I Always Respond Merry Christmas, 7 Reasons Why You Should Too

Merry Christmas

November 24, 2017

Allan Stevo

Living in a very specific American big city (New York) in a very specific industry (commercial real estate), a good percentage of the people I encounter in my day to day are not celebrants of Christmas. I understand the necessity of the phrase “happy holidays” in that situation for some people who want to say something nice but are too awkward to otherwise covey a message of religion without insulting.

I understand how uncomfortable discussions on religion can be if you make them that way. Everything can be at ease even on the complicated topic of religion if you allow them to be at ease. Sometimes I initiate “Happy Chanukah” to someone I know to be a practicing Jew. Sometimes I say happy holidays. Sometimes I say nothing in initiation – it’s easier to say nothing sometimes than to risk offending someone who walks through life looking for reasons to be offended.

Most of the people I encounter in my day to day are either a Christian celebrant of Christmas or a celebrant of secular Christmas. (1) As much as the two concepts may offend a member of the religious right, Secular Thanksgiving and Secular Christmas are realities in America, and healthy expressions of a culture that welcomes assimilation and the sincretic blending and shifting of a culture.(2)

If I am in Slovakia or virtually anywhere else in the U.S. or virtually anywhere else in the west Merry Christmas or its local equivalent gets the job done just fine.

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Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Blekfrajdejuješ?

A shot from the filming of the movie "Czech Dream" or "Cesky Sen." | Photo: CzechFolks.comBlack Friday

November 23, 2017

Allan Stevo

I work with a Greek man who constantly reminds me that the prescriptive grammar rules of languages are put in place with the intention of controlling a society. Language, after all, is the operating system by which virtually all thought and a great deal of action is processed. The more you can control a language the more you can control the people using the language.

Language and Control
The French rejoice that a governmental organization (L’Académie française) controls their language to help keep it pure and inflexible. Grammar teachers the world over exhibit a constant lack of creativity by always looking at what is wrong with speech patterns instead of allowing for any combination of words that allows for communication.  The Greeks in response to Ottoman control came up with a form of Greek in which many words had secretive double-meanings allowing for communication that meant something entirely different to whatever it was that the Ottomans thought it meant.

Slovaks and Their Language
An aspect of Slovak culture that I love is the playfulness with which so many approach the language. There is correct and incorrect in Slovak. At the same time there are suffixes like -ič, -ik, or -ak used to shorten words and make them sound slang. A Bratislavčan (a citizen of Bratislava) can also be called a Blavak in less polite company, based on the word “Blava,” a slang term for Bratislava. Blava, as a Czech book I once read pointed out – sounds like the combination of the words for “mud” and “cows” – two words that are perhaps befitting the Pragocentric view of what Bratislava must look like. For more about my view on Pragocentrism or Blavocentrism please see these article on 52 Weeks in Slovakia.

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Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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On Thanksgiving I’ll Be Enjoying Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

November 23, 2017

Allan Stevo

If there’s anything from a Slovak perspective that demonstrates everything wrong about American culture, it is the sweet potato.

Slovaks are generally guilty of not following the Hinlicky Rule when referencing the sweet potato. Many will speak about sweet potatoes negatively, while having never tasted them. Nonetheless, I hear about them regularly enough to warrant this discussion in late November, around the time of the American holiday of Thanksgiving and in line with recent articles on the venerable potato.

In America “they eat too much sugar,” many a Slovak foreign exchange student will point out.  “Even their bread is sweet.”  This was a complaint that I heard regularly enough to want to return to the U.S. and look into this – is there really sugar in our bread?  It became hard for me to find bread that didn’t have a little sugar to sweeten or even a little high fructose corn syrup to sweeten.  After enough time in Slovakia, I even became disgusted by the taste of lots of bread in the U.S.  Bread that I had once found normal, as I had grown up eating it, eventually came to taste sickly sweet.  Whenever I bake cookies while visiting with a Slovak family, 2/3 of the sugar in the recipe usually has to be cut in order for someone in a family to not say to me “this was a good idea, but they are just too sweet.”

