Category: slovakia

Learning Slovak Online

When I married Denisa, I had a simple goal: become fluent in Slovak. That goal never really went away, but I’ve been absolutely terrible at accomplishing it. I tried several things over the years. Bought a text book. Tried to set small goals. Bought kids books in Slovak. But it just hasn’t happened. I speak some Slovak, but nothing more than caveman level stuff, really. Sixteen years, and I’ve been a pretty big failure at that. Other things always seem to get in the way.

So for the last while I’ve tried to alter my approach. “Become fluent in Slovak” seems like it’s just been too big of a goal for me. I’m admitting defeat, and changing the goal. Now it’s “Become better at Slovak.” The mental shift is something I did toward the end of last year, and I’ve been able (it seems to me) to stick to the goal much more diligently than I had before.

What it means in practice is that each day during my lunch break, I take about fifteen minutes to focus on learning Slovak. I read vocabulary lists, watch some Slovak television. or go over Slovak grammar online. There are a few resources I’ve found particularly helpful:

  • is an online Slovak television station. You never know what you’re going to see when you turn it on. (Well, I suppose there’s a schedule printed somewhere, but I don’t worry about it.) I’ve seen bits of Finding Nemo, but I usually end up watching the news, trying to focus on understanding as many individual words that I can.
  • is another TV station. In my experience, they have many more blocked programs, so often I try to watch them but can’t.
  • is the most helpful resource I’ve found. It’s got a wealth of online language lessons, all available for free. I’ve been working my way through them, and I think it’s had the biggest impact on me so far. (The biggest problem I have is that I get off track, and it’s hard to get back into it sometimes. But that’s just me, not it.)

In the end, I just made a simple observation: if I’d spent 15 minutes a day working on my Slovak for the last 16 years, I would be in such a better spot when it came to the language. Because I was too worried about doing a “serious” job of it, I instead did nothing, just started and stopped in little bursts of energy. This is true with so many huge projects I try to undertake. Split them up into smaller pieces, and you can do so much better.

Here’s hoping.

Family Pictures

I hinted on Facebook a month or so ago that we’d just taken family pictures in medieval garb in downtown Trencin, and that I’d share them with you when I got them. Well, I have them, and today is an insanely busy day, so it seems like a perfect candidate for a “Show Pictures Instead of Writing a Post” day. These are just a few. I’ll be sharing more on Facebook tomorrow or soon thereafter. Denisa and I are very happy with how they turned out, which is good, because we’re not exactly “Get dressed up and hang around town for a photoshoot” sort of people.



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A Slovak Easter: Wine, Whips, and Water

(Well, technically it’s not really “wine,” just general alcohol, but I’m an obsessive alliterator, what can I say?)

Yesterday, as most of you know, was Easter. And while Denisa and I have done a pretty good job teaching our kids about the ways various holidays are celebrated in Slovakia, there was one we hadn’t really informed them about. Until dinner last night. We were all sitting around the table, chowing down on some ham and potatoes, and I asked the kids if they knew how Slovaks celebrated Easter. Both confirmed that they had no clue whatsoever.

Denisa, meanwhile, was less than amused that I’d brought this subject up. Not angry. More of an exasperated look.

TRC and DC wanted to know what was up.

Basically, it goes like this. The morning of Easter Monday (that’s today, in case you were wondering), the men (and boys) will go around to houses of the women (and girls) they know and knock on their door. When the girls answer, the boys use a switch (like the one I put for the picture for this post) to whip or spank the girls.

TRC thought we were making this up. He didn’t believe it could be possible. DC was skeptical as well.

But it keeps going.

After the girls have been whipped/spanked, they need to be cleaned. That means they’re either splashed with water (from a cup . . . or a bucket), thrown in the shower or bathtub, or tossed in a convenient stream.

TRC was wondering why we hadn’t been doing this all along. DC still thought we were pulling their legs. Too close to April Fool’s, I suppose.

But it keeps going.

After the girls have been whipped and doused in water (to keep them healthy and beautiful for the coming year, according to tradition), they give the boys eggs, candy, money, or alcohol (depending on how old they are).

“Wait,” TRC said. “They give the boys money?”

Denisa nodded. DC was aghast.

“The boys get paid to do this?” TRC asked. He’s always been a true blue capitalist. Anything for an easy buck.

Denisa nodded again.

“I don’t want to go to Slovakia at Easter,” DC said right away.

“Can we do it tomorrow?” TRC asked.

