March 30, 2012
Many people consider the past to be both old and bad. I try not to assume that what is old is bad. Nor do I believe that time necessarily brings progress. For example, there are times when a person can look back and say, “We took a turn back there and it might have been bad decision.” Though time may have passed, spending years going down the wrong road is not progress.
Below I have listed items that I consider both admirable and worthy of mention. These are aspects of Slovak culture, that, for all practical purposes, Americans once had and have generally parted with. While I did not live in the 1950′s, so many Americans visiting Slovakia have said to me about Slovakia “Well, that’s sort of like how it was in the 1950′s,” that it’s hard to ignore this comparison.
I’d like to know what you think. Does it sound like Slovakia is “stuck” in the 1950′s? Is some of it good? Is some of it bad? I don’t intend to inspire any mindless nostalgia, but perhaps a discussion on what things about America’s past and Slovakia’s present are good and worthy of repetition.
Example 1 – Dressing Up to Go to Town
I’ve often been in situations in the U.S. where I see unsightly men and women going out for groceries in a way that makes them seem even more unsightly than they already are. Perhaps they might wear pajamas or poorly fitting clothes, clothing with holes, or clothing that is so loose and revealing that it should only have be worn in private. All of these and worse might appear at the grocery store, or the nearest Walmart, or on a person bouncing around town running errands. Americans, in general, tend to be quite casual about how they dress in public.
Slovaks tend to have a very different attitude about how to dress when going to town. It seems to be the case whether going to work, going shopping, or going out on both romantic and friendly dates. One must make an effort to look good in town.
How very impressed I continue to be to see the insistence that many Slovaks of all ages put into dressing up. In Slovakia it is very clear that there is one type of acceptable wardrobe for the home and garden and a very different acceptable wardrobe if you plan to leave your property. And especially elegant, in my opinion, is the standard by which many Slovak women dress to go to town. Running for a bus on cobblestone, dressed well, in high heels somehow does not seem to faze a Slovak woman in the slightest.
On one’s property, it’s interesting to note that little more than one’s skimpy underwear is sometimes worn by both sexes when working out in the sun in Slovakia. This can be an unflattering sight. When leaving the home, even if just to run a few quick errands, many people take care to dress up.
Example 2 – The Observance of Sundays
Many American churches are packed on Sundays. I won’t pretend that the same is true in Slovak churches. In general, American churches seem to be a bit better at packing people in the door, but I’ve seen both extremes in both countries. While it may not be a very strong time for organized religion in Slovakia, the Sabbath is observed nonetheless. When I first came to Bratislava, the difference was VERY noticeable.
On Sundays there is little traffic, cars are clearly left unmoved, fewer people are out, most businesses are closed, even restaurants might be closed all day long. Stores close up early or stay closed all day. People stay at home or go to the garden. Families lounge around. A nicer meal is often eaten for Sunday lunch than what would be eaten during the rest of the week. The family might even all sit together at one time at the table.
Sunday is a different day than all the rest in Slovakia and you get the feeling that there is something sacred and special. Not everything is for sale. Across the border in Austria, which is in many ways much more westernized than Slovakia, aside from a church it is very difficult to find anything open at all. It seems this tradition of honoring Sundays is widely appreciated.
A friend, whenever she would teaching the novel Like Water for Chocolate used to do an exercise with students where she asked them about their favorite traditions. Often students would mention Sunday lunch as a favorite family tradition because it meant that the whole family would be together, which wasn’t true at other meals.
In the capital, Bratislava, this tradition is waning slightly, but it still seems true that many Slovaks, atheists included, consider their Sunday afternoons sacred time.
Example 3 – Train Travel is Elegant and often Pleasant
The communists did not plan for a car to be the birthright of every human being over the age of 18. The tight traffic in Bratislava shows that the city was not ready for the current influx of cars. This tight traffic happens even though many people still do not own a car. The difficulty of parking in high density residential areas further illustrates this. In some residential areas, every available piece of sidewalk doubles as a parking space and double parking tends to be normal. The traffic problem was clearly not well-planned for in other cities around Slovakia either. Public transportation, however, was encouraged by the government and the extensive train system remains from prior times.
