Sheffield Revisited

This is meant to be a pun on Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel, Brideshead Revisited. I don’t know if it was a good punning choice because – and I don’t like to admit this – I’ve never read Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel, Brideshead Revisited.


The Good, The Bad, The Clichéd


Has the “Hey did you know I lived in Prague?” bit stopped being funny yet? Oh, it was never funny? Well, anyway…

Did you guys know that I lived in Prague last year? Well, it’s true. I spent a full sixteen months in Mother Prague’s claws before returning to Sheffield to find and exact revenge on the man who killed my father.

Not true; but it sounds better than the reality, which is that I had to come back to finish my undergrad degree or face >£20,000 of debt. I will still have to face >£20,000 of debt, but at least I will be a graduate and therefore – in theory, at least – several percentage points more employable.

My transition from Prague to Sheffield can be illustrated using the same terms I’d use to describe my legs: not all that smooth, but fine for the autumn. Here’s a run-down, a sum-up, a drive-around my experiences over the last couple of months.

There can be no denying it: Sheffield and Prague are very different places. Aside from lots of trees, lots of pork and an aggravating bus system, there’s very little uniting these two cultural capitals. Sure, you might be able to imagine Sheffield cutlery on the same dining room table as Bohemian glassware, but outside of this dinner party of the mind there isn’t a huge overlap to cling on to. Moving back to the UK after having become acclimated to Czech culture presented a few challenges.

I’ve mentioned this on this blog before, but Czech people love to stare. Man, there’s nothing they like more than good old peep at passersby. At first I found it uncomfortable to catch people gazing at me like I was a beautiful and unusual specimen, the likes of which had never been seen before in Central Europe. (That’s not to say I wasn’t a beautiful and unusual specimen, the likes of which had never been seen before in Central Europe, but I expected people to keep their awe to themselves.) It didn’t take long for me to get used to the constant peering.

A few months in, I was no longer surprised by people’s unabashed looks, and didn’t even baulk when they didn’t drop their gaze if our eyes met – a habit which had shocked me at first: in the UK, if you’re caught gawping at someone, it’s pretty much high treason not to blush and look away or pretend you were actually really interested in the brickwork just behind whoever caught your eye. I was roaming Prague like an absolute pro by the time I had to leave country, looking at people in the faces day in, day out. Sure, my eyes might have watered from returning my peers’ stares, but other than that I was golden.

In the UK, it feels like people conceive of public places differently. There’s more of a sense of personal privacy, which is why it felt like such an invasion when I first noticed people looking at me in the way I look at my dog when she burps. People in the UK like to feel as if there’s no one else on the street. We tend to act like strangers don’t exist, or like they’re just objects to be navigated like bollards with legs. Not to say this doesn’t have its advantages – it’s nice to be able to block people out – but sometimes it makes me feel like I’m invisible, like I don’t take up space in other people’s worlds. Sometimes it’s nice to be a bollard and to be surrounded by other bollards you don’t have to interact with, but it is – naturally – a bit dehumanising.

There have been a handful of other cultural differences to contend with. Part of me thinks I’m too much in my head, and these differences aren’t as pronounced as my mind is telling me.

Uni isn’t the best, and I’m feeling like my milk frothing skills have evaporated – not that they were ever that impressive at the best of times. But! There are lots of bright sides to look at. I love my flatmates and their friends, and that makes coming home feel cheerful rather than a trudge. Lots of people have made extraordinary efforts to make me feel welcome and included, despite my (if I do say so myself) fucking irritating neuroses.

Entering into an already established friend group has been an interesting experience. Being nervous around lots of new people whose relationships I don’t understand has made me feel more like an observer than a participant, but this particular group has been overwhelmingly kind and open. I feel like it’s OK to be a bit of a stony presence around them when I’m feeling anxious.

On balance, then, good things!

Love, kisses,
Ro

Unknown Known

It’s done: suitcase packed and unpacked, goods byed, ports passed. I’m back in the greatest of Britains, the most united of kingdoms. In the space of (heck) five days, I’ve changed country, time zone, and jumped between two cities. I have savoured the most Czech of all flavours (Too Much Višňovka) and the most Sheffieldest of tastes (Too Much Abbeydale Stout). I have said bye to a whole bunch of beloveds, spent time with friends I haven’t seen for years, and met what feels like millions of new people. I’ve bought a bus pass.

