Slovakia cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
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Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
The most favourite topics include work, family, hobby, and travelling. Especially, when encountering with foreigners, Slovaks like to talk about travelling, different lifestyles, food etc. History of Eastern and Central Europe is a frequent topic as well. Many Slovaks also like talking about the history and events of the communist era. Due to the peculiarity of this era, people have many extraordinary stories to tell.
You should avoid talking about weather, politics, and money (salary) unless there is a special reason, such as 40-degree temperatures in Slovakia! These topics are regarded as boring and they are used only when people do not know what to talk about.
There are no special topics that would offend Slovaks. Perhaps you should be slightly careful talking about the Czechs in an overly positive way and comparing Slovaks to them. The relation between Slovaks and Czechs is very similar to that of Canadian and Americans—sometimes Slovaks feel undervalued. Please note, however, that Slovaks and Czechs feel very close to each other. This sprouts from sharing similar culture, language, history, and traditions.
Sometimes foreigners think that Slovakia is a very underdeveloped country. Some think, for example, that we do not have TV. Of course, Slovaks are very sensitive to such comments.
Also, it is important to differentiate Slovakia/the Slovak Republic, from Slovenia, one of the former Yugoslavian countries with the capital of Ljubljana. Sometimes foreigners mistaken Slovakia for Slovenia and ask questions about the war. The Balkan war took place in Slovenia, not in Slovakia.
Finally, it is important to differentiate Slovakia/the Slovak Republic, from the Czech Republic. Ten years ago, these two countries were one—the Czechoslovak Republic. However, they split in 1993. The Slovak and Czech Republics joined just before the WWII in order to better defend themselves from German invasion. After the WWII, Soviets invaded the country and imposed the communist regime so the country remained as one for 40 years. After the downfall of the communist regime in 1989 achieved through non-violent revolution, hence the name "Velvet revolution", Slovak and Czech politicians began efforts to split up again. In 1993, the Slovak and Czech republics became independent countries again. Mind you, this separation took place amidst a great political confusion, without any referendum and many Slovaks and Czech were actually against it.
Slovaks like humour; but at first, they are likely to be rather formal. Once they become familiar with you, they enjoy humour and can be pretty humorous as well.
Other than language and a slightly lower standard of living there is little cultural difference between west-central Slovakia and Canada. Eastern Slovakia is a more rural/communal society. During the last 7 years, Slovakia has become rapidly westernized.
Inquiries into the natural beauty of Slovakia’s landscape, especially its mountains, castles and the Danube River or comments on the beauty of the city/town centrums can be good topics to initiate conversation. Slovakians are very proud of both their metropolitan and rural/recreational areas.
Slovaks are very proud of their country. They will describe their country’s history and political situation with ease, but it is best to let them lead the discussion. There is some uneasiness surrounding the following subjects and it would be best to avoid them until you become familiar with your host: Roma (gypsies); government policy towards Hungarians, and Slovakia’s role in World War II. I have found Slovakians to surprisingly ambivalent towards Russians, in spite of the oppression they suffered at their hands.
Slovakians tend to see themselves in much the same position relative to Czechs, Austrians and Germans that Canadians do to Americans.
One should learn the names of at least some of the Slovaks playing in the NHL, many are stars (Palffy, Bondra, Hossa etc,) and are source of pride. Many Slovaks follow hockey closely and hockey news is quite accessible.
When speaking to someone, people maintain a shoulder length distance—social distance. Of course, among friends and family members the distance is shorter and there is much more touching. In formal situations, touching others is very uncommon and is rather unacceptable.
Making and maintaining an eye contact is very important; it is actually an indicator that a person is serious, trustful, and polite. If you avoid an eye contact, people may doubt your sincerity. Note: Eye contact is extremely important when you make a toast. While you clink your glass with your counterpart’s glass, make sure that you look directly into his/her eyes; not doing so is regarded as being very impolite and disrespectful, although he/she would not convey this feeling to you. Nevertheless, Slovaks have already learned that North Americans do not follow this habit, therefore they would probably understand if you did not follow it.
Slovaks use many gestures; however, in formal situations, they are rather conservative. In terms of facial expressions they are rather moderate.
When you give someone flowers, make sure there is an odd number; an even number is given at funerals only.
Although your host will insist on you to leave your shoes on when you visit a Slovak home, make sure you take your shoes off. Similarly, when you are offered with something (food, drink, presents), especially in the country, you are supposed to refuse it at first. Only after your host repeats the offer for the second or third time, do you accept it. The reverse is also true: when you offer something to a Slovak, he/she will automatically refuse it. That does not necessarily mean that he/she does not want it and the person will wait for multiple offers before accepting.
You will notice that Slovaks are much less assertive and confident than Westerners. Being assertive and self-confident is sometimes perceived as being self-centred. Slovaks have difficulties with "selling themselves" although they have a lot to offer.
