Slovak is a language of love – love of food, family and ideas
Unlike Jews or other ethnic groups, Slovaks are not bound together by a single religion that preserves our cultural heritage. Instead, we are linked together simply by a shared language, and over the centuries have maintained our culture and ties to each other through the written and spoken word. Even today, Slovaks primarily live a peasant lifestyle, just as our ancestors have for the last several hundred years, growing and making food. We also have a rich intellectual heritage, with many poets, writers, philosophers, inventors and artists amongst us. Famous Slovaks include Andy Warhol, Angelina Jolie and Stefan Banic, the inventor of the parachute (a sad but typical Slovak entrepreneurial tale I will share at a later time). There are many other examples, but their names will sound unfamiliar and foreign to your ears.
Slovaks are a funny group of people, defined by two primary traits; an obsession with good food, and close knit families who like to share and celebrate everything together. Tonya and her family are in town? Meet at Diane’s tonight for dinner to celebrate. Ethan’s photographs were bought by National Geographic? Drop everything and come have dinner at Lily’s to celebrate. Jerry is back from France? Dinner’s at 6 at Milan’s. And bring your neighbors, Wilson and Pat. The more people gathered (neither family membership nor Slovak descent matter – everyone is accepted instantly), and the more food served, the better. You never know who will show up, or how many, and there is always room for one more seat at the table.
I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of the dynamic combination of people, food and exuberant ideas as a member of a large Slovak family: a noisy bunch of people who love, love, LOVE to get together to talk about ideas and to actively, VOCALLY challenge each other’s, and an enormous amount of fantastic, homemade food that seems to materialize out of nowhere. In fact, this is ALL we do over the holidays, or whenever we get together. We all talk rather loudly all at the same time, carrying on several conversations at once, we laugh constantly, and we consume vast amounts of delicious food and wine.
Other common Slovak traits that I have witnessed repeatedly are sticking up for each other, a ferocious tenacity, and a penchant for working for oneself. If any family member experiences a setback of any kind, the rest of the family is there to support them, no questions asked, providing whatever is needed. You can ALWAYS count on your family. We’re like a giant safety net for each other, and when you have something like that ready to catch you in case you fall, it frees you up to take more risks in life. And that we do, constantly creating and inventing, trying and failing, pushing on and eventually, usually succeeding, sort of.
I used to think these behaviors were unique to my family, but after researching Slovak history, I now suspect it’s genetic. For example, about 100 years ago, when Slovaks lived under Hungarian rule, the Magyars (Hungarians) banned the Slovak language on all public places including churches and schools, thinking that this would force the Slovaks to lose their cultural identity and assimilate into the Hungarian way of life. Well, it backfired. The Slovaks, royally pissed off, immediately began teaching the Slovak language and history in their homes, and the number of published Slovak books and articles soared like never before. This is quite amazing, considering that fast modes of communication like the Internet did not yet exist, most did not own phones, and 97% of Slovaks were peasants living on farms in the countryside. What the Magyars didn’t realize is that Slovaks were always getting together in their homes to eat and talk, and that their laws didn’t stand a chance. The Magyars eventually gave up, and the Slovaks were soon back on the streets chatting away freely. Don’t you dare try to shut us up.