There’s something classy and dignified about travelling by train. You can get from point A to point B in style – legs crossed, sitting on a wide seat, which is akin to a stiff couch, in an enclosed compartment, separated from people trying to brush their way past you. In such a scenario you might as well not have a care in the world, because you can’t help whether the train is on time or not. So, you unfold the newspaper that you’re carrying under your arm and enjoy the latest happenings of the world. When you get there, you get there, as the beauty of nature zooms past you outside. Like a wealthy steel magnate being chauffeured to work, you can watch the landscape, dream about your next big plan, or heck, if you want to, just close your eyes. Even if you just opt for second class with a seat reservation, the train will take you all over Slovakia in style.
Example 4 – Clothes Dryers
As I was not a child of the 1950′s, I have no idea how many American households in the 1950′s owned clothes dryers, but I’m guessing that they were an appliance of convenience and excessive wealth that came later in the century.
Out of the hundreds of homes I’ve been in around Slovakia, only once have I seen a clothes dryer (and that household was actually an American’s). In Italian homes I’ve seen clothes dryers, enough so that I assume that they are commonplace in Italy. This can be expected since Italy is part of the lazy and luxurious West.
In Slovakia, however, every single family seems to have a foldable-6-dollar-drying-rack that they cart out when the laundry is done and fold back up for storage the next morning after the clothing dries. Even in the tiniest of apartments I’ve found this to be the case. Before arriving in Slovakia never would I have been able to imagine that I did not NEED a dryer. That’s because I never had to imagine that problem. That’s sort of a take on necessity being the mother of invention I suppose.
When I first got here, someone had to show me what to do with my wet laundry, and I was probably of the opinion that Slovakia was a backwards and messed up place when I saw no clothes dryers. But it’s good to be placed into a situation where you’re forced to challenge what you think you know. Before long I found myself wondering “Why on earth do so many Americans own clothes dryers?”
I’ll admit, when there’s something you really want to wash and wear that same day, not having a dryer can be a hassle – it does require extra forward thinking. Sometimes clothes get linty in Slovakia (no dryers = no lint traps). Sometimes jeans don’t regain their shape quite right. And, on cold days, when nothing would feel better than a pair of socks or a sweatshirt right out of the dryer, it is easy to miss having a dryer.
In my opinion, in the year 2011, Slovakia is two steps ahead of any country that is reliant on dryers. It’s more efficient; it’s cheaper; it’s not so hard on the clothes. It makes Slovaks seem smarter for not needing such a cumbersome contraption to do such a simple job. Sort of reminds me of the thousands of dollars of taxpayer money NASA spent on developing a pen that could write in outer space, upside down, and never leak. The Soviets told their cosmonauts to just use pencils.
Example 5 – Pre-Lawsuits
I think that the term “good old-fashioned fun” in the U.S., somewhere under the surface, has something to do with a time where America was more relaxed and less litigious.
This one is not entirely fair to compare, because, well, we have no idea how lawsuit-happy Slovaks would be if their court system were able to be trusted to even occasionally accomplish anything in accordance with a semblance of justice and ethics.
More than once I’ve been asked by friends to go “collect” money from someone who owed him or her a debt – an invitation I’ve decline each time. The implication was that a threat of force was needed to make the collection process more successful, the appearance of “muscle.” The threat of taking someone to court in Slovakia is just so darn meaningless. The process is long, you might get a judgement in your favor, and the judgement will probably not help you collect the money both you and the judge believe you are owed.
