Monthly Archives: September 2012

Jak mluvit česky s cizinci or How to speak Czech with foreigners

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Tady to je: muj mozek.

 

Dobrý den.

Jmenuju se Holka v Česku.

Myslím, že se už trochu známe, ale mluvili jsme vždycky spolu anglicky. Je to škoda, protože já bych opravdu chtěla mluvít líp český, tak jsem se rozhodla něco vám napsat v čestině.

Myslím, že může být velký šok pro Čechy poznat nějakého cizince který má angličtinu jako rodný jazyk ale snaží se učit český. Když potkají takové lidi, Češi neví co dělat.

Tak já jsem napsala malého průvodce, jak mluvit česky s cizinci.

1. Mám mozek.

Je pravda, že jsem cizinka, ale mám mozek. Nejsem duševně nemocný. Můžete mluvit pomalej, určite, ale prosim vás, mohl byste se mnou zacházet jako s dospělákem?

Asi taky v Anglii jsme trochu povýšení, když mluvíme s cizinci, ale mám dojem, že tady v Cechach je to jěšte horší.

 

2. Neprěhánějte…

Kdybychom se setkali a řekl byste mi, že mluvím dobře česky, tak bych měla velkou radost. Ale neprěhánějte. Když jenom řikam několik slov, jak můžete vědět, že opravdu česky umím? Je to milá reakce ale občas je to příliš positivní a protože jsem skromná, citím se rozpačitá. Vím, že jěstě mám hodně práce s tímhle jazkyem…

 

3. …ale nemluvím tak špatně.

Druhá typická reakce je úplně opačka. Pamatujete si asi tu ženu v pekárně, která na mě koukala jako kdybych byla mimozemšt’anka když jsem se snažila koupit pět housek? Nemluvím tak špatně. Mohl byste být trochu trpělivějši a nezavěšovat telefon?

 

4. Prosim vás, nemluvte se mnou angličtinu!

Naučit se dobře cizí jazyk je hodně prace. Tomu rozumím. Taky rozumím, že když můžete úspěšně konverzovat v angličtině, citíte se pyšný a chcete cvičít kdykoliv je to možný. Ale když Češi v Praze mi skoro vždycky odpovídají v angličtinu když jsem v restauraci nebo v kavarně, jak se můžu zlepšit?

 

5. Zeptejte se mě na něco.

Rozumím docela dobře česky, ale ta gramatika je tak komplikovaná, že občas potřebuju deset minut, abych utvořila správná větu a už všichni mluví o jiněm tématu. Tak budte tak hodný a zeptejte se mě na něco abych neseděla bez mluvení jako idiot.

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Tento průvodce jsem napsala sama, ale moje ucitelka čestiný to kontrolovala. Zasloužím si jedničku?

 

Hello.

My name is Girl in Czechland.  I think we already know each other a little bit but we have always spoken together in English. That’s a shame because I’d really like to improve my Czech so I’ve decided to write something in that language.

I think it can be a big shock for Czechs to meet a foreigner who is a native speaker of English but is trying to learn Czech. When they meet these kinds of people, Czechs don’t know what to do. So I’ve decided to write a small guide: how to speak Czech with foreigners.

 

1. I have a brain.

It’s true that I’m a foreigner but I have a brain. I’m not mentally ill.  You can speak to me slowly, of course, but please, could you treat me like I’m a grown up? 

I know that in England we are a bit patronising when we speak to foreigners but I have the impression that here in Czechland it’s even worse.

 

2. Don’t exaggerate…

If we met and you told me that I speak Czech well, of course I would be delighted. But don’t exaggerate. If I only say a few words, how can you really know that I really know Czech well? It’s a lovely reaction but sometimes it’s too positive and because I’m modest, I feel embarrased. I know that I still have a lot of work to do with this language…

 

3. but I don’t speak that badly.

The second typical reaction is the opposite – you remember perhaps the woman in the bakery who looked at me as if I were an extraterrestrial when I asked for five bread rolls? I don’t speak that badly. Could you be a little bit patient and not put the phone down on me?

 

4. Please don’t speak to me in English!

Learning a language well is a lot of work. I understand that. I also understand that once you can manage to have a conversation in English you feel proud of that fact and want to practice whenever possible. But when Czechs in Prague almost always reply to me in English when I’m in a restaurant or a cafe, how can I improve?

 

5.  Ask me something.

I understand Czech quite well but the grammar is so complicated that sometimes it takes me ten minutes to prepare a correct sentence by which time the conversation has already moved onto another subject.  So please be nice and ask me something so I don’t just sit there silently like an idiot.

