2 ingredient recipe: How to piss off a Slovene just by using the SLOVENIAN LANGUAGE and your CLUELESSNESS

Oh boy! Have I thought that I am fluent and cool when speaking to Slovenes! I was so proud of myself when they kept telling me how good my Slovene is. For over a year I haven´t spoken to a Slovenian person in another language than Slovenian. I knew I wasn´t perfect and still had a long way to go, but I was writing essays in Slovenian and had all of my classes in that language, so one can guess that my confidence was high. One could also guess that this article will not be about my Slovenian superpowers. Quite on contrary. I am looking forward to tell you about one of the biggest turn-offs which I have shown to some dear Slovenian native speakers.

The phrase »ne da se« seems so innocent at first. When you say »v tem vremenu se res ne da iti v gore«, the situation is clear and understandable. It is impossible to go to the mountains in this weather. Okay. When learning this phrase, I was pleased, since we had the same one in my native language.

However… »Danes se mi ne da iti v gore«. Should have the same meaning, right?
Wrong, you guessed it.

If you say »ne da se mi«, you are basically saying to the Slovenes that you are not willing to do something, that you are either not in the mood or too lazy to do the thing.
Needless to say, I have found out about it a bit too late.

So at first, I was writing an e-mail to my professor. In a very formal way (as you do with academic authorities) I have tried to explain to him that I need to write my exam in a later term because of my other obligations. So it looked something like this:

Spoštovani izred. Prof. XY,
Zelo se opravičujem, ampak zaradi drugih študijnih obveznosti se mi ne bo dalo priti na prvi termin izpita. A bi lahko prišla na drugi termin?
Že vnaprej se Vam zahvaljujem za odgovor in razumjevanje in lepo pozdravljam.

How sweet of me! I have basically written to him:

Dear Mr. Professor,
I am really sorry but I don´t feel like coming to the first term of the exam because of my other obligations. Could I come to the second examination term?
Thank you very much for understanding and for your answer.

He wasn´t too pleased but have still allowed me to attend the second term, so I haven´t got the hint.

The other time I have apologized to my classmate that I wasn´t »able« (nise mi dalo) or- in fact –willing to work on our project because I was sick. She was angry, I had no clue what has happened. Why are all Slovenes so short tempered?

And then finally I was saved. One day my boyfriend has rushed from work to see me. I was surprised that he had finished so early because I have made some other plans before the evening. You already know what followed – »ne da se mi prej«, I don´t feel like meeting you earlier. And one argument later I felt absolutely confused. Is this some weird Slovenian manner, getting pissed off for no reason?

Way later I was told what »ne da se mi« really means. At first I felt relieved, thinking »So that´s why…!«. Then I froze for a second and started to think about all the moments when I have used the phrase in a wrong way. I guess I turned pale white and disconnected myself from the humanity for the following few minutes.

What could have been done differently to prevent this situation? I have no clue. Personally I would not feel like telling a foreigner who is speaking my native language that the rude thing he just said was probably not what he meant to say. No way. I would think this person was an asshole. Therefore, unfortunately, the rare moments of not fitting into a new language community seem to be a MUST for the most of us foreigners, however hard we are trying to assimilate.

You will have misunderstandings, you may piss some people off and even lose some good chances. But think positively. You may have said that stupid thing in the national TV in front of the whole nation. Or have written that in an official letter to the prime minister of the country. Or in a not-so-appropriate response to your potential employer, who has just offered you the job with the monthly 3000€ payment. None of these have happened? So you still will be able to laugh about it one day. Do that. It is the only way how to survive the awkward moments of being a clueless foreigner.

KL, 2016

How to recognize a foreigner in the TOP SECRET mode in Ljublana? (Blog)

It is my third day in Ljubljana now and even though I have been here for few weeks on Summer school before, I still feel like a foreigner. I am doing my best to not make it as obvious for the others, but it is really hard for me to tell if I am doing a good job. If you are wondering, how to recognize a foreigner in the top secret mode in Slovenian crowd, I have listed some possible useful hints for you!

  • this simple

    It was this simple all along!

    We hide our papers with hand-drawn maps made by our Slovenian friends and walk the streets super confidently. In the Ninja mode you don’t want the others to know that you still have no clue which direction the Aškerčeva street is and what is the difference between Cankarjev dom and Dom Ivana Cankarja.

