Archive for May, 2013

A Decade in the Land of the Spatially Challenged

zombies on the orange lineLike most zombie enthusiasts, I do fully expect the apocalypse to come. I have done some mild preparation. There is a stash of coconut chocolate bars behind my bathroom mirror, a box of golf pencils in my front drawer, and a shoehorn that could cut through a skull.

Still, unlike my paranoid zombie friends, I am not worried about the imminent apocalypse, and that’s because I live in the Czech Republic.

The Czechs excel in various areas: making pilsners, frying things that are already unhealthy, eating bread, and dressing in daily life the way others dress for ironic theme parties.

And then there’s getting in the way.

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On Turned Tables and Language Tests

~ Dunking Drake ~The police car speeds into the courtyard as though the people inside of it have just witnessed a shooting. The police leap out of the car and sprint into the building. There are about 25 people watching this happen. The police come out a moment later with a Vietnamese woman who is roughly the build, height, and perceived threat of a turkey sandwich on rye.

Now, we all know how dangerous and harmful tiny Vietnamese women can be, but this arrest seems a bit unusual. This is mainly because we are at a university building taking a Czech language test, as was the woman they just hauled away. The rest of us wonder if we will be arrested if we fail, or maybe she’s made some enormous #2 pencil faux pas.

All of us are foreigners, as in not Czech. To calm myself I put them into animal groups based on one of the member’s resemblance to an animal. Even after the arrest, there remains a Venue of Vietnamese; there is a Dray of Ukrainians, and a Knab of Russians. There are two Americans, we are a Raft.

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The King of Uncool

That´s ´70s GeekI am uncool. And let’s just be clear, I am not saying that I am a nerd. So don’t think I’m one of those ass cadets ostensibly mocking their nerdy lifestyle knowing full well that being a nerd is so cool right now that if Orville Redenbacher were alive he’d be getting more play than Tommy Lee pre-dreadlocks. We’re not talking about liking science or reading books.

I am uncool and it’s a totally different thing.

There are symptoms of being uncool: weekly Facebook posts about cats and bodily functions, there are sweater vests, a true like of broccoli, and (at 38 years old) a weekly call to my mom. My homepage alternates between Wikipedia’s Recent Deaths page, Prague’s public transport time schedule, and a dating website on which I have not met another human being in two years (their robot emails me once a month, I guess just to check on me).

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Scary Freakin’ Kids

the omenThe kids in the book NOS4A2 (by Joe Hill) are bad. Not bad like they don’t want to do the dishes bad, or bad like they hit their little sister bad, but bad as in that they are demonic and have three rows of sharp, hook-like teeth. Bad as in they play games called ‘Scissor the Drifter’ the goal of which can be easily understood by deducing that the word scissor is a verb and the word drifter is a person. The kids in this book live at a place called Christmasland, where they sing Christmas carols for eternity, crucify old people, and make disturbing late night calls to adults.

Now, like most single men, I employ a healthy terror of children. They are small, honest and fragile. You have to feed them all the time and they often require help cleaning themselves after excreting some astoundingly disruptive element. They seem to have the ability to read minds and eat all of your money.

But what is it about kids in the horror genre?

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Crazy Energy

Reality... What a ConceptMy boss: “Mohl bych Vás požádat o laskavost?”

OK, so on the off-chance you ever move to the Czech Republic or end up with a Czech boss, should you ever hear this out of their mouth, just cancels any plans you had for that evening. Also, prepare to do something you don’t want to do.

It is a formal phrase meaning: I need a favor.

And it comes with its very own sister phrase: “Mám malý problém.” I have a little problem. Oh, and ‘little’ is usually as much an understatement as ‘favor’ is a misnomer when it comes from your boss’ taco grinder.

I put my head on my desk. Here it comes.

 

The gist:

other teacher

ouchie

broken bone

blah blah -ovat

f*cking bad timing

Who is free?

Damien

sorry

blah blah -ičku

At the end of this angry list, I am eating an apple standing over a course book preparing to teach a last minute substitution lesson that starts in nine minutes. Also, I hate the world.

