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LIVING IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY HAS CHANGED ME, SAYS UK-BASED WRITER

Slovak's short story wins UK prize

WRITING can often prove to be a tool for expressing one's impressions and emotions when all other means fail. This can be particularly true if one lives in a foreign country, and uses a language other than one's mother tongue for everyday communication. The Leander Bud is all this, as well as being the result of a love of writing.

WRITING can often prove to be a tool for expressing one's impressions and emotions when all other means fail. This can be particularly true if one lives in a foreign country, and uses a language other than one's mother tongue for everyday communication. The Leander Bud is all this, as well as being the result of a love of writing.

The Leander Bud is the title of a short story which has been awarded a prize in a writing competition run by the British Czech & Slovak Association (BCSA). The author is Zuzana Demčáková, a Slovak translator, interpreter and au pair who has lived in England for six years. She had long wanted to take part in the BCSA writing competition because she felt she had something to say on the given topics. The Leander Bud, a piece which she wrote in English for a creative writing course, happened to correspond with one of the topics for the competition, Slovaks in transition, so she decided to send it in.

“I guess being a Slovak and having lived in England for many years is a combination that has not allowed me to be ignorant of the changes within me,” she told The Slovak Spectator. “Some of those changes, in the end, found expression in my story.”

Demčáková said she wanted to write something that would speak to both British and Slovak audiences. The story features the narrator, a young Slovak woman who agrees to take over a communist-themed restaurant in London on condition that she can have parties in it, paid for out of the profits, and of the effect on her of the arrival at one of these parties of a famous sensationalist writer.

“I chose the communist theme because I often feel a kind of fear, almost solemn, from some British people after they learn that I am from a former socialist country,” she said. “I found it peculiar at first, but then when I understood it I thought I could use it to attract their attention.”

The competition is organised to recognise the links between Britain and the Czech and Slovak Republics. Demčáková believes it is the Slovaks and Czechs who live and work in Britain and the British people who live and work in Slovakia or the Czech Republic that create the links between their countries. They all interact with local people and bring their cultures with them: cultures that challenge the ways of the other country.

“This dynamic is the most vital link, I would say,” she told The Slovak Spectator.

In order to understand each other's culture better, people should be more open to differences and less judgemental.

“Anyway, you often do not know about your own background either, do you?” she said. “Why do Slovaks drive on the right-hand side of the road and not on the left? Why do Slovaks not have a queen? Why are Slovaks willing to give up their only crown, the Slovak koruna, so quickly, if the English have refused to say farewell to their pound for decades? When you start questioning your own culture then you are able to understand someone else’s,” she added.

“It is not easy to accept that a different logic behind things might be as good as one's own; it requires emotional energy and a will to understand the background behind why things are as they are in the other culture. But it is possible,” said Demčáková, who has been living in Britain for six years now.

She has experienced the community feeling that exists between Slovaks living in Britain, although she admits that she, like many other Slovaks there, avoided the community for the first few months, because she wanted to learn good English rather than speak Slovak. But still, she said, she always kept in touch with at least a couple of Slovak friends from time to time.

“You need to feel someone else is struggling with the same things in the new culture, that they miss the same things about your own culture as you do and that they understand you,” she said.

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