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Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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I Would Never Have Heard Of Marian Kotleba

Shouting Irrelevancy Loudly

November 19, 2017

Allan Stevo

I don’t usually care for people who hold political office. They miss how irrelevant political life is in the world. For one to overlook such an obvious detail leaves me to generally see those in political office as dim and behind-the-times.

America politics can be so high profile, yet I barely care who the US Senators or the US Presidents are, unless it’s for the occasional chance to deride the dimmest in the lot.

Even more so, whoever holds the governorship of the region around the Slovak city Banska Bystrica, a small position in an off-the-beaten-path place is so incredibly irrelevant to me.

Yet over and over again, for years now, I have heard about Marian Kotleba more than any Slovak politician from friends and business associates of mine. The insistence to talk about him and to take a stance on him is annoying. There is little of value to be had from discussing a Slovak politician.

“But his election was a true shock,” I am told. “Don’t you see how telling this is of Slovakia’s (insert unpleasant concept here). “No one expected him to win.” I’ve heard that plenty. “The pollsters didn’t even predict it, there must be fraud.” It’s called the “Shy Tory Effect” in British politics – no one publicly talks about how conservative they really are, least of all to pollsters, so polls always seem to have a left leaning bias, claims the British journal Nature. That’s one great reason public polls are not credible. There are 51 other reasons I’ve identified and written about on why public polls should never be trusted.

The self-appointed intellectual elite in Slovakia who take instruction and permission from the West rely too heavily on polling data, because Nate Silver or any other host of fools has insisted that all human behavior can be scientifically predicted with a high level of accuracy. Trusting a publicly released poll is a pretty good indication that you don’t know what you are talking about. Talking about polling is probably even an indication. Obsessing over politics is another indication.

I would never have heard of Marian Kotleba before, expect for the fact that the people who claim to “stand for everything that he is against” or “to be against his extremism,” are the very people who have told me about him time and again.

These are the people who believe in polls and who think politicians still need to matter. They are the people who I fear, rather than coming up with their own thoughts, spend too much time listening to self-appointed intellectuals who take instruction and permission from the West.

How do I even know Marian Kotleba exists? Because his self described opponents obsess over him and talk about him so much to me. So much. Though I’ve never heard the man speak, nor read a word that he’s written, if he stands for some of the things that they are opposed to, and if he opposes some of the things that they love, he might not be all bad. He might even be well worth my time to dig a little further into.

This speaks to the lack of contact with reality of some of his most vocal opponents. They seem to have a lot of feelings and little data to rely on as they interact with the outside world. They may “feel” like telling everyone they know how horrible Kotleba is. They may “feel” like venting to everyone who comes near about Kotleba. They may “feel” that no one could possibly like Kotleba. Feelings are not enough to put one in touch with reality. Quite the opposite, they often help one craft a dreamy world divorced from reality. This is a perfect example of that.

I would never have heard about Marian Kotleba, except the people who claim to oppose him are his most effective, least expensive, and biggest marketers.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Photo credit: Sputnik News

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Kryl – Bratříčku, zavírej vrátka

November 19, 2017

Allan Stevo

Kryl wrote passionate folk songs that became popular in Czechoslovakia and throughout central Europe, despite the fact that the communist authorities had banned them. The Czech lyrics are posted below the video, courtesy of the poster of the video on YouTube and English languages lyrics are below that. The song talks about the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968.

Bratříčku nevzlykej
to nejsou bubáci
Vždyť už jsi velikej
To jsou jen vojáci
Přijeli v hranatých
železných maringotkách

Se slzou na víčku
hledíme na sebe
Bud’ se mnou bratříčku
bojím se o tebe
na cestách klikatých
Bratříčku v polobotkách

Prší a venku se setmělo
Tato noc nebude krátká
Beránka vlku se zachtělo
Bratříčku! Zavřel jsi vrátka?