Reader, I’m tired out.

People mentioned the perils of reverse culture shock to me before I left the UK for the first time two years ago. Frankly, I was too worried about classic culture shock to pay any attention to their warnings. Why would I sweat about reintergrating into British culture when I had to face up to the daunting task about losing my Britishness in the first place? It seemed like skipping a step.

Besides, I thought to myself, I am inescapably British. No matter how hard I try, and no matter how much I will wrinkle my nose at my own passport and curse the Queen under my breath, I fit into British society as snugly as a bone china cup slots into its saucer. The phrase “citizen of the world” hits my middle-class liberal ears beautifully, but even I know it doesn’t convey anything meaningful, except highlighting what a twat I am.

And, sure, I am still English. This is true beyond any doubt – it says so on my passport. I must be English because I have an opinion on Marmite and what order the milk goes into the brew. Besides, I was undoubtedly a foreigner the whole time I was in Prague, and I’ve only lived outside of the UK for a measly two years. To claim to be more European than Mancunian would be misleading and silly.

Even so, I’ve been struck by how different everything here is. I feel utterly, completely lost. I’d got used to being a foreigner in Prague, but being a foreigner in Sheffield is another thing altogether, and entirely disconcerting.

I feel like there’s a disconnect between me and the people around me – I’m not sure what words I have to say to make them understand what I’m thinking. I had got very used to the rituals and habits of living in Prague, when I was supposed to smile at people, what I needed to say when I came into a building, how to tip and how much to leave. I feel like all the people skills I’ve picked up over the last two years don’t apply to Sheffield residents. My cheery ‘hellos’ whenever I enter a cafe or shop, for example, seem to upset people more than ingratiate them.

A massive thing is feeling a bit invisible here. This is, I’m sure, because I’ve not found a coherent peer group yet and because I’m not really doing very much in the day, but it’s also a bit related to cultural differences between Sheffield and Prague. People really stare at you in the street in Prague, no matter what you’re doing. This, of course, is upsetting for any English person, bred to avoid eye contact and pretend not to notice anyone else existing in the same space as them. I won’t lie: I found it quite rude to begin with, when I first moved to Prague. I was constantly anxious there was something on my face to draw all of these searching looks.

Somehow, in my year in Prague, being looked at on the street stopped bothering me. I got used to it. It was just a way of being sure that I was really there. Now I’m in Sheffield and people are consciously keeping themselves to themselves, I feel uneasy. I’m not sure that I’m really here. I have to look at my reflection in car windows to make sure I really am taking up space in the world.

These teething problems aside, I’ve also been struck by how much I benefited from not understanding stuff in Prague. The amount of effort I had to exert to glean any meaning from even the clearest and simplest sentences coming from the most familiar and friendly mouths meant that I didn’t even try to understand what the lady on the bus was saying. It was much easier to feel calm and centred in myself when I let 90% of what was going on around me flow past me without engaging with it.

I feel like I don’t have the option to do that now that everything is in English. I cannot stop myself from feeling invested in the lady on the bus’s phone conversation with her boyfriend. I can’t ignore the people on a shit date sitting behind me in this very cafe. Reader, I understand the news. I feel emotionally spent before I’ve even started talking to people that I actually know and care about.

Socialising in a second language suits me quite well. If you can’t understand everything your friend is saying, and if you can only express a third of what you’d like to say, everything’s necessarily simplified, and that takes a lot of the anxiety out of it. When saying anything is a success, you can’t worry about whether you’re saying anything of substance.

The only antidote to this, of course, is time. I’ve only been here ten minutes and I’m bound to be feeling a bit unsettled. Keep on keeping on!

Something my flatmate said to me as I was writing this mopey drivel illustrates what I mean.

“Who sends texts these days?” I moaned as my phone chimed.

“What do you use, WhatsApp?” he said.

“Yeah!”

“English people like texting,” he said.

This is what I’m talking about.

Pride

I went to Prague Pride on Saturday. It was a really surprising and fulfilling experience that I’m still processing, and – in classic Ro style – I’d like to hang all my thoughts out in the most public way possible. Reader, you know me by now: you know I value your attention whenever I’m pondering anything new. Settle in for another devastatingly frank, superficially woke analysis of an experience that means a lot to me and little to anyone else.

community

Prague 2019 was my first Pride – which is weird, when you consider how, frankly, flaming I am. I was in the city when the parade took place last year, but I didn’t attend – partly because I was working, but largely because I didn’t see the value in the parade.

