The extremely religious and traditionally rural Central European country of Slovakia stands out from the crowd with its melting pot of cultural and geographical diversity. It includes such unique selling points as being home to six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, blessed with a plethora of natural and cultural sites comprising 9 national parks, 14 protected landscapes, 6,000 caves and 1,300 mineral springs, as well as housing the world’s highest number of castles and chateaux per capita! Alongside these distinct cultural gems, Slovakia boasts the only capital (Bratislava) in the world that borders two independent countries, Austria and Hungary.
Nevertheless, whilst this country enjoys a varied cultural and geographical stature, what makes Slovakia a worthwhile investment? There are several beneficial characteristics, which afford foreign investors advantageous opportunities, but essentially Slovakia offers a favourable location, given that it is situated at the centre of Europe, sandwiched between East and West. It also enjoys political and economic stability, especially since it joined the EU in 2004. However, if you want to enter into negotiations fully prepared, it is advisable to understand your potential Slovakian business partners’ customs, which is why it is useful to get to grips with the country’s business and cultural etiquette first and foremost. Below is just a taster of what to expect: –
S Social customs
The customary way for Slovakians to entertain their international visitors is to wine and dine them in ‘pivnice’ (pubs/taverns) or ‘vinárne’ (wine bars). Being invited to their home is not commonplace, so if you do receive such an invitation, then consider it a real honour. As with many cultures, it is polite to offer a gift to your host as a gesture of thanks. Acceptable offerings might be a selection of pastries, a small cake or a bottle of wine. Standard custom also demands that you remove your shoes on entry to the house whereby you will be offered a pair of slippers (‘papuce’), so remember not to wear those socks with holes! Flowers are another appropriate gift, although be sure to know the etiquette surrounding this gift as you are likely to cause offence if you go unprepared. For example, offering an even-numbered bunch of carnations or chrysanthemums would not go down well as these are reserved for funerals!
First things first, make sure when you’re referring to their language, you use the correct adjective, Slovak, not Slovakian (a common mistake; Slovakian is used for the people of Slovakia). It is also mutually comprehensible with Czech (not surprising as it did use to be part of Czechoslovakia until its split in 1993, when Slovakia and the Czech Republic were born). Although Slavic languages can be quite a challenge, try and get off on the right foot with your Slovakian counterparts by learning some basic phrases, as they will value your effort. The greetings ‘Dobrý deň’ (hello/good afternoon), ‘Dobré ráno’ (good morning) ’dobry vecer’ (good evening; used after 18.00) and ‘Do videnia’ (goodbye) are a good start.
O Observe their values
Slovakians are known for being a reserved and private people therefore do not be deterred by their rather distant and formal approach to business; they take time to trust people and open up to them. Diplomacy is key. Even as business relationships develop, it would not be common for them to move to a first-name basis with you; this is reserved for friends and family.
V Value tradition and business meeting etiquette
Business meetings will get off to a better start if you give as much detail as possible during negotiations; they value background information. It is also advisable to provide copies of any documentation needed for the meeting in the relevant language.
A Acceptable greetings
A handshake will suffice as a greeting. However, expressing the polite pleasantry of ‘teší ma’ (How do you do/Nice to meet you) would earn you brownie points. Be prepared for direct eye contact whilst exchanging a handshake and if wearing gloves, make sure to remove them, as this is deemed impolite. Honorific titles come in the form of ‘Pan’ (Mr.) or ‘Pani’ (Mrs.) and their surname.
I Impress your business host
Although the exchange of business cards is not ritualistic like they are in Japan for example, it would still show respect if you had the other side of your card translated into Slovak. They are also generally given at the start of the meeting to allow everyone to know with whom they’re speaking.
A Acquaint yourself with Slovakia’s national sport
Slovakians are as passionate about their Ice hockey as they are a religious nation; you could call it their second religion! If you plan business around the beginning of April, be prepared to talk Ice hockey, as topics of conversation focus even more around this sport leading up to the last Saturday in April, when the yearly World Championship is played. The frenzy of excitement in April and May surrounding this event is palpable; it would be hard not to get caught up in all the emotion! You may even get an invite to attend a game or one of the many parties planned in and around this event.
You now have a sprinkling of cultural tools to avoid skating on thin ice with your Slovakian counterparts!
By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, February 2017
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