Houskygate Part II

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In the interests of balance, I returned to That Bakery and again attempted to buy my five bread rolls,  just to see what would happen.

Thanks to the readers of this blog, I now know that I should have asked for ‘pět housek’ rather than ‘pět housky’.  Whether it was my inability to decline the genitive plural correctly which so upset Pani Grumpyová we’ll never know: she wasn’t there. 

Instead I was served by a curly-haired elderly lady.  I did have to repeat my request but was prompted to do so by a polite ‘Prosím?’ rather than the Martian-shaped-piece-of excrement-identifying stare I’d endured on the previous occasion.  I even got a smile as I handed over the correct money in small change. 

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank all the readers of this blog who have supported me through Houskygate.  As I’m sure you can imagine, this event was enormously traumatic for me and I’m still dealing with the emotional fallout.  Indeed, I think I may only overcome the deep scars by undergoing a lengthy course of psychotherapy.  Either that or as one of you advised, I could just stop speaking Czech in public altogether.

My thoughts on Czech fashion are coming soon.  Unfortunately my delicate English constitution has fallen prey to the super strong Czech cold germs and winter hasn’t even started yet.  Czechman’s mum has prescribed bed rest, warm socks and lots of hot teas; I know better than to disobey her…


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14 Responses to Houskygate Part II

  1. Hi GIC,

    As always, I loved your post. I particularly liked ‘Pani Grumpyová’ which had me ROFL !

    Take care of yourself and I hope your health very soon improves.

  2. Dalsi krok jsou tedy “ctyri housky”. Az zdolas tuto metu, zcela se povzneses nad trauma, ktere Ti ustedrila pani Nerudna.

  3. Becca

    Ordering is always one of the big steps. It seems even when normal, everyday people understand you, those who you have to order from never do. I’ve really enjoyed your blog and its comments on Czech culture. I lived in CZ for a year and it is always nice to hear others have the same observations.

  4. You should try “slivovice”! The best cure!

  5. My co-workers have taken to advising me to “give up Czech” every time I make a mistake. My latest one was to warn them not to scare off, or ‘chase away’ a client and I said ‘vyhonit klienta’, which they claimed meant to perform oral sex on the client, (this isn’t in the dictionary so I can’t czech it out, but maybe one of your honoured subbers could confirm-slash-deny?) so … I should give up learning Czech.

    Inherent in all this is the attitude “we’re clever enough to learn your language, but you can’t learn ours. It’s too hard for you. Ergo, we’re smarter than you, if only in the transatlantic usage of the word.”

    There’s a great antidote to this one, of course, and that’s to be as perfectionist about their English as they are when foreigners struggle with their language. The fact is, English speakers are much more used to having our language put through the mangle – often it’s mangled quite enough by native speakers from other styles of English who can sit back and say in good conscience that what they said was perfectly correct in US, Australian, Kiwian, Canuckian, Seath Efrican, or Olstarr. That’s why we don’t normally criticise when we hear something odd being said in our language. Even if we jump in and say it’s wrong, it may not necessarily always be wrong, and I’ve had Americans tell me some things I’ve said are wrong when it’s all just English English!

    But it’s really one in the eye for the Czechs when they come up with one of their “in writtens” or “five years old children”, “hand over your agenda”, or other old favorites, and you just say “You need to give up English. Try a simpler language. I heard there was some bloke called Zamenhof who made up this really simple one…”

    • Sarka

      “vyhonit klienta” sounds really very inappropriate 🙂
      In Czech it means make a client (a man) come (in connection with sex) with a (not his) hand. So it doesn’t refer to oral sex.

      To express what you wanted to say, you could use for example these options: odradit klienta, vyhnat klienta, odehnat klienta or vystrašit klienta.

      • Many thanks for that, Sarka. I was trying to get to ‘vyhnat’ but was getting some interference from Polish or Russian probably.

        For the record, even in these troubled times I would never expect any of my staff to go quite so far in the acquisition of new work!

  6. Sarka

    congratulation on your progress 🙂 it’s almost like an empire strikes back 🙂 Next level, as noted somewhere above, would be “čtyři housky”. But that would be really a daunting challenge 🙂

  7. I really admire your courage, GIC! Don’t let the unpleasant experiences to let you down. You for sure make progress every day, every episode, I can imagine how discouraging it can be when you carefully prepare the phrases based on your textbook and then are welcome with empty shopkeepers looks at best.

    If some rationalization helps:

    – typicall shopkeeper here is really used to rather homogeneous crowd of customers, who speak only the local dialect (like word accents, sentence intonation etc. – which might be more important to comprehend the message then perfect declination). When you differ slightly from what they expect to hear, they got caught unprepared and can react it rather weird way. Definitivelly not your fault!

