As a Slovak I must every day cope with a harsh reality: my country, Slovakia, a tiny mountainous patch of land squeezed between Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic, remains far from a popular tourist destination and will never be an influential player in world politics. The main ways to piss me off as a Slovak, therefore, spring from my desire to be known, respected, and found on the map. Lately I’ve started to turn the tables around and view your ignorance as your problem, not mine. But both verses of the Slovak anthem contain the words ‘lightning’ and ‘thunder,’ so if you want to see these natural phenomena personified, try one of the following ways to rile me up.
Call Me Czech
Until the so-called Velvet Divorce in 1993, Slovaks were the second largest constituent nation of Czechoslovakia, residing in that former country’s eastern part. The first: Czechs, in the west.* For 20 years now, Czechs and Slovaks, two different nations with two different languages and cultures, have lived in separate, independent countries. Enough time to start getting this one right, wouldn’t you think? Put differently, would you dare call a Swede a Dane? A Canadian an American?
* A close second to calling me Czech comes calling me Czechoslovak(ian). In fact, some Slovaks think that’s worse since no such nation as Czechoslovaks ever existed. Long story.
Consider Me Eastern European
This pisses off the Czechs too, and with good reason. Take a look at the map. Everything between Germany and Russia is Central Europe and we’re right in the middle of that swath of landmass. Simple as that.
Mistake Slovakia for Slovenia
Slovenia was once part of Yugoslavia; you already know what Slovakia was a part of. Slovenia’s outline resembles a chicken, whereas Slovakia’s resembles, well, nothing, but it’s half a day’s drive to the northeast of Slovenia. Hold on to that map.
Ask Me About the War
Most Slovaks don’t remember the war, to be honest: it ended way back in 1945, after all. You mean the war in the 1990’s? Good thing the map of Europe is still in your hands because the war you have in mind took place in the former Yugoslavia. It was horrible and it made many Slovenes, Croats, Bosnians, and Serbs wish they could have dissolved their country the same peaceful, orderly way as Czechs and Slovaks did. Being such a tiny nation, we Slovaks have no choice but to be a nonviolent people—at least up until the point you suggest otherwise.
Boast You’ve Been to Prague
Good for you, but so what? Like many Slovaks who remember living in Czechoslovakia, I feel a closer affinity to the Mother of Cities than I do to our own capital Bratislava. Yet Prague remains the capital of a foreign country. Your travel experience in the Czech Republic not only fails to impress me, it can prompt me to send you packing back to Wenceslas Square.
Tell Me Slovak Women Are Beautiful
I know you mean well, and I agree with you one hundred percent. But before you try to impress me or any other Slovak with this insipid insight, think of it as akin to telling me that my sister is hot. Lightning and thunder, my friend.
Demand No Bacon on Bryndzové Halušky
The tiny potato gnocchi-like dumplings with melted bryndza sheep cheese and sprinkled with bacon bits is the Slovak national dish. It’s simple, it’s hearty, it’s perfect. Don’t mess with it or you’ll go hungry.
Decline to Drink with Me*
If you refuse to let me, or any other Slovak, drown you in famous Slovak hospitality you risk being accused of undermining the nation. The 1980’s comic skit “I Quit Drinking” points out that the art of drinking when you don’t like drinking requires good character and strong will. It also suggests a teetotaler is asking for his ass to be stuck with a pitchfork. So are you an artist or a target?
* Second worst: Decline the drink, succumb, and proceed to get drunk me, and the next day complain I’m an alcoholic. Traitor!
Inquire What Pisses Me Off
If you poke shit with a stick, you’ll get a shit-covered stick. Slovaks have had a difficult history: the thousand-year long feudal yoke of Hungarian overlords, the little-brother status in Czechoslovakia, and the sole of the Soviet occupant soldier’s boot have left Slovaks resigned to our fate amid the game of Great-Power thrones. Asking about sources of our national anger only serves to needlessly bring the rage up to the surface. We just want to live our lives in peace. Please visit sometime, we have some borovička to pour in your shot glass.