Sunday, July 29, 2007

Czech language at the A2 level

A few days ago, our babysitter greeted me with the morning's news - foreigners wanting to get a long term residency permit were going to have to pass a language exam! She was aflutter with the news and I suggested that she'd have to add bureaucratic jargon to our day-to-day conversations, since that is what the stories said foreigners would be tested on. She thought that as Americans with conversational Czech, we'd have no problems passing the exam. Having been denied my visa last time I applied based on missing page numbers in the statement my health insurer mailed over, I doubted this leniency and started reading up on the subject.

The proposal seems to still be in discussion, but the tests would be based on Czech at the A2 level. The government has agreed that the tests would be free; lessons, not. A little digging found a book in pdf form called "Čeština jako cizí jazyk, Úroven A2" or "Czech as a Foreign Language, Grade A2" It is downloadable from the Ministry of Education and is a guideline for the European Union on how Czech at the A2 level is understood, taught and assessed. For anyone interested in taking the test, I hope this helps.

I scanned through the guide tonight and can assure you it covers grocery shopping and visiting embassies. Unfortunately, it lacks a discussion about the colloquialisms that truly make getting around the country an easier experience. I feel a bit sorry for the studious foreigners armed with their A2 lessons trying to understand the slang used by their fellow citizens (in stores, taxis, restaurants and even governmental agencies). But, in the end, we learn from our language failures and experiences and that may be what the people recommending the exam want foreigners settling in to be encouraged to go out and get.


When we go on car trips in July, I keep an eye out for sunflower fields and roads that run near them. On last weekend's trek to Hradec Kralove, we found a field and road we could stop on but the flowers were, all but one, resolutely facing the other way.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Postcard from the Bohemian border

The dials turned randomly, but I liked the weather station on the main square in Hradec Kralove.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ice Cool

Last week's high temperatures found Caroline splashing in our bathtub building waterfall towers and holding tea parties for plastic animals, or sitting in front of the fan humming songs into it. This week the weather cooled down to European summer celsius. But Caroline has kept on good terms with the fan, and added it to her prop box for odd projects.

Yesterday she turned on the fan and started to wrap its base with dish towels. Dish towels arranged decoratively on the floor seem oddly domestic but harmless, so I ignored her and kept working, stuck on mute in a conference call. She began to hum along with the fan. I kept working. Then she added a percussion line to her melody – the freezer door opening and shutting, on repeat. I got annoyed.

“Don’t worry Maminka*,” she said, “I’m finished, see!”

Arranged on the towels were six ice packs lined up in rows. She'd set the fan on high to blow over the blocks and onto C. “Look Mommie, It’s going to get cooler any minute!”

It was a play on a year ago - the last time we tried this trick.

Today I noticed in the news that big companies in New York City are also getting into the action – melting giant ice blocks to make AC, thus saving on electricity and going green.

Hey Caroline, we’re early adapters!

*Maminka - mother in Czech. Used by C strategically, especially when trying to get away with something.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Important weekend business

Yesterday I persuaded Will to drive me to Big Ben Bookshop to pick up a certain book I had on hold. This involved driving through the construction zone along the riverbank, then navigating tourists and tight streets. Will thinks it is nearly criminal to take a car downtown, but he drove with a minor modicum of fuss because he knew how much I wanted to go, and because I’ve had mono for a month. Getting downtown by foot won't happen for a while.

So there I was on a sunny, sleepy Sunday afternoon, three blocks from Old Town Square, on a quiet street surrounded by Prague’s oldest buildings. Only one store’s shutters stood open. Its proprieters found my name on their list and I made my purchase. Then I walked back to the car across the empty cobble-stoned street, swinging my book in its paper bag and feeling exhilarated and nearly as guilty as Will for driving in an almost pedestrian zone, for having business in this most touristy of spots, for being on the brink of reading the first page of the last Harry Potter.

I read the first page in the car. Then family intervened, and friends called for dinner. Night fell, the house was asleep. I started again and read the next page and the next, reading on the cool floor of the bathroom until it was 5 in the morning. At noon today I finished it.

How did you read your Harry Potter?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Conversations with Caroline

Words you never thought you’d hear from a 4 year old
I’ll hang out here, you take a nap.

Thoughts on knit pants
C: Ahh, teplaky. I like teplaky....they are for home.
M: Just for home?
C: Yep. For home.

*Teplaky is the Czech word for knit pants. They are considered house clothing, something to change into when you get home, to save your good clothes for later.