But the fact is, no matter what the cause of the scenario, Slovaks are not litigious. When you step onto a bus in Bratislava, you can tell who is American and who is Slovak. The American does something stupid like stand next to the gigantic, powerful, iron, door-closing-contraption. Where an American comes from, the gigantic, powerful, iron, door-closing-contraption would never exist because it’s so dangerous. The Slovak on the bus, from the littlest nincompoop of a child to the most hunched over elderly miser, has the sense of not putting his foot next to the closing contraption. Inevitably, the American will eventually learn that doing so is a bad idea – you will get hurt, no one will feel bad for you, the ambulance won’t come for you. If you finally do convince the ambulance to come for you they are going to charge you a lot of money for making them come to you for something so incredibly frivolous.
The Slovak on the other hand, seems to behave more responsibly at all times as if thinking to himself or herself “I am in charge of keeping myself safe, if I do not keep myself safe, despite the many promises of my government, I will most likely be left to die right there on the street, as people walk by me and avoid eye contact. And if I am rescued, I will have earned the unceasing ridicule of family and friends for my lack of commonsense, so much so that I will come to question whether it might not have been better to have stayed laying on the sidewalk with my broken leg until I died of dehydration three days later.”
Yes, I even believe that just three minutes sitting on a bus in Slovakia can make an observant American think “Man, are we a bunch of common-sense lacking weenies.” Or maybe he or she might think “This place is senselessly dangerous.” Either way, there is a noticeable difference in what safety means and who is responsible for keeping a person safe.
Everywhere you turn in Slovakia there are holes, things you can trip over, slip on, have dropped on you, run into, or poke an eye out with. There is really death right around the corner, yet people don’t fall into, for example, the sewer on the path near my house that was left uncovered for about four years.
Nope, Slovaks are street smart in many ways. And they often aren’t weenies either. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a random elderly man or woman brutally fall and then pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get right on the next bus, so they could go home to nurse their wounds. Calling the ambulance here usually seems like something that is just outside of the Slovak character. These people can be tough.
And, well, back to the issue of “good old fashioned fun.” There’s a place called Slovensky Raj that has the longest, ricketiest, most wet and slippery ladders around. It’s a national park filled with natural waterfalls, where you can just scramble up a five-story ladder as a water fall sprays you in the face. It’s pretty stupid to do and as I have said – SO MUCH FUN! If you are in Slovakia, and able-bodied enough to do it, you must hike Slovensky Raj, especially the “Sucha Bela” trail.
I would give Slovensky Raj about three days in the U.S. before it were closed down by court order. The name, incidentally, translates as “Slovak Paradise,” and that it is indeed. A trip up Sucha Bela means you will be hiking through river beds, scrambling over wooden ladders that are still standing, scrambling around old fallen wooden ladders, pausing to admire the amazing gorge you’ve found yourself in, walking though a waterfall, trying not to slip off of tall ladders as you get spritzed in the face by that waterfall. It’s the kind of hike that makes you feel alive. The hike is mandatory annually for my friends and I.
Because I’ve been on the hurt end of a Slovak 911 call (I wasn’t the one hurt), I am pretty certain that if you did fall off a ladder at Slovensky Raj and live long enough to call for help, the first thing that mountain rescue would do (provided that you were not mortally wounded) would be to badger you with questions that made you admit your own stupidity before they pressed on tender and painful spots to torture you, and then would take a few minutes to laugh at your stupidity before finally tending to your concerns. If you were mortally wounded, I think they would hurry to take care of you much more comfortably.
This is not a litigious place because, it’s not a place, often enough, where you can get away with successfully blaming others for your own stupidity.
The lack of litigiousness puts much of the blame for self-protection in the hands of the individual and allows others to offer opportunities for a great deal of fun.
A Jewish professor of mine once told me one difference that he perceived between a Jewish family and a Christian family. In a Christian family, the parent’s love is unconditional. In a Jewish family Mommy’s love is unconditional, Daddy’s love is conditional. If you screw up, you’re gonna remember it. If this professor of mine spoke the truth, then love from strangers in Slovakia is a lot like his Jewish father – conditional. You cannot expect a stranger to cry over your own stupidity and you seldom can expect it from a friend.
That common Slovak attitude does not welcome litigiousness.