I figured it was a flimsy excuse for straight people to wear rainbows and post pictures of drag queens on Insta. I saw it as a street party, an opportunity to be politicised or fetishised for someone else’s feed; and it seemed removed from my experience of being queer, which, until this year, was largely solitary. I didn’t think I’d fit into the community. I didn’t think there really was an authentic community to be accepted into.

Mate, I’ve changed my mind.

Being queer is a strange situation compared to being a member of different minorities. For one thing, the community is inherently sexualised. People hear you identify as something other than straight and immediately (naturally, I suppose) think about you having sex – and for that reason, I think LGBT groups are often considered somewhat sleazy. I remember trying to explain to a friend at uni why the value of gay bars wasn’t just being able to hook up with people more easily.

Public perception of gay men, in particular, seems to be that they’re motivated by an urge to get their dicks wet [or equivalent visceral image], without conceding the importance of having a space to spend time with people who share your experience of the world.

The queer community is strange for another reason – you have to seek it out. Whilst people of colour and people of minority religious groups are usually born and raised in their community, the same is rarely true of any LGBT person. Despite what people might think, there is no secret gay club we’re all inducted into as minors. You have to find your people. There is no gay card.

And despite having queer friends in Prague, in Sheffield and in Petersburg, I’ve never felt like part of the community in a larger sense. Honestly, I had no idea that there were so many LGBT people and open allies in Prague. Being at Pride made me realise how lonely it can feel to be unhetero. Feeling so represented made me realise how marginalised I’d felt. It feels incredible to be surrounded by the love, not only of your friends and people who know you, but of an entire community of strangers.

I don’t know if I’m making any sense – I’m still high from the joy of the whole day. (No, Mum, I’m not literally high). The moment this whole feeling of belonging crystallised, though, was when I was on the metro on the way to the beginning of the parade. I was on my own, wearing my gladrags (all black, flattering, on the sexy side, rainbow accessories), and I was looking around the carriage. I’ve taken the metro a million times in Prague, and it’s the same as in any capital city – people dressed in muted tones looking at their feet, ignoring how close they are to each other, reading articles about house prices on their phones.

The carriage today was half full of the same commuters, but the other half was us were – I don’t know how to express this in any other way – different. Wearing what we wanted to wear, holding hands with people we loved. It was astonishing. I couldn’t stop smiling. When I met up with my friends, I could hardly speak. I was so overwhelmed. “There are so many of us,” I said to no one in particular. “I thought we were the only ones.”

“Why can’t we do this every day?”

The entire parade, from start to finish, was so full of love. We danced with strangers, and hugged each other, shared drinks and food. There was an unbelievable atmosphere of acceptance and respect for each other and for the paths that had brought us here. At one point a girl I didn’t know hugged me and yelled, “We’re out; it’s OK!”

A force

One of the biggest worries I had was that I was going to turn up to this thing and find ten LGBT people and a bunch of straight people taking pictures of my undeniably queer look. I was glad I was going in a group – at least we’ll be there together. Outside of my friendship group, as I say, I hadn’t had much exposure to the community as a whole. I had no idea how big it was. The articles I’ve read suggest that at least 25,000 people attended Pride, whether the parade or the after party. Mate – 25,000 people at least.

My friend Janez saw the joy in my face. He hugged me. “We’re a force. That’s why they’re scared of us.”

tolik lásky

Protests

Hey, did you guys know that only Jesus can save us? This is something I recently learned.

Why do ultra-religious groups always overuse exclamation marks on their signs? You’d think the message God’s judgement is approaching would stand on its own as dramatic enough.

One of the articles said that members of the parade responded to these extremists with the words,

Bůh je žena

God’s a woman.

Every Pride parade faces opposition. Anti-LGBT extremists had the most traction in 2011, when Prague hosted its first parade. The then-president Václav Klaus bolstered homophobic and transphobic protesters by asserting that Czechs had the responsibility to fight against the LGBT agenda. Since then, though, protests have waned, and this year there were only a few incidents, and none of them, as far as I’ve read, were violent. An unknown opponent of the parade poured oil on the steps leading up to the end of the parade, but this was cleaned up before the march reached it, endangering no one.

