Tag Archives: learning Czech

Christmas in Czechland Part I: The Carp Sellers

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How can you tell Christmas is coming when you live in Czechland? 

The appearence of the carp sellers. 

No need to consult Delia Smith on how best to deal with a 15kg turkey you know you needn’t have bothered buying: in Czechland, the centrepiece of the festive spread is fish and potato salad.  Or if you’re really lucky, fish head soup.

The two gentlemen in the photo above are from a village near Brno. The one on the right comes to Prague every year to sell his wares; they both had to sleep in the car to keep an eye on their goods. I tried to engage them in witty banter or rather, grammatically inaccurate smalltalk.  Disappointingly, neither of them seemed that interested in the fact that I’m an Anglicanka or that I find all this choose your own carp business very exotic.  Oh well.  They did agree to pose for the photo. 

I hope the hammer is for dispatching the fish rather than attacking passers-by.

Normally I have already flown to England before the carp sellers set up their stalls so seeing all this fishy produce on offer on the streets of Prague has made me rather snap happy.  I know someone in the comments asked for more pictures of statues covered in snow. Here’s a fish head instead.

The carp swim around in the huge buckets you can see behind the table covered in blood and guts: you choose the one which catches your eye and then either get your friendly carp seller to chop its head off or take it home and keep it in the bath until the big day and do the gory business yourself. 

On the way back to The Village, we stopped at a small town en route to meet with one of Czechman’s former schoolmates (see! I used that word!).  He pulled out his mobile phone and proudly showed us a picture of the three carp he has swimming around in the tub.  Not for much longer. Christmas Day in Czechland is less than 24 hours away.  You will, of course, receive a full report right here.  For now, another amusing tale of my efforts to communicate in Czech.

‘What do you have for dinner on Christmas Day in England?’ asked Czechman’s mum while we were decorating the Christmas tree together.

‘Klokan’, I replied. 

Laughter ensued. The word I wanted, of course, was ‘krocan’.  The only ‘klokany’ in Europe are in zoos. No doubt just as tasty as their feathered wattle-necked friends.  As for the carp, I’ll let you know.


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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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Could learning Czech save your life?

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The answer, surprisingly, is yes. 

Or at least if you happened to have been English and living in Prague back in May 1945, then it would have been.  In fact, a simple phrase that you might encounter in chapter one of your textbook could have stopped you being torn apart by the mob.

In her recent book, Czechoslovakia, the State that Failed, Mary Heimann recounts how Englishwoman Rosemary Kavan only just managed to escape being set upon by enraged Czechs because her husband had taught her to say, ”nejsem Němka, jsem Angličanka’ (I’m not German, I’m English). 

It’s unlikely that I’ll find myself in such a life or death situation here today.  The closest I’ve come to being attacked in public is a few heated exchanges with supermarket cashiers over failing to provide the exact money or putting my basket back on the wrong pile. 

Learning Czech might stop me getting an ulcer though.

With this thought in mind, I’ve brushed the thick dust off my Czech textbooks which means that Czechman and I have been indulging in some roleplay of an evening. This was much less exciting than it might sound, until I hit upon the idea of rehearsing for a situation which has occured many times: what to do in Czechland when you attempt to interact in the native lingo and promptly have the phone slammed down on you.

Obviously back home in England I would immediately call back and give the person on the other end of the phone an earful.  However, sadly the unit on telephoning in Lida Hola’s otherwise excellent Czech Step By Step didn’t arm me with the necessary vocabulary. 

Worry not, friends!  Thanks to Czechman (‘Díky Czechmanovi’ – see, I can decline the third case) I now have a script prepared to use in this situation which will help me fight back and which I’d like to share with other Czech learners.  It goes something like this:

‘Dobrý den. Volala jsem před chvilkou ale vypadl mi signal. Chtěla bych se zeptat proč?  Měla jsem dojem že to byl protože jsem cizinka. Myslela jsem že Ceši jsou ždovrilý ale to byla moje chyba.’

‘Hello,  I called a minute ago but you put the phone down on me. I’d like to ask why? I had the impression that it was because I’m a foreigner.  I thought that Czechs were polite but that was my mistake.’

Of course no doubt in the heat of the moment I won’t remember a word of this no doubt but just working out how I might say it made me feel better. And in an emergency I could always scream out a colloquial phrase I picked up from Czechman: clue, the first word sounds like bread before you bake it’, the second one sounds like a fruit…


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