Girl in Czechland one year on: is the honeymoon over?

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Twelve months ago, Ms Girl boarded Easyjet flight EZY484 from Stansted to Prague. According to my diary, during my first week here I felt so happy I couldn’t stop smiling. Not that I didn’t anticipate that there would be bumps in the road, but I think my initial assessment of my life in Czechland still applies: “So far, so great”.

So, what have been the highs and lows of the last year? Here are a few of them, presented in an easy-to-digest list format:

The Highs

1. Receiving ridiculous amounts of praise from surprised locals when managing to stammer out the most basic utterance in Czech. Disproportionate, yes, but also deeply gratifying.

2. Swapping a particularly grotty London suburb – the street I lived on was actually called “Murder Mile” although I obviously survived – for a cosy flat in a pretty corner of Prague which Czechman and I can actually afford to rent without having to share with anyone else.

3. Managing to get more mentally and emotionally rewarding work than I had in London – and luncheon vouchers! I’ve never had a job where they gave you luncheon vouchers, not even in France! Another excuse to eat out nearly every single day (don’t tell Czechman…)

4. Managing to make nice new friends (aww) which has helped me to avoid homesickness almost completely. That and regular trips to Marks and Spencers. Once M & S pulled out of France, I wasn’t far behind…

5. Discovering new things. Like the fact that I could ski without significantly injuring myself or anyone else. And that fruit dumplings can be a main course.

The Lows

1. Having my attempts to communicate in Czech undercut or ridiculed. It’s not like I don’t have the knowledge – I can tell my irregular imperfect verb of motion from my locative plural, thanks very much – but thanks to people in shops and restaurants being so determined to show off just how well they can speak English, I’m now severely lacking in confidence.

2. Grumpy-faced individuals behind desks who think that rather than attempting to solve your problem, from their perspective the problem would go away if you simply buggered off.

3. Grumpy-faced individuals who work on supermarket checkouts who yell at you for putting your shopping basket back on the wrong pile, refuse to accept your stravenky (luncheon vouchers) because you have two 3 crown toilet rolls amongst your otherwise completely edible groceries and avoid putting your change in your hand lest they be contaminated by your foreign germs.

I know what I said before. I was wrong.

4. My failure to make more than one genuine Czech friend of my own. Aww. You will all be aware that I live with (a) Czechman – “Stop talking about me on your blog! It’s all Czechman, Czechman Czechman!” – so I suppose that makes me more integrated than the average Anglophone expat but I wish I had a few more Czech pals.

5. Killer icicles. It turns out the main hazard of a Czech winter is not the actual cold which if you wrap up warm enough – one English friend of mine even goes as far as sporting a balaclava – but the ice. All the snow made things very slippery out there indeed. Then there were the icicles – huge monsterous stalagtites which when the thaw came started falling from the sky. Yikes!

Phew, I enjoyed that. Especially the moaney bit. It’s nice to get things off your proverbial chest once in a while. Anyway, thanks to those of you who’ve been reading this for the past twelve months and apologies for my recent lack of posts. Now spring is finally in the air, I’m sure I’ll feel more inspired.

19 Comments

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19 Responses to Girl in Czechland one year on: is the honeymoon over?

  1. I just love your blog. Whatever bad happens to you in CZ your great sense of humour will undoubtedly get you through!

  2. girlinczechland

    Sense of humour? But I’m being deadly serious – especially about the luncheon vouchers. 😉

    GIC

  3. sophy

    Im glad that overall you are happy in Prague.I wish I contributed to part of the highs:)
    M&S gonna be there for a while so u r good,dont worry:-P

  4. Standy

    Hi GIC,

    the worst thing ist to stay alone.
    25 years ago I was solving similar problem.
    My family is one half German and my parents, inspite of being Czech,has been living in Germany more than 40 years.In 1985 I was allowed by communists to visit my parents living in Germany.I though always, wenn I once come to my close Family,I would stay there immediately,but it was different.There was nobody to share my difficulties and common pleasures – girlfriend ,fellows ect.,that`s way I came back.
    I changed Freedom for friendship
    I was lucky, the communists had lost.
    You have your Czechman and I belive you are more bravier than me and you will stand and in the end you will have more czech pals and you will become a little bit happier.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Standy,

      Thanks for sharing your very interesting story.

      I have to correct you on something though – I’m not unhappy here and to be fair, I haven’t put myself in many situations where I could make Czech pals of my own. Still, hopefully once I have a bit more time on my hands and put more effort into learning the language this will improve. And I do interact with at least one Czech everyday…

      GIC

  5. dobrý den,

    finding friends anywhere is difficult and one year is not enough. but look at the bright side of it: it could have been worse, you could have fallen in love with a german or an austrian – now, that would be real trouble, friends-wise.

    na shledanou!

  6. Marek

    Luncheon vouchers, funny!

    Now, I am well aware I used up my comment-space on the last post but I just can`t help this one on the #3 Low point.
    ..
    ..
    .. I told you so!! 😀

    Užij si další pěkný rok v Praze!

