Arriving in Bratislava, Slovakia, we were confronted with a language barrier, since this was the first country we’ve visited where we didn’t understand the language, except Ireland. This was a challenge at first, since we misunderstood the desk clerk’s instructions for which direction we wanted to go on the tram. It wasn’t his fault, since his English was perfect, but when we got to the stop, we had to ask the man there the direction to old town, and he didn’t speak English.

When the man at the tram stop started speaking Slovak, God help me but I answered, “Si.” Yes, you can laugh at me, since we’ve been laughing about it since then, but Amy had just done the same thing, and we were both reminded of the story of her grandfather in Munich answering, “Si, si,” to everything said to him in German. To further my defense, two days later, when I helped a Slovak woman lift her heavy bag onto the tram, she first spoke to me in Slovak. She sat near us and heard us speaking English, and as she left the tram, and I helped her again, she thanked me. In German. I really think when someone is speaking to you in a language you don’t understand, you respond in whatever your second language is, no matter how badly you speak it (maybe because you speak it badly). Especially if the language the person is speaking is Slovak, which has whole words and phrases with no vowels, and the first pronunciation guide in our guidebook was rendered as “gde.” How exactly would you pronounce that?

Stare Mesto, the old town of Bratislava, was beautiful. The first evening was a bit cloudy and cool, the town unfamiliar, and the language unintelligible. By the second day it felt more familiar, the sun was shining, we could hear people saying “Yes” in Slovak, and even recognize a few printed words, such as Saturday and strawberry (stopping a half dozen times the first two days for gelato, Coke, and coffee helped with the latter.)

We had no agenda, no list of things to see (although we did a short trip to Devin Castle, which was fun) and it was a wonderful, leisurely time. We don’t feel a great need to go back to Bratislava, but we were quite content and enjoyed ourselves immensely. This morning, we bought tickets on a boat to Vienna (where I write this), and cruised up the Danube. Not a bad start to the holidays.

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