Category Archives: Life in Slovenia

Like Snopes but for Slovenia? I don’t have a title yet

I get asked many questions about Slovenia, often of the “this must be fakenews, right?” variety. Let’s get a few of the safe-for-work ones out of the way before we move on to transgender doctors shagging man-killer dogs* and worse**.

*Yes you read that right.

**It does get worse.

Is the Prime Minister of Slovenia a former comedian and the President of Slovenia a former model?

Yes. Our Prime Minister, Mr. Marjan Šarec, used to be an actor, an impersonator and a comedian, and according to some he still is, (he’s alright, as far as politicians go). And our President, Mr. Borut Pahor used to be a model, and he’s never shy to flaunt his model credentials. Feel free to check out his Instagram @borutpahor. Look for beach selfies while you’re there because the dude keeps fit.

Did Slovenians recycle their failed Prime Minister and make him their President?

Yes. The abovementioned Borut Pahor used to be our PM and, fairly or not, he was widely perceived as a complete failure, as confirmed by a lost confidence vote that saw him through the door. Almost immediately*** after, he ran for president and won easily, which left some people fuming but most of us thought his new job was a much better fit. In all seriousness, Mr. Pahor comes across as a genuinely nice fellow who adores the spotlight and honestly tries to be the president of all Slovenians. And that’s a challenging job. No matter where you’re from, you probably think that your country is dangerously divided with no reconciliation in sight – welcome to the Slovenian experience! We’ve been living in this highly-polarised political reality for… well forever, actually, if you discount a few decades of Socialism when people hated each other more quietly. Anyway, all I can do is wish the best of luck to anyone who tries to preside over such a hot mess. As for the rest of us: relax, it’s going to be okay. Maybe.

***People winning all kinds of elections after a three-week campaign has become a regular occurrence in Slovenia.

Why doesn’t the Slovenian president look over a hundred years old?

Because he’s not. You’re thinking Boris Pahor the writer, who is a different fella altogether. Boris (not Borut) Pahor is one truly extraordinary individual. He fought the Nazis (who sent him to Dachau not once but twice), condemned the Commies and survived them both. He’s currently giving a hard time to Italian neo-fascists. If you need to be reminded of what war, Nazism and Fascism look like up close, do read his autobiographical novel Necropolis about his WWII interment. The guy has just turned 106 (that is: one-hundred-and-six years old). Sharp as a knife, he is well-informed on the current goings-ons, and maintains a keen interest in politics for reasons that don’t need to be explained (in case they do: the man has scars to prove what can happen when politics goes awry). As the result of his international recognition, undisputed courage and miraculously intact faculties, he gets to say whatever he likes, and people listen. And you thought you were special.

Is Melania Trump really Slovenian?

Apparently this gets asked. Yes, she most certainly is Slovenian, from Slovenia. She was born when Slovenia was still a part of the former Yugoslavia (that’s the Balkan country that imploded in a series of genocides, mass rapes and general butchery known as the Yugoslav Wars in the 90s, and proceeded to shatter into a number of smaller countries, among them Slovenia we know today). I remember Melania well from when she was embarking on her modelling career – I used to watch modelling contests and beauty pageants religiously as a kid – and yes, she is real, she is Slovenian, and she is from the town of Sevnica in Slovenia. She was born Melanija Knavs and later switched to a more internationally-friendly Melania Knauss, so maybe that’s where the confusion comes from. Oddly enough, her fellow Sevnica-born Tanja Pečar is the life-partner of our President Borut Pahor (the model dude from above). That’s right, at least two different countries have first ladies from the same small Slovenian town. And there may be others because the fact you were born in Sevnica is not necessarily one you care to advertise.

Continue reading Like Snopes but for Slovenia? I don’t have a title yet

I’m loving it

Slovenia doesn’t have a government and it’s been an absolute delight. Our last government stepped down in a huff; the boiling point being us voters having one good laugh too many at the prime minister’s expense. This prompted early elections, the results of which created such a hot mess that there’s a strong hope that nobody will be able to come up with a viable coalition. The most votes were scooped up by the party all the other parties swore they didn’t want anything to do with because its platform is “based on division and hate” (I suspect the irony is lost on them). The election losers’ general attitude to the results is that the voters got it wrong, but they’re not entirely oblivious to the fact that the voters might get it even more wrong next time. So, if the relative winner is shunned by all the potential coalition partners who in turn patch together a motley crew of a coalition by themselves, there’s a strong hope that we won’t end up with a functioning government because there will be too many pigs fighting at the trough. Even if new elections are called it’s quite possible the same jumble will happen all over again, which is great. Because if you’re Slovenian and know what’s good for you, a functioning government is about the last thing you want. Continue reading I’m loving it

The blonde who had more of everything

I desperately wanted a swing when I was little. But it was not to be. I was too polite to nag my parents into building me one, which is why I considered kids who had such a contraption on their lawn to be lucky little buggers whose parents truly loved them. Well, scratch that about excess politeness: if you’re the youngest of a rapacious brood nothing short of outright vandalism can get your parents’ attention, simple as that.

