The Czech Republic is NOT an English speaking country.
Who knew, right? (Hopefully you knew this.)
Therefore, I, as an English speaking person did not move to Prague expecting everyone to cater to the language that I speak. That would just be silly. You can "get by" here by speaking English (mainly in the center of the city, not so much on the outskirts), but "getting by" is not something that you want to do if you are planning to stay long-term. At least it's not something that I want to do. Although I am here to teach English, I want to learn Czech so that I can experience more of the Czech culture and more of the country. I am LIVING in a place that is foreign to me, so learning the language is just the smart thing to do.
That being said, the Czech language is not something that you pick up in a month. Honestly, I'm not sure it's something you could completely pick up in 10 years. It's difficult...full of unfamiliar symbols, and sounds that I'm still not sure how to produce. I currently know the basics (hello, goodbye, thank you, etc.) and I begin Czech classes this Friday, but most of my communication here has been done through Czechlish (a combination of English and broken Czech, created by my good friend/flatmate Ephram), facial expressions, and theatrical gestures. So, as you can imagine, the language barrier has caused quite a few awkward (and sometimes scary) situations.
Now, let's jump into some story time:
When Ephram and I signed for our new flat, we were held responsible for transferring the utilities (gas, electric, and internet) from the name of the old tenants into our names. Two girls from Ukraine lived in the flat before us, and they were both very nice and extremely helpful in helping us get as much of the process taken care of as possible. They were able to get us through all of the transfer of the electric and internet, but we had to go about the gas process a bit differently. Once the forms were completed, Ephram and I had to go on our own to the gas office, and get the name changed on the account. Keep in mind, our landlord told us that this shouldn't be an issue and there would be someone there who speaks English due to Prague having such a high number of English speaking expats.
Now, in my opinion, dealing with things like this are bad enough when you are communicating with people who do speak your own language. Does anyone in the states honestly like to go sit and wait at Comcast, for example? So, it's destined to be an extra fun task when you apply a language barrier. Anyway, we arrived to the gas office on a dreary Monday morning and the lady at the greeting desk gave us a number. We waited and waited, and when our number showed up on the screen we went to the appropriate "pokladna" or service desk. The lady seemed nice enough and we exchanged greetings:
Her: "Dobry den." (Good day.)
Us: "Dobry den."
And...that was the end of our Czech abilities for the conversation. We gave her the form, and tried to explain that we need to change the name on the account. This is where the smile left her face. She then asked us in a number of different ways if we speak Czech, to which we obviously replied no, and even threw in a lighthearted "not yet." She then threw her hands up in the air, rolled her eyes, and slumped back into her chair. We moved on to trying to explain that we were told we could be helped in English, and she spewed back a stream of words that I can only describe as "very fast, angry Czech." Then she stared at us.
Well, at this point we were at a loss for words. (Both in English and in Czech.) After a couple of uncomfortable moments, she stood up and stalked away. Ephram and I looked at each other with "I'm scared for my life" facial expressions. A moment later, she came back with another woman and showed her our form. The new woman smiled at us (thank goodness) and then asked us to explain what we need. She then looked over the form and told us that they couldn't do anything without a picture of the gas meter because the number was wrong.
So, we thanked the woman who helped us, and then attempted to thank scary lady #1 who just icily glared at us as we walked away.
Fast forward to a couple of days later. We went back to the gas office after taking the picture of the meter and correcting what needed to be corrected. Our nerves were completely on edge because we were both afraid of getting the same scary lady who had helped us before. I'm fairly sure that my blood pressure when up each time a new number was announced. Ages later, it was finally out turn and we made out way to the correct pokladna, exchanged greetings, and attempted to explain what we needed.
And what do you know...this lady's reaction was almost identical to the first lady's reaction. We got the eye roll, the frustrated hands in the air, and something new...an arm cross. She then told us that there was no one that can help us. We attempted to explain that we were helped last time by someone who spoke English, but we were just interrupted by several shakes of the head and her pushing the paper back to us. Ephram was braver than I, and tried one more time to let her know that we were helped by someone who spoke English the last time. She got up and walked away, and came back with her supervisor, and the supervisor also told us they couldn't help us. Scary lady #2 sat back down at her desk and looked at us with the "I told you so" face, and once again pushed the form back over to us. We left in defeat.
This is going to make me sound lame, but there were tears on my part after this visit. Not giant crocodile tears, but definitely frustrated, "I'm so out of my element" tears. Most days, the cultural and language barrier issues are not a problem, but there are times that things just kind of build up and everything becomes overwhelming. I also think I may have just been a bit "hangry" at this point in time, because I got some coffee and something to eat and felt better.
The good news is, we finally got the gas situation taken care of. Luckily Ephram has a Czech tutor that agreed to help us out by translating. I can honestly say that there are certain things I just won't attempt until I have much more knowledge of and practice with the Czech language.
Moral of the story: Surprisingly, taking care of the mundane, everyday things, such as utilities, may just be the most stressful part of moving abroad.
Besides the Visa process, of course. Oh, and grocery shopping...
But that's a story for another blog post. :)
As always, thank you for listening to my rambling, and I hope you are all having a great week! I will leave you with a Prague related picture that really has nothing to do with this post...but it's pretty.