  • The sudden confusion when the waiter asks us if we are eating on “boni”. What is that thing and why do I still not have it if it makes my eating routine easier?
ljubljana bike

Ljubljana, bicycle (photo by: K. Lalikova)

  • Struggles with the pavements and the bicycle section. Yeah, we have that in my home city as well, but it is not like I would get a serious jump-scare every time I accidentally step on it. Slovenes drive their bicycles FAST and pretty often. So we foreigners always check twice on which side of the pavement are we walking.
  • The forced smile and head shake when people guess where we are from according to our accent, yet they all guess the same country and it is really not even close to our home.
  • The super flattered smile when they compliment our Slovenian. Seriously, that will never get old for me. Especially if they skip the previous point.
  • Our stubborn insistence on speaking Slovenian. Me no speaky English. Moraš govoriti slovensko. (OK, I guess this only applies on the students of the language. The others are really lucky that Slovenes are so educated when it comes to English!)
lljubljana castle

Ljubljana street view, Slovenia (photo by: K. Lalikova)

  • Trying to not be obvious, we try to take the pictures of the gorgeous buildings and Prešeren’s statue (with his half naked muse in the background) in the least suspicious moments. Only Instagram can know our secret!

 

Yet, after all, I have to say I don’t really mind it when people can tell that I am new around here. I have only met Slovenes who were really supportive and friendly once they found out I am trying to adapt in Ljubljana and making an effort to master the dvojina of their language. And after all, the sooner I will find some good Slovenian friends, the better for me. So, the next time you will see someone jumping into the air when the bicycle passes by, don’t be shy and compliment their Slovenian. 🙂

KL, 2016

 

A POLE’S TALE IN SLOVAKIA: It’s like a marriage

“Slovak/Slovene for a year” is a section about those who have experienced one of our countries as foreigners. We will share their stories with you, so you can take a look at the countries from the foreigner perspective.

The first post we have chosen is written by a Polish student of both Slovak and Slovenian languages who lives in Slovakia.
_________________________________________________________________________

“Our knowledge about Slovaks is comparable to our knowledge about Chukchi.”

Malá Fatra 2

Malá Fatra, Slovakia (photo by: W. Suski)

I usually don’t like those wise words squeezed into quotation marks, but I have to admit – that sentence, written by Polish linguist Roman Zawiliński in his book Slovaks: Their life and literature (illustrated) from 1889, is an exception. A good one. Although I’d personally modify it a bit, because it’s not only the lack of knowledge that matters here. It’s also the lack of will or motivation to change it.

So, Mr. Zawiliński, allow me to transform your idea: Our interest in Slovaks is comparable to our interest in Chukchi.

But let’s leave poor indigenous people of eastern Siberia behind and focus on Poles and Slovaks. Beginning with Poles, I’d selfishly begin with myself:

I’m a 23-year-old male coming from an ordinary mid-sized eastern Polish city, where nothing really happens, nothing really changes and nothing really amazes. I am quite sure that people take me as a relatively normal guy with one exception. It’s the fact, that I’ve decided to move away to Slovakia, that makes people wonder what the hell is wrong with me.

Pezinok

Pezinok, Slovakia (photo by: W. Suski)

Visiting Slovakia is undoubtedly a very common thing for Poles. We invade our southern neighbours as tourists, we hike in Slovak part of the Tatras, we relax at numerous thermal pools, we explore caves, castles et cetera, et cetera… And that’s what I used to do with my family as well. My dad had been taking me on trips to Slovakia bunch of times when I was a kid and I really enjoyed my indistinctive role of a Pole conquering all those typical tourist attractions that (mostly northern) Slovakia has to offer.

But it all changed when I attended high school and became more aware of a fact, that the world itself is much more interesting than I initially thought. And that’s why I started to think about Slovakia. It just made no sense to me, that this country is just about mountains, caves, castles and spas. What about history, culture, language, mentality? And most of all – what about ordinary people living there? I knew nothing but a one thing. I knew, that I wanted to learn more.

Basically that’s why I’ve decided to attend Slovak studies in Cracow, Poland. I was one of about ten people, who have done that that year (considering there’s about 40 million of Poles, it says a lot about our interest in Slovakia, doesn’t it?). I learned the language, made many Slovak friends, explored more non-tourist aspects of Slovak life… And I sort of fell in love and got used to all the facts I learned and moments I experienced. After three years of studying in Poland (and a wonderful 4-months-long Erasmus stay in Bratislava) it was clear to me – I need to go there for good.

So here I am, continuing my studies and living in Bratislava.I’d say it’s like a marriage. I have sort of married Slovakia and decided to share my life with its pros and cons. But what are those pros and cons?

Kriváň

Kriváň (photo by: W. Suski)

There is a saying that grass is always greener on the other side (and it has its equivalents in both Slovak and Polish). I could totally relate to that, as mountainous Slovakia always seemed more interesting to me than relatively flat Poland. All those mountains, hills and plateaus not only present the beauty of that country, but also make me feel that each valley has something unique to offer, that something new and different waits for me behind that next mountain. And it’s true! Majority of Slovakia basically consists of hundreds of valleys, with each one preserving its own folklore, cuisine and dialect. For a country about six times smaller than my motherland it’s a really interesting mixture, and it still surprises me.

