Two Friendly Maintenance Men

I've been a bit lax of late in studying Czech.  (That's a positive American way of saying that I haven't been studying Czech at all.)  While hanging out with a Czech friend last night, he told me about a running document he keeps of new words he encounters in English.  He reported that he used to print it and quiz himself on the words, but now he just continues adding words.  "But it's better than doing nothing and complaining about having a small vocabulary."

The words hit me directly, precisely because he was speaking of his own experience and not targeting my laziness.  (Word to the wise, friends: this is a very strong tactic in persuasion.)  Though I've been hanging out almost exclusively with my Czech friends, it's hard to force myself to engage in Czech when I know that their level of English far surpasses my knowledge of Czech and thus allows us to have fuller conversations in English than I could ever have in Czech.  Nonetheless, there have been flittering conversations here and there in Czech, and one particularly delightful one happened this afternoon.

I'd decided to skip volleyball today due to fatigue and the need to prepare for an upcoming travel adventure.  I was hanging up laundry at home when I heard the buzzer.  Behind the door I recognized two men that do various maintenance things in my block of flats.  I welcomed them in and they reported (in Czech of course) that there was water in a flat on the sixth floor, so they were going to the flats on the floors above to identify causation.  The man asked if I spoke Czech, and I responded in the affirmative. He then went through a list of possible nationalities, and I admitted to being an American.  "Živá Američanka!" he exclaimed.  (A real live American!)

In between dialogue about the water, the two men posed questions with smiles on their lips.  Not being accustomed to speaking to foreigners in Czech, their abrupt phrases and interruptions of each other made listening a bit difficult, slowing my response time.  In asking about my studies, I had to correct them and say that I was a teacher, not a student.  This lead to discussion of my age and an apology/request for permission to tykat, that is, to refer to me in the familiar grammatical form (for those Spanish-speakers, it's like using tu rather than usted with someone).  I delayed as I formulated a response in my head, and the man turned to the other with a wave of the hand, saying (in Czech), "It doesn't matter; she doesn't understand."

This pricked me, and I quickly responded, "Ja rozumím, a mužete tykat. To nevadí."  I don't know if this is the proper way to express it, but in my translation it's: "I understand, and you can refer to me in the familiar form.  It doesn't matter."

The conversation went on.   Every once in a while they blurted out "Živá Američanka!" or  gave a single word in English.  "Jak se řekne osm v angličtině?" one asked (How do you say "eight" in English?).  Satisfied with their observations (and not finding any fault in our flat), they began to put on their shoes.  They wanted to know about the length of my stay and my satisfaction. I told them I might be here quite a long time, and they asked about whether there were any princes in America, then suggested that I might meet one here.

Shoes tied, they wished me well and went on.  I closed the door with a chuckle, thankful for another delightful Czech conversation.


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