We have a new set of Slovak friends. They are different than our other friends, not better or worse, just different. The biggest difference is income, “wealth”. Our new friends are waiters, opera singers (who moonlight as waiters) and the homeless near our apartment.
Let’s start with our waiter at the local pizza joint, Alex. He’s a 30 year old Serbian with an infant son, va va va voom Serbian wife, and postage size one bedroom apartment in a neighborhood we affectionately call “Commieville”. We see him, sometimes several times a week, when we want a dinner option which is cheap, cozy, and close to our apartment. Alex is working virtually every day we drop by for dinner. Of course, we became friends.
After several conversations, Alex invites us over to his house. Not in those specific “Can you come over for dinner Tuesday at 7” kind of invitations. But in the “here’s my phone number, call me sometime” way. It’s inviting but not imposing – clearly a step above “maybe we’ll run into each other around town”.
My husband is one of those gregarious, never met a stranger kind of people. He does what few of us would do (and something I would never do). He calls, drops by, spends the afternoon at Alex’ apartment. He sends me an email at work “had a great day, spent it with Alex, have a fridge full of sausage and bacon”. Sausage and bacon? Hmmm…
When you make 900 Euro a month – including tips – you give what you can give. And when a friend comes to your home for the first time, that gift just might be sausage. This isn’t the Hillshire Farms gift set sausage. It is a tupperware container with sausage (and bacon). It’s “homemade”. I picture a Serbian farmhouse, the smell of wood burning in the kitchen stove, a pair of brothers out back on a warm July evening. They are laughing, sharing a beer, smoking a cigarette and selecting the pig for slaughter.
My reacton to a gift is typically American. If you give me a gift, I give you a bigger and better gift. My reaction to a gift is to give a gift. That allows me to maintain a comfortable distance. I pay back my gifts. I owe no one anything. The bacon and sausage touches me. It’s a heartfelt and genuine expression of friendship. It says to me, “I don’t have much, but the last time I was home we made bacon. Here, have some.”. It says friendship and perhaps sacrifice. It might be the truest meaning of the word “gift”. I need to learn the only appropriate reaction to a gift sometimes is, “thank you”.
Categories: Insiders Bratislava