Zelené pleso

Zelené pleso (photo by: W. Suski)

I’ve mentioned cuisine. No doubts, it’s that one thing that always keeps me positive about the fact, that I’ve made a right choice moving there. Although tourists mostly have a chance to get familiar with only few of them, there are millions of tasty and original dishes. It’s not only about bryndzové halušky or vyprážaný syr. There’s more. Have you ever tried a magnificent koložvárska kapusta? Or sweet, delicious skalický trdelník? It’s hard to say how many times I’ve enjoyed my bowl of one of many Slovak soups, like šošovicová or cesnaková polievka. And I’ve mentioned only a tiny part of Slovak dishes’ world…

Of course, one might say that it’s a pretty heavy cuisine. But that’s why I like it. Some may also argue that many of those dishes can be found also in Hungarian/Czech/Romanian/other cuisine. And that’s true, most definitely. Could it be that Slovaks just stole the ideas from other nations? No way! It’s just the effect of a pretty complicated, yet very interesting history of Slovakia. Something that most of us do not acknowledge, as quite many Poles tend to say that Slovakia’s history began after gaining independence…

Pardon my French, but this sort of b******t is something that drives me crazy every time I hear it. Not only Slovakia and Slovaks have history, but it’s also very complex, very diverse, very interesting. First Celtic settlements, Medieval Duchy of Nitra, Great Moravia, Kingdom of Hungary, National Movement, Hungarian Revolution, Czechoslovakia, Tiso’s Slovak Republic… I could talk about it for a year or so, but It’s all already written in history books. I guess one can agree with me, that thinking that Slovak history began only after they gained independence is comparable to thinking that a human begins his life only after he leaves his parents’ home. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

moje nogi

(photo by: W. Suski)

Poles tend to find Slovak language funny, as to us it often sounds like a child struggling to speak our mother tongue. It gets even funnier when you realise that Slovaks think exactly the same about Polish (which most Poles don’t acknowledge, though). So here we are, laughing at each other’s speech and looking at each other’s like we’re sort of funnier versions of ourselves. Yet, we get along pretty well and no wonder I’ve met many wonderful people in Slovakia. I guess this is something that attracted me most. We’re a bit different, our habits and mentality may not always be the same, but all in all it’s pretty easy to make friendships there, as Slovaks and Poles mostly like each other and are both considered open and easy to socialise with.

And then there are those cons I’ve mentioned before.Little things I either can’t fully understand, or simply don’t really like about Slovakia. As I said, it’s like marriage… You love it, but at times some things make you hate it.

Košice 1

Košice (photo by: W. Suski)

Bureaucracy. Sometimes I have a feeling that Slovaks simply take their never-ending long-lasting visits to thousands of offices as a natural part of living. For every single matter there are tons of paperwork and although I’ve met many kind and polite clerks (frankly, most Slovaks say that it’s impossible there), there was never any other way than following all those complicated bureaucratic rules. I’m not trying to say that this matter is ideal in Poland. No, it’s not. It’s just worse in Slovakia…

Politics. Something you’d always like to avoid, but will never be able to do so here in Slovakia. And it’s not only because there are so many bad guys in the government, bad guys in the opposition and basically bad guys trying to convince you they’re the good guys. It’s not only that people here find it refreshing to debate about them. That’s nothing new for a Pole. But there’s something that worries me more. I noticed some sort of radicalization among Slovaks. It seems like you’re either pro-West (Hooray to Uncle Sam and the EU) or pro-East (Save our dignity, good old mother Russia!) here.

It doesn’t help that all those well-known conspiracy theories are so popular among many Slovaks of all generations, that I sometimes don’t know whether to laugh or cry about it. It’s my personal opinion of course and some might disagree, but I just don’t like discussing politics in Slovakia. It happened too many times that a decent man surprised me with some ridiculous conspiracy theory and desperately tried to convince me that it’s true. Not cool at all.

Oh, and there’s one more thing. Not a very serious one, but definitely fits this short list of things I don’t like/don’t understand. I’ve never had my dinner in Poland before 2:00 PM. Correct me if I’m wrong, but nobody I know from Poland has it earlier in the day. In Slovakia on the other side, it’s absolutely normal to go for a dinner at twelve or even eleven o’clock! It’s awkward to a Pole, believe me. I’m still struggling to fit this daily routine, but the results are – roughly speaking – dissatisfying.

Malá Fatra 3

Malá Fatra (photo by: W. Suski)

Nevertheless, my marriage with Slovakia is a happy one. I do acknowledge all the reasons we’re together and I remember them every day. It doesn’t matter that we don’t always get along. It was my decision to move here and I don’t regret it. Slovakia indeed is a country full of interesting things and despite its small size and the fact, that not many people in the world actually care about it, I just can’t be bored in here. And I’d love it to stay that way, because Slovakia, even with its darker bits, is totally worth living in.

Wojciech Suski, 2016