One of the most talked-about acts of opposition happened on Thursday. A group of people I’ve heard described as nacistové, extremistové and hnusáci burnt a rainbow flag and shot fireworks at a gay club – luckily no one was hurt. These same Nazis/extremists/scumbags tried to disrupt the parade, but were quickly separated from the crowds by the police.

A group of angels dressed in white stood between the police and the parade, covering the scene with large white wings so we wouldn’t have to see them or be seen.

When I peeped through the gap, I saw around ten middle-aged men, holding a Confederate flag (yes, really) and flipping off the slivers of crowd they could see. They didn’t seem to see the irony in using a phallic hand gesture to protest queer lifestyles.

Sure, I think Pride is a party, but when you’re queer, being able to party in public is a form of protest.

I want to feel this open about my identity every day.

I got all my facts etc. from personal observation and from these news sources –
https://www.novinky.cz/domaci/clanek/prahou-projde-pochod-prague-pride-40292733
https://www.idnes.cz/zpravy/domaci/prague-pride-pochod-lgbt-2019.A190810_071408_domaci_brzy
https://cz.sputniknews.com/nazory/2019081010509796-reakce-na-prague-pride-019-katolicke-buzny-chcete-stale-jsou-na-hrade-i-v-katedrale/
I’ve tried my best to give an accurate depiction of Prague Pride 2019, but my description is naturally coloured by my own views and experiences, as well as my shite Czech.

the worst ways to learn english

“Nationality is a construct!” I exclaim in my native language of English as I sip milky breakfast tea from a bone china cup. I am reading Harry Potter and by my elbow is a replica of the Elgin Marbles and a diamond the size of my head that I ripped from the sub-continent of India without asking nicely. I gesture wildly as I describe my take on Marmite and my Union Jack purse slips from the table. Thousands of pound coins spill out and my continental cafe mates seem appalled by the Queen’s face, replicated so many times on sterling. I try to explain to them how a monarchy is different from religious autocracy as I scoop our divine head of state back into my pockets.

My friend Tom, visiting from England, helping me cultivate a Brit abroad vibe.

There’s no hiding it. I’m British. Worse than that, I’m English. Even worse than that– I’m a middle-class English expat who has the temerity to pretend my nationality doesn’t imply a lot of different flavours of privilege.

One of the greatest gifts my British passport implies is that English is my native language. Lads, I speak English really well. I’m not going to claim I’ve mastered the language – preferring others to make that claim for me – but I do have a certain grip on it. Living in the Czech Republic has made me realise what an advantage this is – if I weren’t raised speaking English, I’d have to learn it, and that seems like a real ballache. English is dumb and none of the words sound the way they look. I’m so glad I don’t have to engage with the lengthy and disgusting process of reaching B2 level.

My Czech and Slovak friends are angels who mostly speak to me in Czech and Slovak, knowing that I moved to Prague to improve my knowledge of Czech and Slovak. This is especially angelic of them since the vast, vast, vast majority of them (read: literally all of them) speak English better than I speak Czech. Sometimes, though, moments occur when their carefully crafted Czech and Slovak sentences won’t permeate my thick English skull, and the long-suffering dears have to resort to telling me something in English.

The author hopes this picture will convey the concept of angel.

Some of my friends have really weird English, absorbed from strange, irregular sources. Occasionally they’ll come out with a phrase or a piece of vocab that hits my ear like train hitting a bag of feathers. “My angel,” I will exclaim, reeling from the shock of it, “where did you get that from?” Humans are sponges, and the more weird sources of language you expose yourself to, the weirder your language will be.

Here’s my list of the worst places to suck up English from.

video games/cartoons/fantasy

a stock photo of a dragon

It’s one of the most deeply unfair and upsetting facts of life that the most interesting ways of learning languages give you the most awkward and clunky idiosyncrasies. Just imagine, for one second, how much you would instinctively hate someone who spoke like Tyrion from Game of Thrones.

Sure, you might try to tell yourself that it’s not because they’re pretentious – it’s because they’ve studies GRRM more than their New English File – but you wouldn’t be able to stop loathing taking root in your heart.

immersing yourself in a foreign culture

“Ro,” I hear you cry, “what are you saying? Surely immersing yourself in English culture is the best way to attain a high level of naturalistic English.” Well, hold your goddamn horses, reader. I mean immersing yourself in non-native English culture. As anyone who’s ever been on Erasmus knows, there’s a huge difference between native English and international English.

