Culture and Customs


I cannot resist inserting a note or two on cultural attitudes.

Visitors to the Balkans generally will note that most people are heavy smokers, and underneath non-smoking signs in restaurants there will be usually be an ashtray over-flowing with butt-ends.

Another aspect for northern European visitors is the volume of conversation. A quiet discussion between friends will be held so that anyone within a 25m radius can listen in. A more heated discussion, say about football, could reach up to 50m or more. Music is of course loved by everyone, so that what one person plays has to be heard by as many people as possible. This is especially true of weddings, where the noise radius can reach up to several kilometres; with the natural amphitheatre created by Risan’s geography, this is particularly true here.

A further note on cultural attitudes is about driving. Cars are, as in many places, a symbol of macho pride. So the first rule of Montenegro driving is to overtake the vehicle in front at any cost and preferably on a blind corner. The second rule is that if you meet a friend, you stop and chat. The winner of this rule is the one with the longest queue behind him when the conversation ends.

Christmas (Božić) customs:
As with other southern Slavs, as far I can find from sources such as Wikipedia, the main customs are to do with Badnjak, or Christmas Eve. This being Orthodox Christmas, Badnajk is the 6th January. This is also the name for the ‘Yule log’, a piece of oak. Our landlord cuts 10 small logs which he then decorates with small laurel, mistletoe and olive branches. The logs are placed at the front door of the old stone family house where we live. They join an eleventh log which has remained there from the previous Badnjak. James asked him why 11 logs when there were 12 Apostles, but he doesn’t know why. Anyway, after the lamb is roasted on Badnjak, we have to burn 3 of the logs in our stove. The remaining ones are then burnt when we feel like it – but we have to keep one at the front door all year.
Goran also places an orange with a small olive branch stuck into it at each of the entrances to the courtyard. Again, he cannot explain why – it is simply custom.

When we were in Tivat, we noticed that the other apartments in the block had oak leaves placed at their doors. It was the same in Skopje in Macedonia. Additionally we see many cars with oak branches on their front bumpers/ radiators. We assume that this is because they do not the facility to perform the full Badnajk or yule log rites.