A few more curious habits to get you started with life in Slovakia (Living in Slovakia #3)

After I published the first “curious habits in Slovakia” article back in February, I received many requests to write a follow-up. I would not be a good blogger if I would leave my readers hanging…so, here we go. A few more curious habits to get you started with life in Slovakia!

Diminutive names

We all do it, intentionally or not. People, by default, have a habit to use diminutive forms of personal names, either as nickname or as a term of endearment. John becomes Johnny, Robert is called Bob, Thomas goes by the name of Tom or Tommy and Andrew is also known as Andy. There is even an official word for this: Hypocorism!

In Slovakia, however, they take this to a whole different level. Unless you don’t know each other, you are in a super-official business environment or you are meeting the President, you can rely on the fact that no one will call you by your full name…ever…

Most names have multiple diminutive variations. Michaela (my wife) can be called Miška, Michalka, Miši and I am sure there are few more that would fit the bill. Here are some other examples:

  • Peter = Peťo

  • Branislav = Braňo

  • Alexandra = Saška

  • Kristína = Kika

  • Štefán = Pišta (yes, Pišta) or Štefo

  • Eva = Evka (yes, the diminutive version is literally longer than the original)

My daughter Ella is invariably called Elli, Ellinka or Elužka. Literally none of my Slovak friends actually call her Ella. When I took her swimming for the first time and I introduced her to the instructor as “Ella”, the instructor turned to Ella and said “Ahooooj, Ellinka”.

In fact, most Slovaks I know prefer to be addressed in the diminutive because their full name is “too official”. Yep, you read that right - their own given name is…too official. If you are the President but you’d rather be called “Pres” because “President” is too official, I get that. It’s a title. If you find your own name “Eva” too official, that’s just odd…for Slovaks this is super normal, however, and they don’t see how this is weird to outsiders.

Anyway, you’d better study up on the different ways of calling your friends and colleagues, because that friendly couple Rasťo and Stanka from next door will look weird at you if you keep calling them Rastislav and Stanislava.

Years ago, purely out of practical reasons, I decided to adopt my own diminutive name while living here - next time you meet me on the streets, by all means call me “Boudy” ;)

Are you looking for ways to improve your life? Sneeze a lot.

Sneezing is an absolutely normal thing to do and in most societies is automatically followed by a reaction from bystanders of “Bless you!” (or a variation thereof). Not so in Slovakia. Here, sneezing results in all kinds of awesome well-wishing, followed in a very strict sequence, depending on how many times you sneeze.

Sneeze once and you are wished good health - na zdravie! (“to your health!”).

Sneeze a second time and may happiness find you - na šťastie! (“to your happiness!”)

Sneeze a third time and may you be loved - na lásku! (“to your love!”)

Sneeze a fourth time and you’ll be rich - na peniaze! (“to your fortune”)

Sneeze a fifth time and…well, I guess by now you should consider going to a doctor….

So, if you are looking for ways to improve your life and your a re sick of all those self-help books? Here you go! Sneeze a lot and you may find your luck.

Don’t be an alcoholic. Never pour your own drink.

It comes as no surprise to many that Slovaks (like most Slavic people) enjoy their liquor. Although from an outsider’s perspective it may look like Slovaks are alcoholic by default, I tend to disagree. For most, drinking in Slovakia has a strong social character, not an abusive one. However, Slovaks do make an effort not to be labelled as an alcoholic, just to be safe - therefore, pouring yourself a drink is a no go when you are in company of other drinkers. Empty glass? You’d better wait for the host to notice.

It happened to me once, during my very first visit to Slovakia many years ago, where I attempted to pour myself a new glass of whiskey which, in the Netherlands, is an absolutely fine thing to do when you are among friends. My action was met with “Stop!” and “no, no, no, this is not how this works”. I was apparently supposed to wait for the host to pour me a new one. It never happened again afterwards.

Ok, probably this habit has nothing to do with avoiding being labelled an alcoholic. I’d much rather think this has its origins in the importance of hosting guests. If you have ever been to a Slovak household, you will know that Slovaks take great pride in hosting people. So, serving yourself a drink would imply neglect on the part of the host. Therefore, follow this simple rule: NEVER pour your own drink, no matter how thirsty you are.

You have guests over? Turn the TV on!  

Even though Slovaks are amazing hosts and they will never let you starve from hunger or die from thirst at their house, there is a very weird and (in my opinion) rude habit that comes with it. The TV….

What’s up with that? If I come to visit you, I come with the purpose to find out how you are doing, to talk to you, play with the kids, eat your food, drink your drinks, laugh and be merry. Why in the world would I want to watch TV at that moment? And if it is not for watching, why the heck is it even on?

I have been to households where I literally had to overpower the sound of the TV in order to talk to those I came to visit! Only after a few annoyed glances in the direction of the thing, did they turn down the volume…yes…they did not turn the TV off. They simply turned down the volume to a less intrusive level.

Of all the quirky habits I have experienced in Slovakia, this is the one I really dislike. I find it rude and unnecessary. Because everyone knows what is happening whenever a screen is on in the same room you are trying to have a conversation in - you look at the bloody screen.

So, please Slovakia…stop this habit…it is really not a polite thing to do, even if you never meant to be rude.

There you have it! A new edition of curious habits in Slovakia!

Are there any habits still missing from the first and the second edition, which you would like to see in the third edition?