When groups of people from different nations across the world come together, the results can be beautiful: sharing perspectives, breaching cultural barriers, collaboration and confidence. However, the downside is that groups develop their own mini dialects where everyone speaks English slightly wrong. I’m no prescriptivist – language is a changing and fluid thing – but some of the weirdest English I’ve heard was born in the melting pot of EFL speakers coming together.

this blog

Sometimes my Czech and Slovak friends say to me, “Ro, I read your blog.”

And I say to them, “What did you think?”

And they say, “I had no idea what the fuck you were going on about.”

Honestly, though, I take that as praise.

Motivation

I fancy myself as a bit of an influencer. My opinions are certainly held in high esteem by my friends, loved ones, and even those peers I’m wholly ambivalent towards, like the boy I sat opposite in GCSE Maths. They come to me in droves, desperate for my pearls of wisdom, be they philosophical, political or aesthetic, and I’m more than happy to give them to them. After all, when you’re blessed with such enviable instincts and razor taste, you owe it to the world to give back.

I saw thousands of people wearing this same London 2012 shirt just minutes after I bought mine at the London 2012 Olympics. Coincidence?

Now I have a blog, my recommendations are no longer checked by geographical constraints, and the Ro Effect is being felt the world over. Don’t forget – hipsters didn’t start wearing ankle swingers until pictures of me at secondary school resurfaced. I’m pretty sure I’m at least mostly responsible for bringing dungarees into the adult mainstream, as well: there’s photographic evidence of me rocking denim all-in-ones as an unpopular teenager.

Will I show you the photographic evidence? No. It’s private.

Running such an influential blog can be a lot of responsibility at times. Sure, to you guys, it must seem effortless. “Every recommendation that falls from your lips and drips from your pen is pure gold,” I hear you exclaim. Well, that’s true. But even the greats have moments of doubt. “What if,” I think to myself, “pantaloons aren’t coming back in a big way? What then? My credibility will be in shreds.” It’s enough to keep you up at night.

The nature of the blog is that it defies boundaries. As a tech-stunted teen, I was constrained to shouting my recommendations eg at passing cars, into drainpipes, into my sleeping family’s faces etc. These days, my influence is massive: wordpress statistics inform me that most of my posts are read in over two countries.

This presents me with a quandry, though. How to continue to provide my followers with the guidance they so desperately need whilst also ensuring that any and all content is as inclusive and relevant as possible? There’s no point in my Swindon-based readership learning about the most cutting edge fashions in Prague. That just doesn’t make any sense.

I’ve decided to provide more detailed commentary about the finer things in life, thus allowing you, my dear readers, to develop your own individualised taste and instincts. Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to appreciate the specific scale pattern of a fish and market that expertise, he’ll make millions on instagram. Sure, I’m effectively making myself obsolete, but I do everything for the good of the people.

Anyway, that’s why I’m gonna start writing about toilets again. So that one day, you’ll be able to write about toilets all by yourselves. Big, big dreams.

Stuff I know now that I didn’t know a year ago

It’s good to recognise personal development. Most of my growth over the last year has been in the ‘coffee’ and ‘general waster’ spheres, but this is, in my opinion, still valid. I’ve completed this short – but still comprehensive – list of the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired since the first of June, 2018.


  • Coffee vocab
The author hopes this image will convey the concept of working in a cafe.

(Mostly Czech vocab, of course, like káva and hrnek. Sure, it’s insane that I accepted a job in a cafe without being totally clear on such fundamental words as coffee and mug, but life’s a journey. Weirdly, though, I’ve learnt loads of coffee vocab in English, simply because I’d never been exposed to this particular area of jargon. For example, I had no idea what we call that lever you put the coffee in and stick in the coffee machine; my best guess, based on my love of using anthropomorphisms to make work responsibilities more interesting, was coffee arm. It turns out it’s actually portafilter. Man, who knew?)


  • How to deal with hangovers.
The author hopes this image will convey the sensation of deep malaise.

(I think I do drink less now than I did in my heady ‘study abroad’ days, but mornings after have been hitting me harder. Whilst a year ago I could bounce out of bed after a night of revelry ready for the day, it’s getting really difficult to force myself to rise and shine.

