Tourism salesmanship can't overcome rude service
Rereading some older issues of The Slovak Spectator I must say that I very much enjoyed Chris Togneri's article "Afoot in the Tatras" [Vol. 7, No. 21, May 28-June 3]. Prompted by this and the recent public holiday on July 5, I decided to take some time from a busy work schedule to visit my family staying at a cottage near Kežmarok.
Thursday saw us travelling on the gondola lift and chair lift to the ridge on Lomnický Štít and later lunching at the same Viecha Tibava restaurant mentioned in your article where I can also recommend the bryndzové halušky. We had a wonderful day out, especially for me as I have not spent as much time in the Slovak countryside as one would wish, considering the eight years I have lived here.
What concerns me however, is the incident we were witness to at the ticket counter for the lifts on Lomnický Štít. Following a wait of over an hour for the one ticket desk that was open, the gentleman in front of our group was being shouted at, in Slovak, by the employee behind the counter, who was punctuating her tirade with "Nerozumiete? Nerozumiete?" ("Don't you understand?"). She apparently had not even the basic command of any foreign language. The gentleman was obviously flustered by this attack; he simply wanted a ticket up and back to only the station "Štart", from where he would walk down. Of course he did not understand what the woman was shouting at him, he was a German tourist.
I spoke that morning to a British couple on holiday and we identified Polish, Czech, German, Austrian and Hungarian visitors simply from the number plates of their vehicles. It may seem strange to the people that administrate our tourist areas that tourists do come here. All of them help to boost the Slovak economy by spending their money. Very few can speak Slovak.
It strikes me that Slovakia's mountains, forests, spas and castles are a huge resource for tourism if exploited correctly and in a way that does not damage the ecology of the areas that we visit. I would further suggest that tourism could be a greater contributor to the nation's purse than it is now.
Perhaps the authorities that manage the Tatra region would consider the large number of students, who would be happy to work when not at university or high school and many of whom have skills in various foreign languages, as replacements for such surly staff.
Another suggestion would be to have a sign with the options of different tickets set out in different languages. Tourists could purchase the ticket/s they require, simply by indicating their choice/s. Considering the cost of the lift tickets and the number of visitors, I feel sure that these solutions would not place a huge financial strain on the lift operator.
There are of course many ways to solve problems such as these, I just think someone needs to think about it a little. After all, having travelled to a place for a day trip, often with small children and the associated stress of simply getting there, one does not wish to be confronted with unnecessarily long queues and belligerent staff.
And the German gentleman? He finally got the ticket option he wanted. I asked him his thoughts on the incident - his comment?... "I will not come here again".
In support of less political correctness
Janis Overlock of the Center for Independent Journalism, Bratislava wrote:
"In an issue of the newspaper that concentrated on Roma in the media, I was very disappointed at your choice of short news in the "Around Slovakia" section. The article "Roma kids skip school to sell sand" was really objectionable.
How many stereotypes can be crammed into one short news article? Roma sell things that don't belong to them. Roma children are truants. They learn from their parents about sick leave as a way to dodge work and school. What is the news value in this article? Would it have been as interesting if the ethnic identifier had not been used? Would you have used this same article in the American media with an ethnic identifier?
I enjoy reading The Slovak Spectator, in general. For all the good intentions of reporting on Roma in the media, though, this issue fell short."
Well, if the Roma (or were these ones Sinti? The need to come up with a politically correct name for these people is just galling! They call themselves "gypsies" anyway) behave like stereotypes of gypsies (e.g. selling things they don't own, truancy, bad parental role models), I don't see why the paper shouldn't report on it, and why we all shouldn't know about it.
Articles like these help non-Slovaks to better understand what it is like to live around the Roma, and also let them know that they need to be careful when in Slovakia. In this regard, The Slovak Spectator does everyone a valuable service by describing Slovak reality. Perhaps one less tourist will get ripped off, thereby encouraging other tourists to come to Slovakia and spend money.
So the story was certainly newsworthy, and it absolutely would not have been as good without the ethnic identification. I believe we should let everyone know the truth (in this case, the ethnicity of those committing the 'typical' "Roma" bad behaviour).
Also, imagine if Slovaks read this newspaper, and the article didn't call them gypsies. Most would just shake their heads and say, "Oh well. Gypsies are at it again." Others might think it involved Slovak children, and they would get upset and want to punish the parents. So by putting in the ethnic information, you ensure that some nice old ladies won't be complaining about the decline of Slovak parenting.
As for the question, "Would you have used this same article in the American media with an ethnic identifier?" - the answer is, of course not. The people who run the editorial rooms of major US media don't want to run such stories, in the interest of promoting "tolerance" and "diversity".
One thing I love about The Slovak Spectator is that its editors are freer of political correctness - not completely free, but much better than any major US newspaper.
16. Jul 2001 at 0:00