Did you ever wonder what is so great about Slovakia and its people?
Slovakia is landlocked and mountainous, with dreamy castles located on the green hilltops. The Slovak language is a part of the western Slavic languages family. Their tradition and customs are well preserved, making Slovakians one of the most vibrant people in Europe.
The Slovak Republic is a Central European country, neighboring Hungary, Poland, Austria, Ukraine, and the Czech Republic. It is a relatively new state: it became independent for the first time in 1993.
You probably heard of Bratislava – one of the four capital cities on the Danube. It is very close to the Hungarian and Czech border and is a vibrant modern city. Bratislava is one of the most popular political and business centers in Europe.
In this article, I will guide you through the Slovak mentality and some popular misconceptions about Slovakian people.
Apart from interesting information about Slovaks, we decided to include some trivia about the history of their state, social etiquette, culture, and more.
Slovakian People Facts
1. Slovaks Are Great Folk Dancers
Many people don’t know that Slovaks love to dance and are apparently very good at it. Their folk dances are a mixture of many cultural influences. Through the centuries, these dances came from neighboring ethnic areas and found their place in Slovak tradition.
Popular dances have always been part of social life in Slovakia and still are. Here are some of the most interesting facts about the dancing culture of the Slovaks.
A Short Guide to Slovakia’s Popular Dances
Apart from the Slavic basis, their national dances contain elements from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Romania, and Turkey. How have all these influences come to their lands?
In times of war, it was the movement of the people. During peace, new dance elements were brought (and carried away) by traveling orchestras (a kind of old-Slavic troubadours).
These were adventurers of their time (artists were always on the road to the next village or city) who sang and danced for money or shelter.
At these medieval times, Slovaks mostly lived in small, isolated villages or towns, which communicated with each other only if they were close to each other.
Due to this secludedness, almost every Slovak village had its own dialect, customs, and dancing tradition.
Slovak people came to the valley of the Danube river somewhere in the 7th century. Some people settled in the plains, while shepherds went to the mountains.
Each of these two groups formed specific customs, and the difference is visible today.
Modern Dances of Slovaks
In today’s Slovakia, many live in the cities, but they still dance whenever there is something to celebrate. Sometimes Slovak girls follow archaic steps in the ancient ritual dance koleso. Slovaks also like waltz or polka (it depends on the occasion, of course).
The occasions on which people dance in Slovakia are many and don’t necessarily have to be joyful (for example, a wedding or a village celebration). Traditionally, people dance to mark the beginning of the harvest and you can see them dancing at funerals .
2. They Are Amazing Athletes
Sport has been a trend in Slovakia since the 19th century. Even in times when their country was part of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire and later Czechoslovakia, Slovak sportsmen were widely acclaimed. They won medals for whichever country they lived in.
Ice Hockey and Biathlon
Maybe because they have many mountains and a climate which can at times be very cold, Slovaks obviously like ice and snow. In modern times, the Slovak nation is a force to be reckoned with, when it comes to ice hockey and biathlon.
Tatra Cup (the second oldest ice hockey club tournament in Europe) takes place every year in Poprad, Slovakia. This country regularly hosts many domestic and international championships. It can be said that ice hockey is a Slovakian national sport.
Some of the world’s toughest ice hockey players are Slovakian athletes Stan Mikita, Martin Cibák, and Miroslav Šatan. They and their teams have won many medals for Slovakia in all sorts of competitions around the world.
On the other hand, Slovakia is home to one of the most eminent names of biathlon. Anastasiya Kuzmina is of Russian descent but has been competing under Slovakia’s flag since 2005. Since then, she has won several gold and silver medals at the Olympics .
The Oldest Marathon in Europe
And this is not the end. Slovakia is home to Europe’s first marathon. It is held every autumn in Košice, Slovakia. It is an international competition of athletes with “Košice peace marathon” being its full name.
Founded in 1924, it is the third oldest marathon in the world, the first one being in Boston and the second one in Yonkers .
Apart from that, Slovak sportsmen are very good at canoeing, cycling, tennis, and volleyball. It is noticeable how the majority of famous Slovak athletes are women.
Martina Hingis, a former No. 1 in tennis, was mostly playing under the Swiss flag but is of Slovak descent (her mother tongue is Slovak).
3. People Regularly Confuse Them With Slovenians
This permutation is so widespread and common outside of Slovakia, that it even happens to people from Europe and neighboring countries.
One of the recent fiascoes happened in Germany a few years ago at the Ice Hockey championship. Slovak team was welcomed with Slovenian anthem, which caused angry boos and shouts in the audience, leaving world-famous athletes in disbelief.
It didn’t help that the Slovak and Slovenian prime-ministers resigned on the same day three years ago. It was especially hard for people who have this popular misconception to follow what was going on in Europe that day.
This confusion gives a lot of headaches to the organizers of those international sports events.
There is an urban legend about a regular communication line between Slovenia and Slovakia’s capital cities Ljubljana and Bratislava. Allegedly, the purpose of this is to exchange mail ost that was sent by mistake to either of these two countries.
Who knows, considering the scale of the confusion, maybe the legend has a grain of truth in it? In any case, Slovaks are used to being confused with Slovenians, and even make jokes about that.
