Monthly Archives: April 2009

Do you want to know my tongue?

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 I’m starting to wonder whether Czech is really a language or a secret code.  I’ve never seen so many Z, Y and Ks so close together before which made me ask myself if Czech wasn’t just made up of all the letters you are usually stuck with at the end of a game of Scrabble.  In the English version of the game, a ‘Z’ scores a big fat 10 points.  According to Wikipedia, in the Czech version, the ‘Z’ tile only scores a measly two.  A quick flick through the final pages of your Czech-English dictionary will show you why.  For those of you without one close at hand, here are a few highlights.  ‘Zvuk’ may sound like a vicious bird-of-prey that would rip your beating heart out and then swallow it whole, but it actually means the rather more innocent ‘sound’.  To be ‘zbrkly’ – yes, that’s right, no vowels in this word logofiles, not one – doesn’t mean to act like a berk or freeze your proverbial arse off (z-brrr-kly) but to be hot-headed or rash.  And finally, ‘zcizit’ – which I just spent five minutes trying to pronounce until Czechman told me to give up and say ‘ukrast’ instead – means ‘to steal’.


Sometimes I’m think I’m not very good at being foreign.  When people can’t understand me I tend to get sulky and stroppy.  I got a bit sulky yesterday when I spent a whole afternoon hanging out with some of Czechman’s friends getting progressively more drunk while playing croquet in the park.  Having a couple of beers with your croquet is fair enough, but moving onto tequila and finally doing shots of plum vodka would result in a conviction for a public order offence these days back in England.  Some of Czechman’s friends are very sweet and try to coax language out of me by asking me lots of easy questions but most realise that I can hardly string a sentence together and then politely ignore me.  When I whine about this on the way home, Czechman is characteristically blunt.  ‘You’d better get used to it, because things aren’t going to get better anytime soon.  Even when your Czech improves you probably won’t understand much when we’re all speaking together.’


I refuse to give up though.  I won’t be the typical English speaker who spends years in Prague and hardly manages to expand their vocabulary beyond ‘knedliky’ and ‘pivo’.  


The attractive, dark-skinned lady in the picture is advertising a language school by asking if you want to know her tongue.  According to Czechman, this is as dirty as it sounds.



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The man from C&A

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Every time I come out of a metro station for the first time it seems there’s a shopping centre.  The ones here are pretty typical: lots of glass, shiny, no daylight, nowhere to sit down unless you fork out for a coffee and lots of bright clean shops for you to buy new shiny things here.  There are all the brands here I’m used to seeing: Next, Debenhams, Marks and Spencers where I can stock up on extra strong tea and fine porridge oats. There are a couple of names I recognise from my time in France: Jennyfer, Naf Naf and Promod.


They still have C&A here.  It’s one of the few places I could afford to shop if I wanted to.  Inside, everything’s pretty ordinary.  It’s the window display that grabs my attention:





Yes ladies, just in case you’ve been wondering where’s he’s been hiding all these years, here he is: the Man from C&A.  He’s not alone though: here’s his wife and daughter.  Or sister and niece.  Or first and second cousin.  I’ll let you decide:


Doesn’t she look fierce in those shades? 


The mannequin is a popular method of displaying merchandise here in Czechland.  Even in the centre of Prague, you’ll find plenty of them in shop windows.  Every time I get the tram on my way to work, I walk past this lady:




I don’t think this photo manages to convey just how terrifying passing her can be. Her arms are always stretched out in front of her, as though she were a zombie who just happens to be modelling clothes but whose true mission is to reach out and sink her teeth into your neck.


Once I get off the tram at I.P Pavlova and head down into the metro, there are these hotties:





It seems that when you’re a hard-working mannequin here in Czechland, every day is a bad hair day.  Perhaps that’s why these girls have decided to opt for the gypsy-boho-headscarf look:



While I was hunting for a new duvet cover that struck the right balance between ‘contemporary’ and ‘kitch’ I bumped into this lady:




She reminds me of a young Joan Collins; I can’t think of any other woman who would be walking around in her bathrobe in the middle of the day wearing false eyelashes and that much blusher. 


I haven’t done a lot of shopping in Prague yet.  By ‘shopping’, I mean the recreational activity indulged in many westerners who have nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon than wander around Topshop, Next and Gap looking for something new to pick up as a little pick-me-up: in other words, the kind of shopping which is about want rather than need.  There is a good reason for this: the cost. Although all the familiar brands may be here, to my surprise and dismay everything is the same price or even slightly more than it would in the UK, despite the fact that people’s incomes are much lower.  To give you an idea, 20,000 Czech crowns (around £700) a month is a pretty decent salary here in Prague which starts to make the idea of splashing out £30 on a new top/dress/pair of jeans just because you had a row with your boyfriend look less appealing.