Example 6 – Eating Lard is Allowed
Lard is consumed – Yes, lard is consumed.
In case you do not know what lard is: Huge chucks of fat are cut from a pig and then cooked until all the liquid comes out. The liquid is cooled and then called lard.
In Slovakia, it’s eaten on bread. It’s used for cooking. The tastiest food has lard in it – from pie crusts to biscuits. While in the U.S., it’s socially and medically verbotten to eat lard and has been for decades, health and fitness commentators like this one or this one would all say that Slovakia’s got this one right – natural lard, and butter are better for a human body than artificially engineered alternatives like margarine.
Pork is also eaten in Slovakia, plentifully, especially the fattiest parts. Calories, diets, running, food groups, nutrients are all things that might be discussed from time to time in Slovakia, but in all honesty, no scientist, no dietician seems to have any more of an understanding of what is good and nourishing for a child than that child’s own mother.
Our American way of dissecting the diet and trying to build it back together around acceptable nutrients feels so artificial. Lots of the things we eat don’t really even qualify as “food,” according to author Michael Pollan in his books The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and Food Rules. Pollan also makes this argument about the American diet while juxtaposing them with the traditional diets of other cultures.
The Slovak idea of nutrition seems so natural and ingrained in the culture. You take some potatoes and add cheese and bacon and you have a meal. Every few days, you make sure you get some meat, eat it with potatoes and you have a meal. Always start a meal with soup, but make sure you have bread with it. Never eat eggs without bread, it’s bad for you. These are all ideas I’ve been exposed to regarding proper diet in Slovakia. I’m sure there are hundreds of other cultural “rules” that I see around me, but that I’ve never had verbally pointed out to me and that are probably seldom verbalized in Slovakia.
Somehow, without any scientific theories, Slovaks seem to know what to eat and what not to eat based on how they are feeling. They know how much to eat and how much to exercise based on how they are feeling. I wonder if anything new can be taught by nutritionists following the American method of deconstructing every meal. For example, in Slovak culture, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if your mother’s homemade sauerkraut is rich in probiotics that benefit your gut and that your bacteria flora is so important for your health that it’s referred to as your “second immune system” by some, such as Tim Ferriss in his book 4 Hour Body. You just know that you like it and you’ve always liked it. It seems like America has no national cuisine to speak of. Slovaks do and it keeps them alive.
With the news reporting every ten minutes that some food is either 1. bad for you or 2. a cure for cancer, there’s much comfort in how Slovaks just eat the meals they know: the meals that make them feel nourished. It offers something to hang onto in this sea of turbulent health imperatives constantly being flung around. There’s a lot of money to be made in making someone paranoid about their health, which means I always need to be careful when some expert on TV is trying to sell a book, or a diet, or a new contraption, because it’s hard to tell when he or she is entirely telling the truth instead of simply marketing a health product. Even if it is the truth, it’s easy to forget that scientific theories are only theories, ready to be tested and disproven at any moment.
No credible scientist can claim to know the absolute truth, only to put forth a theory that may one day be laughed at, one day be lauded. When we forget that the job of scientists is to theorize and support and the job of media is to blow things out of proportion, well we have a society in the hands of a bad combination.
Centuries of experimentation go into the construction of a national cuisine. While America is in a period of little thought and much action about cuisine, it is nice to be exposed to Slovakia, where nourishment is often not worried about, but rather intuited. And sometimes, in all honesty, sacrificing myself to this Slovak intuition is hard to do, but offers much potential for learning.
Example 7 – Drinking Alcohol is Allowed
Drinking Alcohol is Allowed and Encouraged in Polite Company – do business with a Slovak of a certain age and there is practically guarantee that homemade hard alcohol will make an appearance. It’s part of showing hospitality.
It’s even acceptable in many other areas of culture. On the job, for instance. An attorney from Pennsylvania once told me that the seminal moment that caused him to fall in love with Slovakia was when he was driving down the road about 8 a.m., saw a construction crew and one of the guys put down his shovel to take a tall swig from a bottle of hard alcohol. Not forbidden here, encouraged.
