Tag Archives: Prague

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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Some reasons to love (and hate) summer in Prague

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Men at work: Maniny tram stop in Prague gets an overhaul

There are many reasons to love summer in Prague. It’s an excuse to explore the city’s great parks, have a wander along the river or just chill out in a beer garden.

However, there’s one major downer besides the influx in tourists – and let’s face it, there’s no avoiding them in central Prague whatever the time of year.

Roadworks.

I’m starting to associate summer in Prague more with the smell of tar than the taste of a cold pint. Everywhere I turn my ears are assaulted by the racket of a pneumatic drill or the chugging of a digger.

I understand that repairs need to made to keep the roads maintained. I know I’d soon be complaining if every stretch of highway was full of potholes which turned into mini lakes during the annual snow melt.

However.

Girl In Czechland pauses to take a deep breath.

What exactly is going on with the trams?

Yes, I understand that there must be diversions. I’m partial to a diversion or two myself as readers of this blog will attest. Anyway, what’s the point of giving a tram the same number when half of its route is completely different? Isn’t that just bound to cause confusion?

Girl In Czechland continues deep breathing exercises.

I haven’t finished. Then there’s the issue of the metamorphosing trams. They aren’t mysteriously turning into beetles  – that’s a Kafka reference you ignoramuses – but changing their identity seconds before slamming their doors shut.

I was standing at Delnicka one Saturday afternoon. Having consulted with the timetables on display I realised that I needed to take tram 24 instead of the now defunct tram 3 in order to get to my destination. So far, so good.

As I was patiently waiting I noticed a tram on the horizon. Number 14 was approaching the stop.

Is this tram 14 or just a mirage?

However, this was obviously of no use to me, right? Wrong. Just as the passengers were getting off and I was returning to reading my novel (Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – those terrible Tudors) the tram magically become number 24!

Of course by the time I realised this, the doors had closed with a thud and I had to wait another fifteen minutes in the blazing heat until the next 14/24 appeared.

Don’t get me wrong: summer in Prague is still fantastic. The tram issue is just a very small fly in the proverbial ointment. However, public transport chaos is something I associate with the vast metropolis of London. Can’t something be done to make things less confusing?

Anyway, here’s a picture of some people peering into a hole in the road. Yes, I am that desperate for material.

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Podolí: Girl in Czechland’s Guide to Prague’s Outdoor Swimming Complex

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I’m back from my Greek Odyssey. I have a suntan of sorts: we English folk don’t really go brown, just a slightly darker shade of pale. Czechman and I like to joke about it: before I was Mozzarella white, now I’m more of a smažený sýr.

Anyway, although I did have a lovely holiday since I’ve returned to Czechland I’ve been in a grumpy mood. Yes, yes, I’m well aware that life can’t be one long vacation but that doesn’t stop me wishing I was back on an Ionian island.

What to do to recapture a little holiday magic? Head to Prague’s biggest outdoor swimming pool, Podolí.

I first discovered its existence thanks to a Prague guidebook I picked up in London years before moving here. I remember it was published by coolhunter’s bible Wallpaper* magazine.

The fact that it’s taken me three years to make it there is perhaps an indication of just how hip I am.

There are three pools: two outdoor, one indoor. Once you’ve overcome the trauma of nude showering (there are menacing signs in capital letters ordering you to rinse yourself without your swimming costume on before taking a swim) there are other obstacles to overcome. Like avoiding the packs of teenagers who’ve clearly just come here to pose – sorry, hang out – rather than do any exercise. After all, who can manage to breaststroke while wearing a straw triby at a jaunty angle?

Having said that, the grandmas don’t bother to take off their glasses. I suppose that’s forgiveable as it’s more about practicality than style. Beware though: despite being able to see where they’re going, the grannies still move slower than a giant sea turtle who happens to be going very slowly because he left his specs at home.

It’s not just the teenagers perched on the edge of the pool who couldn’t give a monkey’s about swimming. Almost every bit of the scorched grass is covered with sunbathers, some of them topless. I knew there was a reason Czechman liked coming here so much.

There are refreshments on sale. A thought occurs: perhaps if my local swimming baths had provided draught beer poolside my Dad could have been persuaded to take me there more often.

Or indeed ever.

If you feel that fizzy alcohol, physical exertion and sunshine don’t mix then you can always buy an ice-cream instead. And the pools are not only an Olympic sized 50 metres (well, two of them are anyway) they’re also pretty deep. As any lifeguard on duty is most likely mesmerised by all the boobs it’s probably best to minimise your chances of drowning by staying off the beers and only swimming near the edge so you can easily take a rest if you start to flag.

After I get tired of dodging bespectacled grannies and frolicking adolescents, I retreat to the spectator’s stand for a bird’s eye view of the madness. From this distance it looks as though the swimmers are trying to spell out a message in a kind of synchronized semaphore but can’t quite manage it. What a clever observation, I think to myself.

Perhaps I could use it along with a few more of my usual witty observations as the material for my next blog post?

P.S To get to Podoli you need to take a tram to Kublov, which is thankfully a mere five minute walk away from the swimming complex itself. The 3 and 17 both go there. The price you pay depends on the amount of time you plan to spend in the pool: if you exceed the time on your ticket you’ll have to cough up extra to get out. There’s some kind of all day ticket at this time of year if you go through the summer entrance but I didn’t manage to find it. Next time, eh?

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Češi, máte pravdu! Six Things the Czechs Are Right About

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– God, has it really been over a week since I lasted posted? Damn. Better come up with some of my usual, witty, whimsical observations about life and love in Czechland or else my readers will forget about me.

– Forget witty and whimsical! They’re so last Tuesday. When are you going to stop writing about trivial nonsense like failing to bake a cake in the shape of a lamb and flowery gilded plates? Why not try addressing a really important topic for a change, say racism?

