Slovakia - And the Dominant Gender Study

Trip Start Jan 31, 1996
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Ellen and I arrived in Brusno, Slovakia almost two weeks ago. We're staying with Ellen's cousin Mana who lives on the upper level of a large two storey cream stucco house. We eat breakfast with Mana's always-on-the-go mother Teta Marka who lives on the ground level. Teta Marka has never strayed beyond the Slovak border, except for perhaps the odd shopping excursion into Poland, so dealing with an English speaking foreigner like me has her at her wits end. She treats me kindly - like a slow child that's in need of constant care. I remember the first time Ellen and I visited in 1998.

I walked into the kitchen early one morning thinking everyone was still in bed and found Teta Marka cooking at the stove.
I smiled and said "Dakujem."
She laughed and walked past me shaking her head. Dobre rano (good morning) is what I should have said. Dakujem means thank you. For breakfast we have smoked cheese, tomatoes, cream cheese, bread, salami, ham, honey 9% MF yogurt and tea, while watching a Russian soap opera dubbed in Slovak. Teta Marka always takes a casual peek at me at the end of the meal wondering I guess if she is going to need to wipe off my face.

That's just the beginning of our daily feeding. As soon as breakfast is over, plans are busily made for lunch. After lunch and a couple of more feedings at other relatives' houses we amble up to the supper table. My favorite (they'll cook anything for the asking) is halusky - potato dumplings with two types of cheese and then covered with little bits of bacon. After a super-sized plate of halusky or something similar we roll a little further down the hall and into bed, a place where there will be no more feeding for at least seven hours. I've been taking anti-inflammatories that need to be ingested on a full stomach. I can take the pills here at any time of the day.

Sometimes when I lie in bed holding my belly I think about the Slovak diet versus the North American diet. At home Ellen and I are almost vegetarian. We eat grains, fruits, low-fat yogurt and only the leanest of meats. And we still have to watch ourselves. Slovaks don't bother with any such thing. They just eat foods that taste good. Aside from tomatoes, we've not seen a single vegetable in two weeks. Why then, I wondered, as I lie weighted down in my bed, are there almost no overweight Slovaks?

Brusno is a village of about 2,500 people, almost directly in the centre of Slovakia. It lies in a valley in the foothills of the Low Tatra mountains, part of the Carpathian mountain range. The Hron River runs through Brusno, as well as a smaller stream that runs down the main street past people's front yards. Next door to Teta Marka's house, the neighbors cook large pots of food in their backyard as chickens run free.
I wanted to ask "What's cooking" but no one in Brusno speaks English.
It's mid-October and most mornings a thick fog hangs over the valley that Brusno lies within. At 9:30 a.m. the sun peaks over the hill-top and begins to warm the village. Some mornings after breakfast, Ellen and I walk in the hills above the village. The red-tiled roofs with smoke curling from the chimneys, cast a magical aura.
I always watch with wonder at the change in Ellen when she arrives in Brusno. It's as though a heavy weighted has lifted from her shoulders. The frown from weary travel is replaced by the glowing smile of someone who is glad to be home - even though she was born in Toronto. In no time at all, her and Mana are fighting like long-lost adolescent sisters about one thing or another, in a language that is foreign to me. But it's fun to watch and I smile at them. Sometimes they'll see me, stop for a while, and smile back.

Dominant Gender Study - Initial Findings

Criteria of the Dominant Gender:

Combination of physical strength, intelligence, forcefulness, and physical appearance.

Politics and the religious right aside, the people of Canada and the United States are in many ways quite alike. A vast land mass with upwards of 450 million people that can communicate on common ground so to speak. Ellen and I have traveled through six nations and not only are the inhabitants of these countries diverse, but there seems to be a question as to dominant gender status in each nation as least that's how I see it.

In Serbia, the men at first appear to be gender dominant. They are mostly over six-feet tall, they're strong and they're mean. Then you notice the women. They are much smaller in physical stature, but they have an overall toughness to them that seems to say "Don't mess with me amigo".
We were sitting at an outdoor café where Ellen was lamenting about not being able to find blue jeans that would fit her.
"Everything is too tight. And look at these women walking by. They don't have bums."
I looked, and she was right. The women seem to have no sit-upons. Has it something to do with their uptightness, I wonder?

Bottom line: The men of Serbia are the biggest and strongest of all the men we encountered in the Balkans. But does strength and size alone make them the dominant gender? If it were possible to take all of the female Serbs and transplant them to Canada and the U.S. they would become gender dominant in days. In Serbia however, it's a you-pick-em.

In Turkey there is so little male-female interaction that it's difficult to ascertain a dominant gender. The women are somewhere else while the men operate all of the businesses and occupy all of the seats in the bars and restaurants.

Bottom line: The women need to shed their hide-me-off-in-a-room clothing, then get out there and stand toe-to-toe with their male counterpart. Only then can we begin to determine the dominant gender in Turkey.

We were walking down the street in Sofia, Bulgaria, when Ellen said "The women here are really quite unattractive, aren't they?"
I turned sheepishly and said, "Wha, what do you mean?", thinking that she'd caught me staring at these unusually beautiful 'unattractive' women.
"Don't you think they're kind of homely?" she said.
Not the type of discussion I wished to engage in I thought it best we discontinue the conversation and said, "Look at the pretty bird over there in the tree."

Bottom line: Women by a landslide. The women of Sofia have such a powerful presence that I can't even remember any men being there.

It's become a standard joke for me to say, "I guess all the pretty girls are indoors this morning." as Ellen and I do a walk-about in Slovakia.
Later in the day I'll say the same words and simply substitute 'afternoon ' with 'morning'.
I can't see any real physical difference between the men of Slovakia and those in Canada. But the fact that they're in the Davis Cup final of tennis and have 27, I think, players in the NHL does say much. And the population of Slovakia is about 1/10th of Canada's.

Bottom line: Men by a nose. The women are tough in the corners, but the men can handle the puck better.

Last Sunday we took a drive to Krakow Poland. After a long week of working on my dominant gender project, I decided to take the day off.
While walking through Krakow's Old Town Square, Ellen said "Polish people have more rounded features and are generally more attractive than all of the other Slavic nations that we've visited, don't you think?"
Like a mad scientist I shouted, "But which one is the dominant gender, the women or the men?"
"Never mind that damned dominant gender nonsense. When we get back to Teta Marka's I've got clothes for you to wash, the grass needs a final trim before the snow falls and the leaves need raking. And then there's..."

Bits and Pieces:

We had to take a side trip to a town called Myjava near the Czech border to visit a woman who will turn 100 years old in April. The old woman took an instant liking to me. She told Ellen how lucky she was to have such a fine looking young man. During our routine cheek-kissing greeting (it's a European thing), she almost sucked the right side of my face off. A little later she asked how much younger I was than Ellen. At the end of our meeting, she asked if maybe I could stay behind and help her polish up her English skills. So that is how one gets to be a centenarian, chewing up and spitting out young 50-something year olds.
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