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I wrote this guide myself but my Czech teacher has corrected for me. Do I still deserve an A?

 

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A post in which my love of Czechland is explained

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underdog:
1.  a loser or predicted loser in a struggle or contest
2 .a victim of injustice or persecution

I always side with the underdog.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason I instinctively love Czechland.

It’s a small nation which has been trampled on by various sets of invaders since time immemorial. Even the Swedes managed to come down from the frozen North and kick their asses. Sorry. But it’s true.

It’s about more than a livelong habit of siding with David rather than Goliath. Loving Czechland is part of a lifelong project to embrace the quirky and thus live a life less ordinary.

There’s nothing wrong with ordinariness of course.

That’s not exactly what I wanted to say. Let me try again.

Loving Czechland is like supporting your local football team: you don’t do it because they’re the coolest or the most likely to top the Premier League, you do it because to pretend to love Manchester United just because they win all the time (do they still win? I don’t follow such matters) would mean you were silly and vain and fake. Instead you make an arse of yourself but maintain your integrity by putting on that geeky green and yellow Norwich City kit with the picture of the canary on it.

And you thought socks with sandals were a style crime.

When I lived in France, there would often come a point in the conversation where the French person would fold his arms complacently. A smug smile would creep across his face and he would utter the following words:

“But of course! You fell head over heels in love with France –  our wine, our cuisine, our language – and you just had to come and live here!”

Falling in loving with France is easy. I should know; I did it. But my love affair with France was something akin to a fling with a Moulin Rouge chorus girl: intense and exhilirating while it lasted but ultimately doomed.

Loving Czechland is different.

I know I once said you shouldn’t move abroad as an attempt to make yourself more appear interesting. But settling in Prague has made my life more exotic and given me more stories to tell when I go back home. How many English ladies know that the bar snack of choice in Czechland isn’t pork scratchings but utopenci: a pickled sausage known as a drowning man? I’m sure that little fact will eventually come in handy in a pub quiz in the future.

Exotic and yet familiar: perhaps that’s the winning combination that ensures my happiness here. I’m proud to have firsthand knowledge of life and love in Czechland.

This post was supposed to be about the joys of stumbling across a Czech cultural reference while reading a random novel or watching a TV show. Oh well.

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Czech 101: 5 essential phrases the textbooks won’t teach you

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Can it be true? Girl in Czechland is in fact Catwoman?

I used to have a dream.

In that dream I’m wearing a leather catsuit and have a small pearl handed pistol stuffed in my bra.  I’m a top class operative working for Her Majesty’s Secret Service – a sort of Girl Super Bond –  and as well as having numerous secret weapons, spy gadgets and super powers, I have the ability to switch effortlessly between at least six different Slavic languages without making a single linguistic slip.

Back here on Planet Earth, there are several reasons why this is not the case. I will never be employed as an intelligence operative. I find it difficult to remember my PIN number which would suggest memorising lengthy secret codes might be something of an issue.  I’d be unlikely to squeeze into a leather catsuit. And finally, I’d currently describe my level of linguistic competence in Czech as “rubbish”.

Let me correct myself.  To say that I suck at speaking Czech would be silly underbragging.

In truth, my Czech is quite good (which means I’m a wobbly intermediate or B1 level) but I wish it was much better. In other words, I wish I was kick-ass (almost as much as I wish I could pull off a leather catsuit) but that goal still seems far away. Sigh.

Still, for those of you who’ve valiantly decided to continue your own struggle with those four genders and seven cases, I’ve put together a little list of words and phrases I wish I’d known before I’d arrived here in Czechland but never came across in a textbook.  I’d genuinely like to hear any additional suggestions others out there may have for life-saving bits of Czech they wish they’d been taught before they got off the bus/boat/plane to make a new life here. And as always, I’d be grateful if my Czech readers could point out any glaring errors.

One of those very, very long escalators somewhere beneath the streets of Prague

1.  S dovolením – Excuse me/Mind your backs

Ever get grumpy because some people insist on standing on the wrong side of the escalator making it impossible for you to pass? You could try saying pardon  or promiňte but you’re much more likely to get folk to shift out of the way if you utter this phrase, which translates roughly as “Excuse me” or “Mind your backs please!”  Unless of course the offenders in question are foreign tourists…

2. Jen se dívam – I’m just looking

We all like to do aimless browsing around the shops. When a sales assistant approaches you and offers to be of assistance, use this phrase to let her know that all you want to do is have a quiet nosy around the shelves.