I suppose I was lucky in other respects; I was allowed to venture out on my own for hours on end without anybody raising an eyebrow (though I sometimes think my parents hadn’t quite realised just how far away my daily bicycle trips took me). Of course I considered my unrestricted freedom to be perfectly normal and only years later grasped how confined many other childhoods were in comparison to mine. One of my particularly prolonged explorations took me to a place that must have been the suburbs of a small town, miles from my home. And that’s where I saw my little blonde. Continue reading The blonde who had more of everything

Don’t be surprised if you hear I’m turning tricks for a living

I ran into one of my favourite high-school professors the other day and when I told him that I was a translator it knocked his jolly mood right out of him. Cuddling his beer, he wistfully reminisced about the high hopes he used to have for me. He went on to inform me that one of his former students was now working for a celebrity fashion designer and another was god-knows-where but filthy rich.

In an atypical moment of mercy, he offered me a chance to redeem myself and asked if at least I was translating movies. In retrospect, I should have said yes. But, having completely misjudged how the world perceived the merits of my chosen career, I didn’t. When I told him that most of my work involved scientific and technical translation, which meant he wasn’t likely to see my name on TV unless I messed up spectacularly, he aimed an accusatory look at my man and demanded to know if he was the one who killed my spark. (Yes, really.) My guy laughed it off while I was silently beating myself up for not having said I was a company manager; it’s technically true because I’m incorporated but it was too late for that now. I tried to regain some value as a human being in my beloved professor’s eyes by mumbling something about how I had great clients and my work was actually interesting and rewarding but he wasn’t buying it.

Then, with a pained expression he recalled how some even smarter girl he used to teach disappointed him even more bitterly. I learned that the poor thing had unwittingly knocked on his door with a copy of The Watchtower in her hand. You need to know that my professor is a vocal atheist – basically he’s a hate preacher but for atheism – and Jehovah’s Witnesses have always been his second-favourite target of ridicule, right after Mormons. So yeah, I’m not the biggest failure he could think of but I came pretty, pretty close. That look of sadness and disappointment in his eyes haunts me to this day. Okay, our awkward encounter took place only this Thursday but still. I’m struggling hard not to wonder if my friends and family are ashamed of me too.

Well, now that I have been informed what an utter waste of space people think I am, I’ve arrived at two resolutions. First, I’ll start charging more for my services because I desperately need to buy myself a large dose of self-respect. Second, the next time someone asks me what I do for a living I’ll tell them I’m a prostitute. In contrast to us translators, these professionals seem to command some respect, probably because they have the sense to charge for what the rest of us do for free. And I refuse to be seen as a loser again! I am deeply passionate about my real work but as it turns out, some passions are best kept secret.

The old man’s daughter and the son of The Buck

It’s official, animals have lost their last remnant of respect for us. We people have changed and shed some of our feistier habits that used to keep them in check. In the old days, people went vegetarian only after they’ve run out of animals to hunt and any beast foolhardy enough to wander into a human settlement was facing two possible outcomes. In the highly improbable case it was judged too ugly to eat, the creature was greeted with a hailstorm of sticks and stones and sent from whence it came, its self-esteem curbed somewhat. Given that people weren’t such fussy eaters in days of yore, it was massively more likely the intruder was interpreted as a surprise food delivery and treated accordingly. After the humans were done picking its bones clean and rhythmically banging them together thanking the God of Foolishness for the feast, they tanned its hide and made it into warm slippers and a new handbag for the village First Lady, and if the creature had antlers or fangs of any consequence, they were repurposed as spear tips to welcome the next rambler of its kind with added efficiency.