Women and the elderly are treated with respect. When going through the door, a man will always hold the door and let a woman or elderly person go first. Likewise, when a man is in a company of a woman and they visit a bar, it should be a man who enters a bar first. The reason for this, is that if there were a fight and fists flying in the bar, it would be the man who would get slapped.
Slovaks appear to accept the same personal space as Canadians; no obvious difference is notable. Body contact is also similar.
A Canadian man would be expected to shake hands with a Slovak man or woman. With increased friendship, a Slovak woman might kiss a Canadian man on both cheeks upon parting. Similarly, a Canadian woman would shake hands with Slovaks, but both a Slovakian man and woman would kiss her on both cheeks upon parting if a close friendship has developed. Slovaks kiss each other upon the cheek in many situations.
Slovaks tend to wish everyone good-bye whether they have had a short conversation with you or just met you in an elevator. Slovaks don’t expect you to know their language (menus are often in English), but appreciate you saying hello, thank you, etc. in Slovakian. They may laugh at your pronunciation, but it is mainly out of appreciation of your effort (respect).
At some meetings, the meeting may be concluded with the tossing back of a couple of shots of liquor (followed by water chaser). They consider it an insult if you do not participate, so lighten up. This is becoming less common as they westernize.
Display of emotion
The public displays of affection, anger and other emotions are acceptable, even if not generally welcome. In particular, shouting, kissing, screaming, fighting, or laughing too loudly in public will trigger considerable scorn. Sadly, Slovaks are not generally very expressive in public.
Slovaks do not seem to show large emotional displays. In heated arguments, Slovaks often raise their voices. I could not say how they would react to a foreigner’s raising their voice.
Dress, punctuality & formality
The dress code at work largely depends on where you are going to work and in what position. Managers and executives are expected to wear business suits. Lower ranking positions require business casual clothing. In any case, it is better to be overdressed than dressed down. I recommend observing how fellow colleagues dress and then dressing accordingly.
Again, the use of language largely depends on the position and environment. One thing should be remembered though - the Slovak language has a "vous" form. Thus, it is best to address people by their surnames. Eventually, the older person, a woman or a higher-rank position person may invite you to address him/her by his/her first name. Among Slovaks, this takes place only when people develop very close relationships. However, knowing that English language does not use the "vous" form, people will often introduce themselves to you using their first name and expect you to address them this way.
Slovaks use very polite language in their work environment—swear words and cursing is very rare.
Slovaks take time very seriously. Punctuality indicates seriousness, politeness, and more importantly, respect. Arriving late for a meeting means that he/she does not respect the other person(s), although, a 5-10 min. delay is acceptable as long as you have a reason to be late. You are expected to apologize and explain the reason why you are late.
As time is taken seriously, so are deadlines. An inability to meet a deadline is perceived as poor time management, inefficiency, disrespect, and carelessness.
Similarly to Canada, absenteeism is not welcome. A frequently absent employee may become highly disliked among his/her colleagues who will regard him/her as lazy and disrespectful to fellow colleagues.
Slovaks tend to dress conservatively and casually. In certain formal situations a suit and tie seems appropriate, but commonly casual neat dress is adhered to.
Slovaks generally are punctual for meetings. In my experience, absenteeism is not really accepted. In most situations, management and workers strive for efficient and good productivity. However, relics of the old socialist system are present and certain individuals, whether because of seniority or influence, are tolerated (they may make certain minor contributions to the business at hand).
Deadlines for project completion can slide and seem to be accepted with a shrug. Slovaks do not seem to always feel the same urgency as a Canadian might in seeing that an objective is identified and met in a timely fashion.
Preferred managerial qualities
The most highly regarded qualities associated with an expat are education, work experience, and leadership skills. Also, positiveness, flexibility, enthusiasm, and flow of new ideas are highly admired qualities. In addition, unlike locals, expats often employ a model of horizontal management, i.e. they have very friendly and open relations with their subordinates.
It might be difficult for you to find out how your staff views you. Due to a top-to-bottom management tradition in the Slovak Republic, staff is not accustomed to openly expressing their views, ideas, opinions, likes and dislikes to their supervisors. They will often talk, complain, and praise, among themselves, but they will never communicate such things to a supervisor. However, in international/multinational firms, staff had become accustomed to a different management approach and therefore they feel more open to voice their opinions and needs to management.
My sense is that education and experience are highly valued in the workplace. Slovak organisations will generally have a personable English-speaking individual to interact with an English-speaking expat. Supervisors generally interact on a casual basis with employees. Slovaks will accept expats as supervisors on projects, at least when they are bringing new technology or ideas to the workplace. There can be some resistance to changing traditional ways of conducting business, but this attitude seems to be in the minority.