    – some shop assistants are not Czechs, although they look like ones for foreigners. In my favourite pekárna all the staff are Ukrainiens, who do not speak proper Czech, but a slavonic linguo that mixes Czech with Ukrainian/Russian, they pronounce Czech words with heavy Russian accent etc. I do not complain, nor I have anything against them, but this is again a matter of fact. In some shops, your Czech can be actually better then theirs!

    – most shop assistants outside touristy areas never really learned a foreign language, they have no clue how painfully dificult is to communicate with limited vocalubary, sketchy knowledge of grammar, and also without automatic knowledge of the local customs. It does not excuse them, but can explain their inability to handle the communication with you. Not your fault, indeed.

    Maybe, focusing on conversations in concrete situations rather then to perfecting grammar…. something like learning the full sentences without detailed understanding why this word is in this grammar form or other (this will come later)… like the train ticket situation where even a short grammatically absolutelly proper sentence can be actually an issue… I wonder if there is a textbook that focuses to this?

    Crossing fingers you get rid of the cold soon, and look forward to read about you next advetures in the Czechlands!

  8. Bibax

    May I explain you (and some Czechs) why “housky” is in genitive plural after the numeral 5? Well, the cardinal numerals 5, 6, 7, …, 10, 11, …, 20, 30, …, 90 formally behave like nouns declined similarly like the noun “kost” (= bone). Paradoxically they (as nouns) are singular (sic!) and neuter. The expression “pět housek” is then like “hromada housek”, in English “a lot of rolls”. Our ancestors perceived the number 5+ to be “a lot”. It is the reason why we say “pět housek JE na stole” (and not JSOU) a “pět housek BYLO na stole” (and not BYLY). The formal subject of the sentences is “pět” (singular, neuter) and not “housky” (plural, feminine). Remember: housky jsou, housky byly, BUT: pět housek je, pět housek bylo. The subject (housky or pět) has always to agree with the predicate. In English you say “a lot of rolls are …” although the subject “a lot” is obviously a noun in singular. Czech is more formal and consistent in this respect than English.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Bibax,
      Thanks a lot (!) for the explanation: it is sort of logical I guess if you bear in mind, as you point out, that your Czech anecestors thought of five as being a large amount…
      I really enjoy reading all the comments providing specific linguistic help with my (lame) Czech, so keep them coming!

      • Bibax

        I meant rather our ancestors of the Bronze Age. The Czechs and other Slavs inherited the complex grammar from unknown ancestors lost in the abyss of the Time. The grammar was even more complex than today. Common Slavic and Old Czech distinguished three numbers: singular, dual and plural:

        jedna ryba – nom. singular = one fish;
        dvě rybě – nom. dual = two fishes (now: dvě ryby);
        tři, čtyři ryby – nom. plural = three, four fishes;
        pět, šest, … ryb – gen. plural (a lot of ….);

        It is an evidence that the small numbers (1-4) were used very often in everyday life, numbers like 30 or 40 were quite unuseful in those bronze times.

        BTW, do you know the etymology of the word “houska” (in Old Czech “húska”, pron. hoos-kah)? It is a diminutive of the noun “husa” which is a cognate to English “goose” with the same meaning. The feminine diminutives are formed by the suffixes -ka, -ička added to the root:

        ryba (fish) – rybka – rybička (little fish);
        voda (water) – vodka – vodička;
        husa (goose) – houska – husička;

        The diminutives “vodka” and “houska” acquired completely new meanings.
        “Húska” was a twisted pastry made from thin long dough cylinders, much bigger than todays houska, now we call it “vánočka”. It resembles a little goose when baked in the oven.

        The Old Czech long vowel “ú” in “húska” was diphthongized to “ou” in Bohemia, but not in Moravia and Slovakia. Next time you can try to say “pět húsek”, maybe paní Nerudová is from Moravia.

      • Pět chlebů a dvě rybě!
        What I’m saying, this old Czech dual is still preserved to this day in the old Czech translation of the Bible, something like the King James Version. Which you are not very likely to encounter in your shopping endeavours, but I think it’s funny that the example Bibax used of the dual is rybě. 🙂 The one you are more likely to encounter in your day-to-day dealings with Czech is “ruce”, “uši”. When some parts of the body that come in pairs are concerned, dual has survived to this day (and is a very important feature for distinguishing between ears and pot or handbag handles). But it only applies to some of them – another tricky feature of Czech!

  9. Martin

    I was in bakery (Strossmayerovo nam.) last week and asked for “velký kulatý chleba (pecen)”. They have limited number of it every day. And the answer, which I didn’t hear in a shop since the dark communist days: “Vidíte ho tu snad někde?!”. So don’t think that rude shop assistants are reserved only for foreigners…

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