Bratříčku nevzlykej
neplýtvej slzami
Nadávky polykej
a šetři silami
Nesmíš mi vyčítat
jestliže nedojdeme

Nauč se písničku
Není tak složitá
Opři se bratříčku
Cesta je rozbitá
Budeme klopýtat
Zpátky už nemůžeme

Prší a venku se setmělo
Tato noc nebude krátká
Beránka vlku se zachtělo
Bratříčku zavírej vrátka!
Zavírej vrátka!

And this is a rough translation of Kryl’s “Bratříčku, zavírej vrátka” into English linked here:

Little brother, don’t sob, it is not a banshee
Don’t be frightened, it is only soldiers,
Who arrived in sharp-edged metal caravans

Through tears caught on eyelashes we look at each other
Come with me little brother, I fear for you
On the uneven roads, little brother, in children’s shoes

It rains and it is getting dark
This night will not be short
The wolf has a yen for the lamb
Little brother, have you closed the gate?

Little brother, please do not sob
Do not waste your tears
Hold back the curses and save your strength
You mustn’t blame me if we do not make it

Learn the song, it is not so hard
Lean on me, little brother, the road is rough
We will stumble forth, we cannot turn back

It rains and it is getting dark
This night will not be short
The wolf has a yen for the lamb
Little brother, do close the gate!
Please close the gate!

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Kryl – Andel

November 19, 2017

Allan Stevo

Karel Kryl was one of the voices of the Velvet Revolution. This song is beautiful even if you don’t understand a word. Below the video is the text in Czech and English left below the video on Youtube.com. Another Kryl video can seen here.

Czech lyrics:

1. Z rozmlácenýho kostela v krabici s kusem mýdla
přinesl jsem si anděla, polámali mu křídla,
díval se na mě oddaně, já měl jsem trochu trému,
tak vtiskl jsem mu do dlaně lahvičku od parfému.

R: A proto, prosím, věř mi, chtěl jsem ho žádat,
aby mi mezi dveřmi pomohl hádat,
co mě čeká a nemine, co mě čeká a nemine.

2. Pak hlídali jsme oblohu, pozorujíce ptáky,
debatujíce o Bohu a hraní na vojáky,
do tváře jsem mu neviděl, pokoušel se ji schovat,
to asi ptákům záviděl, že mohou poletovat.

R:
3. Když novinky mi sděloval u okna do ložnice,
já křídla jsem mu ukoval z mosazný nábojnice,
a tak jsem pozbyl anděla, on oknem odletěl mi,
však přítel prý mi udělá novýho z mojí helmy.

R:

English translation:

1.
From the church that was battered down (demolished), in the box with a piece of soap
I brought me an angel, they broke his wings,
He was looking at me devoutly, I was a little nervous.
So I put in his palm a small parfume bottle.

R:
Hence believe me, I wanted to ask him
to help me guess between door
what is awaiting me in the future and is inevitable.

2.
Then we have been guarding the sky, watching birds
debating about God and playing at soldiers.
I haven´t seen his face, he tried to hide it.
Maybe he was envious of birds, that they can fly.

R: – the same.

3.
While he was telling me the news, standing next to bedroom window
I forged him the wings from a brass shell.
And thats how I lost my angel, he flew away through window.
But my friend promised to make me a new one from my helmet.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Is Slovakia Ready For Freedom Of Speech ?

Free Speech

November 18, 2017

Allan Stevo

Slovakia is a brilliantly free country. Anyone can get away with saying anything they want in private. Political correctness is largely laughed at and has not penetrated the home. Throughout the West political correctness (a movement meant to limit the scope of public debate and thought) has penetrated the home (a place of private discussion and thought).

