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A weekend with the (Bohemian) Village People

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I have just spent a weekend with the Village People.

Not the 70’s pop group responsible for wave-your-hands-in-the-air disco classics like YMCA you understand. The Village People is my nickname for Czechman’s family.

It’s one of those jokes that’s only really funny when you tell it to other native speakers. Like when I christened my previous employer ‘Bell-End School of Languages’ and received only a mystified look from Czechman when I couldn’t stop giggling at my own comic brilliance.

It’s sad when you have to resort to laughing at your own jokes. And don’t ask me to explain ‘bell-end’ – one of my subscribers is a man of the cloth. He might be offended.

Going to the village means being spoilt. Just in case you don’t believe me, here’s a list of items we brought home with us:

two jars of homemade marmelade
one large jar of cooked pumpkin chunks
organic goat’s cheese from the nearby goat farm
two giant homemade kolaches
two portions of chicken in red pepper sauce complete with homemade dumplings
two portions of potato and mushroom soup (homemade obviously)
a brand new cake tin (I mentioned that I wanted to make a cake for Czechman’s birthday)
twenty eggs laid by Babička Jedná’s hens – and therefore organic of course
four rohliky (white bread rolls) “because we already have bread and otherwise what will you eat this evening?”

What would we eat indeed.

The Village People ask for little in return for all this five star treatment except our presence. They are patient with my rubbish (but improving) Czech. When I bring a little ringbinder with copies of the articles I’ve recently had published, they ask lots of questions and try to understand the headlines and say I am ‘šikovna’.

This is becoming one of my favourite Czech words. It roughly translates as ‘skilful’ or perhaps ‘talented’ but you don’t have to do a great deal to gain this accolade. Czechman’s infant niece is described as ‘šikovná’ because she can roll onto her belly despite the fact she can’t manage to get back up again and starts bawling. Czechman has failed to bake the pernik (a sort of gingerbread) his Mum showed him how to make but according to her he is still ‘šikovný’ because he managed to buy some from the shop instead. I am also ‘šikovná’ because I can speak Czech (badly), French (well, I could at least) ‘and you also speak English!’

Czechman claims I am an arsekisser. He even taught me the word in Czech for this but now I’ve forgotten it.

It’s true of course. I bring a scarf I am knitting for his Lord Czechness – it’s very long – and receive crochet lessons. Czechman’s mum and I discuss the merits of knitting baby clothes versus adult garments (quicker to finish, more economical) and she is amused (or bemused) that I used to knit on the Tube in London, much to Czechman’s chagrin and dismay. I say how pleased I was that Czechman’s little niece wore the cardigan I made her to her citizenship ceremony. Apparently, they didn’t have anything else equally ‘nobl’. In contrast, I think the things I knit for my English nephew get shoved in a drawer somewhere.

It was a lovely weekend. Ordinary but lovely. My favourite memory is sitting on a bench next to Babička Jedná in her garden in the sunshine while Czechman was sprawled out on the lawn having fed the chickens freshly cut grass. I made Babička laugh by saying what a pale Angličanka I was. I don’t think that’s likely to change soon, given the fact it’s done nothing but rain ever since we got back to Prague. At least if the floods make their way here from Moravia and we’re trapped at home, we’ll have plenty to eat.

The village zámek (castle or stately home)

Feeding goats at the goat farm. 'Kozí' (goat) has a cheeky double meaning in Czech...

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Ten things you had always wanted to know about Czechland but were afraid to ask

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Today is May 1st which means Czech boys will be kissing their sweethearts under trees in blossom to celebrate the arrival of Spring.  Aww.  I think Czechman will have to have his arm twisted to participate in this tradition.  He may be Bohemian by birth, but he is conservative in nature and doesn’t really like public displays of affection. Don’t worry ladies, after being beaten on the arse with a stick in the name of marking old Czech customs, I’m not going to let him get out of this one.

Anyway, today’s post is completely unrelated to May Day.  Instead, I’ve decided to delight my little audience with a list of fascinating facts about Czechland.  If you know most of them already, you have my permission to pat yourself on the back and feel smug.