3. Zatím ne/nicNot for now/Nothing for now

You’re in a cafe having your spoilt and western tea/coffee/cake – or even all three! The waitress has done you the honour of letting you practice your Czech.  She comes and asks if you want anything else.  You don’t but you’d like to say ‘not for the moment’ in a polite fashion. This is the phrase I use.

4. Dohromady nebo zvlášt?Together or separately?

As I may have already mentioned, I did take a few Czech classes before I moved to Prague. I remember practising little dialogues where we ordered food in a restaurant but oddly I don’t remember learning this super important phrase.  As the chances are in a Czech cafe or restaurant, you’ll pay the waiter or waitress directly rather than leaving the money on the table, understanding these three words is essential.

5. Ano means yes – but so does no (or ‘naw naw naw’)

Why couldn’t one of the many Czech learning textbooks I collected over the years have mentioned the fact that ano is not the only way of saying yes? In fact, ano is a rather formal yes, while the much more common word expressing agreement, is rather confusingly no. It’s pronounced ‘nawww’ and usually repeated several times in short succession: ‘naw naw naw’ is a common refrain in Czech conversations I’ve noticed.

Saying no when you mean yes – or ano – has been one of the toughest Czech speaking challenges I’ve encountered. It feels weird – the linguistic equivalent of trying to pat your head and rub your belly in a circle at the same time.

Right, that’s enough for today. So, it’s na shledanou from me  – or should that be a more informal pa pa?

I’m going to bang out a catsuit on my new sewing machine from a couple of bashed up leather jackets.

Wish me luck.

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Znojmo, city of the grape and the gherkin: Wine tourism in Moravia

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Znojmo. Pretty isn't it?

Not just here for the beer: wine tasting in Moravia

I’ve always been a bit afraid of wine.

Not the substance itself you understand, but all the fuss surrounding it. The pretentious waffle about bouquets and vintages.  All that swilling and spitting at degustation seems showy and a bit disgusting. And anything we need to borrow a french word to describe is always off-puttingly pretentious.

A weekend in Znojmo, however, has cured me of my wine-phobia. For those readers whose Czech geography is poor, Znojmo is a town in Southern Moravia not far from the Austrian border. It also happens to be smack bang in the heart of the Czech Republic’s wine producing region.

Wine? I hear you say. In Czechland? Turns out that the nation which brought the world Budwar also produces a decent Pinot Blanc – or Rulandské bílé as they say in these parts.

Let’s get one thing straight at the outset. What I know about wine can be summarised thus: there’s red, there’s white and if you drink enough of the stuff, you risk making an arse of yourself and waking up with a sore head the next day.

Fortunately for me  it seems that when hitting the wine cellars of Moravia your chances of ending up with a hangover are pretty low.  Your Moravian vinter doesn’t add much in the way of chemicals to his vintages and provided you line your stomach with some of the home cured ham and gherkins – yes, Znojmo is famous for them – then you won’t end up feeling the worse for wear.

Back to my preconceptions. I always imagined a wine cellar to be a vast, cavernous space with hundreds of labyrinthine passages which I would be lead around by a balding man with a perfectly pressed white teatowel ostentatiously thrown over one arm. He’d also have a snooty expression and a very silly moustache.

I’m not quite sure where this vision came from but thankfully, I was completely wrong. Having explored the vinné sklepy of Nový Šaldorf – a hamlet on the outskirts of Znojmo – I can confirm the following:

  • A wine cellar can be a room about the size of a garage.
  • A Moravian sommelier is more likely to look like they used to be the frontman of Metallica: ours had heavy metal long hair and was wearing combat shorts.
  • You could well end up chatting to the sommelier’s grandma, who has been roped in to keep an eye on his kids, while sipping a glass of the good stuff.
  • If you want a warm welcome, don’t confess to being from Prague.
Czechland, you’ve won me over with your down-to-earth charm once again. Na zdravi!
-What about the wine caves? You have to tell them about those!
-Ah yes. Sorry. Wine cellars come complete with a wine cave – a long tunnel out back where the booze is kept which is full of giant glass distilling jars like a crazy science experiment.  Don’t forget to ask to have a look: it’s a key part of the experience.
-And it’s vinobraní time this month too!
-Indeed. As if an excuse were needed, this month Moravian towns like Znojmo will be having their wine harvest festivals which means a big torchlit parade of folk in medieval costume, fireworks, brass bands and of course, plenty of opportunities to sample the vino with the locals.
Znojmo’s vinobraní takes place the weekend after next (14th – 15th September) and they’ve bothered to translate the website into English so they must want your company.
If you were hoping to attend the Znojmo gherkin festival then sadly you’re too late.
Ah well, perhaps next year.

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