Hierarchy and decision-making
Due to the collectivist nature of the Slovak culture, decisions are often made collectively. As a consequence, decision-making processes may be very long. From the expat’s point of view, this feature is one of greatest obstacles to overcome in the Slovak management environment. Decisions are taken from top to bottom. Listening and accepting views and opinion that come from lower ranks is still fairly uncommon in comparison to Western firms.
The managers/owners make the decisions. I believe that employees can make suggestions as to methodology, means of meeting, objectives, etc. There seems to be no difference from Canadian norms here. Interaction within groups at the workplace is quite common.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
Coming from a long tradition of women playing a rather submissive role in society, the business community is still in the process of integrating women as managers with equal responsibility. However, the Slovak environment has been rapidly changing and often times resembles greatly the situation in Western firm.
The major religion in Slovakia is Catholic. With overall modernization and westernization, religion is gradually losing its strong position in society. This is particularly vivid among the younger generation and in the bigger cities.
Class status plays an important role in society. The fall of the communism gave rise to all classes known in the capitalist structures: elite, upper classes, upper-middle class... homeless. In Slovakia, the most common signs of status are: 1.a car, 2. a house, and 3. holiday destination.
Workers representing lower class may envy higher class employees. However, actual displays of such attitudes are usually now shown. Sometimes, local staff envies the expats’ salaries, as they are normally multiple times higher.
In comparison to the Western world, and Canada, in particular, Slovakia still remains a considerably homogenous country. The two major minorities are the Romas (gypsies) and Hungarians. Due to a low level of awareness and appreciation of diversity and different skin colours and ethnicities, some Slovaks, especially Skinheads, display considerable prejudice and intolerance toward minorities, most notably the Roma.
Fellow colleagues may try to keep a distance from those in the office who are Jewish or Muslim; neither groups is common in Slovakia. A person who belongs to a Hungarian or Roma minority may experience considerable displays of antipathy; however, this is more likely to happen in less professional work environments.
Both sexes fully participate in business. The typical attitude that the different sexes may have different roles in society and, therefore, different expectations is prevalent.
Slovaks are not religious: Communism and events such as the Holocaust and barbaric acts committed in the past by local Nazis and communists against their own population have reduced the primacy of religion. The numerous large churches appear to be attended mainly by the elder generation.
Class does not seem to be an issue. Some of the old upper-echelon communists seem to have maintained a privileged place in politics.
Slovaks are relatively nationalistic, but open to foreigners, especially Canadians, whom they consider non-threatening. They have some bias against German, Austrian and American nationals. Czechs are viewed with mixed feelings (much as we view Americans). There is an internal issue with Hungarians and their desire to maintain their language. Any comment on the Hungarian issue might be considered interference, although Slovaks on a personal level are generally ethically tolerant.
The differences with the Romas (gypsy) in central Slovakia have caused other Slovaks to resent them. Generally Roma do not enter the workplace so it will not be an issue for a Canadian.
It is fairly important to establish a personal relationship with a colleague before getting to business. Stakeholders engage in a small talk before they get to business; however, this does not take long and would not require multiple meetings.
For expats, establishing personal relationships with their Slovak counterparts will be very easy. Your counterparts will ask you many questions about your country, work, reasons why you decided to work in Slovakia, your opinions on the country and its people. In return, you may ask your counterparts about their work, career path, knowledge of Canada etc.
It is important to establish a personal relationship with a Slovak in order to do business in Slovakia. There is a myriad of strange, ever-changing business rules and conventions that only a Slovak can understand. Engaging them in social activities will allow you to evaluate whether you think you will be able to trust someone, something a Canadian Slovak might also be able to advise you on.
Privileges and favouritism
Unfortunately, because of a collectivist tradition of the Slovak culture, many times employees expect special privileges from their supervisors who happened to be their friends or relatives. Protectionism is still quite strong in Slovakia, which may lead to better salaries or hiring preferences for those who are friends of the people in charge.
It is not recommended to grant such privileges and, in general, doing so is perceived as unethical. People still do it, however.
Yes, a colleague might expect special considerations e.g. exchange of small gifts, support during meetings. Also, he/she might expect relatives to be hired in certain circumstances. I would recommend co-operation in all of these situations, but Slovaks will accept using rules and criteria such as competence.
Conflicts in the workplace
Problems among colleagues should not be confronted publicly. These problems are normally confronted privately or within a very close group of colleagues. In many local firms, concepts such as conflict resolution or mediation do not really exist. Problems are solved on a more ad hoc basis.
Confront colleagues privately with work-related problems. Slovaks have personal pride and do not like being publically criticized. They are also hesitant to criticize expats. The only clue that you may "have done wrong" is a bit of stand-offishness.
Motivating local colleagues
Slovaks are still struggling to better their lifestyles. Thus, salary and benefits are the main motivating factors.
