There aren’t too many times where I feel that out of place in Prague anymore. That’s especially true when I compare it to where I was a year ago. These days I can order my food, pay for my beers, ask for the toilets, re-up my phone minutes, and do all manner of things entirely in Czech. It feels good. Don’t get me wrong, there are still heaps of times when I’m lost in the woods with my communication, but it’s happening less and less.
The problem with this is that now I sometimes get ahead of myself. If I have an afternoon of errands where all my communication is done exclusively in Czech, I feel like I can understand anything – like I’m pretty much a local. While I’m not involved in any deep conversations or anything (simply basic things like, “How much does this cost?” or, “Excuse me, I’m looking for …”), a couple of hours without English can really build up your confidence.
This happened a few days ago when I had a break in my schedule and a few hours free in the afternoon. With a small to-do list of things to take care of, I did all my speaking in Czech, got everything done in great time, and decided to treat myself to lunch.
Back home, lunch is often a rushed meal, with dinner as the day’s hot meal. However, in the Czech Republic things are a bit reversed and lunch is king. Weekday dinners are negligible here – a cold sandwich or perhaps nothing at all – and a lot of this is due to the fact that lunches are so large, heavy, and affordable. Lunch specials (a list of three 3-course options) are so extensive that each and every restaurant is essentially required have them. As a result, the prices are mind-numbingly low at times and the sheer volume of food that you receive is divine. It’s often such a full meal that you’re reluctant to eat anything for a while, sometimes for the rest of the day.
That said, when I went out for lunch that afternoon I was feeling totally confident in my Czech abilities. Nothing could stop me from enjoying a fine meal before heading back to work.
I chose a pub/restaurant nearby my home, a place I’d eaten at a couple times before with no complaints. Looking at the lunch specials, I contemplated my three options. My Czech was good enough to understand two of them perfectly (pork steak with fries or Pilsner goulash with dumplings), but I could only translate about 80% of the third meal: chicken something and rice. I kind of felt like chicken that afternoon, so I decided to choose this particular meal. Even though I didn’t quite understand everything, I figured what’s the worse that could happen?
Well, I found out quickly. My meal arrived in no time and right away I realized that I’d let my Czech-language hubris get the better of me. In front of me sat a plate with a little bit of rice and a heaping pile of boiled chicken kidneys.
I was starving, had to be back at work shortly, and didn’t have time to do anything else but try in vain to enjoy my meal. That was a tough lunch. Thankfully, in the Czech Republic every establishment serves perfect beer and it’s not that out of place to sit and enjoy a pint at noon. So, I spent my lunch hour reluctantly washing down a part of the chicken I’m not accustomed to eating with one of the better pilsner beers on the planet.
I’ve been too scared to order anything off a Czech menu that isn’t pizza for the last two weeks.
I suppose the lesson here is twofold: Don’t get too cocky and thinkin’ you’re all local now, and remember that central Europeans sometimes eat freaky shit for lunch.