The answer? Nope. Nope nope nope. Actually, until yesterday, I was always under the impression that this was a tradition that happened in tiny villages, but not in cities. Denisa informed me that I was wrong, and she’d done this every year growing up. (And was in no hurry to keep that particular tradition alive, thank you very much.) Although it sounds like these days, the emphasis is growing more and more on the “drinking alcohol” part of the tradition. Most women wouldn’t dream of going outdoors after noon today. The men just get too plastered. Or so I’ve been told.

But now my kids know. And it’s important to keep the ties to their heritage strong, right? Right! Something tells me that if I started this tradition back up again, it might not prove to be the smartest tactical decision I’ve ever made . . .

And in case any of you (still) think I’m making this up, please consult this article.

An Underground Railroad in Trencin in World War II

Today’s post is going to have to be a short one, alas. I got a migraine yesterday evening, soon after posting about how “It could always be worse” on my blog. *Coincidence?*

I think not. (For a laugh, check out the comments on Facebook for that post. They’ve started to reflect the Monty Python sketch quite well . . .)

In any case, looking at a computer screen and thinking aren’t exactly high on my list of “Things that Make Bryce Feel Good” today, so thankfully there’s a link I’ve been wanting to share with you since I came across it yesterday. I was reading Cracked, as I am wont to do from time to time on my iPad, and imagine my surprise when one of the articles was about Slovakia in World War II. (Slovakia doesn’t get many articles written about it. Period.) So of course I had to read it, and then I discovered that not only was it about Slovakia–it was about Trencin! (The city where VODNIK takes place, also the city where my wife is from.)

Being in the Underground was stressful (surprisingly few water slides and ping pong tables in “the Underground”), and betrayal was always a worry. While small towns like Katarina’s were relatively safe since everyone knew everyone else, in the bigger cities paranoia was rampant. Katarina went to college at the University in the city of Trencin, less than half an hour away. That meant she got to know some people well outside of her comfort zone. Rich, powerful folks — who weren’t always the ’80s-style movie villains you might expect.

Going to school, this girl, Tanya, was there. Her dad was a mayor of a big town, so she was wealthy. We always wondered, though: Why would she come from 100 miles away just for school? She was even friends with this girl who was the girlfriend to a member of the Hlinka Guard. She, despite being rich, would go to the poor areas at night. We always wondered why she went there. It wasn’t until after the war we found out why.

Check the rest of it out.

It never says exactly what village the girl lived in, but there’s really only one road to the Czech Republic from Trencin, and it’s right where my mother in law lives and where we go to stay each time we visit. It was fascinating reading the article and seeing what the region was going through then–a side of the city’s history I hadn’t seen yet. (Also interesting that so few Roma were killed in the country in World War II, judging from the book that’s cited in the article. Of course, just after the part that notes that in the book, it goes on to say how Roma were treated after the war, but I’m focusing on the positive here . . .)

Anyway–just thought you might find that all interesting, too. Now I’m off to find a cold cloth and a dark room. Catch you all on Monday!

Special Article Written by Yours Truly–Diversity in Fantasy

I was invited to write an article on diversity in fantasy for Forever Young Adult. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. Here’s the first bit. Click on to read the whole thing.

Exploring the Unknown: Diverse Settings and Folklore in YA

Sometimes it seems that current YA is drowning in a sea of cookie cutter folklore. Vampires and werewolves and zombies, oh my! And when I’ve spoken on panels at conferences about how to come up with ideas for novels, a question I get time and time again boils down to, “How do I make my (vampires/werewolves/zombies) unique?”

And I always answer the same way: “Use something new.”

When I say that, I don’t mean that you should make your vampires shiny or sparkly. I mean that there’s so much more folklore out there to draw upon. Why stay stuck in the rut of western Europe? I love me some Brothers Grimm as much as the next guy, and you have to give props to that Hans Christian Andersen fellow, but there’s so much more folklore to be explored.

One of the problems seems to be that as soon as you say “something other than western European,” people jump ship to other tried and true milieus. Chinese and Japanese. Greek and Roman. Maybe some Egyptian. Pyramids are cool, right?

I was in the same boat. I thought that if it wasn’t something I’d heard about growing up, then it wasn’t “folklore.” Somehow I’d made the assumption that folklore was this big shared pool of common knowledge. Anything anyone had to contribute would be something I would have been exposed to through Disney, right?


My eyes were opened when [READ THE REST]

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