When I met Bine and we got into a relationship and got married, I didn’t realize that there could possibly be any cultural differences. Cultural differences to me were about countries far away and with people of a different skin color or religion. It sounds a little dumb now, but that’s how I felt at the time. Of course I was still young and had not traveled much. But I soon realized that there were indeed cultural differences. The cliché that the Dutch are very direct, for example. Well, that turned out to be very true. I noticed that some Slovenians were taken aback and uncomfortable when I gave my opinion about something. Sometimes they even seemed a bit shocked. It soon became clear to me that I had to learn to express my words in a slightly less »sharp« way. This can still be difficult for me at times, even after almost 17 years. Over the years, I have learned that there are many countries where people can be shocked by our Dutch directness.
In general, people are also much more polite in Slovenia. Often (vague) acquaintances continue to speak to you in the polite form (which the English language doesn’t have), something that would not happen in the Netherlands. We switch to the informal form very quickly, especially when we interact with people on a regular bases, such as the teachers of our children, cashiers from the local supermarket, the family doctor, etc.
Something I found difficult in the beginning, is the fact that you can never really seem to get very close to Slovene people. At least not in a way that we are used to in the Netherlands, like having a BBF or very close family friends with whom you go out or go on holiday. Although the people here are generally very friendly and hospitable, especially to foreigners, they always keep somewhat of a distance. In this part of the country especially, it is custom to never invite people inside your living room. Instead, they gather outside on the street or in the garage. That sounds strange right? I’ll explain. Most houses here are built in such a way that the ground floor consists of an indoor garage and often 1 or 2 rooms with a toilet and bathroom. The actual living space is on the second floor where you usually find the living room, kitchen, bathroom, but also the bedrooms. Often there is a third floor that is vacant or where some rooms have been made where one of the children can later build their own apartment. It is normal here that one or more children stay at home and have their own floor for their family. So when you come to the door to have a chat, you stay downstairs and you, therefore, stand (talk) on the street or in something of a garage (where there are often a table and benches). Parties are also held in this way. And if you do get invited into the house, it is customary to take off your shoes and are offered a pair of slippers and you sit in the eat-in kitchen. The living room is private and only for people’s own use.
In the summer when it’s nice and warm outside, it’s no problem, but in wintertime, when it is very cold, I really don’t like to have to stand outside while visiting a neighbor. When a neighbor comes to the door at our house, Bine takes 2 cans of beer and he goes out where they can easily stay and chat for an hour. In the beginning I couldn’t understand this and kept insisting that they’d come inside. I stopped trying because they really just don’t feel comfortable doing so. We build our house in a »Dutch« way, which means we only have 2 floors. On the ground floor, there’s the open plan living room and kitchen and a hallway with a bathroom and toilet. Upstairs is a second bathroom and 3 bedrooms. People are just not used to sit in someone else’s living room, so they rather stay outside. Now I just let them J. But that’s how it happened that one evening, at a little gathering in the village, I wanted to take a sip of my water and it turned out to be frozen. The rest was drinking mulled wine (it was December and it was freezing) but because I don’t drink I had my usual glass of water. I never had it freeze before! More about the cultural differences next time…..