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SLOVAK MATTERS

Who are you sleeping with?

WHO are you sleeping with?
In Bratislava the answer to this question is regularly "my roommate". But far from foreshadowing some steamy gossip, this is the prelude to a story of frustration and lack of sleep (spánok).
Anybody who has looked for an apartment (byt) in Bratislava is sure to have noticed two things. One, housing is at a premium. Two, apartments are ranked by the number of rooms other than the kitchen and bathroom/washroom, not the number of bedrooms, as is the case in the US or England.

WHO are you sleeping with?

In Bratislava the answer to this question is regularly "my roommate". But far from foreshadowing some steamy gossip, this is the prelude to a story of frustration and lack of sleep (spánok).

Anybody who has looked for an apartment (byt) in Bratislava is sure to have noticed two things. One, housing is at a premium. Two, apartments are ranked by the number of rooms other than the kitchen and bathroom/washroom, not the number of bedrooms, as is the case in the US or England.

The difference is that in Slovakia a dining room and a living room are not assumed to be standard features. For many in this city, every room is a bedroom (spálňa).

Perhaps it is for this reason that, when talking to Slovaks, the American English term "roommate" causes a short circuit in communication. Slovaks often ask if I mean that I share a room with another person, causing me to revert to the British term flatmate or Slovak translation spolubývajúci.

What am I getting at?

Living space and, more importantly for our considerations today, sleeping space, is at a premium in this city. I have one friend, let's call her Klaudia, who shares a room with one of her roommates.

Or she did until Klaudia returned home one weekend to find her roommate and her roommate's bed in the apartment's common room. The roommate complained that the sound of Klaudia's snoring (chrápanie) kept her awake (budil ju).

Apparently the girl Klaudia shared a room with was a light sleeper (má ľahký spánok). Her irritation at the snoring, it seems, could not easily be slept off (vyspať sa z toho). Klaudia had her own complaint, saying that while her roommate claimed to be a light sleeper "it takes her a long time to turn off her alarm (budík) in the morning".

Klaudia's former roommate is no nearer a good night's sleep. To sleep like a log (spať ako drevo) or, in a more morbid phrase, ako zarezaný (like one whose throat has been cut) in the common room, which has to be traversed to reach some bedrooms, will be no easy task.

I can sympathize, as I once lived in a two-room apartment where I walked through a couple's bedroom to reach my own. When I visited the bathroom in the middle of the night (uprostred noci), every creak from the floor or door echoed like a shout in my head.

Every noise seems magnified in an apartment where people are living one on top of the other (hlava na hlave), especially if people are also sleeping one on top of the other. When two people want to sleep together (spávať spolu) they are either plagued by the fear of making too much noise or else plaguing others with their noises.

The fundamental problem in either case is not really noise but privacy (súkromie). This may be the fundamental problem for Klaudia and her roommate as well. Stuck together in a small space, the frustrations of the day mount until every rustle and cough becomes an offence that sparks angry thoughts and keeps them awake.

What to do? In crowded Bratislava there is no easy solution, and it is not the kind of problem for which one can say, "Why not sleep on it?" ("Prečo sa na to nevyspať?")

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