I thought I was being ultra-responsible, dropping into work after a 24-hour journey from Costa Rica, offering to help out the office drudges. Hair even greasier than normal, clothes stained with airplane food and baby drool, beard about a foot too long.
"Whoaaaah," a colleague said as I stumbled in the door like the Last Survivor. "Put on a little weight, didn't ya?"
Less a question than an observation. Try as you might with loose fitting clothes, excess weight (nadváha) is tough to hide. Whether you're plain obese (obézny) simply enormous (mohutný) or just tubby (tuki), Slovakia is an uncomfortable place to be, among all those skinny (štíhly) locals.
It's down to food and beer, whether prepared here in fine fatty (mastný) style or consumed in Costa Rica in unusual quantities with your mother presiding. Fuj, ja som sa prežral (damn, I'm stuffed) has been my post-prandial cry since arriving in Slovakia in 1995. But even the slimmest of expats is bound to gain a few pounds (pribrať pár kíl) after a few months in Slovakia, mopping up loaves of fried cheese, double fried potatoes and tartar sauce (vyprážaný syr s dvojitou porciou opekaných 0zemiakov a tatárskou) with yet another beer (ešte ďalšie pivo).
But what makes it particularly difficult to endure is the absence of company. In Costa Rica, where they add sugar even to ground coffee, you can expect that most pedestrians over 12 years are waddling (čaptať) worse than you. Let's not even mention the comfort of a visit to a shopping mall in mid-western USA.
Countries where being chubby means being one of the gang have evolved caring support systems for their weight-afflicted citizens, such as Biggs restaurants in the US where you get twice the meal and see some truly awesome examples of human corpulence. Costa Ricans call their many fatties 'el gordo', the fat one, but seem to reserve 'el gordon', the king of fat, for resident Slovak expats who walk the streets with their trouser buttons perforce undone. "Whoaaaah."
In Slovakia, ty si tučný ako prasa (you're fat as a pig) makes no concessions to the full-bodied (plnoštíhly, lit. fully thin, a sly irony). Nor do tučný ako dyňa (fat as a melon) or tučný ako pampúch (fat as a pastry). My least favourite so far is tučný ako stavaná skriňa (fat as a built-in wardrobe).
Men seem to fare the worst, from bachratý (big-bellied) to guľatý (roly-poly), tučniak (lit. penguin) and tučibomba (used by small children). On hearing pozri, ako mu to sádlo prevísa (look how his belly is poking over his belt) you may prefer the more elegant el gordon. Toľko slaniny pokope som ešte nevidel (I never saw so much bacon in one pile) evokes similar feelings. Ah yes, hora tuku (mountain of fat).
Given that Slovakia is a drinking culture you can excuse your belly by calling it a pivný mozol (beer blister) or pivný sval (beer muscle). But you're out of luck if you have šunky (rings of fat, especially around the legs).
Women have it better, from bacuľka (for young girls who are chubby but still cute) to moletná (a kinder form of fatso). But cellulite is still celulitida.
At about this point, if you are a mastniak (grease-ball) like me, you may be vowing to lose weight (schudnúť). You can choose to go on a diet (držať diétu) or fast (pôst, držat hladovku), but if you're in Slovakia, there are really no words to express a desire for less fatty food. Nemáte niečo ľahké (don't you have anything light) is coming into vogue, but it still could also mean just half a piece of fried cheese rather than the whole thing.
But whatever diet you choose here it's likely to end in a pig-out (the approximate verb is nažrať, with žrať being a slightly vulgar form of jesť, to eat; Slovak still has nothing that captures the volume of intake you witness at Biggs). If it's losing weight you're after, you're almost better off taking up smoking, and getting with the game.
If there's any consolation, it's in a study which found that Slovaks and Americans, appearances notwithstanding, have virtually the same rates of obesity. The difference is that in Slovakia the condition afflicts largely people over 40, who are home scoffing bryndzové pirohy v másle (sheep cheese pirogy in butter), rather than strutting about, vychrdnutý (twiggy-thin), and making life difficult for us penguins.
4. Feb 2002 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson