So far, I have been able to live my life in Bratislava pretty comfortably, using a mixture of English and the few words/sentences I know in Slovak. However, boys eventually become men, and important things in your life will need to be arranged at some point….in Slovak of course. So, after four years living in Slovakia, I finally made the decision to start to learn Slovak.
As far as I know, there are only two holidays in the Slovak calendar that make people to willingly drive tens, even hundreds of miles across the country to be with their family: Christmas and All Saints’ Day. The only difference being that the former is to be with the living, while the latter is to be with the dead.
A couple of years ago, my wife and I visited the Slovak National Gallery to see the exhibition of Medieval and Baroque art. When we arrived at the cash desk of the gallery, the lady behind the counter enthusiastically informed us that with the entrance ticket, we get free entrance to the other temporary exhibitions currently on display in the gallery. Her advice was: go and see the photography exhibition of Karol Kállay. And so we did.
If you live in Slovakia, there is no way you could have missed the news about the Slovak cycling sensation called Peter Sagan. Whether you are actively following his career or you simply came across the T-Mobile commercial on TV and/or on billboards around the country, “the Terminator” from Žilina could not have escaped your attention.
Snugly tucked in between two hills at the foot of the Strážovské vrchy mountains, along the river Teplička, one can find a small city called Trenčianske Teplice. Only one and a half hour from Bratislava, my wife and I decided to take a little trip and visit this city, once famous for its Spa hotels and the annual Art Film Fest. Walking through the streets of Teplice, I somehow got a distinct feeling of nostalgia and yearning for the past. To me, what made the visit memorable, were the many buildings that have not stood the test of time.
It is Easter! That means bunnies, finding hidden Easter eggs and watching the 500th rerun of Jesus Christ Superstar or the like. That is, of course, if you are not living in Slovakia. In Slovakia, Easter Monday is host to one of the most fascinating traditions you will ever find in this country. Sure, people go to Church and some may even want to search for eggs, but it is the tradition of boys going out into the village, armed with a bucket of water, a bottle of cheap perfume and a whip made from willow branches, and, awaiting rewards like chocolate eggs and even money, to search out the female population of said village, drag them outside, soak them in water, spray them with perfume and hit them with the whip, that makes Easter Monday a true spectacle to behold.
When you live in a different country for a couple of years, you unavoidably will adopt certain local habits and cultural aspects. I cheer for the Slovak national ice hockey team, I love the national dish “bryndzové halušky so slaninkou”, and I automatically take my shoes off when I enter someone else’s home. However, there is one thing I have a very hard time adopting, which always brings up one simple question in me: “What is your problem with zebra crossings?!”
You can say whatever you want about the Slovak people but one thing no one will ever be able to deny is the importance of traditions. Be it political achievements (like beating the Communists or the birth of the Slovak nation state in 1993) or Catholic feast days (like pretty much all major ones, including Three Kings, Easter, All Saints and Christmas), Slovaks love to celebrate these moments (as they should). More importantly, however, they love to celebrate these moments with each other. Because directly connected to the importance of tradition is the inherent importance of family.