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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Cultural Differences: Castle Ruins

Approaching Pajštún Castle
You might quickly respond to the title of this post with "But, Johanna, don't you know there aren't castle ruins in the US?"

You would be right.

Castle ruins in this case encompasses a thing or place you might visit that is considered old and/or valuable. Sorry for any confusion. ;)

American Experience:

First, I would like to share with you one of my favorite American museum stories. Whilst (I just can't resist dropping a little British flair here and there) visiting an exhibition at a museum with a friend, I was getting dangerously close to a painting. This was causing my obedient American friend some distress, as any good American knows you can't approach old, valuable things and usually are prevented from forgetting this fact by signs, ropes, walls, glass, etc.

As I backed away from the painting, a museum employee came up to me and rather dryly said "One of the things we're asking people to do is not get too close to the paintings."

As a somewhat laissez-faire and rebellious (in very small and obscure ways) individual, this statement struck me as quite funny.  I tried to respectfully stay a more acceptable distance away from the paintings, but running through my mind were many other potential sentences:

"One of the things we're asking people to do is not lick the paintings."

"One of the things we're asking people to do is not use flash photography."

"One of the things we're asking people to do is to maintain a serious and thoughtful expression when observing the paintings."

Various layers of preservation visible on a remaining wall of Pajštún
Slovak Experience:

There are over 300 castles in Slovakia. I heard somewhere that there are more castles contained in Slovakia than in an equivalent-sized area anywhere else in Europe.



Last summer, we hiked to the castle ruin of Pajštún. This castle is truly a ruin (i.e. very little remains fully intact) and is a popular relatively easy hike.

The nicely wooded trail up to the ruins
People enjoy picnicking in the "middle" of the walls and as we walked around, taking in the views from various sides, I was struck by the lack of signs warning about potential dangers.

Here I am, perilously close to both a steep
drop off AND a crumbling wall!
Possible potential dangers an American would expect to be warned about:

  • steep drop offs
  • crumbling walls
  • uneven trails

Possible reminders an American would expect to see appealing to the desire to preserve:

  • Please refrain from touching these ancient stones.
  • Stay on the marked trail.
  • Preserve this place so that others can enjoy it. 

Or something like that.

Nope. Didn't find any signs. No chains or fences or railings or glass to keep you from climbing on the walls and "destroying" the castle. No warnings, chains, fences or railings to keep you from venturing close to old windows that looked down on the hillside 20 feet below.

The beautiful grassy hill enclosed in the walls of the ruin.  Kids running freely
around a gaping hole to a cellar (see below).
In addition, kids were running around freely and parents weren't calling out reminders about danger or hovering with anxious faces imagining the absolute worse that could befall their children at the castle ruin.




I was fascinated.

My husband and brother-in-law saw nothing out of the ordinary.

Enjoying the view over the surrounding countryside
Fellow hikers enjoying the freedom of the edge





















When I tried to explain how different it was, we came to the conclusion that Slovaks seem to assume that people should take responsibility for their own safety. In addition, there is a relatively non-existent precedence of suing in court here.

Possibly a cellar, in it's present condition rather like a cave

I'm not trying to prove that the American way is right or that the Slovak way is right.

As in, American's care more about preservation and keeping things nice. Do we really? Or do Slovaks view the castle as something to be enjoyed by anyone anytime? When you have 300+ castles (not to mention cathedrals and churches and other buildings) and just over 5 million people, funding for preservation and restoration must be just a tad tricky.

Or, American's are more worried and paranoid. Are we really? Or are Slovaks also worried and paranoid, but maybe about different things?

Another view of the walls of Pajštún
As always, it is impossible to make sweeping statements about an entire group of people. However, I find it fascinating the things you can observe about a culture and mindset from visiting a castle ruin (or museum).

1 comment:

  1. Proliferation of American Warning signs compared with the lack of Slovak Warning signs. Oh, the thoughts that come to mind. But I shall not proffer my thoughts. They might upset some people, and then you would have to put a "trigger" warning on your blog! ... Hope you are doing well!

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