For the past four months, I’ve been living in Brno, a small city in the Czech Republic, as part of the Erasmus programme. Whilst I can honestly say that the past couple have months have been amongst the best in my life, there are a couple of things I do miss about Old Blighty.
OK, OK, it’s a stereotype: the Brit abroad with suitcase full of PG Tips, telling anyone who’ll listen what a watery mess Lipton’s teabags make. Determined to reject my own stereotypes, I stubbornly didn’t import a Boston Harbour’s worth of Yorkshire Gold in my cabin bag – and I regretted it.
Let me tell you about my first cup of tea in Brno. It’s a horrorshow.
It was my first full day in the country, and I’d headed to Albert, the local supermarket, to stock up on those student staples: pasta and teabags.
Pasta – no problem. Aisles of the stuff. I chucked a pack of spaghetti into my basket, and headed to the hot beverage section.
At first, things looked promising. There were enough different kinds of hot chocolate to satisfy even my sweet tooth, and there was clearly a wide selection of tea. I wandered over to take a closer look.
Of the thousands, if not millions, of kinds of tea on offer, only a paltry four boxes boasted black tea. To my horror, and with the help of a pocket dictionary, the deciphered labels revealed the truth: English Breakfast was not on sale.
Still, I thought, such is the reality of living outside of England. On the Continent, people just don’t have a taste for Breakfast tea. I picked up a box of Earl Grey, doubled back to grab a lemon, and headed home.
My (sadly not electric) kettle boiling, I grabbed my favourite mug and the pen that I had designated makeshift teaspoon. The teabags were individually wrapped in little paper envelopes, which I considered a good sign. All the best tea comes fancy packaged like that.
Listen, I’m not going to go into the taste, for fear of upsetting you. Let’s just say that if you dropped a teabag into a vat of Chanel No 5, you wouldn’t be that far off my brew. It wasn’t great.
The thing that really surprised me, though, was the way the tea stained my mug. Everyone’s been guilty of not washing their mugs properly and ending up with stains on the inside, but this was something else. After a single cup, my favourite mug looked like an almost finished jar of Nutella.
I stuffed the culprits into the cupboard, eyeing them with mistrust, and pledged never to leave the country without trunk of teabags again.
Gin and Tonic
Here’s a true story: my friend and I were in a bar here in Brno. I ordered the Czech classic – as much beer as can be physically lifted – and my friend opted for a G&T. Pretty standard stuff, right?
A couple of minutes later, the waitress was bag. She gave me my frosty one, and then turned to my friend and asked her whether she’d wanted a gin, or a tonic.
My friend and I looked at her.
“…Both,” My friend said. “A gin and tonic.”
“Oh!” said the waitress, giving her a look like she’d asked for a rum and Ribena.
We’d barely had time to comment on how weird that was when the waitress was back, holding a shot glass of gin and a can of tonic. When we gaped at her, bemused, she asked, “Oh, do you want a straw?”
I mean, look at her.
Being in a different time zone from that Good Girle would sap anyone’s spirit.
This is pretty much the biggie. Although I’ve been studying Czech for two and a half years now, my most common response to any question is still, “ještě jednou (come again)?”
I really surprised myself over the Christmas holidays by going out of my way to chat to people on the street, relishing the fact that they understood what I said, and, crucially, that I could understand them. It felt like a novelty, and I milked it until I realised I’d become that weirdo making conversation with strangers on the bus.