The truth about living in Slovakia … according to a half-Japanese Canadian girl

Spending a year living in Slovakia was one of the most interesting experiences of my travelling life (I was living in Bratislava – but got to explore much of the rest of the country too!). Before I arrived I didn’t even really know where it was (I’d been hired to teach in Prague and the school sent me to Bratislava at the last minute instead), but once there I made amazing friends, began to understand what it was like to live in a nation emerging from socialism, and even learnt how to make snowmen properly. I was quickly very glad they’d had jobs in Bratislava instead, and loved living and working in Slovakia: the cost of living in Slovakia was a little lower than in Prague, Bratislava was even more central (I could see Austria and Hungary from my window!) and it was a much more unique experience – in fact, my daily life in Slovakia was wonderful!

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The truth about living in Slovakia

(Gorgeous images from Naomi at AlmostBananas.net)

Introducing Naomi, a blogger in Slovakia

Since then, I’m always keen to talk Slovakia, and a while back Naomi from Almost Bananas got in touch with me because, as she rightly pointed out, not that many people blog about Slovakia. She now lives in rural Slovakia with her Slovak husband and four kids, but she’s originally from Canada and her father is Japanese, giving her a great mix of cultures and an outlook on life that definitely fits with mine. I wanted to introduce you to her and her blog, and to learn a whole lot more about Slovakia life – which is truly a country that should be on your must-visit list.

The benefits of a multicultural upbringing

Amanda: You have a great cultural mix: you’re half Japanese, you grew up in Canada, and now you’re living in Slovakia. What do you think have been the biggest life lessons for you by being exposed to all these different cultures?

Naomi: Being open about different ways of doing things, different ways of looking at the world. Not to write off something because it’s different from what I know. It also gave me a greater appreciation for traditions and cultures from all over the world – clothes, music, food, agriculture, geography, etc. fascinate me. I also love trying new food. It sounds superficial, but I am always surprised at how many people will only eat food they already know and aren’t willing to try something new.

Amanda: I don’t think your point about food is superficial at all – you’re absolutely right and I think it extends beyond food to new experiences in general. I know I’m always trying to introduce my son to foods from different places and to talk about how they fit in with the culture, climate and more. It also gives people another reason to travel – my son can’t wait to go to Mexico because he loves tacos and nachos so much!

On Slovak food

Amanda: I love reading your posts about Slovak food, because it takes me back to my time in Bratislava. Many of my readers won’t have any idea about what Slovak food is like, though – could you describe it for them? It’s an important part of life in Slovakia today!

Naomi: Slovak food is hearty comfort food. Potatoes and yeast doughs, sweet and savoury, are prevalent. The most classic Slovak dish is a shepherd’s specialty, bryndzové halušky (bryn-dzo-ve ha-lush-ky), potato dumplings with a soft sheep’s cheese that tastes somewhat like feta. I made something like it with cauliflower, adapted with feta so those outside Slovakia can also make it.

Bryndzove (or Feta) Cauliflower

Naomi’s amazing bryndzove (or feta) cauliflower (from almostbananas.net)

A favourite of mine is strapačky (stra-pach-ky), potato dumplings baked with sauerkraut and bacon. I usually make mine with just potatoes, because it’s less work. Slovaks also use all parts of the animal, which I appreciate as it is more nutritious and makes for less waste. I recorded the process of a traditional zabíjačka (za-bee-yach-ka), a backyard pig butchering.

Amanda: Great overview. I do remember eating many a bowlful of bryndzové halušky during my time in Bratislava, and it was an especially good comfort food in that long winter. The pig butchering would be a bit hard for me to stomach (I was brought up vegetarian) but I love the tradition of it as a family event.

Settling in to life in Slovakia

Amanda: When you were first moving to Slovakia, what was the most difficult thing about settling in there and what did you learn about daily life in Slovakia?

Naomi: Language. When I came here I didn’t speak any Slovak beyond “Do you speak English?” Slavic languages are so different from the languages I had learned or grew up hearing that at first Slovak was just a barrage of sound. The other hard thing was just being in such a different setting – I grew up in the wilds of the Canadian Rockies and then spent the first few years in Slovakia in the post-Communist grey apartments of Bratislava. And due to my work, it was hard to make friends. It was a bit lonely, at first.

Amanda: I can completely relate to the difficulties of learning Slovak! I tried very hard during my year there (and took lessons for six months) but I really only know a few words and phrases now.

Museum of Slovak Villages, Martin, SK

Museum of Slovak Villages, Martin (from almostbananas.net)

Reverse culture shock in Canada

Amanda: You mentioned once that you realised you experience reverse culture shock when you visit Canada these days. What do you notice about Canada now that you hadn’t noticed when you were growing up there?

