We all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.
In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:
A primer on how to avoid mistakes in Slovakia
Slovaks are friendly and peaceful people living in a free democratic state. There is not a single issue that would provoke hostility or real trouble. Usually the worst thing that could happen is that you would be thought a bit boorish and the history explained to you over another beer. However, it pays to be respectful and sensitive when discussing certain topics. Remember that Slovakia is a separate nation that has been independent since 1993 when Czechoslovakia split into the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic. It is also a ‘young nation’, as for most of its history it was a part of other multinational states such as Austria-Hungary or Czechoslovakia. Therefore, some people may be sensitive when it comes to nationality issues.
There is no hostility or resentment when it comes to the Velvet divorce that split Czechoslovakia, and the two nations remain very amicable. Do not refer to Slovakia as a part of another state and you should be fine. Slovakia’s position during WWII was quite complex, and this topic is best avoided when speaking to nationalists. Similarly, the decades of Communism left its mark on the country and this can be a sensitive topic. Slovakia, while formerly a part of the Soviet bloc, has never been a part of the USSR or the Russian Empire. Please remember this. Out of the more current issues, the relations with the Roma/Gypsy minority are sometimes strained and people may hold strong views on the subject. Do not venture into a debate unless you are intimately acquainted with the problem. Slovaks are quite hospitable, and if they invite you into their home, expect to be well looked after and offered a variety of food and drinks.
If you are invited in for lunch, expect a 2-3 course meal just as for dinner, as lunch is traditionally the main meal of the day. It is considered polite to bring a small gift for the host, such as a bottle of wine or good spirit, a box of chocolates, or a small bouquet of flowers. Never money. Most people do not use their outdoor shoes inside for hygienic reasons, so take your shoes off in the hallway when entering somebody’s home. Don’t worry, they will find you a spare pair of slippers to keep your feet warm.
When dining in a restaurant with the host’s family, it is customary for them to pick the bill. This might not happen, but don’t be surprised if they do. When being introduced to or meeting someone, even of the opposite sex, and even for the first time, it is not uncommon to kiss each other on the cheek once or twice (depending on the region) instead of shaking hands. It is not common between two males, but is quite normal for women. Do not be alarmed, and remember that this is not a sexual gesture.
With this, you had the primer on key facts about Slovakia, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on Slovakia food and drinks:
Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Slovakia? Please comment below.