Archive for June, 2016
I recently read an article on the 7 things that will happen after living in another country for 10 years. The writer made some very funny and very accurate observations in terms of national identity, loyalty, and even language.
I commiserated with some of her points, especially when relates to eventually feeling like a foreigner in my own homeland.
While it was an interesting article, it was written by a woman who moved from the U.S. to the U.K. So, aside from tricky northern dialects, occasionally differing lexicon (boot of a car, lift, flat), idioms that make no sense (Bob’s your fucking uncle?), and prepositions, there was no linguistic difference.
So I put together my own list of things that happen after you live in a different language for a long time. If you have experience with this, please feel free to add your thoughts and points in the comments.
You become a language chameleon
By this, I mean that you become very versatile in terms of using your native language. At the first hint of linguistic misunderstanding, you can instantly grade your language, describe complex concepts and things with basic adjectives, and get your point across using 1 syllable words.
Additionally, you are far more aware of what kinds of words, phrases, and grammar pose difficulty for non-native speakers of your language and you avoid them or take steps to make sure they are understood.
You speak Pidgin
It’s very late on a Saturday night. OK, very late by Czech terms. Around 10:30 pm. The pubs are closing, the city’s doorways are dark. It’s Prague.
We make a fundamental Saturday decision: let’s order a pizza.
If you are American, you are saying to yourself: uh, yeah, so?
If you are Czech you are saying to yourself: who in his right mind would order pizza? And after 6 pm?
If you are an American who understands how things work in the Czech Republic and the various issues involved with this seemingly simple transaction, then you saying to yourself: oh man, this is gonna go downhill fast!
We go onto a delivery website where you can order food from dozens of restaurants aggregated for convenience. But if you know the Czech Republic, you know that the road to the lavender-scented oasis of convenience is almost always laden with insurmountable inconveniences.
The troubles start immediately in various slapstick comedy ways. The card isn’t accepted at this place. That place is only take-out after 9 p.m. (even though it says delivery and it’s on a, you know, delivery site), this place deletes all of our information and order after we forget to check the box saying “no utensils,” we try again, but by then (14 seconds later) it’s closed.
All the while the featured restaurants on the site literally disappear one by one. They are closing, because it is so (Czech) late. We scan the site now with growing unease, this was such a good idea a mere half hour ago, when we were leaving the pub. The pub that had a menu filled with edible delicacies that we eschewed in lieu of pizza. And now we just want someone to bring us pizza on a Saturday night. Simple pizza. Read the rest of this entry »
One night, eleven years ago, I was bartending in Pittsburgh. It was after I had decided to move to Prague. Three guys came into my bar, friendly, dialect and fashion choices suggested they were local and rural. After a passing comment from a waitress about my imminent departure, the guys inquired as to where I was moving.
I added: “In the Czech Republic.”
The first said, “Dude, are you crazy? There’s some serious shit going on over in China these days.” While I was trying to piece together how Chinese unrest would affect the Czech Republic, the second chimed in. “Prague ain’t in China, moron. It’s in Russia.”
But believe it or not, it’s been 5 years.
To celebrate, my blog and I had a little party. We had cake (read: bourbon). After cake, we decided to revisit some of our most visited and enjoyed posts. We laughed. We cried. We went, “Wow. Why do people like me again?”
Then we revisited some of our earliest posts, just to see how far we’ve come together. That was a tough rock to look under, so we had more cake until the cake was gone and then we went to our local shop and got more (different flavored) cake.
I realized that I have learned a lot in the last 5 years. For example:
People search for insane things
I used to think I was slightly deranged and perverted, but then I started a website and was privy to people’s search phrases.
Japanese girl in wall porn (runner up: Japanese girl in her wall)
Scarlett Johannson Death Mask (Should I call the police?)
Dead Pig Cartoon (I don’t know. Just gave me the willies)
Photo of Me Naked (wondering who ‘me’ is kept me up for two nights)
I like bologna sandwiches, I like bologna bologna Damien Sandwiches (the sheer volume of disturbing ways to interpret this is boggling)
Collin Popkey (The horror. The horror)
The most disturbing aspect is that these phrases led these people to my blog. So, who’s more disturbed: the one who searches or the guy they found at the end of their search?
Who knows? Probably an FBI hit list.
Nothing can keep Russian spam out of your blog. Nothing.
The first time I ever heard the term “Gay Friendly” in reference to me I was somewhat surprised. It went: “Someone asked if you were gay and I told them you were just gay friendly.”
As a bartender in Pittsburgh, I had heard the term “Gay Friendly” before, and due to my cat-like mental reflexes + context + superhuman wits + asking a gay friend, I was able to piece together what it meant.
But to hear the term used about myself was a bit odd.
Honestly, it was more surprising than hearing that someone had questioned my sexuality. I was sort of used to that. I had lots of gay friends, they taught me how to buy clothes and make martinis. I liked showtunes and was usually single. It’s essentially the same specs as now, except that I am forty-one, have a cat, and once went on a Southern Italian holiday entitled “Spritzerfest” with two friends who happen to be a gay couple.
I get it. I also don’t give a shit.
But I’m “gay friendly?” Now that was odd.
While I understood, even appreciated, the sentiment – context + superhuman intellect strikes again – I have to say that I was a little shocked. You see, I never considered myself gay friendly; I have always just been friendly.
A few months ago, on one of our Sunday afternoon chats, I casually mentioned to my dad that I’m visiting France over the summer to visit friends in Lyon. I further added – nonchalantly – that he might consider looking up flights for a short trip to meet in London or Paris.
