SOMEONE, let's just call him a friend of mine, recently planned a weeklong trip for his family through the High and West Tatras. During this trip, the appeal of passing over to the Polish part of the ranges proved too strong. What are borders but pesky lines on a map to tourists from the United States?
My friend claimed he didn't think it was illegal, but somehow they must have felt a little bit guilty (previnilý) about crossing the border, and hoped they wouldn't be caught in the act (chytení pri čine). However, when they came down over the ridge that divides the countries, they ran right into two border guards. They were in trouble, but at least they didn't have butter on their heads (mať maslo na hlave).
Though similar to having egg on your face, having butter on your head is not quite the same. The implication has less of a social and more of a public implication, and is used to suggest that someone is involved in some kind of dirty business. Perhaps this expression is a little strong to use in the case of my friend and his family, who had made an (almost) honest mistake.
In any case, once the long hand of the law grabbed them (dlhá ruka zákona ich dolapila), there was some explaining to do. This had to be done in Polish, which didn't help the situation very much.
If such an unfortunate turn of events had come to pass in Slovakia, what could he have said? "Here's 500 crowns and let's forget about it" (tu máte 500 korún a zabudnime na to), one of my colleagues suggested. Of course, she was joking. I'm sure my friend wouldn't have minded if the border patrol had played like a dead beetle (zaujať pozíciu mrtvého chrobáka) and let his family continue down the mountain to their bunk beds and cabbage soup. But I know that I wouldn't have had the courage to risk the arrest of my family, rather than just their detainment and removal to Slovakia, as this story actually ends.
Not all issues of guilt are so dramatic. I recently had an argument with my roommate, which is one of the most common kinds of trouble there is, next to breaking the rules laid down by one's parents and teachers. A problem of communication caused the fight, which I managed to communicate to her only with healthy doses of "excuse me" (prepáčte), "I'm regretful" (je mi to ľúto), and "don't get annoyed" (nehnevajte sa). Meanwhile, my roommate kept telling me that my friend, whose sudden and unannounced visit to our apartment I had failed to warn her of, was a golden person (zlatý človek). I'd rather not translate the comments she made about my personality.
Certainly, I don't have the negative characteristics that could get me into real trouble. My lies have always been of the "a dog ate my homework" (domácu úlohu mi zožral pes) variety. When I was young, I suppose I told my mother "it wasn't me!" (to som nebol ja!) when I broke her favourite vase. And, when I was a little older, I must have said, "I only had two beers" (veď som mal len dve pivá) when I came home on weekend nights.
But these are white lies (nevinné lži). I'm not the type to dissemble (pretvarovať sa), and I'm just not false or two-faced (falošný) enough to be involved in corruption. A look at the pages of The Slovak Spectator, though, shows a generous helping of accusations and suspicions of corruption. After a while, one begins to think that all politicians and businesspeople majú maslo na hlave, or honey on the tongue and poison in the heart (na jazyku med, v srdci jed).
I don't want to single out Slovakia, as corruption seems to be a worldwide epidemic. For a solution, we can only trust in the fatalism of common wisdom, which tells us that "only for so long can you go with a jug for water before the handle breaks off" (tak dlho sa chodí s džbánom po vodu, až pokým sa ucho neutrhne).
This is a difficult lesson, and one that may take all of us a long time to learn. I suggest you read it three times over, at which point its meaning beings to be clear - corruption can only be taken so far before it falls apart. To put it another way, "God's mill turns slowly but surely" (Božie mlyny melú pomaly ale isto), and justice is always served (pravda vždy zvíťazí). Powerful politicians and wilfully ignorant tourists alike should take note of this lesson.
10. Nov 2003 at 0:00 | Eric Smillie