Pozdravi:Part 1

Greetings Part 1: Hello!

Zdravo, Dobar Dan, Ciao/Ćao, Bok, Hej, Šta ima

[Certain words can be used as a hello and a goodbye: zdravo, ciao, bok]

Greetings: the opening to a conversation or at the very least our way of acknowledging someone’s presence. Here in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I’ve learned that there are several options when it comes to greeting someone and can usually vary in terms of who you are speaking to. [BiH=Bosnia-Herzegovina]

Zdravo /ʐɗɾɑⱱɔ/    of Slavic Origin

For me, this has been a greeting I have rarely used and have rarely come across. It is used quite often in BiH. Zdravo, in the context of greeting someone does mean hello, however it is also the word for healthy. (neutral gender) So it’s almost like a way of wishing someone good health. It is quite interesting to note that the word which means greeting(s) is pozdrav, carrying the word zdrav (masc. gender). I’m not if there is any connection. [I’ll touch on this word, pozdrav at the end of part II] This greeting was commonly used throughout former Yugoslavia but once the country split up and several official languages formed out of ex-Yu’s standardized language, zdravo became less used but is still understood and used throughout the region. The word is Slavic in origin, and has its root in the word used for health though it is thought to have originated from the Christian associated phrase Zdravo Marijo/Hail Mary.


Dobar Dan /ɗoɓɑɽ ɗɑɲ/    of Slavic Origin

This is quite fun to hear this translation because it reminds me of the British for some reason. Good Day! We don’t really greet anyone like this anymore unless we are being silly or maybe portraying some character. Or maybe it’s just more commonly heard in the UK and Australia. I think of Good Day, sir! or Good Day Mate! As for American English, I believe we only use it in good jest and don’t regularly use the phrase. If anyone knows more about the phrase in English, let me know. (and if you know of any site about its history) Here in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, (Good Day) Dobar Dan is a common greeting. But the question is ‘when does the day start?’ I have heard someone say Dobar Dan as early as 10. But it is most commonly understood that the day starts around 11am and ends around 5, 6, or 7pm depending on the season. Then you can start to use good evening until it’s nighttime. This particular greeting is one of those used more often in formal situations; when you greet someone you don’t know like a store clerk or maybe to an elder or anyone older than you. [It is perfectly fine if you greet friends and family like this as well] Good Morning is Dobro Jutro and Good Evening is Dobro Veče or Dobra večer. Nightime: you are probably saying good night, laku noć (which literally translates ‘easy night’). But if you’re out late, you probably are with friends and will be informal. Those informal greetings I’d like to address include Ciao/Ćao, Bok, Hej*, Šta ima. However, each one deserves its own little paragraph.


Ciao/Ćao [the first spelling is Italian, the second is Croatian/Bosnian]  /tʃau/

This word originates from Venetian and developed like this: schiavo – schiao – sciao – ciao

A very familiar phrase to people throughout the world, this Italian word has become a very common greeting for many. Geographically it makes sense how Croatian and Bosnian picked up this phrase. It does to tend to be used more in the region closest to the coast which is separated from Italy by the Adriatic Sea. As an informal phrase, it is used to greet friends, family and sometimes colleagues. However, it can also be used to address anyone younger or among youth despite whether they know each other or not. I have noticed that sometimes store clerks use the informal phrase, but with those are young or familiar (small stores allow them to get to know some regular customers). As for my personal experience, I have spent the majority of my time in an environment that is not strict in any way and therefore more common to hear ciao. This greeting is one of the rare ones in which I have heard people use it in a repetitive manner: ciao ciao. It’s like someone is saying hello and goodbye in the same moment and is quite common for someone to say this when passing a friend in the street.

In 18th century Venice the word schiavo meant slave, or servant. It was used as an expression by servants/slaves to address their (master), a way of showing subservience, humility, respect. It has been loosely translated as ‘I am your slave.’ It was a way of defining a clear class distinction on the social ladder but a few centuries later it became a greeting among friends. The older Italian word schiavo came from Medieval Latin sclāvus, also meaning slave.


