26 October 2013

For the cats

This is an homage to our two cats, who have bravely weathered in the past few years the arrival of Smalls, an over-the-Channel journey in the back of a van driven by a hideously sleep-deprived Czech (no, fortunately not L.), settling into L.'s parents' place, and a move to our new house in a village full of dogs.

They have faced all of these trying conditions with stiff upper lips (as is befitting for British cats) with minimal protest peeing.
Esme and Lily in the glories of their kittenhood

However, they are now confronted with the most terrible of tribulations: Toddler Affection.

The cats relationship with Smalls started out promisingly. They adored sitting on my bump when I was pregnant and even accepted Infant Smalls as a moderately-interesting addition to their realm. When Smalls was very tiny and suffering from colic, Lily very memorably stuck out her paw and gently tapped him on the head. This guru's touch gave us a whole half an hour of peace, and our attempts to replicate the miracle gave Lily a taste of things to come.

The Affliction of the Toddler is perhaps all the more terrible because he is sometimes remarkably gentle with them. However, this gentleness is almost always short lived, and invariably, the sheer excitement of actually getting to touch the cats overwhelms Smalls.

Smalls seems to realise this about himself, and went through a stage of leading me over to the cats and making it clear that I should pet them for him (petting by proxy). For awhile, this resulted in a great deal of home harmony. The cats were well petted, Smalls was delighted to be in close contact with the cats.

However, Smalls has developed two new interests over the past few weeks: feeding the cats and picking them up. This has resulted in poor Esme being assaulted with a spoonful of oatmeal while Smalls commanded, 'HUM! HUM!' And L. and I looked up from some work we were doing in the garden at the sound of a very concern 'mew!' to see poor Lily being hoisted by her tail.

The cats have been understandably giving Smalls a very wide berth recently.

20 October 2013

Czech practice

Smalls and I were waiting for a bus when a very nice Polish man asked me in his very best (bad) Czech which bus would take him to Dejvická and how much it would cost. I am pleased to say I answered in my very best (worse) Czech. 

I really like giving advice to tourists. Giving advice in Czech is even better than in English since, along with the chance to be a Know-It-All about local geography and customs, Touristic Advice and Directions is an easy conversation topic which the poor, lost supplicant has entered into willingly and - importantly - actually needs my help, so is extra keen to understand me.

Even better, the chances of the askee spending the whole time correcting my grammar are somewhat diminished. This final point is important because many Czechs seem to have an almost French-like urge to protect and defend their language against the on slot of mis-stressed syllables and my brain's Random Declination Generator.

This Polish gentleman was a unique gift from the linguists' gods: conversation in Czech with someone whose Czech was nearly as bad as mine. Practice, patience, and should we not understand each other, the option that the other participant might be the one at fault.

For his part, the Polish tourist began to mistrust either his or my Czech enough to start throwing English words into the conversation, quite possibly in the hopes that I would switch to English as well. 

However, I remained firm. So, a retroactive apology to the poor Polish tourist: omlouvám se. I admit to being an opportunistic language sadist. 

17 October 2013

The joys of a productive garden

In England, L and I maintained a nice little vegetable patch, an enthusiastic black currant bush, and a wee pear tree that produced one crop of mostly edible pears. Aside from the Great Cauliflower Disaster, we really enjoyed gardening, and especially the great pleasure of meandering around the garden, grazing on what we'd grown.

With our village house and garden, we've reached the next level. We were too busy this summer to plant a vegetable patch, but we are nevertheless raking in (sometimes quite literally) a huge amount of produce.

Behold, the harvest
One of this house's main selling points was its five apple trees. Not to mention the huge walnut tree at the edge of the garden. 

So, with very minimal effort, we are now the proud owners of a very large number of both walnuts and apples. We are also quickly becoming an apple-pushing nuisance to all neighbours, friends, and relatives ('You'd like some apples?! Great! I'll bring the wheelbarrow over in a second.')

The poor trees have been rather neglected over the years, but have welcomed us in style, and one tree in particular produces some very tasty apples.

Smalls has become the apple connoisseur, tasting and appraising any apple that he comes across. This has meant that a few boxes of apples that we have given away almost certainly had a couple of toddler-sized chomps. Which, come to think of it, might be the reason we've been having trouble offloading them recently...

14 October 2013

Homesickness vs. logic

'Homesickness' might not be quite the right term. I was born and grew up in the United States, but I find myself terribly, unshakably missing the UK. I lived most of my adult life there, fell in love there, was educated there, bought a house there, had a baby there.

And now I find myself missing the most illogical things about it.