Most Slovak bartenders couldn’t make a decent cocktail to save their lives, but that’s just because Slovaks take their alcohol straight up. As long as a person can control himself around alcohol, there doesn’t seem to be many societal prohibitions that dictate when a person is an alcoholic. There are no prohibitions against morning drinking, there are no prohibitions against social drinking, there are no ways to identify a wino, other than the fact that you see he can no longer control it or himself. Alcohol is A-OK here in Slovakia. A part of life. For many it is a part of jokes and humor, something forced into your hand when you enter a friendly house, and poured for you when you sit down for a meal, pulled out on a long hike, or a hard day of work. The signal to your host that you want more is not that you asked for it, but simply finishing what you already had. It is always there as part of the culture. Nothing taboo about it. Nothing to make you feel bad. I watch a show like Mad Men, and I see, well, Slovakia. If there is any truth to the show’s portrayal of the ease with which Americans of the 1950′s sat down for a drink, then it’s a whole lot like Slovakia, where there’s no social stigma to going for a cup of coffee or a beer when out with a friend during the day.
The lunch lady at the school I used to teach at brought a bottle of champagne once and served it to all the teachers in the 15 minute break between the 2nd and 3rd hour class. They toasted, drank up and headed to class. No one got drunk and most likely no one was off their game during the next hour. Responsible consumption of alcohol is a welcome and accepted part of life here, with few exceptions.
At the same time, interestingly, there is a zero tolerance policy toward drinking and driving. One would not expect this to go hand in hand with a cultural policy of responsible drinking, but perhaps that is evidence that drinking and driving is a problem in Slovakia. Some historians go back and read the laws of history to determine what the concerns of the people were and the crimes that were common in those cultures. From their reading of history, it is unlikely that a law against robbery would be put into place if there was no robbery, or if no one was bothered by robbery. For example, most American states do not have a law on breaking glass with your bare feet in a public place because few people feel concerned with such a problem.
Example 8 – Pig Killings
In this article from last year, I sing my praises of the Slovak tradition of Pig Killing. Many boys and girls in Slovakia grow up with an understanding of how to raise a pig, kill a pig, butcher a pig, and make traditional foods using virtually all of its parts. This is true whether or not they live in rural areas. You’ll regularly even find people in Bratislava who know this practice. Slovaks seem to have a very close relationship with their ancestral villages and with the cycle of life as well.
When watching how naturally Slovaks of either gender and all ages get along in this environment, it is hard to feel anything but admiration – it really feels like a way man was supposed to live. It really feels like a bit of knowledge that every human should understand. As with other things on this list, that tradition has enjoyed a resurgence in the U.S. – being far from the earth doesn’t cut it for some people. Some American companies even gives lessons in the U.S. on raising and butchering the Mangalitsa pig (which is from Central Europe) using the technique of seam butchery (also from Central Europe).
At least among a small group of people, butchering a pig at home seems to be enjoying a resurgence in the U.S. How ironic that Slovak culture is beginning to abandon this more traditional way of life, while some Americans are looking back to the past for a less modern way of life. Perhaps a lesson to be learned from America’s mistakes is that tradition should not easily be dispensed with. While I don’t imagine that every American butchered his own meat in the 1950′s, I do have the idea that Americans, even urban American, had a more intimate understanding of nature and the life cycle than many urban Americans do today.
Example 9 – Eating Out
Eating out is not common among Slovaks
It’s really a special thing when a family goes out for a meal together. A daughter’s graduation from university, a grandmother’s death, a son getting married, a father turning fifty. These are reasons that I have seen Slovak families out for a meal together. Less true in Bratislava, more true among the other 95% of Slovakia. Instead:
Example 10 – Homemade Meals
A homemade meal is very common in many families. In fact, even a homemade meal made from scratch is common. Despite so many women in Slovakia working, the idea remains that a mother who would not see to it that there was a warm meal for her family to eat, even if it means each member of the family heating it up themselves, is a mother who is not playing her part in watching out for her family.