I feel like this might have something to do with my body prematurely ageing, i.e. I’m convinced I have the physical form of a woman in her mid- to late-thirties, despite my passport’s insistence that I’m still some ways away from twenty three. Still, it’s not all bad – sure, I might have killer hangovers, but (if we assume the corollary to be true), I’m probably slightly less likely to get pregnant. (Best not to test this theory.)

OK, and sure, my way of dealing with hangovers is to hide from sunlight and loudly insist I’m never drinking again, but it’s a system of sorts, and I’m proud of it.)


  • That, if you’re trying to shoot film, it’s really, really important that you load the film correctly.
The author hopes that the expression on this dog’s face will convey the sensation of embarrassment in the face of one’s own stupidity.

(You’d think that this would be obvious; but I am a semi-professional idiot.)


  • If you don’t know a word in Czech, sometimes you can just say the word in English and everyone will nod.
The author hopes this image will convey the effect of the language barrier.

(Czech people who’ve never studied English still have better passive comprehension of my language than I have of theirs. I will never bother to learn the actual, pure Czech word for fancy; why bother, when you can just say fency and everyone gets what you’re on about?)


  • That, if you’ve taken lots of pictures on your digital camera, you shouldn’t delete them all before you’ve made any kind of back up.
The author hopes that this self portrait will convey the sensation of embarrassment in the face of one’s own stupidity – a sensation she finds herself trying to convey often.

(Me: presses ‘Delete All’.
Camera: Are you sure?
Me: I definitely do not want to delete all of these photos. I am certain of this. So, in answer to your question, yes, I’m sure.
Me: presses ‘Yes’)

Lehká Hlava, Lehký Měchýř

Despite the fact that Czech traditional cookery revolves around pork fat and meat weighed by the kilogramme, Prague has a surprisingly vibrant vegetarian and vegan scene, which caters to locals and Czechs alike. Indeed, I was once told that Prague has the greatest number of vegan restaurants/capita of any European city. (I am, however, sceptical of this: for one thing, I haven’t bothered to Google around for the truth, and, for another, Prague is so small that winning anything ‘per capita’ doesn’t mean a lot.) Whilst the centre is full of meateries boasting traditional pork-based fare, the trendy outer areas are replete with avocado and meat substitutes. It was at I.P. Pavlova, for example, that I first tasted the joy that is deep fried cauliflower, and the pretentiously punctuated, uncapitalised ‘coffee room.’ in Vinohrady boasts two different kinds of avocado on toast.

Lehká Hlava (cz: clear/light head) is amongst the new generation of upmarket meat-free establishments catering to Czechs and tourists alike. I visited a few weeks ago and loved everything about the experience: the quirky decor, the friendly staff, the menu jam-packed with veggie and vegan dishes (including an incredible tofoie gras)…

Still, I know that most of my readers aren’t Prague based, and I don’t want to bore you with a gushing review of a place you’re never going to visit. Instead, please enjoy this detailed review of the toilet at Lehká Hlava. Strap in!

Also, and I appreciate the number of people who will get this is limited, I’m incredibly proud of the pun in the title: Light Head, Light Bladder. Love it. You’re all welcome.

The first port of call in any toilet review has to be the john itself. The unit in Lehká Hlava was outstandingly clean and equipped with a blue toilet duck. I was delighted, as the toilet blogging community has long accepted that blue is the optimal colour for any toilet cleaning products, and the bright white loo practically dazzled me.

The seat is at a slightly jaunty angle – this is no bad thing, as it lends the throne a certain whimsical character, which stops the tableau from falling into the trap of being offputtingly sterile. The pipe you can see on the right was somewhat rusty and aged, but in a pleasant way, like a disused locomotive or abandoned farm equipment. Overall a very decent unit.

I liked the contrast between surgical white wall tiles and rustic terracotta flooring; it reminded me of the food in Lehká Hlava itself – familiar flavours, with a modern twist.

The rustic/modern dichotomy was consistent throughout the bathroom area, as illustrated in the contrast between the Apple-white radiator unit and the tactile metal lock. I spent a few moments sliding the lock back and forth (you have to allow yourself some treats in this life), and I’m pleased to say that it was easily manipulable (it felt well-oiled) and pleasantly clunky.