Expatová's list of most-missed things from the UK (discounting the obvious categories of friends, beaches, and free museums):
1. The weather
2. The food
3. The houses

This has been perplexing for poor L. as he is trying to help me talk though things. Conversations tend to go like this:
L.: What's wrong?
Expatová: I miss English weather.
L.: English weather? It rained all the time.
E.: I know! [sob]

Or, when it comes to comparing the living room in our English house (which was not a bad size for UK standards) with our living room in our Czech abode, the Czech house clearly wins in size, amount of light, ceiling height, lovely wood floors...pretty much in every way.

English living room
Czech living room
And yet, I find myself pining for darker, smaller, damper rooms. The lack of logic in this situation is maddening.

We brought our collection of charity shop maps and pictures with us from the UK, but I haven't yet found the courage to put them on the walls yet. Perhaps it's because I'm afraid of having too many reminders of our old life. Equally possible is that my subconscious knows that our charity shop finds will crumble in the bright Czech sunlight. 

I seem to remember these feelings from when I left the US, so I'm hopeful that Czech weather and lifestyles will win me over in the end.

11 October 2013

Czech village life

expatova's apples
When we lived in England, we owned a little house in the middle of a neighbourhood we mostly-affectionately called The Hood. This title was somewhat ironic considering we lived in a small town in a rather idyllic part of the country, but nonetheless, The Hood was well known to the local police and we became experts on many of our neighbours' love lives, partying habits, approaches to child rearing, and dubious methods of rubbish disposal.

Due to living there, we always said that with our next house, we would painstakingly scout out the house AND neighbourhood before purchasing.

This is not, my friends, what happened. In fact, we committed to purchase the house after seeing a few awkward photos online and 'driving by' it on Google Streetview.

So, now that we've moved in, I've finally had the pleasure of properly scouting out our new environs. Or perhaps more accurately, our new environs have been scouting out us, with nearly all of the neighbours on our street introducing themselves.

I've already discussed the stereotype of Czechs and the stereotype of village Czechs seems to be even more xenophobic and lacking in friendliness. However, that has not at all been the case. Maybe half of the people we see in the village greet us with 'dobrý den!' and a few have even chatted with me about the weather and welcomed us to the village. We have a few neighbours who speak very good English and a few who bravely suffer through conversations with me in Czech.

Village life, as experienced earlier this week: the sun was shining and Smalls and I were out in the garden collecting apples. We chatted with one of my favourite neighbours who is a teacher at the local školka and her friend, who both made a big fuss over Smalls. Next, a parade of school children came by with their teachers and handfuls of leaves and sticks. They politely ''dobrý den!'-ed me, waved at Smalls, and made a fuss over our cat.

After Smalls's nap, the door bell rang, and there was one of the neighbour's daughters who formally introduced herself and asked if she could play with Smalls. She's nine and very patiently listened to Smalls's babbling about tractors and dogs that go HUFF! Meanwhile, I had a luxurious cup of tea and collected all of the fallen apples and walnuts. It was heavenly.

While I was picking up the last of the walnuts and laughing to myself about this strange new pastoral life, some jaunty, accordion-led music came on over the public service announcement system, as if to provide the perfect soundtrack for what I was experiencing. This was followed by what seemed to be a rousing announcement by our mayor and was concluded by more jaunty music.

So, the moral of the story seems to be: buy a house over the internet and you may end up in some strange Czech Mayberry, Shangri La, or possibly Stepford. 

10 October 2013

On Czechs

Smalls demonstrates the stereotypical Czech face
Much has been written about the stereotypical Czech (see, for instance, 'Do Czechs Hate Foreigners, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3') and, in short, the stereotypical Czech is basically the opposite of the stereotypical American. So, naturally, 'So, how do you find the Czechs?' is right up there with 'How is your Czech coming along?' as commonly-asked question.

So, adding my anecdata to the foray: Czechs are lovely. Ok, not all of them. Specifically, the man who told me off for having a crying baby....at a playground. Also, the bus-load of able-bodied people who pointedly ignored me as I struggled to get the buggy off a bus. Those damn steps-plus-big-gap-to-the-curb combination is tricky.

Both stories, though, have happy endings. In the first case, we ran into the Playground Grump and his boss as they continued with their landscaping work and the boss made a big fuss of Smalls, who was obligingly cute by displaying all of his latest tricks, including waving at Playground Grump.

The second ending was even more sweet, though. An old lady loudly clucked about how shocking it was that no one would help this poor, struggling mother, and pointedly glared at a particularly fit man who was meeting his family at the same stop. This, of course, meant that I could remain the angelic, struggling mother AND my id was satisfactorily manifested in the lovely, slightly scary Czech woman. It was a beautiful moment.

This leads very nicely into a social norm that I have found particularly endearing: it is generally expected that strangers will help with getting buggies on and off all forms of public transport. This led to a very well dressed, at least 70 year old gentleman kindly offering to help me and Smalls onto a tram. Considering he was walking with a cane, I politely declined.

All of these incidents, by the way, happened in Prague. The local village Czechs deserve their own post, coming soon...