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Driving in Croatia

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What's the hurry?
I drive an old Yugo in Croatia, so it's understandable that many other cars pass me on the highway. But I can't understand how cars older than mine pass me. My car is in pretty good shape; the engine still has a lot of power (as much as an old Yugo engine can have). So how can I get passed by a 1980 Zastava? I don't get it. It happens all the time. They must have ways of souping up engines there.

And speaking of driving: The only time a Croatian is in a hurry is on the highway. Quick service at a restaurant? Forget it. Want to pay your bill and get out of there? The paying of the bill is always last priority at a restaurant. Orders must be taken first; then delivery of food; then clearing the table; then sweeping the floor; last on the list is taking the customer's money. It sounds like a joke but it's absolutely true: they will clear the table before they take your money -- even when you are standing near the cash register with money in hand. No one will hurry to do anything for you in Croatia. I'm pretty sure that it's an insult to even put someone in the position of having to hurry. "Serving the customer" is not in their vocabulary, at least not if hurrying is part of the expected service.

So what's the big deal on the highway? Everyone is trying to be first. I've seen absolutely insane attempts at passing. I've had people pass me as if their life depended on it, and then turn off into their driveway 100 meters later.

I think I know what's happening here. Croatians, especially the younger ones, would really like to hurry but their culture won't allow it. It's just not cool. They would be ridiculed if they hurried. So they take out their frustrations in the one allowable place: the highway.

Some Driving Tips
Driving in Croatia is not particularly difficult once you get used to the narrow roads. They drive on the right, as in all of Continental Europe. The one main difference is that you cannot turn right at a red light. Also the "do not enter" sign looks like this. It took me a while to figure that one out. No seat belts will cost you 500 kunas -- and they will ask you for it right there (they give a receipt). And you must drive with your lights on, day or night.

Parking is very difficult in all of the larger towns and cities, especially during the summer. That's the bad part. The good part is that you can park almost anywhere as long as you don't block traffic. See a place on the other side of the street? No problem! Just zip over there and park facing the wrong way. I see cars straddling the curbs and up on the sidewalks all the time, though I've not had the courage to park that way myself. Just stay away from bus stops and cross walks.

Stop lights have a warning yellow just like in the States. And they also have a warning yellow just before the red turns to green. This gives you time to put it in gear if you are first in line (and if you have a stick shift). But seeing the light itself can be a problem if you are first in line. The lights are not conveniently placed. The light is often directly above the first car in line. I've had to put my head out the window and look straight above me to see the red light change to green (after it goes to yellow). Of course, you could just wait until the cars behind you start honking (and they will).

Radar is used in some places. Cars coming toward you flashing their lights is usually an indication that radar is ahead or perhaps a routine police stop. These police stops are very common and should not be taken personally. The police just like to stop people a lot. There's not a whole lot else to do in a country that has very little crime. The first year I was there I was stopped maybe 10-15 times. I've been told that foreigners never get tickets unless they do something particularly dangerous -- in which case they probably go to jail instead.