The responsibility of the woman in the family is so great that I wonder if an argument can be made that Slovakia in some ways is a matriarchal society. But that is a much different topic, perhaps for another time. Mom makes sure a meal is cooked; mom often cooks; eating out is an infrequent option for many families. Does that sound like the U.S. in the 1950’s?
And an aspect of that homemade meal is:
Example 11 – Cooking from Scratch
They are often made from scratch. When I first came here, it was almost impossible to find pre-made mixes for anything. The biggest grocery store I knew was tiny and the pre-made items were just plain bad or pretty darn scarce. It seemed like there was simply not much of a market for pre-made foods, and that’s speaking about Bratislava, by far the most westernized part of Slovakia.
Just a few years ago I was in Terchova (where the Slovak folk hero Janosik is from) in the North of Slovakia and that Friday afternoon I wanted to stop in at the local grocery store to find a piece of meat. I was going to cook a pot of gulas so that my friends and I would have food all weekend long. I had a hard time finding what I needed, so I approached one of the clerks who was standing near the lunch meat and asked “Where can I find a piece of meat for gulas?”
She responded, as naturally as could be: “Tuesday.”
Grocery stores have become increasingly convenient options for homemakers over the last decade, but to this day flour takes up a significant amount of space in grocery stores. While the pre-made foods market is surely growing, it is clear that Slovaks buy flour for more than just baking a cake for a special occasion. Buying simple items and making a meal from scratch continues to be how many recipes in many Slovak kitchens are regularly made.
Just look at websites like SlovakCooking.com, or Eastern European Food, which have many recipes that do not use pre-made ingredients. Things like microwave dinners and pre-made halusky every few months are increasingly finding more and more space in grocery stores shelves, but these foods still seem to be part of the exception rather than the rule. Mixes for cakes, breads, puddings, pasta sauces, soups are all becoming increasingly common.
I understand cooking wholesome food can be time consuming. At the same time, the more processing a food goes through, the more nutrition it looses. Based on my time in Slovak homes, it is clear to me that mixes are a helpful addition in the cooking process, but that many families continue to appreciate eating foods that have not been pre-processed.
Example 12 – Political Correctness is Unwelcome
No such list would be complete without an attack on political correctness. The concept of political correctness is that what is unpopular is incorrect. Political is attached to the term because it even actually goes a step further, because not only does it make judgments about what is correct or incorrect before hearing any argument, it also makes prescriptions about how one should speak, based on what is understood to be correct for politicians. It is the idea that one should speak at all times as if he or she were running a political campaign and attempting not to say anything difficult for a voter to hear.
The idea of being aware of who you are speaking to when in a conversation is important. There is no need to insist on hurting a person’s feelings. Not everyone is ready to understand your view of the world just because you are ready to express it. The movement of political correctness makes it difficult for a person to share those viewpoints even with someone who is ready to hear it. There is a whole list of things that should not be mentioned, or questioned ever and that list is essentially determined by what would feel right to say if you were a politician running for office trying to speak with as little substance as possible and to offend as few people as possible.
This ideology has been very difficult for America, because it has harmed some of our public discourse. Instead of being open and honest, it is considered most important not to offend. In reality, if the ultimate goal were not to never offend, we would have to always use words with as little substance as possible. Before the internet began to catch on as a medium of communication, I genuinely believe that political correctness had the potential to limit all thought provoking controversial expression from American media and perhaps even from academia.
The internet has prevented that possibility. The internet became an outlet for anyone to say anything to anyone who will listen. Instead of now needing a large investment to buy ink, paper, and a printing press, now virtually anyone has their own printing press on the internet.
Coming to Slovakia and seeing how drastically differently Slovaks approached this topic was like a breath of fresh air to me. These two points are closely related, with a small distinction:
Slovaks are Straight Shooters
Ask them what they think and they will tell you. Beware!! If you ask a Slovak “Do you think this business model will work?” or “Do you think he’s the right man for me?” or “Would you trust this doctor with your life?” or “What do you think of what President so-and-so just announced?” you will most likely be in for a brutally honest appraisal of the situation, one that will leave even the most ardent supporter of a plan curious if he’s perhaps a little too sure of himself. One will learn quickly here that asking the opinion of too many people will guarantee stultification. At the same time, it feels good to be successful, yet firmly grounded in reality by those around you. It feels good to know that you don’t have to look far to find someone who won’t pull punches in their appraisal of you.
And this type of attitude bears some relation to Slovakia’s lack of interest in political correctness:
The phrase “I’m offended” is virtually meaningless here. Even Slovaks who speak amazing English and try to use that phrase don’t seem to use it quite right. The idea that hurt feelings are a reason to stop an intellectual discussion does not seem to cut it in Slovakia. The idea that the truth must be tempered based on whose feelings might be hurt doesn’t cut it in Slovakia. Interestingly, despite the American guarantees of freedom of speech, we have developed an ability to see to it that speech is not really all that free. At the same time, Slovaks, with an extended history of a lack of freedom of speech are entirely unwilling to hold back on what’s on their mind in many situations.
One key example is with a guest. With a guest, a Slovak is likely to tread lightly. You might not hear the full extent of what your host is thinking, but give the host permission to speak freely and there is no limit to what might come out of his or her mouth. Any –ism you can think of may be expressed by any person in society. Slovakia is not a place for the faint of heart, not a place for those who were raised to believe that it is their God given right to never hear an offensive thought spoken in their presence. In this way Slovakia can feel base and mean, but I must tell you that it also feels so very refreshing sometimes to hear what’s on a person’s mind, even if that is the most stunningly perceptive criticism of that which you hold so dear.
This concept goes beyond the idea of decorum that I have come to understand of America in the 1950′s. It might feel just rude from an American perspective today or in the 1950′s. The idea that there should be self-censorship that limits a person to suggesting only ideas that may be “politically correct” seems like an American idea that developed in the later part of the 20th century. In an intellectual debate, anything goes in Slovakia. Often, in any kind of open discussion, anything goes.
Slovakia is a place that lives largely ignorant of the American blight of political correctness.
I don’t know if this is descriptive of America in the 1950′s, but it is an example of a country that has yet to see (or has perhaps rejected) a movement toward political correctness.
Example 13 – A Slovak Man Should Always Be a Gentleman to the Ladies
A man meeting a lady should take her hand in his and kiss her on both cheeks, should open a door for a woman, should carry her groceries, should be courteous at all times. Even some of the more feminist American women that I have met in Slovakia swoon just a little when they are treated by Slovak men as the fairer sex.
American men, me included, have been left confused at where a nearly culture-wide feminist pursuit of equality in America leaves such displays of kindness. Will a woman be mad at you? Will she feel offended?
Slovak men, largely, do not care. They will even go so far as to scold a woman who will be so proud as to not let a well-intentioned man do something kind for her. Women are the fairer sex and there’s nothing wrong with a man showing a little bit of human kindness. This is yet another lesson that Slovak men might have to teach American men. A little less sensitivity and uncertainty in holding a door for a woman and a little more determination will probably leave both the man and the woman feeling a little better about the kindness shown. Be looking for opportunities to show kindness to another person help and act on those opportunities unapologetically.
So, to return to my question. Does it sound like the 1950′s in America? Does it sound like an older era, no matter what country you’re from? Does it sound like Slovakia is “stuck” in an age of development that others have passed through? I don’t mean anything negative with the word “stuck.” Being stuck on good behavior is a good thing from my perspective. And, of course, I must ask. Are any of these qualities better? Are any of them worse? If Slovakia is “stuck” in some of its traditions, isn’t being “stuck” in a good tradition a good thing? I think you know how I lean on these matters, but I’d like to hear some of your thoughts.
Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling 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.