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Marek,

      Just wanted to let you know that yes, you were right 🙂 The lack of a friendly greeting does get rather wearing after a while…

      Have missed your comments – glad you’re back 🙂

      GIC

  7. doublestout

    Great blog! I’m planning on going to CZ for nearly a year to learn Czech. I’ll spend two months in Prague before taking the train to Brno for an academic year at Masaryk University. You say you receive compliments yet suffer from a lack of confidence because so many people want to speak English with you. I know this isn’t an issue that’s confined to the Czech Republic but how serious is this problem? Has your ability to speak Czech improved?

    Thank you

    • girlinczechland

      Hi there,

      My ability to speak Czech has improved somewhat although I don’t think it’s the kind of language that you can pick up by chatting to people (if you can ever learn a language like this) – you need to put in some serious hard graft on your own… I also don’t have that many Czech friends so I’m confined to practising with Czechman, random receptionists and my hairdresser. This is my own fault though as I haven’t had much time for socialising and putting in the effort to make new friends that I might like to have done.

      Good luck with the move – I’m sure you’ll love it here and that you’ll have more chances to practice your Czech in Brno than you would in Prague.

      GIC

    • Mirek51

      Hallo GIC!
      If you want to speak Czech and not be bothered by people forcing you to speak English do not reveal you are from Britain and pretend you are from eg Norway, a town nobody knows, from the far North. Use abrupt English phrases to show them you have about the same problem speaking E. as speaking Cz. They will become happy to help you with your Czech.

      • girlinczechland

        Hello Mirek,

        You are a mindreader! I suggested to Czechman that I start telling people that I’m Norwegian and saying in an aggressive tone, ‘Umite norský?’ when they insist on replying to me in English every time I order a coffee. Czechman claims they’re trying to be helpful but I think that most are just keen to show off that they speak English.

        I’ll just have to pay more visits to the village and brush up my Czech with Czechman’s grandmas – at least they always send us home with plenty of fresh eggs and ‘organic’ potatoes!

        GIC

  8. You could do what I do, and cultivate a broad Geordie accent to answer them in when they switch to English. Then it’ll be them, not you, who has to take the confidence hit! Reading back copies of Viz is good for practice.

  9. Lucie

    I know why I have been living abroad for the past 5.5 years! Lows 2 + 3 and the other ‘truth’ about my ‘home’ country you present here just remind me to stay away for as long as it gets sorted 🙂
    4 – if you still want one I am here, not here but currently in Munich (before 5 years in Oxford). 🙂

    Lucie

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Lucie,
      Yes, the grumpiness! It’s something of a cliche to complain about it, but then again, a cliche can only become a cliche if there’s a good deal of truth in it. Why *are* people here so grumpy? And don’t tell me it’s ‘because of Communism’ because to offer that as an explanation is just another tired cliche as far as I’m concerned…

      And thanks for the offer of friendship! It looks like it will be a long-distance thing though, unless things change and you decide you cannot resist the pull of the homeland after all…

      GIC

  10. Jirka

    Just attack them with cockney. I don’t know if you were born under the Bow Bells but I guarantee that every Czech waiter will crumble under a “bo’a o’ wo’a, mate” and will be more than happy to listen to your Czech 🙂
    Unless they’ve got a few years in London on their CVs, of course (though not many Czechs return back home for good once they’ve fled, as far as I can tell.). Awesome blog, by the way!

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Jirka,
      Nice suggestion – I’ll have to work on perfecting my Cockney which is a bit rusty but I do need to preserve my RP voice for teaching English 😉
      GIC

  11. Peter

    I might be commenting on a well over two year old post, but I do feel like you are not being just in your “Low #1” there…

    You see, it is quite natural for a teacher of English, learning Czech herself, to be readily accepting of someone trying the best of his bad knowledge of local language, not trying to somehow get their way, but to use the language for the purpose of learning it. And as such, you think when someone responds to you in English, you assume they try to show of their own skills (i.e. I am better than you, because I am better at your language than you are at mine).

    But, there is actually a rather different reason… and that is, “Lets do this in a language that is more convenient for the both of us.” You see, there is, in eyes of a local, very little reason to learn Czech at all, even if you happen to live here “for life”. This is similar to the surprise of people that you, as a westerner, actually like Prague more than London. Also, add to the mix the belief (hopefully, no longer a truth) that there is a problem with using English in your day-to-day life (in as most people dont speak it).

    With this kind of mindset, the poor waitress assumes you are trying to talk her in Czech not because you want to use Czech, but because you are so tired of having to use Czech, that they really do believe they are doing you a favor. I have been there… I have worked as a cashier in our Tesco department store (think My Narodni, but less nice, more like a supermarket) at the far east of the former federation, and judging from the reaction of specific customers on finding out I can speak English(German/Russian, whatever the customer prefers), I do really believe it was convenient for them to be able to use English rather than fish for Slovak words. Add to that the convenience of getting the deal done quicker when I have another three customers to attend to, and you kind of see why I was happy to use my English, even if I did not mean to show it off (frankly, I don’t need to, I am quite happy with it and don’t need confirmation of my skills).

    I do see though why you are let down by that. It did took me a trip to Budapest, where I tried to use my almost non-existent Hungarian, to realise that while there is no distinct outer difference between a person wishing to use a language, and a person believing they have to use the language (but wish they didn’t have to), the inner difference is extreme.

    Cheers and I hope you like it here.
    Your, in a way fellow expat, Peter

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