Continue reading The old man’s daughter and the son of The Buck

The old man and the deer

My grandfather always knew right from wrong. It seemed that his inborn sense of justice was so strong it rubbed off on even the most hardened crooks and made them realise the error of their ways. What was especially amazing about it was that this effect wasn’t limited to people; well at least we, his family, are at a loss of how else to explain how gramps succeeded in making a deer repay what it had stolen, and quite dramatically at that. There’s a well-travelled saying of ‘Treat others like you want to be treated’, also known as the Golden Rule (which happens to be the reason I’m hoping that the few masochists I’m bound to run into sooner or later are as little ethically-enlightened as possible). There’s a substantial volume of theoretical substantiation of why the reciprocal approach works but I’m probably not the only one who’s felt that it would be nice to have some actual proof too from time to time. And sure enough, my grandfather stepped up and provided the factual corroboration I had hoped for.

Inside, grandpa was a gentle soul but it didn’t stop him from being as tough as a coffin nail. Born a son of humble charcoal makers, his childhood was rife with hardship and he used to say that his family was so poor they couldn’t afford to feel sorry for themselves. He grew up to become a steel worker long before occupational safety was a thing but not before he was taken prisoner during WW2 and made it back on foot, so suffice it to say his adult life wasn’t much gentler to him than his youth. Not that it held him back much; against all odds and despite all the rust he had eaten at the steel plant and the frostbite he had to remind him of the horrors endured in the POW camp, he lived to a ripe old age – way too old for his liking – and he regularly complained about having to wait so long to join my grandmother. Reckoning you can’t know for sure if there’s an afterlife until you’ve found out by yourself, he worried that there was one and, knowing his wife, he feared she was up to who knows what.

Continue reading The old man and the deer

The breakdancing dog

It’s a tough contest but if I had to say which animal made me laugh the hardest, the honour would go to a dog I had when I was little, Fia the Doberman pinscher. It used to be quite common in Slovenia for parents to let their small children keep big animals. I suppose they hoped such a responsibility would instil some wisdom in either the kids or the pets, not to mention the added benefit of having would-be child molesters reconsider their life choices after losing a limb to a protective pet.

(Admittedly, keeping a dog wasn’t always the complicated affair it’s cranked up to be nowadays, as pooches used to have a set of clearly-defined duties – to chaperone the children, to protect the house, to abstain from mauling people without due cause and to refrain from passing gas indoors – which gave them a sense of purpose, and effectively prevented the likes of Cesar Milan from making a career trying to talk some sense into people who don’t know what a dog is for and what to do with it.)

In the rural areas where parents continue to expect their children to be smart enough to make it in the world without grown-ups constantly shielding them from all potential sources of harm, you can still see tots leading huge dogs, horses, cattle and whatnot, and when they’re not doing that they’re likely driving a tractor. From what I gather from my recent explorations of the Slovenian countryside, the age of eight is still considered ideal for country children to start operating heavy machinery. Anyway, my Fia was super clever about many things, a keen student of human nature and an astute exploiter of its soft spots, but like so many animals she tended to come up short when met with certain pitfalls of physics. Continue reading The breakdancing dog

Slovenia: Why is it so difficult to leave, Part I

A funny thing you can’t help but notice if you happen to wander into the country called Slovenia is that it’s almost impossible to leave. It’s not like anyone is manning the borders; the country is in the Schengen Area which basically means everyone and their sister is roaming around freely. The traffic connections are superb and, with Slovenia being so tiny, you can step on it and find yourself somewhere else in a matter of minutes. Our neighbours the Croatians – who lay claim to a somewhat larger country which is as pretty as they come but shaped like a pair of spaying tongs – will gladly tell you that Planica (where our rather famous ski flying hill is) will never get a permit for a higher hill as then the skiers would be landing on Croatian porches, wreaking all kinds of havoc in the process.

(If it weren’t for the Croatians, we Slovenians would need to come up with our own jokes about Slovenia’s size but luckily enough our southern neighbours have been maintaining a steady supply of those for as long as I can remember.) Continue reading Slovenia: Why is it so difficult to leave, Part I

Methinks: Politicians, Part II

I never know with the Americans; do they even realise how wonderfully cynical they are? The current USA ambassador to Slovenia, His Excellency Joseph Adamo Mussomeli, who has earned quite a reputation for frequently voicing his opinion of our bickerings, recently said something like ”In the USA, politicians pretend to hate each other, but your politicians hate each other for real”.

(You gotta love this guy. He’s outspoken to the point of being brave, brilliant, with a great sense of humour. He succeeded in ticking off more people than all other ambassadors to Slovenia present and past combined. One of the few things about him that sort of fits what I’d expect from a diplomat is his undeniable charm and his skill at wooing the press – though he assures us that the media are always going for his throat.) Continue reading Methinks: Politicians, Part II