About Slovenia - not essential to your holiday, but nice to know

Slovenia: customs, manners and mannerisms

Manners and Mannerisms

Chatting

Slovenians do not go in for banter, and most conversational topics will be within the nation's borders. Oh, and do not dis the nation.

Drinking

What you drink is up to you - but there's more on the subject in the relevant section. More importantly, if you can't get your lips around 'nazdravje' (pron. nasdrowye), it's OK to use 'cheers', 'chin chin', 'kampai', 'joy', 'prost', 'fisehatak', 'skål', 'norok' or whatever... but you must keep eye-contact when you say it.

If you must get fall-over, up-chucking, 'oo-yoo-lookin'-at drunk, they say that Prague is very nice.

Eating

Knives, forks and even spoons are often used.

Ethnicity

Although many younger people in the urban centres are completely relaxed about Johnny Foreigner, Slovenia is mostly pretty closed when it comes to swarthy types (this is written by a mongrel Englishman from south London, remember). The peoples to the south are trusted less and less the further south you go... Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Albania. God knows what they think of Australians. Having said that, 'proper' foreigners — of any hue — are viewed as being exotic rather than with disdain, and will be treated exactly the same as us pinkies.

Greeting

Slovenians, unlike most other slavs, are not touchy-feely. Good friends may possibly air-kiss, but everyone else - of either gender - is kept at a safe distance with a firm handshake. Eye contact during initial greetings is also very important.

When entering shops, meeting people you kind of know... and just about everybody else, it is polite to say 'Dober dan' (good day) or 'Dober wečer' (good evening). To be honest, the words are not really heartfelt, it's just that you're expected to say it. In fact, most Slovenians get away with 'dan and 'cher.
Don't bother with 'Good morning' - you probably won't be up in time.

When leaving, it is 'nasvidenje' (pron. na sveedenye) - but you can get away with 'adijo' (pron. adeeyo).

Honorifics:

  • Men - gospod (sir or mister)
  • Women - gospa (madam)
  • Younger women - gospadična (miss)

Interaction

It has been written elsewhere that Slovenia has a polycentric culture, meaning that although they are naturally indirect, the people will often go out of their way to mirror the behaviour of their foreign guest. Do not be fooled: what is actually happening is that the Slovenian will be listening... but interpreting not just the language, but the meaning of it, leaving you thinking that you have communicated. But you haven't.

Put it this way: if a Slovenian says "Yes" when asked if they understand what you've asked for, what they mean is, "I don't really know what you mean, but I do know what you should mean, so I'll get you what I think you should want." So don't be surprised if you end up with something other than what you asked for.

Invitations

If someone specifically invites you to a restaurant or for a drink, it means they intend to pay for it. If you get into some serious schnapps or other digestives (not the biscuits) at the end a meal, it is reasonable to offer a little something - but do not insist.

Language

Slovenians are fiercely defensive of their language. This is strange, as unlike most slavic languages its strength is derived from its sponginess: it is riddled with words from German, Italian, Hungarian and even English and French. As far as you're concerned, as with people everywhere, Slovenians like it when you attempt to speak their language. Have a look at our Language page and give it a go.

As for speaking English, remember that English is often taught by non-native speakers... who often have little grasp of how the language is actually spoken. You may therefore sometimes say something that is interpreted wrongly.

The best example I know of is the word 'bitch', which of course in English means a woman who is cruelly unkind, malicious or spiteful. Slovenians seem to think it means prostitute, which, as in all slavic languages, is a very, very nasty word indeed. So don't go saying your friend can be a bit bitchy - she won't live it down.

Rules

Rule Number 1

Do not, ever, ever make the mistake of saying that Slovenia was a part of Czechoslovakia. That was a whole nuther country.

Rule Number 2

Do not say how nice the place looks, especially after the war. The war you're thinking of is to do with the break-up of Yugoslavia, which hardly touched Slovenia; the war they're thinking of is what we call WWII... and you really don't want to go there.

Smoking

Don't: it'll kill you (but it's got bugger-all to do with the government). But seriously, most public buildings are cigarette-free... but even in the coldest, deepest, snowiest winters, many bars and restaurants keep some tables, ashtrays and chairs outside for smirkers. As with litter, don't drop your butt on the floor: stub it out and deposit it in one of the many bins provided.

The Stare

Only really relevant in Ljubljana. They stare - in a way that would make it possible to get a job as an airport full-body scanner. Do not be concerned - it's just their way.

Tidyness

You may notice that there is no litter on the streets. You may also notice that within a couple of hours of the end of a rock concert - with the expected detritus of cans, bottles, trash and cigarette stubs on the ground - the whole place looks as though nothing had happened.

Do. Not. Drop. Litter.

Tipping

Until recently, tipping was not common in Slovenia. Even now, you will not be expected to, but if the service has been exemplary, please do.

Customs

Religion

Within the larger cities and cultural centres, you may be forgiven for thinking that Catholicism is to Slovenia what Anglicanism is to England. Within those centres this is near to the truth, but in fact many Slovenians do have a very strong catholic faith.

Probably the most important consideration for foreign visitors is not strictly to do with religion, but how close their accommodation is to the local church. And its bells.

Family

The Slovenian social structure is focused on the family. Before the turn of the century, it was common for two or three generations to be living in the same house - the only difference between rich and poor being that the former had apartments within the same house, and the latter were more... cramped. This has changed recently, with many younger people moving into their own accommodation - but often still within a stone's throw of their parents.

Home

Actually, more important than 'family' is the home - or more specifically, land. They see their land-property as a kind of validation of theirselves, possibly due to a distant history of peasant life under whichever country happened to be in charge at the time. Furthermore, many Slovenians extend their need for property to their cars, which they regard as homes from home.

When they are not at work, most Slovenians are happiest at home, cooking, pottering, gardening or possibly extending or improving the house/flat/garage/drive.