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Letter from the Publisher: What I will and will not miss about Slovakia

Half a dozen years remained in the last century when I moved to the city where my father was born. The only people I knew in town were my grandfather, who was sick and dying, and my grandmother, who was nursing him. I did not speak their language, I had no job and yet I had bought a one-way ticket. A friend had wept as she said goodbye. I told her: "I am just going away for a while; I am not starting a new life." Little did I know.

Half a dozen years remained in the last century when I moved to the city where my father was born. The only people I knew in town were my grandfather, who was sick and dying, and my grandmother, who was nursing him. I did not speak their language, I had no job and yet I had bought a one-way ticket. A friend had wept as she said goodbye. I told her: "I am just going away for a while; I am not starting a new life." Little did I know.

Following nearly six years in Bratislava, I am moving back to the United States this week. I do so with a bride, a deeper appreciation for my father's youth and the ability to speak his mother tongue. Yes, I had started a new life when I came to Slovakia in 1994. And now I will start another. There is much I will miss about the life I am leaving behind and a few things I will not miss.

I will miss the importance family plays in Slovaks' lives. I remember marveling at the Friday night trains out of Bratislava packed with university students going home to help their parents in the garden and around the house. Such family devotion is virtually unheard of in the US.

There are simple courtesies I find here that I will miss and others that I find lacking that I will be glad to be reacquainted with. For example, Slovaks say "goodbye" to strangers as they get off an elevator, yet no one thanks a stranger who holds a door open for them. I will miss Bratislava tram drivers who wait 10 extra seconds so that a sprinting family of four can all get on board. But I will not miss the silence and dour faces among the passengers aboard those trams.

I will miss the history and culture that adorns every Slovak town. Plaques, statues and street signs pay homage to Dubček, Štefánik, Mozart and Liszt - as well as to politicians and poets of whom I have never heard, and nor have my Slovak friends. I will yearn for the days when I looked out my bedroom window at the castle Napoleon destroyed and the catherdal where Maria Theresa was crowned.

I will miss being surrounded by so many nationalities, and yet I am happy to flee the ethnic intolerance. In my new home, I will not be within an hour's drive of three foreign countries where they speak three foreign languages. But at least I will know that public officials cannot keep their jobs if they publicly slur ethnic minorities.

I will miss having world-famous natural wonders so close. I will no longer be able to walk out my door, turn a corner and stroll along the grandest river in Europe. Nor can I take for granted that the Carpathian Mountains are at the end of the 203 trolley.

The journalist in me will miss the dynamism of a post-revolutionary country in transition. I will never forget the thrill of watching a nation hold its first democratic parliamentary elections in 1994. But I cannot comprehend the incompetence that left a nation without a president for 15 months.

I will miss the serene lack of hype. Slovakia is not (yet) a celebrity culture fawning over film stars or screaming about scandals. I have found it refreshing to ride the same city bus as Democratic Party Chairman Ján Langoš and get in line at the florist behind TV talk show hostess Iveta Malachovská. The Langošes and Malachovskás of the US do not ride city buses, nor do their own shopping - and if they did, they would surely be greeted with gawks and autograph hawks. Just as I hopped on a plane to avoid OJ-mania, I cringe at the thought of facing Hurricane Elian.

I will miss the pleasures of simple pastimes. Some of my favorite memories are of picking wild rosehips with my grandmother, roasting klobasa with friends over a campfire, and downing slivovica in a cozy chata while a friend plays guitar.

The consumer in me will not miss salespeople who make it difficult for customers to spend money. For example, the waiter who insisted it was impossible to order only french fries; that I must order them as a side order to a main course. Then, when I opted for nothing and my dining companion suddenly added fries to his order, the waiter said, "No, no... I know what you are trying to do." He shares a place in my memory with the woman who refused to sell me a deck of cards because, according to her, all games required two decks.

I will miss the unpredictability of things that I had grown up thinking never change. During my first three years in Slovakia, I had three different home phone numbers - and I never changed apartments! In contrast, I am moving back to the country where my relatives still answer the same phone number they did a quarter century ago.

Slovakia, for all that I will not miss, there is plenty more that I will. I promise to visit again.

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