Greener Grass

Reading in between the lines, I feel your postings last week on ťaháky reveal some interesting extended „Conversations“ on such things as the nature of the student-teacher relationship, individual responsibility and socialism, and the state of education in Slovakia. Underlying your comments, I detected a „Discourse model“ at play that I have begun to notice and get accustomed to here in Slovakia; I will call it the „Grass is greener on the other side of the fence“ model: People in Slovakia seem to have a keen interest in how things are done elsewhere, and have the attitude that much can be learned from examining those comparisons. Thus, writers made comparisons to Denmark, Scandanavian countries, the UK and the US all with the intention of suggesting some corrective measure that could be used here in Slovakia.

The reason why this way of thinking was at first surprising may come from the fact that I am an American, and in my country there seems to be, as one writer recently referred to it*, a „myth of enviability“. That is, Americans think that other people around the world want to be like us, live like we do, have what we have, and, ideally, move next door to us.

This model has many manifestations. As a Fulbright scholar, one of the most important things I have been asked to do is to strive to help out my host country. Frequently my conversations with other American teachers and scholars in the Fulbright program center around how we can make our jobs more like the ones we have back home, with the assumption that this is how we could be most helpful.

This model meshes quite interestingly with the Slovak ‚grass is greener‘ model, as on more than one occasion important people in Slovakia (a majoral candidate, a Vice-Rector, a store owner/operator) have worked to arrange meetings with me so that I could help them understand how things (running a city, a private enterprise, a university) are done in the US . . . so that some of these ideas may be incorporated here.

As gratifying as these conversations can be, there are some interesting limitations. Under these circumstances it seems to cut across the grain for me to criticize things that I feel are bad about the American lifestyle with its focus on consumption, material well-being, self-gratification, competition and specialization . . . the cult of the expert. . . . at the expense of spiritual and aesthetic nourishment, a sense of community and a shared history and future, and an overarching inter-dependence. Likewise, maybe these two models, coming together as they do, make is hard for Slovaks to advance their own point of view, at variance with any international one, unique to Slovakia, and important for that very reason. That is, if you have as a working model the idea that „the grass is greener“ on my side of the fence, then what motivation do you have to solve my problems and to find things that are both valuable and life-enriching on your side of the fence? That is, what motivation do you have to unveil your own hidden treasures for all the world to see?

* Tom Nicholson „Tiso myth appalling and dangerous“ in Spex: Slovakia’s Monthly English Magazine p. 3.