Soon after arriving at our first ball (ples, from plesať, to enjoy oneself) together in Slovakia my wife and I found ourselves in a crush around the wine bar (pri vínovom pulte). We clutched our tiny tester glasses of riesling above the shoulders of the throng and grimaced at familiar faces in the crowd. I had a cigarette going, but as there were neither ashtrays provided nor any way of reaching one had I wanted, I surreptitiously ground the butt (špak, nedopalok) out on the polished floor - just as the organiser of the gathering squeezed by.
"No jasné, jasné" he said with cutting irony (but of course, of course), indicating disgust with my boorish (sedlácke) behaviour.
Not the best start to a social evening (spoločenský večer), but then I've never been good at these things. I own only one suit (oblek) that still fits me, and refuse to buy a dinner jacket (smoking) for the very good reason that I won't wear it enough to justify the expense. And I look like a fraud in a bow-tie (motýlik, lit. butterfly).
I also have a penchant for spilling (obliať) víno on guests and food (jedlo) on myself. I don't dance (tancovať) and I'm rotten at making conversation (udržiavať konverzáciu).
Still, my wife is keen on going out, if only to have an occasion (príležitosť) to buy a new dress (šaty). For this ball, the Sme newspaper bash on February 9, she had found a swanky pair of pants (nohavice) and a slinky top (košeľa) at a sale (akcia). She grizzled (breptať) good-naturedly about having to buy all her clothes at akcie, but I think she was secretly delighted to have found an original outfit (jedinečný vzhľad) with which to outshine her more frumpy (babkovské) peers.
So you will understand that I was really letting the side down (zahanbiť svojich blízkych) in being busted for throwing my špak on the floor. I resolved to mind my manners (dávať si pozor na správanie) and behave like Prince Charming (pán okúzľujúci) for the rest of the evening.
Unfortunately, people attending the ball had been separated as if by social class (trieda), with the important folk (veľké zvieratá) upstairs in the glittering ballroom, and the rest of us peons (otroci) downstairs in various nooks and crannies. We were squeezed into the brasserie, but others apparently lower on the ladder were herded into the pizzeria. One's misfortune is always easier to bear if that of others is greater, or as Slovaks say, ak mne skape koza, nech susedovi skapu dve (if my goat dies, may two of my neighbour's die).
It wasn't until well after midnight that I was able to take my wife dancing, me with my two left feet (obidve nohy ľavé) amid all the lions of the dance floor (levi parketu). By dint of huge effort I had avoided becoming tipsy (spoločensky unavený, lit. socially tired) or putting my foot in my mouth (prekecať sa). I had made up for my behaviour.
But not, unfortunately, with the event organiser, whom I glimpsed several times glowering in my direction. My ears were burning (mal som štikútku, lit. I had hiccups), so I knew he was badmouthing me as well, and wishing my goats a speedy death.
Slovak Matters is a bi-weekly column devoted to helping expats and foreigners understand the beautiful but difficult Slovak language.
The next Slovak Matters will appear on stands March 4, Vol. 8, No. 8.
18. Feb 2002 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson