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A Slovak Wisdom Glossary for Confused Travelers

Updated: May 9

What defines a Slovak, in my eyes of a foreigner, are a deep connection with the nature, and a tendency to be an acute observer. The first is a well-known quality: Slovaks love their mountains, they get a special pleasure from hiking and walking everywhere, and they preserve agricultural traditions which impact many aspects of their culture. The second quality is lesser known, because it’s more difficult to notice it: Slovaks detect the tiny details, they observe the environment around them, even when they seem distracted, or when you think they are focused on something else.

I know, stereotypes are dangerous and sometimes stupid, but they are not useless. And when I talk with Slovaks, they laugh and they recognize themselves in these two features.

Besides, I have one strong element to corroborate my generalization: Slovak sayings.

Slovak sayings are imaginative and funny, and they show without a doubt how Slovak people are tireless observers, and how strong their bond with the natural environment is.

Of course, a lot of proverbs all around the world are about animals and nature, and nobody will be surprised to hear that, as in many other languages, also in Slovak you can be hungry like the wolf (hladný ako vlk), stupid like a donkey (hlúpy ako somár), and so on.

But Slovak expressions are more colorful: when you are endangering yourself, and maybe you should be more cautious, they will tell you “Nedráždi hada bosou nohou”: don’t irritate snakes in your bare feet. This perfect, slightly threatening, image, of an unnecessary risk in the wild, is my favorite example of Slovak mastery with words!

Sure, some phrases in this language are extremely confusing, like “Ja som s tebou husi nepásol”. Literally, “I didn’t shepherd geese with you”. When you hear this, you are overstepping someone’s boundaries. Apparently, shepherding geese is an activity reserved to close relationships, and if you are treating somebody with too much familiarity… Well, they will remind you that you never shared geese, so please back off.

Another farm animal is the protagonist of an even funnier expression: when you get a stroke of luck, or you unexpectedly find yourself in a favorable situation, and such positive circustances were not, in any way, caused by your effort, you “prišiel si k tomu ako slepé kura k zrnu”, you “ran into it like a blind chicken to grain”. The power of Slovak imagination! Directly from the agrarian nature, straight to an expression that makes me laugh every time, and makes me feel the atmosphere of a farm.

However, the agrarian roots of Slovak culture are no laughingstock. That’s a serious matter, and if you forget it, sometimes a Slovak will remind you that they mean business: “Nie som tu pre srandu králikov”, “I’m not here to play with the rabbits”.

Maybe you agree with me now, Slovak wisdom is charming and hilarious. Or maybe you are confused, like I was the first time I heard some of these sayings. Why did they choose this specific animal/image? I don’t have an answer, Slovak culture is often mysterious.

And guess what? When you are dealing with an enigma, or you don’t have a clue about something, or you stumble upon a mystery… you have a Slovak saying designed for this exact situation: “Som z toho jeleň”, “I am a deer about it”, I have no idea what’s going on. I love this phrase, I think it’s a bit philosophical, it must have something to do with the horns, with the concept of something that may be obvious for a bystander but virtually invisible for the subject. I dare to say that this expression is allusive of adultery, or at least, it suggests that some things are so close to us that we don’t notice them, so enclosed in our natural perspective, that we lose awareness of them. But what do I know? I am just a traveler trying to interpret the beauty of Slovak wisdom. After all, I am a deer about all of this.

Author: Luca Trifiletti.

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