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This interview was published, in Slovak, by Markíza Magazine on 2 July 2009.
The English text here is a loose back-translation of the Slovak text of the published article, which is available at mojacasopis.sk.
This is a translation of a translation of my own interview responses, and a bunch of things inevitably get lost in such a process. In a couple of cases, I’ve footnoted things that I feel I ought to clarify, but, with that, the text:
Verbal Aspect Bothers Me!
Text: Ľuba Kukučková – Photo: Oles Cheresko
Mike Gogulski has a Polish surname, was born an American and today is a citizen of no state. He has worked in the USA and in Belgium. Lately, he’s dropped anchor in Slovakia and has been living in Bratislava for five years.
To the east, he’s been as far as Košice, Guatemala to the south and Vancouver, Canada to the northwest. He doesn’t feel like a globetrotter, and he’s very pleased to be in Bratislava!
Mike’s paternal grandparents emigrated to America at the start of the 1900s. His mother’s ancestors came from Germany. Most of today’s Gogulskis live in the area of Poznań, Poland, but Mike doesn’t know them personally. Like many European emigrants at the beginning of the twentieth century, his ancestors, too, wanted to break their bonds with their motherland and become Americans. They had difficult lives, too, and there remained no time to preserve the Polish language and culture for their children. But now their great-grandchild has come back to Europe after all. He speaks four languages and, thanks to his spontaneous approach to people, has made many friends in Slovakia. In this way, he might be called a true world citizen. Mike Gogulski, however, has no citizenship. He renounced his American citizenship, and for the moment is only considering becoming a Slovak citizen…
School, LSD and Beer
Michael was born on 8 August 1972 in Phoenix, Arizona. His father got a job as an electro-mechanical engineer in Orlando, Florida, and there Mike lived with his family until he was 25 years old. Afterward, he roamed a number of states following jobs, from Minnesota to Connecticut and from California to Wisconsin. Eight years ago, his father died of cancer. His mother, Joan, lives in Florida. Mike’s younger sister, Karen, who works as a nurse, is raising two adorable boys – Cole and Chase – in Orlando with her husband, Billy. Mike sees his nephews only in photos, though. “In 1990 I started studying information technology at a university in Orlando, but then my interest shifted to LSD and beer,” he openly confesses. He quit his studies after the first semester. But he’s found his footing in life quite successfully. He has a ten-year information systems career behind him as a systems administrator, network engineer and IT infrastructure manager. He moved around a large area of the western parts of the US after work.
In 2004, in the wake of many work as well as personal expectations and failures, Mike left America. His girlfriend at the time wanted to teach English in a European country, someplace in the eastern bloc. She sent out inquiries and got a response from right here in Slovakia. They both moved to Bratislava and, though their paths parted later, Mike became fond of Bratislava. Since 2006 he’s begun devoting himself more to language, rather than to computers as in the past. He has become a translator, proofreader and editor.
Slovaks are Quieter
“Bratislava has its good and less-good sides,” the American native muses. “I never lived right in the city in the past, in the US. I thought that I’d hate the city, but that’s not so. I find living here pleasant. I like that Bratislava is small enough to offer a peaceful life while being big enough to have everything you’d expect from a city.” He has friends, lovers, ex-lovers as well as enemies here… He has been to Žilina, Košice, Prešov, Banská Bystrica and Zvolen. He has heard that Slovakia is a beautiful land and looks forward to discovering it over time. Does he sometimes compare Slovaks to Americans? To Mike, good and bad people are found everywhere. As a matter of principle, however, he judges people as individual beings, not as members of some group based on place of birth or the geographical divisions of the world. Mike believes that Slovaks, in general, are quieter than Americans. He’s had some awkward moments, though, with the hazards of Slovak. He’d been in Slovakia barely three months when he approached a group of girls at work with whom he often went to smoke outside the building. He asked: “Would you like to smoke?” And they took this a bit differently… They stopped laughing after a bit and explained the sexual undertone* of the question.
At one time he defended his trouble with the language by saying, “my Slovak is good enough for taxi drivers and waiters,” but since then he’s improved dramatically. He reads well in Slovak, in his humble appraisal, writes like a respectable schoolboy but has trouble, though, understanding responses in conversation. He works as a translator, and so he hasn’t mastered slang; he says his Slovak is more lawyerly. Really understanding a language demands growing up in the country. “I didn’t want to live in some sort of isolated bubble with other Americans and English-speaking people,” Mike says. “I would have felt cut off from reality. Many Slovaks say that Slovak is one of the most difficult languages in the world, but I don’t think so. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s easy. I took two years of Latin in school, so Slovak declension didn’t surprise me. Still, I’m not good at recalling when and how I should use the various cases. And the hardest thing for me – and perhaps for many westerners who come to Slavic lands – is verbal aspect. I want a magic key that would make it clear for me when to use the perfective aspect, but no such key exists!”
Mike is “Polyamorous”
Besides working with Slovak, Mike also translates official documents from Czech into English. He has simplified his lifestyle, and so he’s also living off smaller earnings. If he travels to the Czech Republic, he gets by in Slovak, and says the local people there observe him with interest. He once spoke Spanish very well, but has forgotten a lot. He believes, however, that if he traveled for a month to Spain or Mexico he would speak fluently by the third week. Though he behaves like a world citizen, he hasn’t traveled that much more of it. “In the US I moved from city to city every two years. I have been as far east as Košice, as far south as Guatemala, and as far north and west as Vancouver, Canada. I have been satisfied living here in Bratislava, and I don’t have any urge to move someplace else soon.” Mike got married in the US at 23, but the marriage lasted for only six years. From the marriage he has a nine-year-old daughter, Kyra, who lives with her mother in Georgia. Nobody from his family has visited him in Bratislava yet, though maybe they will come when his nephews grow up. Is he sad to be alone? “No. These days I am polyamorous (author’s note: in love with more than one person) and I’m not interested in an everlasting relationship of the marriage type.”**
Why did Mike renounce his American citizenship? “In its political, governmental essence, the USA appears to be a criminal organization. I don’t want to be connected with it in any way. I’m not against supporting society, but I am against taxes, which the state criminally demands of me from birth, and I don’t want to support others’ privileges. For me, ridding myself of citizenship was a way to bring my legal and social status into harmony with my beliefs. Perhaps later I will apply for Slovak citizenship, but that will be only for practical reasons, so that I can travel. I don’t want to have any sort of connection with the criminal organization known as the state. And, perhaps, I will not be a citizen of any country until the end of my life.”
* The Slovak verb fajčiť means, literally, “to consume by smoking”, as by smoking a cigarette. In slang it also means “to perform fellatio”.
** My actual words: “These days I am openly polyamorous, and not interested in a state marriage of any kind.”