Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been a really bad expat. That is to say, I’m doing very little to immerse myself in the culture and find myself, for the first time in years, wasting a little bit of the opportunity of living abroad. A lot of it is due to an incredibly busy schedule (which will thankfully subside over the summer), scattered in with a good deal of travel to other places, but most of it is just me being lazy and discouraged by the different.
A lot of that is par for the course when living in a foreign country. For the first little while you embrace it and try to take in as much as possible, because to do otherwise would be stupid. But sometimes it gets overwhelming. Sometimes it gets too frustrating or challenging and rather than giving up and moving home (because that would be even stupider), you find yourself pulling back and avoiding situations and scenarios which could make you feel like a fish out of water. Unless life is perfect, the pendulum will eventually swing the other way.
We’ve stopped doing Czech things lately – almost going out of our way to remove ourselves from the culture. Hamburger joints and English films at the theatre. Beers with British friends and bagels for breakfast. Staying far away from the old town or the Charles Bridge. I’ve completely shut the book on my Czech studies, instead deciding to focus on French for a while. That last decision is putting a pretty noticeable dent in my ability to communicate like I used to.
I noticed this today when, out for lunch at my favourite pub, I could just barely fumble my through the ordering process. Holy shit, it’s been a while since I’ve been here.
Actually, I remember the last time (“Yup”) very well. After that fiasco, I needed to take some time off. I guess that theme crossed over into other walks of life outside of ordering food.
Still, I’m glad I returned. I got to exercise my lunchtime demons and order myself some svíčková. In doing so, it made me realize something special.
On a day like today – where I’ve spent the better part of the morning walking around and getting rained on – there are few things in life more enjoyable and outright dependable than a cold Pilsner beer and a plate of svíčková to cheer you up. Without a doubt, I will sincerely miss this meal the instant it becomes unavailable to me. On a cold and rainy day, during a week which seems to be crawling to a finish, the reliability of that goddamned meal is unrivaled. You could set your watch to it making you feel better.
When I realized that this is the way I felt, I instantly began to feel a lot better about my perceived lack of Czechness. If these are the thoughts that are swirling through your mind at lunchtime, then it means that this twisted place has become home.
I have an old friend from Canada coming to stay with me in a few days. It would be a shame if he showed up and I couldn’t offer him at least a little bit of exposure to Czech culture. Perhaps I need to suck it up and just get back into it again. Get in over my head, open my textbook, stop leading with English, and pretend like I know what I’m doing. Svíčková Thursdays are a good start. But there’s still a lot of work to get back to where I was a few months ago.
I guess what I’m saying is … I need to re-Czech myself.
Yes, I need to re-Czech myself. Before I re-wreck myself.