-Done that.

-Or the Czech inferiority complex?

-Done that too – wished I hadn’t.

-Or how about the legacy of Communism? Can it really be blamed for all contemporary Czech society’s ills?

-Hmm, sounds meaty. But today I’m in the mood for frivolous. How about one of those ’10 things’ posts that are contributing to the death of journalism?

-Suit yourself.

Greetings readers! Today’s post has been inspired by another Brit expat writer, Stephen Clarke, and his hilarious book, Talk to the Snail in which he outlines “Ten Commandments for Understanding the French”. According to the first precept, to be French is to be always right. This rather extreme self-confidence might be an explanation for the legendary alleged Gallic rudeness. I am French, therefore I am right – and also superior to you.

While Czechs can be rude, this does not in my view originate from arrogance or any in-built sense of cultural superiority. Now I don’t want Czech readers to start getting big-headed but I think perhaps you could do with reminding about all the things you are right about.

Six Things the Czechs Are (or Were) Right About

1. Eating your main meal at lunchtime

It’s better for your digestion! It’s a decent excuse to escape the office! It saves you having to cook in the evening! It’s more social than shovelling down a sad pre-packed sandwich in front of your desk! Embrace this Czech tradition! (hold off on the exclamation marks in future paragraphs but talking about food gets me excited).

2. Jak to řekne ‘credit crunch’? Or The Art of Frugal Living

Can you imagine Czechs taking out 110% interest mortgages and juggling repayments on five different credit cards? No, because unlike their British and American cousins, they aren’t idiots. If you want to buy something, you save up for it and as far as is humanly possible, this also goes for large purchases like a flat. While I sometimes get sick of the petty penny-pinching of Czechman and his compatriots (‘buy soap instead of shower gel, use one teabag for three cups of tea, blah, blah, blah) when it comes to the big financial decisions, you can’t fault their approach.

How do you say ‘credit crunch’ in Czech anyway? Is this a term that’s bandied about in the media constantly? I suspect not but correct me if I’m wrong…

Here it is. That piece of paper that meant the end of Czechoslovakian democracy.

3. 1938

Chamberlain. Appeasement. That piece of paper that was supposed to secure peace in Europe but didn’t. You were right. We should have defended you, Czechland, but alas, instead you were sold down the river. In my history lessons we were taught we didn’t have a choice – apparently Chamberlain followed a policy of appeasement not to avoid war but to give England much-needed time to rearm – but whatever the reason, it meant the end of Czechoslovakian democracy. Consider this an apology. Sorry chaps.

4. Cubist architecture

Did you know that Czechoslovakia was the only country to construct buildings in a Cubist style? Well you do now. Quirky, eye-catching and timelessly stylish, Cubist architecture is something the Czechs were definitely right about.

Now that's what I call a lamp post!

5. Being a stay-at-home mum: the option of lengthy maternity leave

I don’t say that juggling career and the responsibilities of motherhood anywhere in the Western world is easy. However, at least in the Czech Republic, you have the option of remaining at home to look after your child for an extended period, even if the level of maternity pay offered is no king’s ransom. In the UK, the financial assistance offered by both employers and the state is of a minimal duration, leaving women no option but to head back to work asap. I know this is a complex issue (perhaps even more so than the impact of Communism on contemporary Czech society) and I don’t believe women should be forced to take three years out of their career but at least in the Czech Republic it seems that the state acknowledges that mothering is an important job worth giving some financial support to.

6. Table service in pubs

Why do we Brits think that being sociable in a pub has to involve crowding around the bar in a mock convivial fashion? Having table service – and a seat – makes the whole pub experience so much more pleasant.

More evidence of Cubism's impact on the buildings of Prague

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Czech Style Crimes Part I: The Headband

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As you will now be aware, I spent a significant amount of time this winter in a hospital bed.  On the upside, I missed much of this year’s super freeze.  However, it does mean that I didn’t get to write my planned blog post about cold weather headgear.

Time then for something a more lighthearted than my tales from the ward: a switch from matters medical to millinery.

Czechs are a practical bunch and they tend to favour the functional over the fashionable. Fair enough. But it is the very fact that Czechs pride themselves on being sensible when it comes to sartorial choices which makes their preference for one particular winter garment so puzzling.

The headband or čelenka as it’s known in these parts.  I ask you loyal readers – why?

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, here is Exhibit A.

What possible practical purpose is being served by this small piece of fabric? The lady in question will have toasty ears but what about the rest of her head? Doesn’t she want to keep her little grey cells warm? Or at least protect her scalp a little from hail or snowflakes?

It isn’t just the female half of the Czech population who are guilty of this style crime. Someone ought to tell this gentlemen that unlike a hat, wearing a headband doesn’t help hide the fact that you’re going a little thin on top:

It has been suggested to me that the reason Czechs prefer headbands is because they are less likely to interfere with your hairstyle.  Let me present further photographic evidence debunking this myth: 

Perhaps our model might benefit from having a hat to cover up her messy mop. I should know: it’s a trick I’ve used many times myself.

Czechs, you know one of the main points of my blog is poke fun at you in a friendly, affectionate manner. But really, I’m confused. Baffled. Mystified. Please help me to understand. Why on earth do you wear these things?

And what will Girl in Czechland be wearing on her noggin this season? Why, a bowler hat of course – complete with tight leather pants and high heels, just like this lady singled out for praise by the British edition of Grazia’s style pages.

Not.

There’s more chance of me knitting a neon pink čelenka than being seen wearing anything like this. People might mistake me for a streetwalker. Presuming of course, that I could manage to walk anywhere in those shoes.

 

 

 

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