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Ode to Slovak women's toes

"SO WHAT do you think of Slovak women?" It is hard to say how many times someone has asked me this question. But I never want to answer it again.

DO you see something special?
photo: Eric Smillie

"SO WHAT do you think of Slovak women?" It is hard to say how many times someone has asked me this question. But I never want to answer it again.

I know that I am about to step on a few toes but it is time, once and for all, to slay the myth that the women of Slovakia are the most beautiful in the world. I begin with pardons. First, to the people of Slovakia - the women here are very beautiful (ženy na Slovensku su krásne). Second, to all those Slovak people who have asked me this question - you have a right to be proud because, after all, the women here are very beautiful. Third, to the foreigners for whom this is a conversational staple - yes, when I first arrived here I did notice that the women are exceptionally beautiful.

Let me be more specific. Some Slovak women are tall (vysoké) and elegant (elegantné) while others are petite (útle) and delicate (jemné). Some have full hips (plné boky) and others are slender (štíhle). But they all carry themselves (nesú sa) with grace (ladnosť) and charm (šarm).

They can be sexy (vzrušujúce/sexy), shy (plaché), intelligent (inteligentné) and sporty (športové). They can also be flirtatious (koketné) or cold (chladné), permissive (zhovievavé) or headstrong (zaťaté), and in all cases are very beautifully so.

In other words, Slovak women are beautiful in so many ways that to say that they are more beautiful than women elsewhere is highly suspicious. Women everywhere are beautiful.

Where then does the special reputation (povesť) of Slovak women spring from, you might ask while nursing your swollen toe?

Slovak women are, in general, different from other women. I first arrived in Bratislava early one October. I often found myself on Obchodná Street and, for some reason, kept tripping over myself. Although Obchodná is notoriously poorly paved I blame the mini-skirts (minisukne) that swished by me in abundance - even in late fall - for turning my head and my attention away from the task of walking.

People, myself included, are susceptible to packaging. We notice the way others dress and the way their clothes (oblečenie) show off their bodies (telá). Slovak women tend to accentuate their femininity (ženskosť) more than women in, say, the United States.

Skirts, high-heeled shoes (topánky na vysokom podpätku) and makeup are all common ladies' accoutrements in Slovakia, whereas in the US they are worn only less often.

The same goes for casual dress. In the US, casually dressed women wear loose jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. I realized that this was not the case here when a Slovak friend explained that she always carries a purse because her wallet, lighter and other little things never fit in the pockets of her tight jeans. "Pockets are basically useless on women's pants," she told me.

To my eyes, this difference goes even deeper than the vertiginous cleavage cuts in the tops Slovak women wear, and deeper still than their soft skin (jemná pokožka) and silky hair (hodvábne vlasy). The average Slovak lady (dáma) carries herself with more traditional femininity than the average woman in the US. It is evident in the way that she walks, the way she talks and in her gestures. I dare say that she follows a stricter standard of femininity than women elsewhere aspire to - a standard that takes more work to uphold.

When foreign men say that Slovak women are beautiful, it is not because they are beautiful. It is because many of them present themselves to meet an ideal of looks and behaviour not met back in the countries we foreign men come from. Does this make Slovak or American women any less beautiful? No, they are as lovely as ever - from their heads to their toes, which have hopefully survived this ode unscathed.

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