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The first any foreigner might learn in any language are words like..

The first any foreigner might learn in any language are words like ‘thank you’, ‘hello’, ‘good’, ‘beautiful’, and, for those more persistent, a little bit of counting. I myself have travelled to places like Greece, Egypt and Turkey, and I still remember bits and pieces of the respective languages. I can even say ‘hello’ in such unlikely languages as Swahili (jambo)—not that I’d ever be able to use it in a conversation, especially not here in Slovakia. When I first came here, in a distant past, I quickly picked up the most useful things, like pekne, jeden pivo, dva vodka, and so on. Nothing too fanciful, nothing too grammatically correct. Grammar, of course, is the undoing of any well-meaning foreigner.
 
My particular brand of vocabulary obviously included, seeing what company I kept in bars and suchlike high society places, words I wouldn’t care to repeat here; the Slovaks among you know what I mean. Any vocabulary that one just happens to pick up is naturally highly dependent on one’s environment, and my Slovak friends thought it amusing to teach me dirty language. Thankfully, I also spent a lot of time in restaurants. 
 
I am sorry to say that at the time, menus in English were a balancing act on the edge of illiteracy, so if I really wanted to know what I was eating I had to make do with Slovak menus. Very funny situation, actually; you’re a foreigner and the waitress, very proudly, brings you a menu in English—and it turns out to be utterly incomprehensible. 
 
To make a long story short, I learnt my first Slovak through the aid of Slovak menus: domaca pirohy (bez smotana for me), Madarska gulas, Cernohorsky rezen, Oravska slanina, Viedenska kava (insert accents yourself, I obviously can’t be bothered!). This is just a joke of course, but it’s very true that I know how to order a beer, whether dark, light, or even rezane, or ask the shop assistant for dvadsat deka of sliced debrecinska, and do it politely, too!—yet I never managed to learn the word for ‘fork’. Very logical, of course, as you must be in a very bad restaurant indeed if your waiter’s forgotten to provide a fork for your knedle. I still don’t know the Slovak for, ‘Excuse me, I don’t seem to have a fork.’ However, I do know a useful slang word, dzindzik, which I’ll use if ever I end up in a sub-standard restaurant: “Prosim vas, dzindzik nemate?” The same applies to ‘plate’, ‘toothpick’, etc.
 
By the way, I did manage to learn the word lyzica. If you look at my name, you’ll know why that is. As you see, there’s always a reason why certain vocabulary sticks in your mind.
 
Hans-Maarten Spoon

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