The American dinner table fought back against this social movement over the last two years with their support of a political candidate who was not so certain to perform any differently than the others in broken D.C., but who spoke so very openly and differently from the candidates who had spent so much time in politically correct D.C. He said the things that you might hear around the dinner table and that no one had dared say for years in public. Trump represented a social movement away from the repressive movement known as political correctness and back toward the American free thought and free expression experiment known as freedom of speech.

The self-appointed intellectual elite denounced him and their fellow countrymen for some twenty months. This only seemed to bolster his success. The self-appointed intellectual elite, after all, were so central to the whole problem. They had told Americans for years how to speak and scolded those who didn’t follow the rules. Americans had grown a little sick of it. The 2015 rise of Donald Trump and his 2016 electoral victories was certainly political, but it was far more importantly social. Americans had had enough of the self-appointed intellectual elite and their insistent browbeating about the latest thought crimes. They were ready to unleash a freer way of being, communicating, and thinking that did feel like a great part of America, that cherished value of free expression.

Slovakia two years earlier saw the election of a non status quo thinker. All the self-appointed intellectual elite were horrified, especially the self-appointed intellectual elite who looked to the West for instruction and permission on how to behave. Instead of recognizing it as an important social statement from the heart of Slovakia, it was seen as a threatening political coup. One must be very insecure in oneself and ones worldview and very power hungry to have such a reaction. After all, it was for a tiny local office. Great strides were taken and significant foreign money and influence was used to help keep this man out of office, to end the political coup. That does little to address the far more important social trends at hand in Slovakia, where a significant portion of the population are not wowed by the self-appointed intellectual elite who take instruction and permission from the West.

Marian Kotleba, a man I would perhaps dislike if I spent much time listening to him, has every right to say anything that’s on his mind to anyone he so desires. It doesn’t matter what I think of him. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of him. His existence on this planet as a human being provides him with the freedom of speech to say anything on his mind.

Slovakia, deep in its social structure, has a brave sense of free speech within the home. Sit at any Slovak dinner table and you will learn that. You will have statements said to you in quiet confidence in private settings that have for years been deemed too uncomfortable to consider in the West. I’m not just talking politics either. From health and nutrition to wellness to interpersonal relationships to how to raise livestock to economic issues, Slovakia is a wellspring of free thought and it’s dinner tables and homes are where that thought flows most freely. Years from now, if political correctness ever takes hold in political life, Slovaks may see it take hold in private life as well, just as the West has long ago seen it take hold. That is a long way away. Slovakia truly is a place of very free thought.

Today, Slovaks are confronted with a political option. It is the further encroachment of political correctness into private lives by encroaching on political speech in public life. To truly respect freedom of speech, the law should be that if Marian Kotleba is speaking, or anyone else, then the government may not act in any way to silence them.. That is not the role of the government and to even discuss such a topic is not in the purview of government. Such a discussion – a discussion on how to limit free speech in Slovakia – should not even happen on the floor of the Slovak Parliament or in government buildings. It’s none of their concern. If there are to be any limits to speech it should be limits on government and not on individuals. Government is the great enemy of freedom. The last 100 years of totalitarian regimes has so effectively demonstrated how cruel an enemy of freedom governments can be.

Marian Kotleba, by simply speaking, and by simply saying things that make others uncomfortable, acts to expand the the role of free speech in Slovakia, acts to expand the freedoms. Based on the reactions I hear from him, he expands the concept of free expression far better than any contemporary artist, writer, activist, or politico. He is a living, breathing expander of free expression seemingly without even trying. There’s great beauty in that. I know so little about him. I see a great deal of the very positive impact he has by uncomfortably expanding free expression as uptight people listen to him horrified.

And yes, Slovaks will say “Oh you know -it-all American, you don’t know how important it is to silence the wrong people. We have a different history than you, we had extremism in the past. ” To which I say, they have extremism in the present – those people who would silence another person’s free speech are vile extremists. There are those who seek to silence Kotleba from speaking freely in public. 28 years after the end of communism, vile Slovaks are ganging up politically to silence another person from speaking. 28 years after totalitarian rule, vile Slovaks are taking a step toward that way of thinking again and toward the ugly system of governing that follows.