10 facts about Czechland you had always wanted to know but were afraid to ask

1. The Czechs are a resourceful bunch.  They were responsible for such contributions to the advancement of mankind as the screw propellor, the sugar cube and Hittitology.  We also have them to thank for the word ‘robot’, introduced to the public by Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R.  That’s what Wikipedia says anyway.

2. Skoda, the internationally renowned car brand, is also a Czech word meaning ‘pity’ or ‘shame’.  Czechman sees no irony whatsoever in this, not even when I regaled him with my collection of Skoda jokes which I picked up in the primary school playground.  It includes such howlers as ‘What do you call a Skoda with twin exhausts?’  The answer? ‘A wheelbarrow’!  Stop it, please!  My sides are splitting!  Oh look, there goes a kidney…

3. The Czechs are of course, responsible for producing many of the world’s great beers: Budvar, Staropramen and Pilsner to name but a few.  One unfortunate result of this has been the birth of the Beer Bore, the bastard child of that equally loathsome creature, the Wine Snob.  He wants to explain to you at great length just why Gambrinus is so much better than Pilsner, despite the fact that the latter is 12 crowns more expensive.  He uses words like ‘hops’, ‘malt’ and ‘distillation’ repeatedly while you nod politely. Just shut up and drink it.

4. Was Franz Kafka Czech or German? Even academics can’t make up their minds (see here).  He didn’t write in Czech, that’s for sure.  Still, the fact that he lived in Prague does help to shift a lot of souvenirs.

5. Milan Kundera is Czech but he wishes he wasn’t.  This is the obvious conclusion to be drawn from his decision to write his most recent novels only in French.  Merde! Who does the pretentious frog wannabe think he is?  If I had to choose between being French or Czech, I’d opt for Cesky every time.

6. Goulash may be considered one of the cornerstones of Czech cuisine but it was, of course, originally Hungarian.  I’m not sure they can be blamed for coming up with the concept of dumplings made from potatoes and semolina.  These Czechs!  Such innovators!

7. Ultra-chic mini-breakers be warned! This is not a city in which to parade around in your Jimmy Choos – and not only because you will mark yourself out as being spoilt and western.  If the cobblestones don’t scrape all the leather off the back of the stiletto heels, you’ll end up stranded in a metal grate down in the metro while people point and laugh.  Most uncool.

8. One invention that the Czechs – or at least most shop assistants – wish had never seen the light of day is the 1000 crown note.  God forbid you try to pay for anything with it.  Ever.  You may think that by picking up a few bits at Albert in order to break into it is reasonable.  Pah!  Prepare to be humiliated as the checkout lady complains volubly about having to part with a tiny fraction of the change her till is crammed with.  I find the best policy in this situation is to look pathetic and mumble, ‘Nic malého nemám’ (pidgin Czech for ‘I don’t have anything smaller’).

9. Vaclav Havel is ace.  Few people who’ve actually done something significant to change the world remain so modest and unassuming.  I wasn’t blown away by his most recent play, ‘Leaving’ but I enjoyed it more than Tom Stoppard’s Czech related offering, ‘Rock and Roll’.  I suspect that Sir Tom is just too smart for me though. He’s sort of Czech too.

10. Hi Mum. The place where I now live isn’t called Czechoslovakia anymore.  It’s the Czech Republic.  It is not acceptable to call this country simply ‘Czech’, as in ‘I’m going to Czech on holiday’.  Don’t.  I can’t bear it.  ‘Czech’ is an adjective, not a noun.  You went to school back in the days when they taught English kids something about grammar so you should be able to get your head around this.  And yes, they do have telephones here.

I wrote today’s post while drinking café au lait in Café Louvre.  Here’s what the waiter brought me. The coffee is in the little porcelain coffee pot and there’s a thimbleful of fizzy water tucked behind it in case I get too dehydraded by the caffeine.  I’m a sucker for a well-presented hot beverage.

cafe-au-lait

 

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