Although the corner sink sacrificed comfort for space-saving (notice the awkward positioning of the soap dispenser, itself disappointingly service station-esque) the hand washing area contained this eye-catching piece of architecture. A mosaic arch was an original way to encourage patrons to spend that little bit longer lathering up. The arch itself, whilst ambitious, relies too much on spackle, as demonstrated by the sub-par tile:cement ratio. Still, an inspired creative choice.

The nature of the corner sink-mosaic arch combo was such that the mirror was unconventionally placed: not over the sink, as is usual, but on the wall opposite. Not unusable, but certainly frustrating; it would be difficult, for example, to use the sink as a makeup shelf, and washing your hands whilst also considering how cool you are would be nigh on impossible.

The final aspect of the bathroom was the most exciting. Yes, even more thrilling than the rustic-modern twist; still more exhilarating than the corner sink within its tile grotto. It’s not many toilets that include a secret cave, and I can only salute Lehká Hlava for including one here.

I was overall pleased with the bathroom. Although I generally prefer an over-the-sink mirror, the architect’s daring adventures into arches and nooks won me back. Would certainly recommend.

ways in which I have refused to integrate into Czech society

Sure, I live here. Alright, I earn Czech money and pay Czech taxes. Yes, I’ve been known to speak the odd word of Czech. Fine, I’ll admit it, I’m sitting in a Czech cafe right now, drinking a Czech coffee and eavesdropping on the Czech conversations of my (presumably) Czech cafemates. But, despite this, I am not Czech, and there are elements of Czech society which I have roundly rejected.

I…

will not enjoy Pilsner;

Lads, I love beer. At any moment in time, I’m either drinking a pint or wishing I were. My fridge is full of rainbow cans of various craft beers I’ve collected from expensive bottle shops in distant corners of Prague. I have a beer-based tattoo.

You might think that Prague would be the perfect city for me, then. After all, Czechs famously consume more beer/capita then any nation in the world.

Unfortunately for me and for everyone who spends time with me, I’m bored of Pilsner. Pilsner is the Czech beer: it’s in every pub, cafe, workplace and school. It’s essentially a really nice lager that goes well with most food. The problem is that I’m sick of it: it’s the most generic beer I can imagine. It just tastes like the word beer. It’s so nondescript that I can’t think of any way to describe it except by writing beer and underlining it a few times.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about it. It’s just that I’m by nature a stout drinker and I’m living in the land of the ležák. It’s something I struggle with every day.

I’m vegetarian;

And I’m getting more militant with each passing day.

This is specifically tricky in the Czech Republic, land of pork. The classic Czech vegetarian option is breaded cheese deep-fried and served with potato salad. I love deep frying things as much as the next gourmand, but you can only have so many mozzarella sticks.

will not take ová;

Czech surnames change depending on whether the holder is male or female; women’s names usually take the suffix ová. I thought this was a fairly inoffensive, cute eccentricity until I learnt about possessive nouns – it turns out that the ová ending essentially denotes belonging to

I realise the irony of rejecting this; my name is Daniels which, although I’m no etymologist, surely means belonging to Daniel, essentially Daniel’s.

Still, though, I’ve stopped giving my surname as Danielsová on principle. It means that I get some weird looks (although, admittedly, people being confused about my gender is a by-product of my whole androgynous thing), but I’m just not a fan.

and don’t own slippers.

Slippers are a cornerstone of Czech culture. I will not expand on this, because I don’t want to.

ways in which I have integrated into Czech society

As I’ve already mentioned a million times on this blog, I recently moved to Prague to pursue my dream of gentrifying East-Central Europe. I’ve been in the Czech Republic for about six months now, and whilst I’d hesitate to identify myself as convincingly European, despite what my passport insists, I am conscious that certain aspects of my behaviour have changed in my jaunt on the continent. Although hindered by my shocking Czech and general standoffishness, I am slowly integrating into Czech society in certain specific ways.

I…

don’t buy public transport tickets;

The Prague public transport system is a mixture of underground, buses, and adorable trams that look like they’ve not been updated since 1968 (pictured). Since I started working largely from home, the frequency of my rides on the rails has diminished massively. I no longer rely on the tram for my income, but rather consider a trip on the metro a sort of weekly treat.