Dad: “Well, I don’t know, I’ll take a look. But to be honest, I doubt it’ll happen.”
Me: “Oh hey sure. No worries. I know it’s a long shot, but I just thought I’d ask….”
To be clear, it was at this moment that
- I knew we were going to meet in Europe, and
- I felt a little bad. Sort of like I’d tricked a little kid into walking into a bear trap.
When it comes to travel, my dad is a big kid in a bigger candy shop. I knew that all I had to do was plant a trip seed in his head and just sit back and watch it grow like chia on a terracotta ram. I knew he was almost certainly going to find a way to join me. There’s a specific routine he goes through, and by two days later, it was in full gear.
In two days he asked for confirmation on my dates of travel. I told him I’d let him know as I wasn’t sure yet. A few days after that he was listing pros and cons of London and Paris. I still hadn’t confirmed on my dates of travel, the only problem of which was that it gave him time to let the seed of travel explode. A week later, I got a call that I knew was going to come.
“What do you think about Madrid?”
I am undeniably a Cat Guy. These days, the Internet allows us Cat Folks to indulge in a dedicated worship of our furry like companions. And we know this gets on Non-Cat People’s nerves.
Sometimes I post a cat-related blog or Facebook joke and imagine the eye rolls it will elicit. This doesn’t bother me. It’s the same eye roll I do when you post a melodramatic rant laced with passive aggression, or pictures of your kids putting on socks or every meal you eat.
In any event, you Non-Cat People don’t have to worry today, because this post is about my neighbor Betty.
My neighbor Betty is a bit of an odd ball. And I am not convinced that she wasn’t on drugs the other day when she was chasing some flies and shouting at birds on the balcony. She always makes a scene; all the other neighbors know about her. She only decided to come in when a wasp made its appearance. Her pupils were dilated. Her hair was standing straight up in the air; I mean downright bristling. Then she threw up on my floor. Read the rest of this entry »
A few weeks ago, I wrote this message to a friend on Facebook:
Hey, let’s grab a beer this weekend!
The friend is female, Czech, and a person I had seen socially a few times recently. She wrote back:
Hey! You are so great and so much fun! (enter 30 emoticons here)
Me: Thanks! (because who doesn’t love an unsolicited compliment?)
Me (in my head) But? But what? My anxiety took off into a variety of trajectories. Had I done something wrong? Had I been rude? What was this “but” business about?
Her: I’m just not feeling it! I’m sorry. Still, you are so awesome, you deserve someone who appreciates you.
It was then I realized what was happening: I was being dumped. Nobody likes being dumped. It hurts. It sucks. Songs and books and movies and art have been created in order to detail the misery that follows being dumped. And surely this dumping would have come as much more of a blow if I had also realized that I was dating this person.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to save face. I have been dumped and I have been dumped hard. One thing women never seem to have a problem doing is breaking things off with me. I have run the gamut of being dumped, as well. I’ve been dumped in bars, on dates, on first dates, before first dates, and by women who didn’t know they were dating me. I’ve been let go in several date venues: restaurants, pubs, theaters, bowling alleys, at dances.
Moreover, I’ve been dumped using a broad range of conduits: by girls, their friends, their mothers, their answering machines, via email and text message, over the phone. I’m just waiting for the day that I get dumped on a Jumbotron at a baseball game or in skywriting at the beach.
But these were relationships I was actually in. Now, it seemed that women were first inventing a relationship I wasn’t part of, and then ending it. Apparently, simply being dumped wasn’t enough for the women of the world, they had to begin an offensive assault.
We are at Letna park having a goodbye picnic thrown by one of our Master’s groups. I have known some of these students for five years and reflect that I will miss them in a teacherly way, a personification of “Boy those guys were much nicer than [insert course number of current pain in the ass group here).”
Anyway, we are having a lovely time.
The students have cooked and brought wine. The weather is nice but not so warm that I am sweating. There have already been pictures and a sneak peek reveals that I do not look like my typical photogenic persona of constipated Hobbit.
All is well.
Then one of the students hands me a box. Unless it explodes, it is a gift. I begin to unwrap it.
I never know what to do when students hand me a gift. If it’s before the exam, I usually make a joke about this being a pretty obvious bribe, everyone laughs and the awkwardness is slightly abated. If it’s after the exam, I stammer a bit, say a bunch of tidbits like ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have!’ open it, and thank them until profusely becomes pathological.
It’s not them, I just get awkward.
In my seven years at the university, I have received a few gifts, Some groups simply give a fond – or not so fond – farewell at the end of the year. Sometimes I meet students for the first time at the end of semester exam. The only gifts these students bring are excuses so far-fetched that I write about them on this blog. A genuine “thank you” from others is always appreciated. Other students simply leave my life forever, which they seem to inherently understand is the best gift they could ever hope to get me.
And some students give me a small gift. These gifts are often suited to my interests, and I’m always delighted that we have gotten to know each other a bit. There have been books, books in Czech, pens, gift certificates. Many very appreciated things.
Sometimes the gifts are a bit odd. One student gave me a bell. I mean, a handheld town-crier style bell. She said every teacher needs a bell. Another student got me a pack of dirty playing cards. I didn’t know what she was trying to tell me, but she handed them over with a wink and a crooked smile. A group once got me a Czech-English vulgarity dictionary, which was appropriate since this group made me stretch the limits of my own internal vulgar lexicon on a daily basis. Another student bought me a pair of sandals at a local Vietnamese shop. I didn’t have the nerve to ask him what that was all about, but I did wear them at home until the strap broke later that afternoon.