What Is the Difference?
Let’s try to at least contribute to the solution of this confusion. Slovakia and Slovenia are indeed similar (and not just when it comes to their names). They are both Slavic countries and they are both in the European Union.
Both are former Eastern-block countries which is why most people who are not from Europe (like the United States for example) think these two countries belong to Eastern Europe. This is not true – they are both in Central Europe.
Still, Slovak Republic is located more to the north. Its capital Bratislava is on the Danube river. Slovak people probably can’t (easily) understand the literary language of their southern Slavic cousins. Besides, Slovakia is a much larger country with a population twice as big.
4. They Like Drinking
If you travel to Slovakia, especially in their capital city Bratislava, any guide will tell you about great Slovak beer. Based on the diversity and the quality of Slovak drinks, one could hardly say Slovaks don’t like to drink. And it’s not necessarily alcohol!
Some of the best non-alcoholic beverages you will find in Slovakia are sodas Vinea (made of grapes) and Kofola, which is like a Slovak version of Coca-cola.
Let’s not forget about amazing Slovak teas, as the famous Tatratea. People pick wild herbs in the Tatras mountains and prepare a delicious tea out of them.
If you ever decide to visit Slovak rural areas, try to find it there. Slovaks can easily make liquors or cocktails out of it (it will make your senses go crazy!).
Alcohol in Slovakia
For sure, everybody knows Slovaks are great beer lovers, just like their neighbors Czechs. You will often find them sitting in bars next to a glass of good beer that was brewed nearby. Slovakia is a paradise for locally made craft beer.
Although their state is located inland and is a mountainous country, don’t think Slovaks don’t have good wines. On the contrary! They have their own brand of wine named Tokaj, after the famous wine region this country shares with Hungary.
You may want to try their wines with some Slovak food, like their traditional schnitzel (it goes very well together).
Last but not least – let’s discuss Slovakian brandies!
Probably the most recognizable one is Slivovica. It is a plum brandy very close to other drinks in the area, like Hungarian Pelinka or Serbian Šljivovica. It is something to drink and take care of – it is so good, it may be hard to stop .
Then, there is also Demänovka, the Tatratea derivation we already mentioned. There are many other brandy variations with different histories and origins.
Slovak national drinking culture is, as you can see, rich but also dangerous for non-experienced drinkers among us.
If you plan to travel to Slovakia and decide to drink with them, have in mind that their etiquette is to keep pouring the drink until you put a napkin on the top of the glass!
5. People Think That Slovaks Are Czechs
Here we go again with another common permutation that undeservedly follows Slovaks around the world. Every Slovak has a story of a foreigner telling him/her: “Oh, you are from Czechoslovakia, right?”
Basically, it’s like telling someone from Alaska: “Oh, you are from Russia, right?” It was once, yes, but now it’s long gone. The same is with Czechoslovakia.
Let’s Check the History of the Slovak Republic
At first, Slovakia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This empire ceased to exist, after World War I and a new country named Czechoslovakia came to being. As you can probably guess from the name, it was constituted from today’s Czech Republic and Slovakia.
After the occupation in World War II, Czechoslovakia was liberated (it existed until 1993). On the 1st of January that year, Czechs and Slovaks decided to peacefully separate. That’s when Slovakia became independent for the first time.
Bratislava was always its major city today it is the capital of Slovakia). The center of political and social life is in this city. Bratislava is home to five hundred thousand Slovaks and many other nationalities.
Are They the Same?
Czech and Slovak people have lived together for a long time. Though separated, they are still the closest neighbors, trade partners, and members of the European Union. The language spoken in Slovakia and the Czech Republic is very similar.
However, they wouldn’t have separated if they were the same. There were political disagreements because of the significant differences. These include disparities in national culture and historical development.
Czechoslovakia is a state that doesn’t exist anymore. But you can travel to the Czech Republic and Slovak republic (they don’t like to be confused with their neighbors!).
6. Slovaks Are Mountain Lovers
If you were from Slovakia (which has such a well-developed sport culture and breathtaking highland nature) you would love mountains too!
The Slovak Republic has numerous national parks. The High and the Low Tatras, and the Veľká and the Malá Fatra Mountain Ranges are the most popular ones in Slovakia.
Apart from Slovaks, a lot of Hungarians, Polish, and people from Western European countries, are regularly coming to Slovakia to hike on their mountains.
There are also many other mountains in Slovakia you may visit for a climb or hike. The amazing views are guaranteed.
The Slovak population is quite relaxed in nature. When days are bright, you will see entire groups of families out hiking and walking. Kids are used to being active from an early age .
The Bottom Line
In recent years, Slovakia became a growing tourist destination. The culture of the Slovak country, its ethnic diversity, political stability, make it more attractive for business and travelers.
Don’t let the rich beer culture fool you – Slovaks may like to drink, but don’t forget all the great food Slovakia has to offer!
Also, when you go to Bratislava for the first time, you will see that Slovak culture is mostly about sports, family, and business. The main preoccupation of Slovakia’s population is to attain the best quality of life.
Slovak language might be hard to learn, but don’t worry. If you end up there with your family, you will find that most Slovaks are used to speaking English, especially in the city.