Socially, Slovaks are free speakers, with little societal inhibition on free speech in private places. Politically, the Slovak government and their self-appointment intellectuals who look to the West for instruction and permission could take note of that fact and align Slovakia’s politically enshrined freedoms with the very sensible social freedoms that already exist. The more unfamiliar, the more threatening a person’s beliefs are, the more vital it is that they be shared and allowed space to be publicly debated.

That is freedom of speech. Slovakia has long had freedom of speech around the dinner table. Now it is time for the insecure, easily threatened, self-appointed intellectuals to back off and allow that in public as well. Once again, the more threatening it is, the more unfamiliar it is, the better that free speech is. Free speech encourages free thought, instead of the crap that we hear in the West. Thank you Slovakia for being such a shining example in my own life of how freely one may think and speak around the dinner table. Now, instead of moving in the direction of greater oppression, by silencing unfamiliar or threatening viewpoints, how about we see a fraction of that Slovak social freedom extended into public life.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Photo credit: Slovak Women of Vojvodina

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Using Intensity To Fight Complacency Within Oneself

Complacency

November 18, 2017

Allan Stevo

The beauty of Krav Maga is not that a runt can defend himself from a man twice as skilled and twice his size, but that even the runt can learn to channel an available and powerful inner rage at the appropriate moment.

In our comfortable and safe Western world, certainly the most comfortable of any developed civilization to have ever existed and arguably the safest and least violent per capita of any large civilization in human history, it is easy to grow complacent.

With the rights of the individual so well secured and established virtually across Western society, complacency becomes the great obstacle to human achievement.

And what an obstacle it is. Why change a thing when the herd offers such security and comfort. That herd allows you a tremendous array of fashion – that range from tattoos and eyebrow piercings to Brook’s Brothers and bow ties, the herd allows for a tremendous array of diets – ranging from Wonderbread to Ethiopian food, and the herd offers a tremendous array of political views – ranging from Marxist-feminist to Tea Party – if you want to be a respected part of mainstream society. The true rebel has to be pretty far out there in this era to not be complacent in their mainstream existence.

Furthermore, there is the great friend of complacency – arrogance. How easy it is to find someone complacent and arrogant about what a rebel they are, yet so conservative in their outlook on the world and frightened of any true risk. Tattoos are not risky. They are a trite and superficial way to take risk. Free markets are risky. Entrepreneurship is risky. Packing a back pack for a month with a one way ticket to a village 83 miles from Timbuktu where you know no one and don’t speak the language is risky. No matter how strange it might seem to your parents or the people you grew up with – a sleeve of tattoos, a co-op membership, a job as a forlorn barista, an alternative romantic lifestyle, universal healthcare, universal basic income, and a cadre of friends who are superficially very diverse, but really 95% the same is not risky. Instead it smacks of complacency. That is exactly the ideal life that many of America’s trendiest urban youth clamor for – the complacent life. It’s an easy trap to fall into.

To know what is right and wrong in your own mind, to be self-certain at such moments, and to add passion to it with a ready application of intensity can be hard to muster. There’s a beauty to regularly practicing each of those skills, among them the calling up of intensity, so that even in the most complacent of environments, that intensity is ready to be called upon.

When punches per second matters. When first strike matters. When who can beat the other into submission in five or ten or twenty seconds matters and you train that over and over again, those short, violent, intense bursts, you come into contact with a beautiful impulse within oneself, normally cajoled out of existence by the comforts of everyday life. And with enough of that training, suddenly that impulse becomes accessible and something able to be summoned. Summoned on command. A deep and true thing within you, that modern life disconnects you from that can now be summoned on command. How truly beautiful a practice is if it can help you evoke that.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Photo credit: CGP Grey

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