Croatia has only known its own borders since 1992, so the culture and lifestyle are a blend of regional influences and former rulers.
Although there is little difference in language, Croatia’s citizens are differentiated from the rest of former Yugoslavia by religion; 88% of Croatia is Roman Catholic, while Serbia is primarily Orthodox Christian. Slovenia is made up of Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians as well as an increasing Muslim population. Bosnia’s religious make-up is a complicated and specific mix of Islamic and Christian traditions, a product of Bosnia’s unique history and relationship with religion.
Within Croatia, the northwest corner of the Istria peninsula has a steady influx of Italian tourists each summer and in July and August, the language heard most often on the street switches from Croatian to Italian. In fact, there is a legal guarantee that either language can be spoken for official business or in public courts.
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But the language of Istria does not necessarily represent the cultural affiliations of its residents. The Istria peninsula was part of Italy as recently as 1946 and was designated part of Yugoslavia only after World War II. Croatians living on the peninsula may think of themselves as Italian, Croatian, or Slovenian while still calling Istria home. Only the current generation of adolescents knows Istria as no other country than Croatia.
In the northeastern part of Croatia, the cultural influences are decidedly more Ottoman; Zagreb itself looks much like a European city, with a decidedly neat appearance and styles sometimes migrate to Croatia from other nations. Dress and appearance are a bigger part of life in the inland parts of the country, where trends move in more quickly and a traveler would do well for themselves to spend some extra money on some designer or brand name clothes.
Zagreb’s title as the “cultural capital of Croatia” refers to its numerous museums, art galleries and concert venues, but because of the regional influences and differences around the region, Zagreb is not necessarily representative of the rest of the country.
Tourists also affect the culture of the different regions. In the rural areas, one finds a more traditional farming culture, both because rural lifestyle changes less than the fluid urban tastes and trends and because the people see fewer tourists and travelers.
European and American tourists bring in styles of dress and create a market for foods—sweet breakfasts for Americans, for example—that aren’t traditionally a part of the Croatian lifestyle.
Croatian cuisine is likewise divided by region. The Dalmatian coast and Istrian peninsula cuisine are known for their seafood: shrimp, prawns and fish. Istria also prides itself on its truffles, which are often added to pasta for a special meal.
The gastronomical tendencies of the interior region tend toward meat dishes: pork, beef, and sausage, but the region is also fond of its sauerkraut. Hearty, simple meals win the day in the interior regions, but vegetarians don’t despair, one of the staple Croatian dishes is Strukli, a cheese or egg-filled sweet pastry that can be served anytime.