Most people from Montenegro are not very different from Western people, but there are certain peculiarities, which may emerge when you get to know your Montenegrin friends or business partners closer. They are mainly based on old customs and traditions, but they are also an expression of their Slavic temper. If you decide to come and live in Montenegro, you can use the following tips as a guideline:
1.ON THE ROAD: Montenegrins despise traffic rules and regulations. Car drivers love to cross against the red light, to park their car wherever they want, and to “compete” with other drivers on the road by passing them under the most dangerous circumstances. You will be surprised to see many of them smoking a cigarette and – at the same time – using their cell phone while driving! As long as the police keep their eyes closed, the only thing you can do is: relax, accept the chaos and take care, especially on roundabouts! By the way, cycling is getting more and more popular; new trails were introduced in Podgorica, but be careful, many car drivers are not used to them yet.
2. WHEN INVITED BY FRIENDS: If you are invited for a meal, expect that the hosts will feed you until you feel completely full and not capable of moving. If you want to stop eating and drinking, just leave some food on your plate and leave your glass (half) full, otherwise you will end up badly. As a guest, you are expected to bring a gift: chocolates, a bottle of wine or flowers are a good suggestion. But always buy an odd number of flowers, an even number is good for funerals only! When entering a Montenegrin home, you are expected to take off your shoes, especially in rural areas. Of course, this does not apply to urban surroundings, i.e. apartment buildings. In Montenegro, people usually toast with traditional home-made rakija (grape brandy), by clinking glasses and saying “Živjeli!”. A speech can be made on formal occasions, normally by the host, but a guest may give one, too.
3. GETTING INTRODUCED: Shaking hands is customary when being introduced or meeting somebody. Kissing is not usual when you meet somebody for the first time, but every time you meet from then on – of course, if you like the person in question – you should kiss him or her three times on the cheeks. Of course, you can also kiss once or twice while giving a hug.
4. DOING BUSINESS: As a foreigner you are expected to be on time at all appointments, but your Montenegrin partner may be late. Patience is extremely important – meetings may last long, and many Montenegrins, especially the older generation, like to hear themselves speaking and it would be very rude to interrupt them. Never say to a Montenegrin partner (or friend) that he is a liar and never point at him with your finger. Standing with your hands in your pocket or turning your back on somebody is considered rude.
5. IN A RESTAURANT: Do not count the change or check the bill too openly in restaurants, cafes and pubs. For the waiter this is a sign that you don’t trust him and he will be offended. Don’t be surprised when the waiter doesn’t smile at you – it doesn’t mean that he is rude or has negative feelings, Montenegrins just don’t like formal smiles. If you invite a Montenegrin girl or woman somewhere, be prepared to pay for her everywhere. When you go out with Montenegrin friends, they will always try to pay the bill. It is customary for a host to take care of all expenses while a guest is staying with him or her. Of course, you can accept it – Montenegrins are very generous indeed -, but it would be a sign of bad education if you would not insist on paying the bill for the next lunch or dinner, regardless of their “protests”. And you will have to understand that smoking is allowed in many restaurants and pubs, although people in your company will certainly agree to turn off their cigarette, if it bothers you.
6. QUEUES: Montenegrins are not typically very respectful of line-ups. If somebody pushes you out of the way in the supermarket, bank or other public building, just relax and remain quiet. Hardly anybody will stand up for you if you complain.
7. PATRIOTISM: Montenegrins love to criticize their own country, but will be offended if a foreigner does. You can better talk about the beauties of nature and tell them something about your family. Avoid discussing politics, you will never understand the complicated political situation in the country!
8. RACISM AND DISCRIMINATION: Try to understand why Montenegrins sometimes stare at persons of another race. They are no racists, they are just curious – there are not many foreigners from other continents in Montenegro … By the way, most Montenegrins feel a bit strange about gays and lesbians, they prefer not to talk about it. Respect their feelings, they are based on traditions and the Orthodox religion.
9. MONEY: Montenegrins have other ideas about money than people in Western Europe. Talking about money is considered to be impolite. Money is to be spent, not to be saved on a bank account – which is understandable, as many Montenegrins live from one month salary to another (the average net salary is around 480 €), often depending on some family support, which means that resources are combined to enable all family members to survive. Most Montenegrins are not much interested in big fancy homes and modern furniture, but they could not live without good food, a cup of coffee with friends in the pub and a trendy cell phone. Planning their yearly expenses, paying different types of insurances – they find it a waste of time.
10. THE MONTENEGRIN CHARACTER: Montenegrins are proud and self-confident, hospitable and generous. But many of them are also lazy… They enjoy doing nothing, sitting in a pub with their friends and discussing all possible world issues. They just don’t have the “internal need” to work. Don’t blame them! Try to understand that family and friends remain the center of Montenegrin culture and the pinnacle of importance on the people’s mind, despite the changes in the last decades (see my blog posts: People of Montenegro and Women of Montenegro).
Above are only a few suggestions how to deal with the Montenegrins. In general, as a foreigner in Montenegro you will always be welcomed, appreciated and accepted – provided that you are open and friendly and that you don’t act like a “know-it-all”, just because you come from a wealthy and developed country. As I already mentioned: Montenegrins are proud, they do not appreciate it when you act superior to them. Listen to them and respect their opinions, even if these are different from your own!