Monthly Archives: June 2012
Lately in Slovakia I’ve spent more time marvelling at how similar it’s becoming to good old Blighty. I can watch the same films, the same television shows, the high street is increasingly looking like home.
So I thought I would seek out and focus on just a few little differences…
1. Lack Of Health & Safety Propaganda.
There is no real presence of Health and Safety in Slovakia, which makes me really notice the nursemaiding when I come home to the UK. I realise how silent public places are here, how free they are from public announcements, just chatter and the pitter patter of busy feet. Train stations in particular are an oasis of calm.
When I last came home and walked down to the Tube, it hit me how much you are talked down to; Don’t run! Wet surface! Please use the handrail when taking the stairs! Take your belongings with you when you leave the train! Mind the gap! We’re terribly sorry for the inconvenience this delay may cause to your journey! Caution! This hot coffee which you just bought may be hot!
I think the Slovaks have got it right. There is none of that here. The attitude is that only a moron doesn’t know how to walk down a staircase, or watch out for a slippery floor. If you leave something on the train here, it‘s your own stupid fault. And everyone knows Coffee is hot.
Non-alcoholic beer is almost non-existent in the UK. I think the only well known brand is Kaliber, and from what I remember it tastes terrible. I think it’s never flourished because it’s only drunk under duress, by alcoholic beer drinkers who have been told by the doctor to go cold turkey, or Dad’s who slip a disc during some ambitious DIY and can’t mix booze with their painkillers.
I was shocked how good non-alcoholic beer is in Slovakia. The different brands fill half an aisle in the supermarket. All the big beers here have a non-alcoholic equivalent, and it tastes pretty good too. I think there is such a wide range because Slovakia has a zero tolerance to drink driving. If you’re caught with even the tiniest trace in your blood it’s a serious offence.
3. Making Beds.
I don’t mean the construction of frames and mattresses. I mean the thing you do every morning. Back in blighty a double or single bed tends to have one duvet which is laid flat, smoothed out and pulled up to cover the pillows. In Slovakia, duvets are neatly folded in half with the fold to one side, and a double bed tends to have two single duvets which are folded the same way. I’ve noticed this staying with friends, in penzions, even hotels. This minor difference didn’t strike me until I saw in two Slovak films this week the characters made the beds in the exact same way. Why do Slovaks make a bed differently to the British? Why are there fewer double duvets? Nature or nurture? Hmmm. I have no answer to this. Please, if anyone can enlighten me?
4. The Lidl Effect.
Lidl stores in Slovakia are a completely different kettle of fish to the ones in the UK. Lidl UK is often the place you go to surreptitiously for a few bits. Many a posh person I know scuttles guiltily in for that pack of ten sponges and toilet duck and denies they’ve been there if you catch them in the car park. In Slovakia Lidl is a much stronger brand with completely different products and a wonderful range of fruit and veg. You can do your weekly shop there without feeling like a student. Lidl runs classy television and print advertising, it also sponsors major films on TV. Although I still can’t quite buy the phrase, “Lidl Movie Premiere”
5. Driving Lessons.
If you learn to drive in Slovakia you first have to test your mettle in a computer simulator before you’re plonked behind a steering wheel. I would have much preferred this instead of being dropped in it on a housing estate, with a nervous driving instructor barking at me to do a three point turn before I knocked over several wheelie bins. Sadly it’s the done thing to give complete novices control of two tons of moving metal and let them loose in public.
It makes sense to use a simulator. They don’t stick trainee pilots in planes without simulator training, why should cars be any different?
6. Eating Offal.
The Slovaks are much less squeamish about tucking into a pile of offal. Liver, heart, or kidney is oft cooked at home and seen far more in restaurants. It’s also prepared beautifully. I was very squeamish when I first came here but was introduced to the pleasures of fried chicken livers with mash and a cold beer, Liver dumplings in a light noodle soup or dripping (Yes dripping!) Eaten on bread with a little sea salt with sliced tomato and spring onion. Delicious.
7. Public Toilets.
Public toilets in Slovakia are well kept and plentiful, but you pretty much always have to pay. Similar to home, you’d think. However, there is a price difference depending what you need to do… Once you get over this, it makes sense, but it’s rather embarrassing when you have to call out (the Hajzel Baba, Slovak slang for toilet attendant, tends to be a deaf old lady) if you want a number one or a number two. In some places there is even a communal toilet paper holder and you have to take what you need before you go in, under the hawkish gaze of the deaf old Hajzel Baba.
8. Feeding bones to your dog.
I’m not talking about the nicely shaped pre-manufactured bones bought in a pet shop, but proper bones. The carcass of a chicken, or duck, some ribs, or a leg of pork.
Everyone I know in the UK has a fit if a dog accidentally gets hold of a real bone. I’ve known my mother to launch herself across the kitchen with the vim and vigour of a woman half her age if the dog steals a rogue chicken leg. Watching people with their dogs here I’ve discovered that they (the dogs that is) can chew, swallow and digest bones with no probs, and everyone here feeds their dog leftover bones.
Dogs in the wild don’t hang around for someone to buy them a nice generic moulded bone from Pets At Home, why should our pets be any different?
So there we have a few subtle differences, I am sure I will think of many more, and if you have any of your own please leave me a comment or send me a message
Hoštice has a population of 171 people and can be driven through in a flash. So why drive eight hours to visit?
I have written about the films in a previous post. You could liken them to the British Carry On films, but the quality is far superior and only three were ever made. The films are still shown at primetime on the main terrestrial TV channels here, Slunce, seno, erotika was shown the second night we stayed.
The films follow the fortunes and misfortunes of the villagers of Hoštice during the tail end of the Communist era. They are beautifully written and feature true to life characters, the fey Vicar attended to by the gossipy Spinsters of the village. The overbearing matriarch Skopkova (played by the awesome Helena Růžičková) stuck with her lazy fat husband, slutty daughter, naughty son and mad mother, who spends her days bedridden outside in a bed on wheels.. There is a woman who influences the weather by singing from her window each morning, a train which never stops at Hoštice because its running late, so passengers are forced to jump off as it passes. Most notably, a group of wedding guests with a china tea service and an old woman who has a broken leg.
The weather was perfect and we visited all the famous locations from the films. The train station. The pub, which still has the same red curtains hanging in the bar, even though the last film was made in 1991, and the many houses seen in the films.
The Writer/Director of the films is Zdeněk Troška. He was born in Hoštice and took inspiration from his surroundings to make the films. What struck me is that the Hoštice seen in the films, however cartoonish, is the real Hoštice. Even though there were small groups of tourists milling around taking photographs, villagers ambled up the sleepy lanes with trolleys full of firewood, old ladies in their flowery housecoats and turbans stood gossiping and in the pub villagers sat chatting in the haze of smoke whilst stills from the films hung on the wall showing much the same.
It was life-imitating art imitating life. The lines blurred further, when we walked to the top of the village to see the house where Zdeněk Troška still lives.
Cheekily we thought we would ring the bell on the gate outside and see if he was in. We were shocked when he came ambling out of his house, greeted us with warmth, and even spent half an hour talking and posing for photos.
Could you imagine travelling to New York, ringing Woody Allen’s bell, and him popping out to talk about his films?
He was kind enough to recommend a walk we could do, up to a small bench overlooking the village and surrounding hills.