Bok/Bog  /ɓɔk/ /ɓɔg/

In present day, these informal greetings are considered to be Croatian, associated with Croatia but are still used in some parts of BiH. Bok originated as a greeting during the era of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It may be helpful to know that the languages of the empire were many (German, Hungarian and various other smaller (based off speaker %) languages, but the ruling powers primarily used Hungarian. The most common greetings during that time were grüß Gott (German) or servus). Throughout the internet, various stories on the origin of the word bok have been tossed around without much concrete evidence. It isn’t confirmed anywhere that there is one true story, so I will share the few that I found. One common story was that it originated from the altering of pronunciation of a Austrian greeting used in the Austro-Hungarian era; mein buecken. Those in Zagreb (capital in present day Croatia) and surrounding areas would pronounce this phrase as majn bokn or moj naklon; these over time shortened to bokn and naklon. And the greeting bokn thus shortened to bok. Others have said that it may have come from the German word, Bücken which means stooping, or bending down/over, or that it came from the Hungarian word bók meaning compliment or praise. Yet another source that emphasizes the fact that the origin is unclear, and how bog is another greeting and has been associated with the possible origin of bok. (But says there is no evidence supporting this) This source goes on to mention the fact that there are pronunciation changes that vary by region in Croatia; some use g instead of k at the end of some words and vice versa. And that the word boh is an older version of the greeting bog. For me, it is really interesting that the word bog is a greeting at all because it is also the word that means god/God. That would also be one reason why some people think that the greeting bok should not be used, because of its association with the word bog. Maybe I could explore the origin of the word for god (bog) and not as a greeting in some other post. I personally remember the bok greeting from one of the cartoons I watched while learning the languages of this region; Pocoyo. This little cartoon for kids is in several languages, including Croatian and therefore the greeting at the beginning and goodbye at the end is Bok, Pocoyo! (main character’s name) This particular research has reminded me of how wonderfully complex language is and how easy it is to form new words and perpetuate untruths. The languages Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian and Montenegrin all formed more officially as separate languages when Yugoslavia split up. And now, many linguists and common people of each language are creating ways in which to make their language as different as they can from the others. Many of these attempts are resulting from their desire to disassociate with others who identify with a different ethnicity or religion. A lot of pride and nationalist mentality still remain in this region and can be seen through some acts of language standardization. This could be a whole other blog post.


Šta ima? Što ima?  Origin–uncertain

What’s up? In English, this is a quite a new greeting and much more common among the younger generations. In Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, šta ima is the common phrase while što ima is more commonly heard in Croatia. This is simply because Croatian tends to use što instead of šta which are the words that mean what. The literal translation of šta ima (or što ima) is something to the effect of what is there? what does one have? The word ima is the he/she/it verb conjugation of imati, which means to have. The question šta ima can also mean exactly what it’s asking; what is there? šta ima u kutiji? what’s in the box? As a greeting, it is informal and commonly used among good friends. The question can be rhetorical just like the English what’s up, but sometimes one can give some kind of response. You could explain everything that’s going on in your life (hardly anyone does that) or you could just say what’s new with you and if someone really wants to know what’s new, they’d probably ask šta ima novo? (what’s new?) The most common response is ništa (nothing) and sometimes one could say svašta (everything!). A funny response I learned that people will jokingly answer with is sjedi da ti ispričam (sit down and I’ll tell you (everything)).

One other question we might ask our friends and use as a greeting is how’s it going? kako ide? 

*Hej (Hey)

Since I am addressing Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian greetings, I won’t talk about this “greeting”. Just wanted to mention that it is also heard in this part of the world (Southeast Europe), usually among friends and often followed by the greeting addressed above, Šta ima? Hej, šta ima?

A couple other greetings that are similar to what’s up are đe si ? and inače? I’ll address them in a separate post.


Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Heart

Sevdalinka [seʋdǎliːŋka]: Sevdah music

‘Sevdah’< ‘Savda’ – Turkish<’Sawda’ – Arabic

While the Turkish word is associated with melancholy and the Arabic word is thought to mean “black bile” [Ages ago doctors used this bile to denote one of the four humors (bodily fluids) alleged to control human feelings and emotions] In the Ottoman period, sevda did not just refer to this bile but to a state of being in love and the forlorn longing associated with love-sickness. It is this association that came to be adopted  in BiH. Sevdah: a longing, a miserable love. Even though the word was first mentioned 500 plus years ago and  was present in other regions, it found its way to BiH and became something of their own. Sevdalinka, the genre of music that brings the concept of sevdah to life, is very unique to Bosnia-Herzegovina and is woven into the very heart of their culture. This term is actually younger than the music form it represents and is very much a unique connection of eastern and western influence. The majority of the songs’ content are love songs, but there are some that contain historical events. Within each song there are emotions of sorrow and melancholy. Usually the song will convey the emotions of the person it is about and of the time period in which it was written. It is traditionally sung in peaceful garden-like environments.

Sevdalinka originally was sung solo and without instruments. However, over time various instruments have been added. The accordion came to BiH during the Austro-Hungarian empire and more or less has become the most commonly used instrument in the country concerning traditional music. Other various instruments that have been used for sevdalinka include the guitar and mandolin. Common music groups include a 5 musician group: clarinet, guitar, bass, drums, accordion; and a small orchestra using string instruments and sometimes a choir. There are of course other variations and for present day there are even bands/groups that perform sevdah with their own twist. One such performer, Damir Imamović happens to be the grandson of a very famous singer of sevdalinka  during the time of Yugoslavia. I discovered him (Damir) by accident when I was looking  online for language learning tips. I found a video in which a polyglot along with Damir explained how she was using music to learn the language. I decided to look up the musician to hear his songs since I had been making a playlist already and was curious. When I found his website, I played some songs on his playlist and then noticed that he had performed at OKC Abrašević, the organization where I  have been a volunteer in the city, Mostar. And then also discovered just how well-known he was in BiH and how famous his grandfather had been. Later on, I saw him perform at Abrašević. He sings and plays guitar, sometimes alone, sometimes with a few co-musicians and sometimes with another sevdah singer/performer. He’s even made a neat short documentary about sevdah, (check it out here, they have subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ny45HZTvSQo)


“Bez sevdaha, sevdalinka ne može ni postojati”   Without sevdah, sevdalinka cannot exist.

Sevdah comes from the word sevdalinka, but has its own meaning. Despite the definitions mentioned above, it is quite an abstract concept that I personally feel I have not yet grasped and/or cannot define with words.

My weak attempt would be …an emotion all its own, a combination of emotions resulting from the music of sevdalinka, a mixture of sorrow and longing and satisfaction and enjoyment. I love that the word has another local language word in it, dah which means breath. This music does sometimes take some people’s breath away.

Sevdalinka music has been sometimes compared to the Blues. It may be true that there are traces of sorrow and sadness found within the Blues and Sevdalinka, but they are not the same.(Side Note: Someone from here told me how this genre is unique to Bosnia-Herzegovina as Country music is to the American South.)

I have personally had the opportunity to hear a couple Sevdalinka singers/performers live and would say that I never experienced that feeling of “Sevdah” while listening. It is a beautiful genre of music, but it is likely that I find myself disconnected because I do not have a deep relationship with BiH nor have any relevant life experiences found in the songs that I might identify with. I am merely an observer, on the outside looking in. I remember a performance of the singer I mentioned above, Damir and how it was a  small seated audience and a tiny stage block where Damir and another singer (can’t remember her name) were under some spotlights as they performed. I was not blown away or amazed by the performance, mostly because I think I expected to be wowed by this music genre, especially when heard live. Sevdalinka is intended to be sung among small groups and usually in a home. Many households here in BiH grew up with this music and therefore are very familiar with the numerous Sevdalinka songs and their lyrics. A good friend of mine from Mostar is one such person who is passing Sevdalinka music onto her son, teaching and singing with him, usually around bedtime. She herself has given various small performances and has a beautiful voice.  Just recently, she celebrated her birthday with a handful of her friends (including me) in her living room and sang Sevdalinka. She reduced the lighting to just one lamp and sang with a musician who usually accompanies her and plays guitar when she performs. We each had our tea or coffee and there were juices and various cakes and some cherries on the table. She took requests from her audience and encouraged us to sing along. I didn’t know any of the lyrics and only recognized maybe 3 songs the whole night. It was a much more enjoyable and relaxing atmosphere, listening to it in a home environment (only downside to the home is the few interruptions by the kids) Here are a couple video clips from that evening. And check out another post where I have some of my favorite songs of Sevdalinka.








Burek<—-Borek [Turkish]  [Albanian- byrek; Greek- “Boureki”; Hebrew-“Burekas”]

Something that we definitively can’t leave unaddressed; food. And in the region known as the Balkans, it is impossible to forget burek. (and the various pita-which translates as pie) Burek (and pita) is the fast food of this region, and is simply assumed to be found at every wedding and other major celebrations. This delicacy varies in taste and presentation throughout the region, but I will touch on just Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia.

BiH: In general, the dough of burek (in this country, jufka) is like that of phyllo pastry and is filled with meat. [can be ground beef (minced) or chopped, sometimes it is pork and sometimes the meat is mixed with potato and garlic] Whereas, pita is simply a version of burek without meat and instead filled with either spinach, cheese, potato and sometimes even pumpkin and/or butternut squash. And each one has their own name based on their filling: zeljanica, sirnica, krompirača/krumpiruša, tikvenica. (matching order of that given above) These delicacies are found at every pekara (bakery), but for sure are much more greasy/oily (and sometimes burnt) than if you were to have it homemade. There are also places called buregdžince which sell exclusively burek and pita.

You would mix the ingredients for the dough, let it rise and knead it and then the most artful part of the process is when you roll out the dough. For this, a large working surface is needed and should be covered with a thick cloth of some kind that you don’t mind getting messy. Slowly and carefully roll out the dough until is it spread thin and almost covers your entire working surface. It is a very tricky task and the women who do it well are usually considered, sometimes jokingly, to be excellent wives/marriage material in this region. After the dough is spread thin, you would take your prepared filling and spread it out across the dough. And then you have to roll up the dough in a certain way so that in the end the pita/burek will be in the shape of a spiral. Rolling up the dough just right is also very tricky and can easily fall apart if you are not careful. You will want the dough to be rolled halfway from each side and by using the cloth you now have under your dough you can easily do just that. Once the dough is rolled up like a scroll, you can slowly shape the dough into a spiral. [Here is a video so you can see you how it is done: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCrOokfvd68 …..It is quite tricky to explain and sometimes better to actually see the process]

They usually ask if you would like “drinking yogurt” with it on the side, but if they don’t ask for it to give it a try. You can dip your pita or just drink the plain yogurt by itself. For you Americans, this is a type of yogurt you may be unfamiliar with for it is not flavored and it is not the thick, “eat with a spoon” kind. Our “American” sugared flavored yogurts are available here in the region to buy in the store, but the plain drinking yogurt is more commonly used.


Croatia: Bosnia-Herzegovina’s neighbor to the west and north consider burek and pita to be the same and only differ by their filling. Burek is not just the one filled with meat. You would order “pita with spinach,” “pita with potato,” or “pita with meat,” etc.  But when it is with cheese, it is burek, or “pita with cheese.” And the burek craze didn’t really start in Croatia until after WWII when some well-known Albanian bakers started to sell it at a place near the Zagreb train station. The burek/pita found throughout Croatia is commonly presented as a layered form and not a wrapped up spiral. This circular layered version is cut into fours and served by the “slice.” And because of the different presentation, it is therefore prepared differently (but basically the same ingredients).


Serbia: Neighbors to the east make and present burek more or less the same as that which is found in Croatia. Its presence started in Serbia (of these three countries, Croatia, BiH, Serbia) and worked its way west. Here burek is not exclusively with meat and you have to specify the filling when ordering. Because there is a different way for making this burek, here is a different video. [method also found in Croatia] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILH2cQm6bUE (The filling used in this video is cheese)


Origin/History: Burek came to the Balkans during the Ottoman Empire, brought by the Turks. The Turkish word, borek refers to meals made of dough. It is also thought that the word burek could have formed from the Turkish word, bur which means to fold. Albanian, Greek, and Hebrew words are similar, but it is believed the delicacy started in the Turkish kitchen. The first burek that appeared in the region of former Yugoslavia was in Niš, a city in present day Serbia. The traditional recipe was developed there in 1498 by a well known Turkish baker, Mehmed Oglu from Istanbul. Every year in Niš there is a burek competition and in 2005 it is said they made the largest burek ever made in the world; 100 kilograms cooked in a 2 meter brick oven.



