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SLOVAK MATTERS

Making the right call

IT'S always been my belief there are gremlins in telephones, whose aim in life is to garble messages (prekrútiť odkazy), especially when delivered in a foreign language (cudzí jazyk). If they work hard they might even get promoted to work in an answering machine (záznamník), where they can have even more fun.
I was therefore shocked to discover that there is no Slovak word for gremlin. The nearest word my dictionaries and colleagues can offer is škriatok, which is closer in meaning to "imp". I guess that means I can only blame myself.
But perhaps the problem is not simply about gremlins, and is more to do with linguistic and cultural differences. For example, when a Slovak tells you that máš telefón (lit. you have a telephone), they are not expressing amazement at your modernity, but simply letting you know that you have a caller on the line.

IT'S always been my belief there are gremlins in telephones, whose aim in life is to garble messages (prekrútiť odkazy), especially when delivered in a foreign language (cudzí jazyk). If they work hard they might even get promoted to work in an answering machine (záznamník), where they can have even more fun.

I was therefore shocked to discover that there is no Slovak word for gremlin. The nearest word my dictionaries and colleagues can offer is škriatok, which is closer in meaning to "imp". I guess that means I can only blame myself.

But perhaps the problem is not simply about gremlins, and is more to do with linguistic and cultural differences. For example, when a Slovak tells you that máš telefón (lit. you have a telephone), they are not expressing amazement at your modernity, but simply letting you know that you have a caller on the line.

When you telephone (telefónovať) someone, call (zavolať) them, or simply give them a ring (brnknúť), it is worth knowing a few of the differences. My own early attempts at telephone conversations were amusing (zábavný) for my colleagues and confusing (mätúci) for my callers.

You should always start by saying who you are, even when you know you're going to be transferred several times before you reach the person you want or need to speak to: "Dobrý deň. Pat Jones, spoločnosť ACME. Mohol (Mohla) by som hovoriť s pánom Rudolfom Schusterom alebo pani Irenou Schusterovou? (Hello. Pat Jones, ACME company, could I speak to Mr Rudolf Schuster or Mrs Irena Schusterová?)."

And of course, answering the phone requires the same, although I've found that Slovaks often seem to start answering the phone before they've actually picked up the receiver and stop mid-sentence, so instead of "Dobrý deň. ACME, Eva Kováčová pri telefóne, prosím! (lit. Hello. Eva Kováčová at the telephone, please!), you often end up with hearing simply ...čová, prosím!"

With any luck you'll be transferred (prepojený) to the right person. However, there is always the possibility that the line will be engaged (obsadená) or will simply go unanswered.

Be warned that there are certain times of the day when that is much more likely to happen. Phoning offices between 12:00 and 13:30 or after 15:00 is rarely successful. The best time is normally between 08:00 and 10:00. And phoning after midday on a Friday is only for the optimistic (optimistický) or masochistic (masochistický).

At the end of the phone call, you should politely finish with "Ďakujem za rozhovor/informáciu (thank you for the conversation/information)" and bid the other person goodbye.

This gets a little complicated, and none of my Slovak colleagues agree on the best method. While some of them say that you should always finish with do počutia (until hearing you), others give more complex advice: Use do počutia unless you will see the person soon (or have just arranged to meet them), in which case use dovidenia (until seeing you). Confused? So am I, and it gets worse: If you are talking to a complete stranger you will never see or hear again, it appears to be up to you which one you choose!

Informal conversations are much easier. Most people answer with a simple, "Prosím". When making the call you should still start with an introduction: "Ahoj, tu je Pat. (Hi, it's Pat)", although in these days of caller ID you'll often find people starting a conversation with simply "Ahoj, to som ja (Hi, it's me)". The end of the conversation often gets shortened to simply dovi or dopo, or the more familiar čauko! (bye!)

With that in mind dovi to anyone I'll see this week, dopo to anyone I'll speak to, and do čítania (until reading) to everyone else.


Useful phrases


I'm calling about...
Volám ohľadom...

Is this the right number for ACME company?
Dovolal som sa správne do spoločnosti ACME?

You have the wrong number.Máte zlé číslo.

I'm transferring you now ...Prepájam vás ...

I'm not disturbing you, am I?
Neruším vás?

Do you have a moment?
Máte chvíľu čas?

Hello, you have called number 123456. Please leave a message after the tone.
Dobrý deň, zavolali ste na telefónne číslo 123456. Po dlhom tóne zanechajte prosím odkaz.

Slovak Matters is a regular column devoted to helping expats and foreigners understand the beautiful but difficult Slovak language.

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