Once you know you’re gonna end up in Slovakia, you just press pause and ask yourself the same question everybody is gonna ask you during the next few months: “Why Slovakia?“
For me was more a hazardous decision: I chose first a project I was fond of and then decide it’s not gonna be bad to be here. But in fact, I knew very little about Slovakia. When I was thinking what would my life look like here, nothing occurred to my mind. What does a typical Slovak look like, how is the food, the language, the life? I couldn’t imagine anything.
And when you tell your relatives you’re aiming to Slovakia, you tend to hear famous clichés.
A cliché is how as a whole nation we think about another one, how a person from a certain country is supposed to be and behave. Stereotypes themselves are not bad: of course, it’s never totally true and often exaggerate but it tells a story and at least you can picture something. And it tells you so you can adapt your behaviour facing the unknown. But when it comes to be prejudices, it reveals much more about what you think than what you describe. And it can hurt as well.
So what’s about Slovakia?
The first cliché is more like admitting one’s own ignorance, because when you said you’re going to Slovakia, everybody’s asking where the f**k is it – and it’s even worse for Bratislava, as people don’t even know it’s the capital of the country. Even the typical East Europe countries clichés are not relevant as Slovakia is not an East Europe country, it’s Central Europe. It’s not far away in the middle of nowhere, it’s actually quite close and in the middle of Europe. Actually, Slovakia does have its own location of the centre of Europe – the geographical midpoint of Europe.
After you have the remarks concerning Czechoslovakia – as it still exists as a whole – even if Czech Republic and Slovakia fought for their own independences and has been separate countries since 1993. Of course there are still contacts, close connexions for example in terms of language, but even if it’s similar, it’s still different. And you also have an ambiguous love-hate relationship between those two, due to past history. Kids today are born in a totally different country than the previous generation – yes, it was 23 years ago, time to build up a whole new generation.
And finally, people tend to mix up Slovenia with Slovakia – it does not only show our ignorance of our very own continent – which means we’re no better than the Americans that made that movie Hostel, an entire bunch of terrible clichés about Slovakia, which was, you know, entirely recorded in Czech Republic. These confusions are quite insulting for people living in those countries, which share both – but different – rich traditions and cultural life.
Wait! There is more. Another one is about the food. Before leaving I was told that I would eat a lot of potato. This one is true: Halusky – traditional Slovak food – is made from it and is really typical. And Slovaks are proud of it. There are also a lot of soups where you can find this ingredient – as well as cabbage and many more – like the Christmas soup Kapustnica.
Let’s talk about men and women. We all have this idea of Slav beauties – on my very first days, many people confirmed that Slovak girls were beautiful; which is true, but you won’t find those tall blond hair, blue eyes mythological goddess, beauty is here in more diverse versions. But guys? Well, even Slovak girls tend to date Czech boys.
And after you get through all of this, there is the reality you discover by yourself: typical Slovak guy is not nice. When you meet a stranger in the street or ask for something in an administrative office, as you don’t speak Slovak, they will say no and more or less tell you to get lost. Maybe it’s just a collective defiance mechanism but you feel like it’s a shame for them to be seen surrounding by a stranger. So you will have to repeat constantly the same sentences over and over so they will listen to what you want to say and pay attention to you. And once you earned their trust, they will exchange, give you direction, open their door, open their mind.
Someone else told the first months in Slovakia were the most difficult and you need effort to adapt and not to leave, but I guess for me it doesn’t apply, in spite of everything, I don’t want to leave yet.