Croatian (duh), so I am definitely on a need to know basis. Sometimes this is nice because I can really concentrate on design work. I just make sure I ask lots of questions so I don’t miss anything important. Luckily the biggest project I work on is with a German client (who owns a castle which houses a hotel and restaurant on a Croatian island) so all business and meetings are conducted in English.

  • No project briefs: In the United States I was accustomed to getting project briefs containing all sorts of information from project goals to priorities of communication to the target audience. Here I start projects on a wing and a prayer. It would be nice to have more information from the client before the project started, but on the bright side, I find that I am getting the opportunity to learn a lot more about business planning and marketing because we are creating that for the client too. It is something I really love about my job.

  • Informal pitches: Most project pitches here much less formal than American ones I’ve seen, and they usually involve many chats over coffee.

  • Less resources: I miss all of the resources I used to have like large format printers and a library of magazines. I know this just goes with the territory of being in a smaller company – not really a Croatian thing.

Most project pitches involve many chats over coffeeNo library room full of magazines here

  • Formal work hours: I start work at 8:00am, take a 10 minute break in the morning, take an hour lunch break, take a 10 minute break in the afternoon, and leave at 4:30pm – everyday. Sometimes I find this stifles my creativity, but the advantages of leaving at 4:30 everyday completely outweigh that. It lets me find other outlets for my creativity and enjoy living life here with everything Split has to offer.

  • Clients are less educated: Jay and I often feel that Croatia is 20 years behind the rest of the modern world in many ways. In the last 20 years design and innovation seem to have become the most popular buzz words in the business world, but definitely not in Split, Croatia. Many clients don’t see the value design adds to their business at all.

  • No eating at my desk: In the United States it was quite common to eat at my desk along with my other co-workers so we could finish a rushed projects or leisurely do online research for a new project. Here I was told that no one eats at their desk. I assumed that was to make sure everyone took a proper lunch break, but it’s actually so no one gets crumbs in the keyboards.

  • Work is more varied, but roles are more defined: I’m enjoying that the types of projects I work on varies a lot from corporate identities to packaging to advertisements to websites. Though I see a bigger variety of work, I find my role is more defined than it would be in an American work setting.

  • Client payment is tricky: Getting paid by clients is tricky in all Croatian businesses. Clients rarely pay when they say they will and the complications seem to dominate everyday work life in Croatia. Bills can go unpaid for 12 or 18 months, or sometimes forever.

  • No designated amount of sick days: Croatian companies do not designate workers a certain amount of work days. If an employee is sick, he or she has to go the doctor to get an official note and stay home from work the specified number of days the doctor thinks it will take to get better. To me, this is one of the most illogical Croatian work policies. Almost everyone is friends with their doctor and often employees take advantage of this because doctors usually write them notes saying they need to be off work for a week or more.

  • No work days off for weekend holidays: If a holiday falls on the weekend, I don’t get the Friday or Monday off. Luckily, Croatia does have a few more public holidays than the United States so it makes up for it.

  • More vacation days: I get 25 paid vacation days a year! And everyone in Croatia gets at least 18 vacation days. I think that is one of the best things about working in Europe.


  • Write-ups: I still get write-ups – papers with project numbers and due dates.

  • Crazy client requests: There are still days when clients drive me crazy with never ending and unorganized requests.

  • Getting the client to pick our favorite: I still strategize with colleagues on how we can get the client to pick our favorite concept option for a project.

  • Good times with co-workers: I still go out to lunch sometimes with co-workers and we share stories from our weekends.

  • Sketching: I still start every project sketching in my notepad.

  • Inspiration: I still find inspiration in everything around me – now my environment is just new and different. And I still keep tabs on my favorite blogs and news web sites for inspiration.

  • Telling stories: One of the things I love about being a designer is helping a brand tell a story to connect with its consumers. It is not necessarily expected here, but I still find the opportunities to bring story telling into many of my projects.

  • Work is still work: A lot of people think I am just on an extended vacation here, but I promise that I am not. Work is still work. Some days I love it and some days I don’t. I’m still always happy when the weekend comes around. Maybe one day I’ll find that perfect job where I don’t look forward to the weekend, but I doubt it. I think no matter how much I love a job, my brain will always be ready for a small interlude after five days.

8 Reader Comments to “similarities and differences at work in Croatia”

  1. Betty Bone on March 9, 2010 at 11:17pm Split / 5:17pm Cincinnati

    Ah, the differences sound awesome. I love the amount of vacation days. That’s a huge help when you are living somewhere where it is easy to travel. I bet you still feel bad when you are sick and can’t make it in. I don’t know if that ever goes away. I agree with work is still work. Even traditional artists and gypsy types are like that. You can’t do things day in and out and not need a break. It is part of the human condition to experience new things, to relax, to just be. YOU GET CRAZY CLIET REQUESTS? I didn’t know about these. I NEVER get crazy client requests! Ha.

  2. Elisa on March 9, 2010 at 11:27pm Split / 5:27pm Cincinnati

    How fun to read about your experiences. As a stay-at-home mom I dont’ have this point of view. I do agree with payment being tricky. You know that store skandal on marmantova? they haven’t paid rent in months and is probably going out of business. 25 days of vacation, wow, back in the States I would have had to be with the company for over 15 years or 20 if that, to have that many. I was going on my 5th year and I was going to get 3 weeks, woohoo!

  3. Dad Klocke on March 10, 2010 at 1:44am Split / 7:44pm Cincinnati

    I know your last comment was directed toward mom about extended vacation. Just remember your dad never stated such a statement. I know better. As usual, I enjoy reading your blog. After 39 yrs of working, I look forward for weekends but like my weekend beginning on Friday. Kelly — I think that you will understand my last statement.
    Hope everything is going well for you and Jay.

  4. Milda on March 12, 2010 at 12:11pm Split / 6:11am Cincinnati

    Hey, very cool to read this. Funny in a way too:)) That’s what’s Croatia like! And I can just imagine how the differences must feel to you if even I do feel them, having in mind that Lithuania is very much a like to Croatia in many ways so I don’t get surprised so often:))

  5. Streetracer on March 23, 2010 at 1:47am Split / 7:47pm Cincinnati

    Hey guys,

    What is your favorite croatian music? Do you have any special songs you like the most in croatia?


  6. Kelly Larbes on March 31, 2010 at 8:10pm Split / 2:10pm Cincinnati

    Streetracer – I enjoy Croatian music, but I don’t remember the names of any of the songs. We always try to sing along at Hajduk games to the most popular song that is sung ALL the time, but I don’t remember what it is called. I am sure you know it – It seems to be the song we hear everywhere – at Hajduk games, outside cafes, and at parties.

  7. Streetracer on May 11, 2010 at 5:50pm Split / 11:50am Cincinnati

    Hi Kelly-Baby, my dear, my only one 😀

    I think you mean the song, which goes: “Dalmacijooo, moja Ruzo prozvala. Dalmacijooo, sva o zlata i biserea, Dalmacijo, tebi pismu pivam ja, pismu ljubavi, s juga i sjevera”?

    Am I right?! :)


  8. Pond Jumpers: Croatia – Split, Croatia Blog» Blog Archive » Graphic Design Studio Elevator, and my Favorite Project, Martinis Marchi on June 16, 2010 at 10:08pm Split / 4:08pm Cincinnati

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