The only girl who could spell Czechoslovakia

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November 2009: twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the revolution that was velvet.

 Back in 1989 I was still at primary school.  I think I remember seeing the fall of the wall on TV but perhaps I’ve invented that later.  A boy in our class brought in a fragment of the Berlin wall to show everyone.  I remember being disappointed.  It was just a small bit of grey rock I could have picked up on the wasteground where I used to take my dog for a walk.  The dog was called Teddy.  He was a Bearded Collie and had masses of fur that I didn’t brush often enough so it matted into huge clumps I’d later have to cut off with nail scissors.

My very first Czech-related memory goes back to primary school too.  We had a spelling test and I was the only person who knew how to spell Czechoslovakia. There aren’t many words in English that begin with ‘Cz’. 

I also collected stamps.  Three pages of my album were devoted to Czechland. I still have it.  The ones from exotic places like Equatorial Guinea and Cuba and Malaysia have huge butterflies or angelfish or Disney characters launching space rockets. The Czech ones are less colourful. Some have tiny engravings of castles or a thumb sized portrait of Gottwald. Another one has a zebra; one has a Soviet red-star with a 50 in the middle. There are a couple with pictures of carp on them.  They are all very neatly arranged on the page, pasted on carefully with stamp hinges, those little strips of gummed paper.  I was that kind of child.

 According to Samuel Johnson, no-one but a blockhead wrote but for money.  Or a bloghead.  I’ve been trying to write for money recently which is partly why you’ve heard less from me here.  My recent assignment was to interview an ex-pat novelist whose last book was set in Czechland. I spent some time compiling a thoughtful and intelligent list of questions which I first saved as a Word document and then fired off by email.

‘You haven’t sent those questions yet have you?’ Czechman pipes up.  He’s been using my laptop since the graphics card in his gave up the ghost.

‘Yes, I have.  Why?’

 ‘There are spelling mistakes. Look, you’ve spelt Czechoslovakia wrong.’


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14 Responses to The only girl who could spell Czechoslovakia

  1. cz girl

    That was a nice article, sweet and smart. One gets more of knowledge why Czechman might like you. Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t understand it before… it’s just that this I would say was saying more about your inland and personality.

    Have a nice not-so-cold czech winter 🙂

  2. My Italian economics professor devoted three slides to Eastern Europe some weeks ago, by chance or fate on November 17. The first slide read: “Czeck Republic” (and “Slovackia”). Then he went to “Chec” and “Slovack”. And the last one said: “Ceck Repubblic”.
    I am used to people getting the name of my country wrong all the time and it’s only understandable. Afterall, I never know if it’s Lybia or Libya either. But watching this university professor try and fail repeatedly was painful.

    So the question is: how badly did you misspell Czechoslovakia?

  3. girlinczechland

    Hello pseudointelecktualka, (did I spell that right? :))

    I missed out an o – Czechslovakia. Still, it didn’t make a great first impression.


  4. oh, a missing o is a very minor problem!
    by the way, if you look at maps from WWI and the 20s or even 30s you will see that the spelling of Czechoslovakia wasn’t fixed (or respected) until quite late in the 20th century. even english maps say sometimes “tchequoslovakia” or “csechoslovakia”. you can just pretend to be very old-fashioned.

    (and what is it with english speakers inserting random “C”s before “K”s where a K is perfectly enough? 🙂 )

  5. RyanG

    Another great article. I remember hearing about the Berlin Wall coming down when I was in elementary (what we call primary in the US) school as well. They even brought a whole section of the wall, several meters across and high — or so it seemed to a seven year old — to the local museum. It had lots of odd graffiti all over. But, to be honest, I really had no clue at the time what any of it was about.

    Who are you writing the interview for?

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Ryan,

      Thanks for the compliments Ryan. I’d best not say who the interview was for as Czechman insists that I preserve my (and his) semi-anonymity but as there aren’t *that* many Czech-based publications I could write for, you can probably work it out.

      Ooh, how very cryptic I am! I love trying to create an air of mystique – much easier in cyberspace than in real life…


  6. Marek

    Sweet post. I needed that.

  7. Lev

    Thanks for writing!

    I’ll be living in Prague next semester and I enjoyed reading some of your posts!

  8. Pavel

    Yet another great essay…. thanks, Girl!

  9. Veronika

    This post reminds me when I came as an immigrant from Czechoslovakia to Canada.
    I was 6 years old and in the first grade. I didn’t speak a lick of english and the teacher introduced me as the new girl from Czechoslovakia. Then she asked me to write czechoslovakia on the blackboard. So I did. But, I wrote it in Czech (Ceskoslovensko?) with the “hacek” and everything. She said, ‘no, that’s not correct.” I didn’t speak english at the time, so I couldn’t even defend myself.
    Great post!

  10. Marek

    Hi Girl,

    Merry and peaceful Christmas and happy New Year.

    Hope you are doing well. The “arctic” days should be over for now:)

  11. girlinczechland

    Hello Marek,

    Thanks for your Christmas greetings. It has all been a bit quiet on the blog front recently but I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve for posts which will hopefully be entertaining…

    The panoramic view from Zizkov is lovely too.


  12. Jana

    Nice one! I too have a little piece of the Berlin Wall. My dad took me there for a trip in the spring 1990. I also remember Checkpoint Charlie and the strange macabre carnival atmosphere of the city. But most of all I remember the dazzling array of hairclips in a department store in West Berlin and buying my first (and only) Barbie doll. I was 11 then and became embarrassed by it pretty quickly.

  13. I can spell it too! CZECHOSLOVAKIA. AM I RIGHT?

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