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The Thirty Club

Spending timeWe go into the evening like wild jackals hunting down furry prey. OK, not prey so much as wheat beers and ribs. But today we must welcome our youngest member, Collin, into the Thirty Club.

Welcoming someone into a club is one of the major perks of being in a club. There is usually a festive atmosphere and some variance of hazing, camaraderie and old war stories. When membership in said club is imminent, either because you can’t choose against joining (age) or have already ‘signed the papers’ (your wife is pregnant) then the veteran members of that club like to exaggerate the difficulties which come with membership in the club.

Why?

Two reasons: It’s fun to watch the new guy sweat and misery loves company.

It’s no fun to tell newcomers how easy and smooth things will be. Mothers never tell pregnant women that labor’s a breeze; they always talk about 61 hour back labor with no anesthetic and a ska-loving doctor. Veteran expatriates always – myself included – regale newcomers with stories of 17 hour waits at the foreign police office, shoving matches with Russian Mafián and bureaucrats who were obviously kicked out of the SS for not being cuddly enough.

As we welcome our youngest brother into the Thirty Club this evening, I find that we are doing very much the same initiation. His eyes are growing wide with terror, though that could be the whiskey. Here’s the gist of what is said.

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Sh*t You Just Don’t Say

1983 I´m Surrounded By Idiots PinI was sitting on a tram when I heard it. A man’s voice in clear, American English to his female companion:

“Have you gained weight?”

In a country where the inhabitants keep to themselves so much so that you could beat a screeching hyena to death with another screeching hyena and not garner a response, it is telling that this garnered a reaction from the passengers. Everyone on the tram did one of two things: Wince or look at the man wearing some expression conveying awe. I did both.

There was no reaction from the woman, who simply sat in quiet and plotted his grisly death. Had the man enjoyed one or more brain cells (which he obviously didn’t) he’d have understood that he was in the deepest shit of his life. He didn’t, so he continued.

“I mean, it’s OK, you’re just a little big—chunkier than when you first got here.”

Wince.

Awe.

Fortunately for the man, a car drove into the tram, thus providing a distraction grand enough to help him elude murder.

I decided then and there that I would dedicate today’s blog to keeping stupid people alive. So, I have scraped my memory and scoured my journals and notebooks and compiled this list of things that actual people have actually said to other people. Some of those people have been me, on both sides of the conversation.

If you are stupid, then your only job is to read (if you can) this list and NEVER repeat any of it. If you are smart then add to this list, for we must help the dummies!

Sh*t you just don’t say:

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The ‘No’ Game

Sec´y. Houston  (LOC)It’s Neděle (Sunday), which is taken from two words: Ne and Dělat (No and Do). Together they mean the Do Nothing Day.

And on most Sundays I follow this linguistic combo like it’s a direct order from Rip Taylor himself. I lounge, loaf, recline, read, scratch, snore, stretch, surf, stream, download and view in an impressive impersonation of a 16-year-old nihilist.

But not today.

This Sunday, I am preparing for a Monday morning visit to a governmental office. There are problems. First, everything will be in Czech. And not just Czech, but the light-speed Czech that is taught to Czech BITS (bureaucrats in training) at the Grumpy McMisery’s School of Bureaucracy.

Secondly, all bureaucrats (especially Czech bureaucrats) share a deep, intense love of telling a person ‘No’. To tell a person after taking a half a day off work, sitting in an endless line on a chair roughly as comfortable as doing jumping jacks with a toaster in your rectum, that they cannot accomplish what they have come to do is the one thing that keeps a bureaucrat from stabbing his coworkers to death with a staple remover.

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The Witches’ Assembly

December 23, 1930May 1st is a special day in the good ole CR.

 On the eve of this lovely day, Czechs all over this land build a teepee of twigs, leaves and branches they have raked up in their backyards and burn it, which is called ‘burning a witch.’ This tradition comes from an old belief that burning a witch warded off the witches who were en route on April 30th to the witch’s assembly, at which they played Mahjong, drank brandy stingers and talked about their ligament pains.

 The only witches’ assemblies these days are on midday trams and on balconies amid a hanging assortment of massive panties and bloomers.

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