Compare and contrast
I like chocolate and bread, you like chocolate and bread...
I like pink and you like pink.
You like showers, and I like baths.
You like naps. Not me.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sunbury Backwater

5 minutes of sunOur fifteen minutes of sunshine on the river

A few Fridays ago we flew to England for Caroline’s birthday weekend. The first car packed full of explosives had just been discovered in West London and security was on high alert at the airports. But our friends were calm and matter of fact. They said they felt safe, and not to worry, the British police would track down the terrorists.

Avoiding downtown seemed a good idea that weekend, so we spent the trip visiting friends in Twickenham and Sunbury, mostly dividing our time between playgrounds, pubs and tea rooms (when it rained too ferociously even for four year olds).

We were lucky enough to get to stay on the river, just below the weir in Sunbury. I played hooky from the family one afternoon to mess about on the water – mostly acting as ballast and revelling in the view, but the captain of our boat kindly let me steer for a long stretch of the river and I worked the bow lines each time we docked, careful to keep my lines untangled, the boat off the wharf and my knots in order - an overcautious land-locked sailor to the tee, but a very happy one.

We cruised by a flock of green parrots swooping from tree to tree above the tow path, and then a small yacht club released its own flock of sailors on tiny boats to flit on short turns up the river and back again in a mini regatta. The great blue herons straightened into reeds as we passed, as still as the stilt-legged cottages they stood by. It was the river of my imagination, the river of the Wind and the Willows, and it went a long way toward making up for the nearly incessant rain.

Near the end of our boat trip we went through Sunbury’s lock. It was Saturday and the lock was full of rental boats motoring down to Twickenham (even in the rain the river was full of boats). Most of the crews were already drunk and threatening to slip into the lock along with the wine they kept sloshing all over themselves. The lock keepers, weekend volunteers, kept the sloshers mostly in check and we had only one boat to fend off before it was our turn to loosen our lines from two thick mooring posts and slip past the lock gates and into the river. From there we turned upstream again, towards our home dock in the backwater recorded by Jerome K. Jerome in Three Men in a Boat:

We reached Sunbury Lock at half-past three. The river is sweetly pretty just there before you come to the gates, and the backwater is charming; but don’t attempt to row up it.

I tried to do so once. I was sculling, and asked the fellows who were steering if they thought it could be done, and they said, oh, yes, they thought so, if I pulled hard. We were just under the little foot-bridge that crosses it between the two weirs, when they said this, and I bent down over the sculls, and set myself up, and pulled.

I pulled splendidly. I got well into a steady rhythmical swing. I put my arms, and my legs, and my back into it. I set myself a good, quick, dashing stroke, and worked in really grand style. My two friends said it was a pleasure to watch me. At the end of five minutes, I thought we ought to be pretty near the weir, and I looked up. We were under the bridge, in exactly the same spot that we were when I began, and there were those two idiots, injuring themselves by violent laughing. I had been grinding away like mad to keep that boat stuck still under that bridge. I let other people pull up backwaters against strong streams now.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Floors, continued

Because changing your house around is almost as memorable as going on a trip, and because I was inspired by a blog pal to put in our new flooring in the first place, I thought I'd add some pictures and show off just what we've done to the place.

The idea for our new floor came from Christina from Mausi. Her February post on her new kitchen floor (designed to look like flagstones, but much easier to install and cheaper too) got me started researching similar options here. With the help of our flat's owner (the most accomodating landlady in the history of tenantry), our own version was installed with very little trouble - a laminate that looks just like parquet.

Truly the only hitch in the whole plan was that I had to pretend to be a mute Czech person for several days while we got the floor installed (our landlady didn't want my American accent to drive up the price). The results were worth it though, and on the last day after everyone was paid and I could speak again, Caroline and I danced around on our new floor and I thanked the installers in my awful Czech. Then we all drank our instant coffee together with great comraderie before the floor layers left with their carefully stowed cash and our old carpet (to be turned into more cash? We didn't ask, but it didn't show up in the trash).

The next day the painter came and the next adventure began. Luckily we paid ahead of time so I didn't have to pretend anything, and he finished his work in one long day.

It is amazing what a lick of paint around the place will do - while Will still hasn't decided if he can see any difference between our old white (and grottily grimey) carpet and the new floor, he did tell me the other day that he thought the painting had turned out rather nice.

Floor before painting
After painting