Thursday, 2 February 2012

The tangerine of friendship

I walk into the shoe repairer's. Well, I wasn't sure from the outside that it was a shoe repairer's as many shops (and even bars and restaurants) here don't have windows and it is a surprise as to what you will find once you open the door! The only thing I had going for me was that I had found out that opravy obuvy meant shoe repairs. *Kling-a-ling-a-ling* Ah yes, some keys, an old sewing machine: I am in the cobbler's! "Dobry den!" I take my boots out of my backpack and point to the cracked sole and make a miserable face. The round faced cobbler looks horrified and draws around the crack with a piece of chalk. Then the fun begins. I can't understand a word he is saying. This is very frustrating for me, because as a linguist, I am used to speaking other languages fluently. Czech just wasn't on the curriculum. "Er, mluvíte anglicky?", "Ne". "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" This one can sometimes yield very good results. *Kling-a-ling-a-ling* Response: "Ne". Oh dear. Man who has just walked in says "Ich spreche Deutsch" Hurrah! So, we have a three-way conversation in German and Czech and I find out that I can pick my boots up on Wednesday.

I pop back in later that week and my boots are all fixed with nice grippy soles (very important here what with all the snow and ice). "Dobry, dobry!" I say and smile. Then, the cobbler trys to make conversation with me, but he knows I don't speak Czech. A lot of miming ensues and the odd word from my Czech phrasebook. But, I manage to find out that he is Armenian, came here 16 years ago, speaks Czech, Armenian and Russian (no common languages there then) and likes to do "fitness" after work. He shows me a comical photo of a body builder to demonstrate this! This is my first interaction with a Czech person in my village in Czech and although it was really difficult, we got there in the end. As I go to leave he takes out a bag of tangerines and offers me one. I gesture "No, I'm fine thanks", but he insists. So, I put the little fruit in my backpack. As I leave I feel really touched by this offering. We didn't have many words to communicate with each other, but the tangerine said it all: I have made my first Czech friend.


  1. Congrats on making your first friend already, that's impressive. It's amazing the impact on our lives that kindness has.

  2. That's quite an encouraging tale. Glad to hear it's going well!

  3. Lovely story - Not being able to speak Czech is extremely frustrating in these circumstances. However, as you discovered, your German will sometimes be quite useful as many older educated Czechs can speak it quite fluently.

    1. Thanks :) The German does come in handy, but don't want to rely on it. I went into a little shop and managed to ask for some AA batteries in Czech yesterday and was understood by the shopkeeper! Getting there slowly :)