Friday, November 25, 2005

Just don’t call him that - the slippery slope of house shoe parlance

If you live in a city, you walk a lot more than your suburban bretheren. I’m a fan of walking. It is, in fact, my favorite sport when the weather is nice. But walking in Prague has its hazards, with the dog population in the local park out numbering the children 2 to 1, and poop scooping dog owners in the minority. So although it pays to hone your sidewalk radar, only levitation could save your shoes from any fodder gack accumulation.

Thus, when we moved here we quickly adopted the Czech habit of taking off our shoes as soon as we step into a house or apartment. We’re happy to be shoe free at home, and we wear socks to keep our toes warm. Our Czech friends, however, they wear slippers. Slipper culture is so huge I’d wager every Czech owns at least two pair - one for home and one for work. Most have more so that they can offer them to guests, and of course everyone sports their summer and their winter models. Each child carries slippers to school - backpack, notebook, pencil case, slippers, you’re set to start kindergarten.

Probably because of the prominence of slippers here, they seem to have more names than in the U.S. A pair of slippers with no heels, the kind some ladies wear trimmed with pink boas, these are called pantofle or trepky. Leather moccasins are easily transposed into mokasíny, and their cloth counterpart - fully fitted slippers that look like real shoes but without laces - these are called bačkory if you are a grownup. If you are a kid and your slippers are small too, you’ll call them bačkorky. Slippers even have their own nursery rhyme:

Do školy a do školky
nosíváme bačkorky.
Do školky maličké,
do školy větší,
každá ta bačkorka
je přece něčí.

To big school and to little school
we dress in bačkorky.
To little school little girl,
to big school big girl,
for every bačkorka
is surely someone‘s.

Marie, our babysitter, taught me about slippers while she was fixing up a spot in our shoe cabinet for her winter pair and her summer set. Satisfied with their positioning (and with the flowery scented drawer liner I’d brought to freshen up the cabinet) she chatted a bit longer and warned me to be careful about my use of the word bačkora, as it was not a nice word when applied to a guy. It means coward or milksop and no man will put up with that, she said. Czech swear words amuse me in general, so as soon as I could free myself from our shoe organization, I dove onto the computer to look up bačkora ( and see if indeed one might insult a guy by calling him a dirty rotten slipper. And yes, research suggests this is true!

Because I know I'm not the perfectionist I should be when it comes to language, and because dictionaries have been known to be wrong in the past, I'm leaving the final word up to the internet for your opinion on the matter. Please let me know if I have even a hacek misplaced and I'll fix it. I try, after all, not to be a bačkora.

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