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Social Anxiety Rises in Bratislava, Slovakia

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Photo by: J W Foster

The flight on Ryan Air was just like most passengers on the internet have described it–frustrating. When we tried to check in at the Kiosk in Barcelona we were slapped with a 140 Euros add-on fee because we tried to print our tickets out in the airport (see my post on The Secrets to Avoiding Stress While Ryan Air  Tries to Pick Your Pockets).

We arrived in the Bratislava Airport, in Slovakia on Sunday afternoon. The airport was spacious, clean, and modern. I was already feeling anxious because we were supposed to be in the city meeting Diana and Tomas at their apartment within the hour. We’d found them on AirBnB, a site where people rent out rooms or entire apartments to travelers.  The cabs at the airport are a monopoly, meaning they can charge any price they choose, and they choose high. We jumped on the first bus we spotted, assuming it would take us into the city. It was the wrong bus. We soon found ourselves stranded in the middle of an industrial area on the outskirts of the city without any idea of where to go. Joe was not happy. I tried to cheer him up, “Look, there’s an Ikea store, maybe we should go shopping instead.” It didn’t work, maybe he thought I was serious.

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Photo by: J W Foster

The wait for the right bus extended too long for my comfort. I was slipping back into my usual anxiety about being in a foreign country where I couldn’t even pronounce a simple question like, “Help us find the town.” (Pomozte nam najst mesto). I know I sound like a narrow-minded American, but I swore one of the words I read on the bus just took every letter in the second half of the alphabet and strung them together tossing in two e’s just to keep the first half of the alphabet from rebelling. We started walking even though the city was 10km away. Our walking speed made it too far for the time we had. Luckily, we did find  a busy intersection with a more official-looking bus stop. The maps on this station allowed us  to study the labyrinth of bus and trolly routes to find the right line to take into the center of the old town. To my surprise, the busses were free. Or at least, there was no attempt to charge when we hopped on and off. By the time we made it to the flat, we were an hour late.

Our host, Tomas, appeared unbothered  and welcoming. He had just made a pot of goulash and after showing us upstairs to our room and pointing out the accommodations (including a pool), he invited us to join him for dinner. Tomas is an early career filmmaker in his late 20’s. He and his wife make documentary films, their most popular is called, “The Moon Inside You: A Secret Kept All Too Well.”  It was well received by many film festivals including the major ones in Canada, Spain, and New York. His wife Diana, is in Spain right now shooting a new film.

I’m glad we had an early experience of hospitality from Tomas because I was starting to worry. The people of Slovakia, mostly the men, have an intensity to their expressions and speech intonations that sometimes make them appear angry. This is hard to understand and I find myself feeling more avoidant than usual, not wanting to make contact or  reach out of fear of their reaction. The fact that I don’t know the language–at all–doesn’t help because all I can go by is the tone of voice. I’m discovering that I rely a great deal, not only on body language, but also tonal nuances to help me evaluate the “goodness” of the person I am speaking to. This may be an unfair practice here in Bratislava because the language is gutteral and heavy which makes it sound like the speaker is constantly irritated, at least to my American ears.  The facial expressions seem more intense as well, with more frequent knitting of the eyebrows and grimacing. It’s going to take more work for me to get used to it here, but I’m going to try. We already learned the words for “Please”(Prosim) and “Thank you” (Dakujem).  We walked through the Old Town of Bratislava and discovered an amazing variety of restaurants in the span of less than a kilometer. When I used my newly learned words at a bakery in the square, the cashier smiled and seemed excited by my meager attempt to use her language. The little things count.

 




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