“You know what I would kill for?” said the lady who was using the cubicle right next to me at the Norwich Bus Station. She had emerged seconds after me and we then both shared the confined space of the hand washing area. I cautiously looked around to make sure the question was really aimed at me. It must have been, we were the only ones there.
“Tell me”, I replied, with my left eyebrow raised, curious, looking at our reflection in the mirror while lathering hands and enjoying the stream of warm water. It hadn’t been a long ride from Stansted airport but I felt knackered nonetheless thanks to the 3am start.
She smiled and said “A nice cup of tea!”. We both exhaled in laughter. It was the most British thing I have heard to date and it has since become a catch phrase between me and Andrea, a good friend whom I came to visit after yet another longish break between “putting the world right” sessions.
The tea loving lady then continued to elaborate on how her sister, who lived nearby, would be the ideal person to call on and how strong the perfect brew should be. We then wished each other a lovely day and went our separate ways.
It was lovely to be back in the land of the polite where people don’t go too far for their thank-yous, excuse-mes and bless-yous. In fact at times, when I lived in the UK, it felt rather ridiculous and there were instances when I wished for all the pleasantries to go away in order to speed up the queues at the check outs in the shops. Just get on with it! Apparently the Czech people, according to the opinions of foreigners, are always in a hurry and these surveys may just be right with me as the shining example!
I’ve been teaching English for almost a full year now - back in the country of my birth, in the beautiful city of Prague. The main reason for my newest choice of career was that I could simply no longer put up with the tourist hoards, let alone photograph them and the expiry date on my life in Cambodia was definitely up. I also needed a change and what better time than now, plus the benefit of using English everyday appeared clear - not risking that my ageing brain would forget what took so long to gather and settle in the dark corners of my grey matter.
I don’t teach in the typical classroom set up and thank God that I don’t teach at normal schools. I am lucky to be teaching mature professionals mainly in the place of their work which means that I get to travel all over Prague pretty much any time of day. I consider this a benefit as I get to air my head during the day and in winter I get to see daylight when others are simply stuck in their offices knee-deep in work. I may be knee-deep in snow or battle wind and rain at times but that’s all good by me.
With my mature, fun and smart students we often cover various topics in our conversational lessons and one of them, my favourite, is National Stereotypes. It’s interesting to see how we classify other nations, what preconceptions we have about them and how we think other nations perceive us - be it on our home soil or when we venture out beyond the border of our country and our ordinary days.
With reference to my initial thought that England is indeed the land of the polite, I think that here in Czech we are very much far from it, although times have changed and we have moved on in the right direction when it comes to dealing with fellow humans. I remember the times when grunting at customers in the shops was a very much expected part of the national set of habits and smiles were few and far between. These days you do get a smile in the shop here and there, at times they even feel genuine - just as well, you might be the first customer of the day to actually buy something.
However, when we look at the Czechs as a mass, moving through the streets of the city, how do we look? Do we smile? Do we welcome those, who came to visit us or do they just annoy us with the clicks of their cameras and the poking sticks of their selfie devices while crowding our pavements? I vote for the latter but that could be because I often move through the very centre of Prague and normal, smooth passing is almost impossible.
According to the reports of my foreign friends we appear a rather closed and guarded lot, often frowning, often in a rush, always running somewhere. I think they are right but those adjectives fade away with the first beer/wine/insert your favourite alcoholic drink here consumed in our company, our inhibitions fall off and we finally show our mushy, caring core, overflowing with love and the desire to make friends without feeling too embarrassed about our imperfect English. Our imaginary flaws in foreign languages also cause us to rather flee than help when asked for directions - it’s not you, it’s us, honestly….!
Dear foreign friends - you should know that we like you and we want to get to know you. We are just shy and having learned our whole life never to stick out, never to be first, never to be last, and never to participate in any activity voluntarily (OK I may have stolen this one from the book of Murphy’s laws) we take our time to warm up to you, and yes, sometimes we need to oil it all up from the inside and take the edge off with a glass of something stronger. Our desire to perform flawlessly means that we would often rather shut up than say something wrong, more so in a tongue not our own. So be patient with us, we are learning how to be polite and we are learning to be more open to the world. Some of us even like a good old strong English cuppa with a drop of milk, so that must be a good start, right?
You may never understand our jokes, though. So, sorry about that.
anna bella betts
Never still, always on the move, looking for the perfect capture... Cambodia is currently my home, presenting endless opportunities....
In this blog you will find no profound wisdom.
Just accounts of daily life, sometimes about photography, often about wine, occasionally about travel adventures and sometimes about nothing at all.