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.