These are the main sources that I used, along with personal experience and conversations with local people. Websites are in the local language.

Coffee in BiH

Coffee. A drink prepared and served in numerous ways. Here in Bosnia-Herzegovina, kafa or kava is at the center of almost every conversation. Drinking coffee with others is an opportunity to (moment in which one can) relish in the present, to bath one’s self in good company, to slowly release all worries.

Traditional Bosnian coffee is prepared using a dish called a džezva. (pronunciation: /ʒɛzvə/) This is at best translated as “Turkish coffee pot.” The use of a džezva to prepare coffee is of Turksih origin, introduced into the Balkan region during the reign of the Turks, the Ottoman Empire. This coffee pot is still seen and used throughout southeastern Europe as well as Turkey and… It is made of various types of material and design and comes in various sizes. A typical traditional džezva here in Bosnia is made of copper, occasionally brass or silver. In souvenir shops you will find that these pots are still made and engraved by hand. There are also factory made ones available in supermarkets.

The word džezva originates from the Turkish word cezve, which is of Arabic origin. Cezve is simply Ottoman Turkish spelling based off of the Arabic script. The original meaning of the word: a burning log or coal. The pot then received its name possibly because it was cooked over that said burning log or coal. The shape of a džezva is very distinct, with just differences in neck width, material and design.

A typical set used when serving coffee to your guests includes of course a tray, the coffee in the džezva, sugar, milk (sometimes), and some little drinking cups. A traditional cup for coffee in this region is called a fildžan(pronunciation: / fɪlʒɑ:n/), small and handless. [another form of spelling: findžan] The word is of Greek or Arabic/Turkish origin. Cups are sometimes served with a zarfa, an Arabic word meaning dish, envelope. These coverings are commonly handmade like the džezva and are intended to protect you from your burning hot fildžan. These handless cups are more or less espresso size but it is assumed that one will sip the coffee slowly as to enjoy it. (unlike the espresso) However, in cafes it is possible to order a coffee that is made in such a way that you can drink it like an espresso. (kraća, duža: short, long—ordering the short coffee means you want to drink it quickly, the ‘long’ (duža) coffee slowly)

Bosnian coffee is usually served so that when the grains settle to the bottom, they are quite thick. Don’t drink those grains at the bottom. Thinking I needed to finish the entire cup of coffee including those thick grains, my taste buds quickly told me otherwise. Our American coffees are watery and dessert-like compared to coffee in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

How it’s made (the method I learned)

Fill your džezva with ground coffee so that it appears to cover half of the bottom and half of the side of the pot when tilted (just a helpful trick learned, but it depends mostly on the size of the džezva, how much coffee one intends to make, and of course preference in taste)

Fill the džezva half full with water, stir the coffee and water just enough to mix them.

Then place the pot on a stove top on medium high heat.

When the water rises to the top, remove from the burner. Do this three times before completely removing from burner. (doesn’t have to be three times, just something I picked up from here in BiH)

Add ready boiled water (boiled separately) to the džezva, filling it to the top.

Your Balkan/Bosnian coffee is now ready to serve.

Preparing coffee in this region varies greatly as well as how it is served.

When serving your coffee from a džezva the foam on the top is skimmed off and placed into the bottom of each fildžan. Some people will then add a bit of sugar to the bottom as well. Pouring the coffee is not too difficult since the džezva has a spout. (But don’t pour too slowly nor too quickly, to avoid spills) Each individual can then by personal preference add sugar and/or milk. A glass of water is also usually served alongside each cup of coffee. Very traditional coffee (especially in tourist areas) is served with a piece of Turkish delight, those small square/cubed gel sweets/candies. And the sugar is commonly served in the shape of a cube/little block.

A traditional approach to drinking coffee when one is served his or her own džezva starts with the adding of a little bit of water to the coffee from the water glass it is served with. Next, mix the bit of foam and remove some of it to put in your little handless cup. Pour yourself a cup and then dip the sugar block into the coffee which you then first put in your mouth to suck on before putting the rest of the sugar into your cup. One should then enjoy the coffee sip by sip while simultaneously enjoying one’s company.