Teaching English in Bratislava was a piece of cake. Or to use another food metaphor, it was as easy as pie. Apart from anything else, unlike other places I had worked, many of the students already spoke some English (thanks to movies and music) before they ever walked through the door of my classroom. I felt I had a head start on my job even before I started to do it, like a tightrope walker born without a fear of heights.
Slovakia had always fascinated me, not least because it was one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union, with one of the lowest tax rates. If Scotland had learned that trick, I would be a far happier word-magician than I am today.
I disembarked at Stefanik Airport, unusually named after a man who died when the plane he was flying crashed near Bratislava in 1919, and made my way to the capital, where I found a guest house, food and shelter in a part of town that otherwise seemed deserted at 9 pm.
The food as I recall included Bryndzove halusky, potato dumplings with cheese and bacon, and zemlovka, a sweet pudding made with apples. The shelter was a room with a marvellous view of a baroque palace, or so I guessed it to be. The Zlaty Bazant lager might have lent an added fascination to my outlook, of course. But any country that gave the world Jon Voigt, Paul Newman and Peter Lorre (“You despise me, don’t you, Rick?”) was all right by me.
I pitched up in Bratislava with a remit to enlighten the students, or some of them, I hoped, on matters of language, culture and history — the Scots are known for such things, apparently, in the eyes of others, modesty forbids me to say more. And as a Scot, I certainly appreciated the city’s warm summers. Cold cloudy winter nights were nothing new to a man whose domestic light switches went on in Edinburgh at 3.30 some December afternoons.
I made a lot of good friends from among the half-million or so available in a city of civilised amenable people. As a language teacher, I have to admit that what impressed me greatly about Bratislava was that so many of its inhabitants were so fluent in English — which is a different thing altogether from merely speaking it. Might I claim some credit for that, I wonder? Well, I will, anyway.
By David Aitken