A Guest Post (really)
Friday's post "Czechs Speak Czech" was read by the gracious host of the Friday night gathering. He enjoys writing, and he emailed me today with a supplement to my post. I don't generally have guest writers, but I thought it would be nice to show a Czech perspective on Friday evening's goings on, particularly from one fluent both in Czech and English. So here we have the writings of Martin Bobek (with some small edits to improve fluency).
The praise of Imperfection
"We need to shut it up."
"I agree. Shall we close it?"
"Killing sounds like the best option to me…"
You’ve just witnessed the campfire chat of three exchange students that happened some
twelve years ago in Finland. There was a Czech guy, who I call me, a Polish guy and a
German girl. We spoke English as it was the only language that all three of us were able
to speak. The topic of this conversation was quite simple – how to switch off the fire, when
nobody knew the proper English word for it. Nobody had a dictionary and thus we had to
extend the boundaries of English.
Let me tell you that after all those years I can barely recall the names of my camp-fire-
mates, let alone the chat we had. But I can clearly remember the fun we had thanks to the
imperfection, which made us invent truly unexpected synonyms of “extinguish”.
There’s a broader group of about ten people who meet regularly and play card games. This Friday
only five of us gathered and thus Radim invited Charity. She was most welcome because
apart from Lenka all of us had already got to know this very kind person. Though she was not
the only of her kind, she was the only American. The English level of the four males varied
but some of us were able to speak so that even Charity could understand.
The major challenge was that just as Charity’s knowledge of Czech was limited,
Lenka’s English was limited too. The positive thing was that it prevented these two females
from playing their intrigues against the four good men of the Wild West town. On the other
hand, when we stepped out of our game roles, we were still mainly a bunch of friends who
met to enjoy the Friday evening.
We started with English as we had to explain the game to Charity. At the beginning
English clearly prevailed but as the evening progressed, especially discussions between the
Czech players tended to slip to Czech. This happened in “waves” as we kept in mind the need
to speak English or at least to balance it to keep both of the ladies aboard of the evening.
“S takovýma kartama se nikdy neoženíš!” Petr told me in despair and all of us burst out
laughing. Apart from Charity because she didn’t have a clue what’s going on. She couldn’t
have because even she would have understood the sentence: “You’ll never get married
with such cards!”, the true meaning would be still hidden for her. It required also cultural
knowledge, in particular the saying “Good luck in game, bad luck in love”.
Though we explained this one to her, during the several hours of playing there were
inevitably multiple small situations in which she was not involved. Just as Lenka missed
some gems of the English conversations…
Some good jokes were inevitably “lost in translation” but some new emerged only
because of the imperfection. Phrases like “I shoot on Petr” sounded ok to me, until Charity
explained that in reality I’d have climb on Petr’s back in order to “shoot on Petr”.
The ultimate “cherry on the tart”, which is another Czech saying, was the name of the
very popular card game – Bang! A card with “Bang!” is used as a shot in the game and thus
it was very common to say “I bang on Petr”, “I bang at Lenka” or “I bang Charity”. Charity
found it amusing, which we couldn’t understand. Until she explained the sexual connotation
of the English meaning of the word…
I recalled the Finish story from the beginning of this article when the skirmish took
place in my flat. People quite often try to achieve or at least fake perfection. Just think
of how we try to hide our lack of knowledge or excess of body. If we’d attempted to remove the “imperfection” presented by the language barriers from the evening, it’d would require removing either Lenka or Charity. I dare say it’d be a very bad idea. The Friday evening proved that sometimes it’s the
“imperfection” that can help to create a perfect evening.