22 November 2013

Noticeably foreign

I was talking with a fellow English-speaking expat recently, and he mentioned that he tends to whisper to his small son when dropping him off at školka and was therefore taken aback when another parent started to speak to him in English. 

Last week, my students asked me how I like the Czech Republic and Czechs in particular. I told them I was pleasantly surprised with how kind most Czechs are. 

'Oh, that's just because they know you are a foreigner,' one of my more vocal students declared.

This caught me off guard a bit because, like my fellow expat friend, I often find myself hiding my foreignness in public - to the point of whispering English words, but occasionally loudly saying a Czech word to demonstrate that I fit in. For example, on the bus:

'You'd like to have your dudlik, would you, Smalls?

A not-entirely-rational part of me is convinced that I fit in perfectly. Special treatment for a foreigner? Phaw, not happening, since I've fooled them all!

This week, I've been trying to find a middle ground between my unconvincing undercover foreigner and the stereotypical American Abroad who audibly assaults whole tram-fulls of locals with mundane English at a level that would seem to indicate someone has mistakenly sat on the 'volume +' button. 

Finding this middle ground has required some extra effort and an acceptance that it's ok to have a gaggle of school children eye me up as I discuss the finer points of a nearby tractor with Smalls.

The result has been mostly positive. Besides educating children on the English words for farm instruments, I also seem to have outed myself as the local foreigner to a number of middle aged women of the village, who now enthusiastically greet me in the street, shop, and post office, and smile indulgently at my awkward attempts at Czech small-talk.

In related news, we finally hung up many of our pictures from England. Progress, my friends.

The hall, now homier

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