Naomi: Everything is so big. Massive houses, huge trucks, so many toys (snowmobiles, ATVs, etc, etc). It wasn’t unusual in the area where I grew up to have an acreage, and now that seems like such a wealthy amount of land. Also, the last time I went to Canada I started getting nervous when I was out with some friends drinking, and they had to drive afterwards. They didn’t have much, but in Slovakia there is a strict 0% blood alcohol level when driving and, as nobody wants to lose their license over a beer, there is high compliance.

One aspect of Canada I really enjoy when I go back is the friendliness, like when the gas station attendant smiles and wishes you a good evening. Last time it came as a pleasant shock. I also find myself wondering at the automatic change in use of English when I go back – suddenly my vocabulary includes a lot of slang!
Amanda: I had the same experience of friendliness when I returned to Australia from Germany! Sometimes I wonder if it is kind of superficial to chat (about nothing, really) to the people we meet in our daily life, but I concluded that I do prefer it.

Martin, Slovakia

Typically gorgeous Slovak landscape, near Martin, Slovakia (from almostbananas.net)

Where to go in Slovakia

Amanda: Last question – tell me about your favourite place in Slovakia and why we should all go there!

Naomi: Just one??

There are amazing castles, fascinating caves, and beautiful landscapes in Slovakia, but my favourite is a small town in the North under the looming Tatra Mountains. There are probably a number of villages like this, all over Northern/Central/Eastern Slovakia. I guess it’s my favourite because people are still carrying out their traditional way of life, in many respects, when a busy money-oriented style of life seems to dominate.

A cowherd goes out with the cows all day, and at 5 o’clock the cows walk through the village on their own, turning at their gate. Horses and wagons head out to the fields in the hills behind the village, as farmers scythe grass by hand or toss loose hay into a wagon. Children in gumboots lead a cow on a chain. Each yard usually houses a number of chickens, a pig or too, maybe a couple sheep or goats. Across the valley is a salaš, a milk sheep farm, with a shepherd watching the sheep as they roam the meadows. Shepherds wake at an ungodly hour to milk them, often by hand, and then make various cheeses in little more than wooden shacks. The older women still dress up in traditional costume for daily Mass, and almost everybody dons a kroj for special occasions.

Banská Štiavnica, an old mining town, is another favourite. Steep cobblestone streets navigate through historical buildings, there is a great fine arts scene, and it’s set among wooded hills.

Amanda: I remember visiting Banská Štiavnica too – what a gorgeous town. I think you probably need to meet a local to discover the small farming villages you describe, but what a great experience. Slovak culture as it has been for centuries, I guess. Just another reason I found Slovakia a nice place to live.

Your questions about Slovakia

Have you been to Slovakia, or ever thought of going? I highly recommend it, and you can see that Naomi does too. Leave your questions about living in Slovakia, daily life in Slovakia today, and your questions on if Slovakia is a good place to live, or even visiting Slovakia, in the comments and we’ll help encourage you to go! And don’t forget to find out more by following Naomi at her Almost Bananas blog, I always enjoy reading it.

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Comments

  1. Sounds like an interesting old-fashioned country. Never thought of visiting it, but who knows, maybe one day…
    I can just imagine that the language would be hard to learn, it’s just so different!

    • It’s definitely not all old-fashioned, it’s a really interesting mix. Great place! And very close to lots of other parts of Europe (Vienna and Bratislava are the closest capital cities in the world, I believe!) – definitely have a look some day!

  2. Thanks so much for having me, Amanda!

    Sami, Slovakia is an interesting juxtaposition of many of the old traditions still being carried out and at the same time embracing everything modern, as if catching up to western Europe will validate it. I really hope as a nation they are able to appreciate and hang on to those old traditions in the pursuit for economic stability.
    Yes, come visit!

  3. Sounds amazing and I agree about the food – I think that’s a metaphor in general for trying new things. I have been to Kosice but unfortunately, that is all. That will change some day I am sure 🙂

  4. We lived for one and a half year in Bratislava and Slovaka is a really nice country for people who want to experience and travel around. Can only agree that the language was a problem until you found people who spoke english. Really good food as well, especially the garlic soup 🙂

  5. Denise Uderian says

    Hi Naomi! I live in Canada, but I have family in Slovakia. I honestly love it there so much! The food is amazing and the culture too. And the countryside is just beautiful! You were right when you said the language is not easy. I don’t go to Slovakia that often, because I live in Canada, so I speak English in Canada, and that makes me forget some stuff in Slovak. And it’s not easy when I go to Slovakia again and try to start speaking again.
    Also, what was that town you mentioned that was under the Tatras?
    Thanks!

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