The network is relatively reliable, at least compared to its Sheffield counterpart; and, like its Yorkshire equivalent, it’s incredibly open to abuse. Unlike the larger public transport systems I’m familiar with, both Sheffield and Prague rely on a largely self-policed ticketing service. You buy a ticket from an exciting yellow machine with pleasingly old-fashioned buttons, validate it onboard using another exciting yellow machine, and present your validated ticket to representatives of the law on request.

It sounds like a reasonable and decent system, except for one thing: I’ve never seen a representative of the law checking tickets. I’ve lived here, as I say, for half a year now, and at my peak I travelled by public transport a few times a day – and my ticket has never been checked. What does a person do in the face of such a lax system? Stop using the exciting yellow machines.

I’m sure my comeuppance is up-and-coming, and, frankly, I’d not feel at all upset if I were fined at this point. I deserve it. Sometimes I use the first exciting yellow machine just to enjoy the pleasingly tactile buttons, but, largely I’m a criminal.

Anyway, I think this counts as cultural integration because I was encouraged to flout the law by my Czech pals who openly laughed when they saw me buying a ticket from the exciting machine. Peer pressure strikes again.

don’t consume any Czech media;

“Friends,” I ask in my charmingly broken Czech, “can you recommend me a Czech newspaper?”

“Pals,” I inquire in my accented Czech, “what TV show should I watch to strengthen my already mighty knowledge of your language?”

“Chums,” I wonder aloud, “do you know any Czech music?”

The answer to these earnest questions has always been, in this order,

“No.”

“None.”

“No.”

It’s 2019 and, as any language learner knows, a great way to improve your skills is to immerse yourself in the media of your target language. Imagine my horror and disappointment in hearing that my Czech friends get their news from the BBC, watch HBO and listen to Blur. I’ve spoken to the occasional Czech who reads German news, but I’ve been roundly discouraged from opening Lidové Noviny or listening to any Czech tunes – with the notable exception of Plastici.

have a job and a flat and that; 

What could be more Czech than living in the Czech Republic and earning Czech crowns??

Although, if you ask someone from Moravia, Prague isn’t Czechia; just like, to northerners, London isn’t England.

have strong opinions about the whole Czech Republic/Czechia debate.

Those opinions change regularly, but I have them, and I’m fully invested in the polemic.

Essential Check

I study Czech, Russian and Polish at university, and most people’s response to that is, “Why, though?”

The honest answer, that I don’t know – it just seemed interesting, never seems to satisfy anyone. And, reader, if you know anything about me, you know that I live to please: an unsatisfactory conversation is a weight on my very soul. I’ve started brainstorming better answers:

  • “I love beer.”
  • “I really like chess and I thought it’d be related.”
  • “My grandfather/uncle/childhood friend/goldfish was a Slav.”
  • “I love vodka.”
  • “I want to work as a spy. Wait, I shouldn’t have said that. I mean, I want to work in banking.”
  • “War and Peace changed my life. No, I’ve not read it. I mean the TV show.”
  • “I’m just super into pickles.”
  • “I’m an aspiring nesting doll.”
  • “Solidarity, innit.”
  • “Why do you think?”

This last one is particularly interesting – the ideas people come up with are always way better than anything I can dream up. One suggestion sticks out – someone asked if I’d chosen Czech, Russian and Polish because of the potential for puns.

It’s true: of all the ~6,500 languages spoken on Earth, the three I’ve devoted my education to are amongst the most pun-rich. Puns, of course, rarely translate into foreign languages, which is one of the hardest facts I’ve ever had to come to terms with.

For our own education and enjoyment, though, I’ve decided to translate all the homophones of “Czech” I could think of into Czech. Enjoy this meaningless list of vocab.

  • Czech (adj.)

český

  • Czech (noun; language)

čeština

  • Czech (noun; Czech person)

Čech / Češka

  • Cheque (noun)

šek

  • Check (noun; situation in chess)

šach

  • Check (noun; inspection)

zkouška

  • Check (noun; control)

kontrola

  • Check (noun; a mark, usually a tick)

křížek

  • Check (noun; a lengthwise separation of the rings in wood)
I didn’t manage to find a translation for this; that might be for the best.
  • Check (verb; to inspect)

prověřit

  • Check (verb; to mark with a checkmark)

zaškrtnout

  • Check (verb; to control or limit)

kontrolovat

  • Check (verb; to compare)

kontrolovat

 

Isn’t learning fun?

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This is an unrelated picture of a bear I saw in the zoo in Brno last year.