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THE OTHER SLOVAKIA

Blog: Taxi!

Taking a taxi at 2am in Bratislava can lead to a very detailed “grass root” analysis of the labour market, education system and local mentality, a psychoanalytical peep into the lifestyle of Slovakia’s elite or a passionate discussion about the Slovak hip hop scene.

(Source: Sme - Gabriel Kuchta)

Taxi drivers are among the best analysts you can possibly meet in Slovakia (and not only). Of course, in most cases you have to speak Slovak to be able to delve into their pool of knowledge but it’s worth the effort. Taking a taxi at 2am in Bratislava can lead to a very detailed “grass root” analysis of the labour market, education system and local mentality, a psychoanalytical peep into the lifestyle of Slovakia’s elite or a passionate discussion about the Slovak hip hop scene.

It might be a bit surprising to discover how many taxi drivers have been doing their job in Bratislava for more than a decade, some even since the early 90s. No wonder they “have seen it all” as they like to say. “This is freedom, Miss. That’s why I am doing this job. People will always need a taxi,” says Robo whose services I used one cold winter in late evening.  Teased whether he is not afraid that a driverless car may kick him out of his job Robo bursts into a loud laugh: “First of all,  I want to see how a robot or computer deals with terribly drunk youngsters on a Saturday night!” Then the discussion focused on the poor state of the education system in Slovakia which does not teach kids practical things they really need to know in life such as how to manage their own finances and be independent. Robo has not read any studies done by professional researchers but has reached similar conclusions as they have.

“I can see that today’s young people pose as more pragmatic and goal-orientated than previous generations but in reality they are still quite dependent on their parents. Adult employed men still living with their parents in a small flat in Petržalka, that’s something to worry about”, says Robo who is in his early 50s, shaking his head.  “Usually they only contribute a small part of their salary to the common household budget and don’t bother to care about something else as Mom cooks and cleans for them and both parents act as a safety net all the time. And then you wonder why they are unable to manage on their own, for example, when it comes to finances. In school they do not learn about it, at home they do not have to do it and then they wake up with some big debts,” concludes Robo adding that his children left their nest (and the country as such) as soon as they finished school.

Well, according to Eurostat’s most recent data, in 2014 about 72 percent of Slovak men aged 18-34 were still living with their parents, a figure that puts Slovakia together with Croatia and Romania on the top positions in the European Union, well above its average of 54 percent. Women are more independent with only 61 percent of them doing so (compared with an EU average of 41 percent).  Even if data reveal a real shortage of affordable rental flats in Slovakia, this cannot be solely the reason as it would affect both sexes (even if some women may move in with their husband and his parents after marriage). 

As Robo has suggested, there must be something else in this story. Indeed. Researchers from the Institute for Social Communication Research of the Slovak Academy of Sciences call it “the syndrome of the irreplaceable Mom” that clearly affects Slovak men (more than women).

Taxi drivers are also keen observers of the evolution of the city and its inhabitants’ purchasing power often judging by what kind of orders they have.  “People do not go out so much downtown these days. I suspect many drink at home the alcohol bought from supermarkets because it is cheaper. Others go to local pubs not far from where they live so they do not need a taxi. There are days when most of my trips are to the railway station or airport and back. I think downtown Bratislava has lost its appeal to locals for dinning out, it’s more like a poster for foreign tourists but with expensive food and drinks of not so good quality if you ask me,” says one taxi driver.  Another colleague has tried to find a niche around business centers : ”In the morning I bring the late birds to work, during the day I drive them from one meeting with a client to another, driving some to airports and then in the evening I bring them dead tired back home. I have come to know some of them quite well. I am almost like their private driver. The advantage is that not being employed by their company they feel free to express their frustration with a boss or another colleague in my car. I have learnt how much money they make and for what kind of work. Wild capitalism. Frankly speaking, I wouldn’t switch my job with theirs not even for a million euros. I am my own CEO and shareholder, baby.”   

And if you are lucky you can be driven home by seasoned taxi drivers who have obviously developed a fine nose for their customers and a deep understanding of human nature: ”After so many years I can see who is a distinguished and educated person in reality and who is just a hanger for expensive clothes. It all depends on how people behave when they are drunk. You could not imagine how many interesting ideas I have heard in this car from university professors, doctors and even a few writers. I have had part of this country’s elite sitting here next to me…amazing minds…..and all of them terribly drunk. ”

Anca Dragu is a journalist with Radio Slovakia International, which is available in Bratislava in English on 98.9 FM at 6:30pm and 8:30pm and at www.rsi.sk. The opinions expressed in this blog are her own.

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