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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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