Anyway, next time there will be less pictures and more text, I promise.  I’m also going to include a few Czech landmarks but from a quirky angle.  Watch this space.

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Hit me with your Easter stick

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I spent Easter at Czechman’s brother-in-law’s weekend house.  The little rabbit you can see in the picture was waiting by the door to greet us.  ‘Weekend house’ implies something modest like a chalet or a caravan so I was surprised by how much space there was.   It used to belong to an old lady before Czechman’s in-laws bought it ten years ago and started doing it up;  apparently half the village is second homes now.

The house is full of quirky old furniture – a battered dresser in the kitchen, a brown and orange stripy three piece suite – and super-kitsch items such as fringed net curtains decorated with a row of yellow chicks chasing each other.

We went walking every day.  The village is in a valley surrounded by forests somewhere near the Polish border.  The forests are full of tall, slim pine trees and huge rock formations like this one.


I’ve never been in a forest which had rocks in it before.  Apparently they’re made of sandstone which helps to explain why the ground is covered in white sand.  If we had anywhere like this in England, I remember thinking, it would be crawling with tourists and the village would be packed with shops selling naff china figurines and chinzy cafes serving cream teas.  As it was, we barely came across another soul.

I loved the rocks.  I want you to love them too so here’s another picture:


The Czechs are crazy about walking and the Great Outdoors.  When I first started going out with Czechman, he suggested that we go to Wales to do some ‘walking’.  To me, this meant the odd  meander through some flattish countryside somewhere easily accessible from a town, punctuated by regular tea/coffee breaks.  How wrong I was.  I’ll never forget the dismay in his voice when I asked if we could get a taxi from the train station to the B&B rather than traispe through three miles of Welsh countryside.  Now that we’ve been together for some time, I understand that what he calls ‘walking’ requires sturdy boots and a rucksack rather than a handbag.  In fact, I would even go so far to say that I actually enjoy it.

When we weren’t walking we played petanque and drank pastis (not very Czech I know), cooked questionable meat products on the fire (see my first post for more details on my initial encounters with these) and played an obscure board game with very complicated rules that somehow Czechman and I managed to win.  There was also the communal cooking (and eating) of goulash and dumplings and the eating of a giant sponge cake in the shape of a ram and being beaten on the arse by Czechman with a big stick he had handcrafted himself from willow on Easter Sunday.  I’m not making this last bit up.  The stick business is supposed to be some kind of Czech Easter tradition linked to ancient fertility rites.  There are few sights more disturbing than watching your boyfriend chasing his sister around the house, whacking her on the behind while she screams, with a big grin on his face.

There’s no photographic evidence of the stick incident but I do have a cute picture of an Easter chick here which is a nicer note to end on:



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sausage-man4They have Tesco here, but not as we know it.  A trip to the meat counter reveals a selection of the usual offerings in those plastic trays: pork chops, chicken thighs and big red chunks of beef ready for roasting.  Alongside these, I see items that are less common back home: a cow’s tongue, neatly coiled up so it fits into the rectangular container, two dozen chicken necks which looked like skinned babies’ arms with the hands sliced off and a whole rabbit, also flayed but not boned so it still retains its original rabbit like shape, minus the head and ears.  Nothing is organic so there’s no hope of finding a free-range chicken so I’m forced to pick up a battery-reared one for sixty crowns: less than three pounds.  I know its plumpness is all fat rather than real meat; it will dissolve in the roasting tin to a dried up carcass.


The picture you can see of a man happily sucking up a sausage is on display in the butchers next to our flat.  Below him there is a pile of pigs trotters.  Offal is very fashionable in London these days.  Fergus Henderson made his name selling the concept of ‘nose to tail’ eating to metropolitan diners at the St John in Clerkenwell.  Czech Man tried to take me there once as a surprise but they were fully booked even on a Tuesday night.  I probably had a lucky escape.  The smell of offal makes me want to heave.


When I went to Czech Man’s parents for the weekend, his mum welcomed us with fried potato pancakes which were arranged in a little basket on the table and sausages.  The sausages were those long skinny frankfurters which she served to us on a plate with two blobs of mustard next to them. We ate them with our hands, dipping the sausage into the mustard before biting into it.  I felt just as surprised as the man in the picture about this new way of consuming questionable meat products but I chomped it down regardless.


When I come out of the tube on my way home the first thing I notice is the aroma coming from the hot dog stall.  One day I’ll probably give in and buy one, but somehow I know they can’t taste as good as they smell.



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