Blog: Five magic words

Exploring two phrases shaping Slovak culture.

New Year´s Eve fireworks in BratislavaNew Year´s Eve fireworks in Bratislava (Source: TASR)

After living in Slovakia for so many years, although it was apparent from the beginning, I discovered the power of two phrases: 'cheers' and 'no thanks, I'm driving', or alternatively 'no thanks, I'm on medication'. These phrases are intimately linked with Slovak culture, politics and relationships. One must be firm in which to use. Foreigners must be especially committed given our inferior drinking skills and negotiation abilities. The inevitable "oh, you can have just one" will challenge even the most experienced negotiator. To fully appreciate the power of these words, we must look at their strengths and negative influence.

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Cheers to health and bad dance moves

Cheers is a simple word that does a lot of heavy lifting. It can mean let's party, to your health or let's forget this awful year. No celebration can begin or end without it. It has perfected dance moves and penned the greatest songs. As the ultimate ice-breaker and tension reliever, it builds alliances and fortifies friendships. How many births, planned or otherwise, can be attributed to this beautiful word? Love, camaraderie and artistic achievement, that's quite a feat for one short word.

Cheers, of course, is not without a dark side. There lies the other half of its power. All of its lovely attributes can be undone with just one cheers too many. The very passions for lovemaking fueled by cheers can derail marriages with infidelity. One too many can lead to brain-dissolving hangovers, brawls amongst friends and cringe-worthy, office party dance moves. Artistic expression can be snuffed out with the zealous overuse of cheers. Just ask Jackson Pollock, Jim Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, Amy Winehouse...

A phrase of beauty and burden

There is thankfully a remedy for the festive madness. It comes in the form of the sincere or false 'no thanks, I'm driving/on medication'. 'No thanks, I'm driving' is especially effective in the company of responsible people. With this simple phrase, one can steer clear of the pitfalls of the Slovak drinking party. While your fellow party-goers struggle with hangovers the following day, you can sleep undisturbed, free of bruises and regret. Relationships can remain untested and future babies put on hold.

As with cheers, this phrase has consequences. There is no better way to arouse suspicion in a Slovak's heart than by refusing a generously offered, homemade delight. Then one must rely on the force of charm alone to penetrate their stubborn armour. Refusing also comes with responsibility. Automatically one becomes the designated driver and moderator of arguments. Conversations, that in drunken states seemed lively and interesting, reveal themselves to be slurred nonsense.

I hope now it is clear how important these words are. Personally, I have made mistakes with them, fortunately without great consequence. So, if I may, I would like to offer some advice to any new foreigner. Use these words with care and commit to your decision. If you do choose cheers and you can't hold your liquor, just sip your drink slowly and lie about how many you have had. It gets easier as the night goes on.

The power of three

If you decide to refuse, be firm. Remember, offers come in three's, kindly reject each one. You can even say that you are driving and on medication. Never accept even one drink. You will appear weak and then it becomes a game of getting you as drunk as possible. Slovaks pride themselves on their drinking abilities and are eager to test any newcomer. This is all in good fun, however.

The pandemic has diminished these words somewhat and social drinking is mostly prohibited. This, thankfully, is not permanent. Our collective desire for human interaction has only increased and soon these words will once again find their place in the mouths of those we love.

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