Why Slovak?

February 23, 2019 § 3 Comments

That’s what the teacher asked, suspiciously, as I sat at the table. “It must be love,” she surmised, by which I think she meant “You are trolling for young girls.”

I didn’t care. One of the harsh facts of trying to learn Slovak, aside from the conviction of native speakers that you never will, is the profound distrust that an interest in such a niche language engenders. I had my well-practiced answer, though, designed to drive the inquisitor insane. “I don’t really have a reason.”

“But surely you must have a reason. Some girl perhaps?”

“Perhaps,” I said, “but not.”

That no salacious details were forthcoming, the next disappointed line of inquiry was trotted out. “So you need it for your work?”


“What do you do?”

“I’m a lawyer who represents bicyclists hit by cars.”

This was almost as suspect, and certainly as dissatisfying as refusing to admit that I wanted a Slovak girlfriend. “Are you living in Slovakia now?”


“Where are you living?”


“And you are staying here in Bratislava on vacation?”


“You are working here?”


If you could measure exasperation, which with blood pressure I guess you can, she would have been pegging out on the exasperometer. “Where are you staying then, and why?”

“In Vienna.”



“Then why are you coming to Slovakia?”

“To study Slovak.”

“But how long you are here?”

“About four hours.”

“You cannot learn Slovak in four hours.”

“I know. But all I want to do is study. That’s why I hired you.”

“And then you go back to Vienna and come back here again on Sunday and study with me for four more hours?”


“And then what? I am married.”

“That’s all. I go back to Vienna.”

The teacher pushed the chair back and held my gaze. “You can tell me,” she said. “Why you are studying Slovak? Are you American spy?”

“If I were I wouldn’t tell you, or if I did, I would be a pretty terrible spy.”

“You are spy in love with young girl.”

“No, and no. Can we start our lesson now?”

“Yes but you must tell me truth. Why you are studying Slovak?”

“You really want to know?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Because Slovakia is a one-hour bus ride from Vienna.”

“This does not make sense.”

“You didn’t say it had to.”

“Why it makes a difference how close it is? No one speaks Slovak. You see? We are here at Cambridge English School in Bratislava. Everyone learn English. If you want Slovak lessons, that is very strange.”

“Everyone in Slovakia appears to speak Slovak, like Peter Sagan. And you’re a Slovak teacher, so presumably I’m not the first student. And you brought a textbook, Krizom-Krazom, that probably wasn’t published just for me.”

“Yes, of course there are such students but they are proper students with visa and girlfriend. You are old man with no girlfriend and no visa, only studying Slovak and strange hat. Why?”

“Because it is close to Vienna.”

“Why Vienna?”

“My son and his wife live there.”

“But Austrian speaks German, and your son lives there, not here, and he is speaking English to you anyway. Why are you not learning German?”

“I already learned as much of it as my brain will hold.”

“So you are merely interested in Slovak because it is close? But are you so often in Vienna?”

“No. Twice a year, max.”

“Then how can you use this Slovak you are spending so greatly time and money to learn?”

“If you would start the lesson, I’d be using it right now.”

“We will start, we will start. Soon. Have you another teacher?”


“A pretty girl?”


“Ah-hah! So you are in love with her! And you come to Bratislava to learn Slovak to talk with her better?”

“No. She lives in a little village far from here and teaches me on the Internet. She is a professional. I came to Bratislava to get some live practice instead of taking lessons over the Internet all the time.”

“You can tell her you love her. Slovak girl will not get angry.”

“I don’t love her. She is my teacher. She has been in a serious relationship for ten years. She is 25 years my junior. I am married and a grandfather.”

“It is okay. Slovak girl will not get angry when you confess such love as bringing you from all the way in California for your wooing.”

“Can we please start the lesson? I have to catch the bus back to Vienna at 1:40.”

“Thank you for telling me about your secret love. It is very pretty story. Can you count to ten?”


“Okay, please begin.”

“Jeden, dva, tri …”



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