For me and my family, Easter holidays were celebrated with relatives in Žilina. Admidst all the whipping and splashing, no one was to find out that it was also my birthday: I wished to keep that under wraps, for a variety of reasons, but maybe most importantly, out of a (polite?) instinct that I did not wish to draw any attention to myself, and I did not want my relatives running around buying me presents, in addition to hosting our family.
Unfortunately for me and my secret, my relatives have a big print of a painting on their living room wall showing our family tree, along with birthdates. And conversation the first evening just naturally gravitated to the family tree, and after a little inspection on their part, the jig was up . . . they were reminded of my birthday.
So I woke up the following morning to a little birthday package . . . a picture book of Slovak places of interest, and a T-Shirt with a very interesting message:
So here is my quandary: it was certainly nice to get a gift (helping to bolster my “positive face”), but the message was, while right-on-the-mark appropriate in my case, not exactly something a Roman emperor would say (could it even be a face threatening act??). However, the present was offered in a spirit of hilarity and good humor, with everyone laughing and offering “na zdravie’s” (redressing a FTA?), so even if the humor was at my expense, we were among friends and family, so maybe I should view the message as a “solidarity strategy” where a little bit of abuse is meant to emphasize social closeness (Yule 64).
Question: Was the gift an example of politeness?
I should say that I have been wearing the shirt nearly every day since, not without some sense of pride mixed with humility, self-irony and well-being. It seems not only to strike to the heart of my predicament with my beloved Slovak (I have worked so hard, and yet know so little), but it also seems to rise up almost to the level of lifetime credo. I envision the gravestone marking my final resting place . . . .
I never understood
Everything was fine, and then I ran into one of my fellow American sojourners here, young Katie from my hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin (she is in high school here in Nitra for a year as a Rotary exchange student), she looked at me and rather dryly wondered out loud how I had the courage to wear a shirt that made me look stupid.
Well, I heard
I can’t make up my mind . . .
So I’m asking you . . .
What do you think?
Yule, G (1996) Pragmatics. Oxford University Press.