something normal

It's my fourth school year in the Czech Republic.  How does it feel?  Well, normal.

Just like in the fourth year of high school or university, I'm at the point where I feel like I'm able to navigate.  When stopped by a woman on the street recently, I easily gave her directions to the coffee shop she sought out, and she understood (admittedly, I then realized I should have said tudy rather than tady).  To break it down for you, this means, a) I understood her question in Czech, b) I knew the coffeeshop she was talking about, and c) I was able to formulate a response in Czech that was understandable.  In this Czech Detroit, I've got some sort of rhythm, and the greater challenge is to keep some excitement and diversity.

My days flow pretty normally.

I wake up, get ready, and walk to work.  I spend my days teaching a mix of Czechs, Koreans, Americans, French, Slovaks, Indians, and so forth.  In my planning periods I plan, grade, answer emails, and maybe have a substitution for an absent teacher.  Like any teacher, I frequently bring work home.

On my walk home from work and I realize I need groceries.  My first question is: did I pack a cloth shopping bag? If the answer is no, the next question is: do I have enough room in my purse for something? Sure, I could pay the five cents for a plastic bag, but I take it for granted that buying a shopping bag just isn't an option.  There's also the question of whether I want to walk up four flights of stairs to retrieve one of my own bags. If it's a big purchase, another important question is: do I have a 10-crown coin so that I can de-chain a shopping cart?

Once I'm in the grocery store, I hunt for a basket--if they offer one--or take out my 10-crown coin to unlock a shopping cart.  While buying my fruits and veggies, I have to be careful to weigh them to get the price sticker.  Then it's on to dairy, where I can find wonderful things like kefir milk (in many varieties and flavours), fresh mozzarella,  yogurt (flavoured and plain--hallelujah), salt-free butter, and more.

As I look at the deli counter, I have more opportunities to choose cheese, deli meats, or raw meat.  I just have to be careful to remember to order in dekagrams (10 dk=100 g).  Then I'm bound to see the huge bakery section, which has an array of dark bread loaves, baguettes, kaiser rolls, pastries with cream cheese, turnovers,  hard-shelled rye bread, croissants with sausages cooked inside of them, latticed pastries with nut fillings, or flaky pastry with cooked spinach inside (my favourite when I have an urge for gluten).

Having (hopefully) gotten everything, I join a queue that leads to a seated cashier.  She (maybe) greets me, then it's a race against between her swiping and my bagging before the next person is up.  Many people just return their food into their cart or basket in order to not lose the race.  Of course, the customer is slowed by the request for exact change when paying in cash.

Then there's the walk home with the groceries.  Everything within a few kilometers is walkable, and usually I don't use public transit unless the walking time is going to be more than 15 or 20 minutes.  Since my building doesn't have a lift, I walk up the flights of stairs to my flat.  Once inside I immediately lock myself in with my key and take off my shoes.  Under no circumstances are shoes to be worn in the house.  (After returning from the USA one summer, I was exhausted and wanted to just drag my suitcase to my bedroom and then take of my shoes.  My saintly flatmate kindly--but firmly--reminded me that I was in the Czech Republic again.)

If my use of a "u" in flavour or use of words like "lift" and "flat" bother you, it's probably better than hearing me ask for tom-ah-to juice on the plane.  The UK is simply closer, so with so many educated in British English, it's easy to slip into pronouncing "been" like "bean" or to ask my friend if she'll be bringing her baby in the pram.

Once home, I'll greet my roommates with an ahoj or čau and then delineate my day in whichever language feels the most comfortable at that time. I might regale them with a story of how I have a new Czech student in a class full of Koreans and Indians, and I had to re-explain the assignment to him in Czech, since he's currently transitioning to our school.  After chatting, and maybe indulging in a Czech Turkish coffee* and a sladká tečka (literally, sweet dot), I usually check my email.

I open my inbox and see messages in Czech from my Czech teacher, my bank, a group of friends interested in an outing.  I respond in the language necessary.  Then I check my phone to see it's already 17.30, and I haven't responded to the SMS I got earlier about going out for a walk.  It's 10 degrees Celcius in the middle of the winter--who could say no?

Yet no matter how comfortable I am with counting distances by minutes on a train, eating cabbage soup, listening to sermons in Czech, or being locked inside my apartment building, it can't negate those 23 years of my life spent in the USA.  As one Czech friend recently commented: the more he knows me, the more American I seem.

*the Czech version of Turkish coffee is scooping coffee grounds into your coffee cup, pouring hot water over the top, stirring, and then letting it steep as the grounds fall to the bottom.  Then you can drink the coffee off the top and then discard the dregs at the bottom.


Popular Posts