Slovaks tend to be motivated by money and fear of failure. There is a fair amount of loyalty once a relationship is established.
Recommended books, films & foods
Slovak history, economy, culture etc.: www.slovakia.org; Slovak news, recommended restaurants, places to see, books and lists of events in English language: www.slovakspectator.sk. At the same site, visit see "The Slovak Spectator Guide" for places to visit and "The Green Pages" for book of lists in English.
Food to eat
Typical Slovak food is fairly heavy and not much appreciated by foreigners who prefer healthier diets. Slovak food includes lots of meat, potatoes, and dumplings and fewer vegetables. Some of the very typical Slovak dishes are: bryndzove halusky - dumplings with special sheep cheese and fried bacon, Schnitzels with potatoes, Goulash beef stew, cabbage soup, bean soup, and langose—a salty version of beaver tales, sold only in fast food stands.
Also, contact the Canadian-Slovak Chamber of Commerce.
Calls to the embassy will result in numerous brochures being forwarded on business opportunities and practices and cultural icons. Visit the embassy.
Unfortunately, there is still a very limited offer of cultural events provided in the English language. Therefore, you will be better off visiting concerts and commercial movie theatres.
Slovaks like and do sports, although not as much as Canadians. Mind you, this depends on where you are. Young Slovaks living in Bratislava (the capital) are more well off and are therefore more likely to engage in various sports and cultural activities than people living in the country where the standard of life and incomes are much lower.
Slovaks love to hang out with foreigners. They will be eager to recommend places of interest and many of them will even offer to accompany and assist you. The best places for meeting locals are pubs and bars. Especially in Bratislava there are certain pubs with a high proportion of foreign clientele. Here you will often meet Slovaks who speak fluent English and who will be glad to serve you as "cultural interpreters".
Even at work, you will meet a lot of people who will offer you their assistance. Please feel free to take advantage of it; they will be honoured.
When in the country, pick-up the numerous pamphlets on cultural and natural features. An English newspaper is available for subscription that can give you an impression of current events in Slovakia. Ing Barings has a monthly financial analysis that is useful.
The Slovak national hero is Janosik. He is somewhat like Robin Hood—he helped the poor by robbing the rich. At the end, he was caught and hanged by his rib.
Politics are in a bit of turmoil, so there is no clear present popular national leader. Slovakia is proud of its mountaineering, skiing and hockey traditions. With so many Slovaks playing in the NHL, this common element exists. There are also the Stasny brothers here who were the 1st NHL players from Slovakia. I believe this was in spite of the iron curtain, which they evaded, and they continue as respected coaches & businessmen.
Shared historical events with Canada
Canadians are also known to Slovaks as allies in WWII.
The famous Canadian singer, Diana Krall, is of a Slovak descent.
Not that I know of.
I do not think that Slovaks in Slovakia have much information about Canadians. I would say that they see Canadians as very nice and peaceful people.
Canada is well-known among Slovaks for its openness to immigrants. Many people are eager to emigrate from Slovakia and Canada is the priority country on the list. Therefore, I am sure you will meet a lot of Slovaks who will be eager to hear about life in Canada.
Some stereotypes that some Canadians carry that are generally untrue and harmful to business and social interaction are that Slovakia is the poorer and culturally inferior part of Czechoslovakia; that it is a lawless and without identity since the Soviets left; and that it is abusive toward the Roma.
Generally Slovaks work as hard, if not harder than Czechs and have their own culture. Slovakia was relatively developed prior to Soviet occupation and is completely westernized of late. As for the treatment of the Roma, this is a problem that offers no obvious solution.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter was born in Bratislava to a Slovak father and a Hungarian mother, the younger of two children. She was raised in this town until the age of 18. Before moving to Canada to continue her studies, she travelled for some time and then graduated with Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Communication from the University of Ottawa. After finishing her degree, she worked at a communications consulting firm and later moved back to Slovakia, where she completed a Masters in Marketing Communication and Culture Studies from the University of Comenius. Your cultural interpreter is a co-founder and member of the Canadian-Slovak Chamber of Commerce and also does some work for the International Chamber of Commerce based in Prague, the Czech Republic. She has lived in the UK for one year, and travelled to the US, France, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Israel, and Egypt. She is currently living in Bratislava and working in the field of international development.
Your Canadian cultural interpreter was born in Dauphin, Manitoba, the oldest of four children. He was raised in Dauphin. He studied geological engineering at the University of Manitoba and got a Doctorate in Geology at the University of Minnesota. His work sent him abroad to Burkina Faso for the first time in 1995 where he attended a geological conference. Beginning in 1996, he has been to Slovakia some eight times, each time for roughly a month at a time. He is currently living in Canada, working as an entrepreneur and corporate executive of small company in the area of natural resource exploration and land development. He has four grown children.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
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