LYING on a deserted beach in Omiš, skipping through the pages of a pocket guide to Croatia, two questions come to mind.
The first: if an issue of The Slovak Spectator were to come out without this column, would readers sense the same awkward emptiness one feels when visiting a holiday resort before the start of the season?
And the other: just how different are the terms Slovaks hear when they leave behind the words of their regular weeks and visit ‘the Slovak Sea’? Let’s ignore the fact that most local menus are, if not in Slovak, then at least in Czech, and that the locals are trained to deal with foreigners.
If you take Croatian, the vocabulary can be divided into several categories. There are words that are identical or very similar to Slovak ones: ne – nie (no), dobar dan – dobrý deň (good day), otvoreno – otvorené (open), or ravno – rovno (straight).
A little more difficult to comprehend are terms that have common roots, but have evolved in their own way – “hvala” is related to the Slovak “chvála” (praise), but means “thank you”. And is nothing like “ďakujem”.
It is easy to identify the components of “dobro došli” as “well” and “came”, but it takes some imagination to figure out that it stands for “vitajte” (welcome). Then there are words that sound similar, but mean something completely different: whereas in Bratislava “kruh” means circle, in Omiš it means “bread”. “Hodina” and “godina” are both measures of time. But one is an hour and another a year.
And then there are loads of terms that have nothing in common.
So what’s the final mix like? Pan-Slavists dreaming of a common cultural, or even political, union spanning half of Europe would be disappointed. In an effort to find mutual understanding, Slovaks and Croats alike often find it easiest just to use a word in English.