Your article, "Slovak hotels re-think higher rates for tourists," [By Chris Togneri, Vol. 4 No. 28, Nov. 23 to 29] brought back a flood of memories for me.
Our first trip to Czechoslovakia was in 1984, an eye-opening experience for a family with teenagers from middle-class America. Of course, we experienced the obvious restrictions on personal freedoms that we and our children took for granted at home, but we also saw the full spectrum of human graciousness from the native Slovaks, ranging from unbelievable warmth, friendship, and helpfulness towards strangers (not a surprise, as we had been raised to understand that was a cultural thing for Slovaks). This cultural warmth contrasted with the corruption of the traffic police and the greed shown by various businesses in having two-tier pricing systems for their native/foreign customers.
Subsequent trips to Slovakia came soon after its independence. The many changes that had occured were immediately apparent to us. Unfortunately, the one thing that did not change was the mentality toward the foreign guest. The two-tier pricing system continued to flourish.
Several times, I have tried to express my revulsion at this practice to an understanding Slovak host, but each time I noticed the glazed eyes, the complete lack of comprehension. Somehow, the concept of gouging a customer because they had the means of surviving the experience did not seem unfair to the Slovak national. Always, the rebuttal was that the native Slovak could not afford to enjoy his birthright if they had to pay the same rate as the foreigner. Always, the point of view held that "foreigners can afford it."
To Slovakia's credit, nobody ever claimed that their business relied on the higher prices charged the foreigner and that it would fail if the same price were charged as to a native. Indeed, the proportion of foreign guests at that time was so small as to be insignificant in the overall scheme of things. The two-tier pricing practice was nothing more than an irritant... and a disgrace for an otherwise gracious people.
My parents emigrated to America during the Great Depression. They came with no material goods, but possessed a strong work-ethic and a sense of living by the Golden Rule. We grew up as poor children in that home, knowing of the riches contained in our parents' new homeland, but unable to enjoy them personally because we didn't have money to spend on travel and other such luxuries.
Nonetheless, we didn't feel deprived when we were told that only wealthy people stayed in hotels, only wealthy people attended world-class concerts, only wealthy people visited spas and resorts. We didn't feel we needed special pricing treatment because we had an extended network of other Slovak-Americans that opened their homes for an overnight visit or a short vacation. We didn't feel deprived because we could listen to world-class concerts on phonographs or tapes, or watch them on television. We didn't feel deprived at not being able to visit expensive spas and resorts because going to the beach, or down to the park, or for a walk in the woods was free, something we could all enjoy regardless of our pocketbooks.
We are extremely pleased to see that the two-tier pricing system is counting its days in modern Slovakia. It will be a great pleasure to see one of the last vestiges of the old, stifling, immoral communist system be discarded. We expect it will be replaced by a new mentality, one of optimism and hope in building a greater, happier Slovakia than the rest of the world has ever seen. Certainly, we'll be there cheering them on!
14. Dec 1998 at 0:00