Corruption comes as no surprise
Reports of police corruption come as no surprise to anybody familiar with Slovakia ["Name tags for police decried as anti-corruption weapon" by Martina Pisárová, Vol.7 No. 19 May 14-20]. Nor is it limited to the police.
Doctors and other medical professionals exploit ordinary people.
If people want better treatment a bribe from a patient will guarantee it. A thousand crowns in a doctor's pocket is a heavy burden for people whose wages are disgustingly low.
I have also heard many of those horror stories while living in Slovakia and I don't challenge them. Many people that get caught for drunk driving are quite happy with the option to bribe their way out of trouble.
Nevertheless, my personal experiences with Slovak police are good. I have paid justified fines without being forced into bribery.
A Slovak policeman once changed my flat tyre and refused to accept even a tip. In Poland bribery is much more wide-spread. I always had to negotiate towards a reasonable settlement.
These "friendly people" aren't always welcome
Years ago we were shopping in New York at some expensive stores (my wife likes nice things) and I remember how offended we felt when being addressed as "folks" [re: "Culture Shock: A bare-bones approach to pleasantries" by Matthew J. Reynolds Vol. 7 No. 20 May 21-27]. I mean, I'm leaving this place $500 lighter, and you call us folks?
I must say, after decades living here, I still find it irksome when called "buddy" or "my friend" etc.
I decided to be frank when greeted in the morning "hi, how are you, working hard?" sometimes I answer "hi, no, I'm never working hard. I just work, thank you". I could see somewhat embarrassed or even irritated facial expressions in response, asking "what's wrong with you?"
Of course, having said that, Americans are truly the most polite, generous and friendly people.
We just came back with our grandson from Disneyland in Anaheim, and both me and my wife didn't fail to comment that our trip was wonderful not in the least because of 'these so friendly' people.
What else can we do but agree with you?
My wife and I just returned from three weeks in Slovakia and had just about the best times of our lives while there. I can agree fully with your comment "gorgeous natural and historic surroundings set amid a tolerant European culture" as one of the many attractions of the country [Editorial: Boosting Tourism: Another season passes by, Vol. 7, No. 20, May 21-27].
I am a bit ambivalent however about the whole process of promoting tourism. Yes, we found that there was relatively little information available at hotels, train stations and bus depots in English for visitors, and English speaking staff were definitely in the minority at hotels, post offices and the like, and indeed, the main impression on arrival at any town was one of local people going about their daily affairs.
This, to our mind, was part of the charm of the country. We brought a dictionary and simple grammar text, gleaned what we could from the relatively scanty travel guides available, bought the local maps, and struck out on our own.
It was fun using the train schedules at stations, or deciphering the bus schedule with those famous subscripts, attempting to puzzle out the directions on signs.
People were certainly tolerant of our minimal Slovak and high-school German. We were able to arrange accommodation and eat and drink to our heart's content without a cadre of English-speaking attendants.
Whenever we really had a hard time, there often was someone with some degree of facility in English to assist us. So, our trip was an adventure and lots of fun. Perhaps this might not appeal to everyone, but we didn't find the availability or not of English a big deal.
More information at hotels and stations on local attractions a la the American penchant for flyers, brochures, etc. is probably not a bad idea, but once again, we found looking for interesting sights one of our pleasures.
Finding that we were left to ourselves on arrival, and that most everyone was going about their usual business, was just fine with us as well. I think we got to experience day to day life in the country as much as possible for someone with the limited time and language abilities we had. Anyway, those are our impressions.
As a final comment - we used your annual travel guide extensively for accommodation and for planning our itinerary. The language glossary (food in particular) received a good workout.
Unfortunately it was the 1998-1999 issue, sent to us by the US embassy. I'd suggest they stock the latest issue for distribution. We also bought the Spectator at newsstands during our stay. I would support your efforts to advertise your publications for English speaking travellers with various outlets in Slovakia since we relied on print materials so much given our limited Slovak.
Final, final comment. Care in your "worst of the worst" column. Not a bad idea, but not easy to carry off.
Nové Zámky made it into the "bottom 5" which we only noted with some dismay on the plane to Budapest - we had chosen it as our first stop because it was close to Budapest with good train connections and the name was suitably exotic. As it turned out, the town was a great intro to Slovakia and we stayed longer than planned initially.
We had beaucoup fun and will be back next spring. What else can we say?
and Jean Martin
28. May 2001 at 0:00