Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Place Not Frozen in Time

We traveled to Prague today. Despite the familiar feeling of homecoming, we could tell we'd been gone for a while.

We set off for town with three clear goals: 1) get tram passes, 2) buy a new wireless router and 3) find a snack, preferably a párek v rohlíku - a Czech-style hot dog, available from many roadside stands around the city. Or so we thought.

Our first stop was our local subway station to get the tram passes. There we found that to get the monthly pass (like $2 more than the 5 day pass!) you need the special tram pass holder booklet thing (name, pic, spot to hold pass card), which of course we have, if we had seen them at any time in the past two years. So we decided to just get new ones, making it 1) get pictures taken for tram passes.

Next we used one-time tickets to get downtown, since we don't know any picture taking booths in our area. The booth we come to takes 80 kc, coins only. We don't have that much change. We resolve to find a walk-in place or booth that takes bills. Also, wireless router and snack.

We walk to nearby O2 store to get router, but find a helpful sign saying it is closed since 2008 and giving directions to the new shop down the street. Oops. We walk to new store and it is closed for reconstruction with addresses for nearby stores. We head for the nearest one, in a new shopping mall we figure has the least likelihood of being closed down.

Along the way we want to stop for a párek, but our trusty hot dog stand is not there either. Snackless we continue into the mall, where we wander until we find an O2 stand that, uh oh, only sells cell phones. They point to the big store on the next floor, where we are grateful to pay entirely too much for the router.

We decided to one-way it over to Národní třída, where they have another good hot dog place and a few photo places. We get our párky but frankly, the rohlíky were overheated (too crusty) and K dropped hers (i.e. mine) on the ground halfway through. While we waited Apo got a sim card for me from a cell phone shop as long as we were nearby (needed a different shop than the router...).

Missions 2) and 3) accomplished (however irritatingly), we devoted ourselves to 1)a). Picture taking. First photo place we know, CLOSED! Second one we remember, CLOSED! Third and fourth ones are open but ask 150 or 160 kc for a picture, which we agree is highway robbery and move on.

Allow me to pause for a moment and rewind a bit. You see, all this time, ever since we first got downtown to the automatic picture taking booth, I have been saying, "Let's just use this one. Let's get some change and use the machine. Do we really need to traipse all over town when we could get some change and use the machine?" Apo, meanwhile, insisted that we need a walk-in place or booth that takes bills.

Allow me to unpause and return to the bit where we've been to four no-go photo places, which were fortunately all in a row on the way from Národní up Václavák. Looking into our change holder after getting us a drink, the Slovak of my dreams spoke up:

"You know, we have more change here than I thought."
"Do not tell me that we've had enough change this whole time and you're just now admitting it."
"I, um, think we might have enough change."
"I have to say, I don't see this ending well for you."
"Hey, look! Another 50 kc! You know, you're such a great wife. You are so special and such a wonderful mother."
"Do you especially appreciate my kind and forgiving heart?"
"...I do."

So with the change we had had all along, we returned to the automat picture booth and got our pictures taken. We then returned to our neighborhood ticket office and got our tram pass booklets made to put our new tram passes in. While standing at the window we overheard in the line behind us, "Where is [other friend]? She must have stepped around the corner to look at the picture taking booth."

At which point our eyes locked, the hair stood up on the backs of our necks and we whispered to each other, "Surely not!!"

We tried our best to shake that off and headed for the tram to go one stop, since we were tired. We sat on tram # 19, which Apo would probably like me to interject has ALWAYS gone straight at the intersection towards our stop, but today, as you have probably guessed from the direction of this sentence, it inexplicably turned at the intersection and went to another stop. We got off and walked home, laughing at the final twist in our unpredictable day. I do have to give this one to the Slovak: the 19 ALWAYS goes our way. Clearly it's had a change of track.

And you know what's funny, after an afternoon like that, I'm still glad to be home. I leaned over to smell the fresh bread while picking up dinner in the corner store (which was still open and sold everything we expected it to) and felt a thrill run through my whole body.

I'm home.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Voice recognition technology doesn't speak Scottish

I'm usually late to the party with regard to online videos and similar, so you may have seen this already. But it made me laugh pretty hard.

Voice recognition technology doesn't speak Scottish

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Side Effects of Becoming a Mother

Now that K is feeling better I have the luxury of being sick. We've all been feeling cruddy (from three different causes, too!) recently, but when K started her tummyaches and temperature, you wouldn't believe how fast my cold dried up! It wasn't just that I ignored my sneezing, I actually stopped sneezing.

Then she seemed to feel better for most of Sunday, and I started sneezing again. Then Monday she was sicker than ever and I found myself oddly devoid of cold yet again. I had a clear head and enough energy to do what I had to.

She's been feeling better since yesterday morning, so of course last night I came down with a fever and chills. Last night and today I've been pretty uncomfortable, but I can afford it now: K was in school or napping until Apo came home from work.

It seems my body automatically schedules its illnesses for when my child doesn't acutely need me.

Mothers, behold your superpower!

Use it well.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Czechs and Slovaks: The Truth of the Matter

I spent most of today on the couch holding a small bundle of pain and suffering, so I don't have too long of a post to offer.* Baby K hasn't been well all weekend, but today was particularly bad. Got some medicine at the doctor's today, fortunately, which seemed to help a little by evening. Poor sweet pea.

I've still got one question left to answer from my questions session a couple of weeks ago. Leslie asks:
How significant ARE the differences between Czech and Slovak, linguistically and/or culturally? According to a Czech or Slovak? According to a well-informed outsider?? I've always been curious about that!
I've talked about that some here. Basically Czech and Slovak are very similar but not the same, sort of like different types of English if English had bigger differences in regional spelling rules, for example. I like to tease the Slovak of my dreams that Slovak doesn't actually exist as an independent language, since Slovak looks like Czech with, like, all the words misspelled. Conversely, he contends that Czech is actually Slovak spoken with a speech impediment.

If you speak one language fluently, you should understand the other with relatively little effort. It's kind of a question of learning to twist your brain around the different sounds to the words. There are some common words that are different between the languages, and the word endings are slightly different, but usually in a pretty predictable way. For example, a Czech ou or í often changes to a Slovak ú, or a Czech word starting with z (followed by unvoiced consonant z is pronounced s) is often pronounced AND written s in Slovak.

As a LEARNER of one of the languages, it is more difficult to understand the other, since you have less practice listening to it. Of all the people I know in Prague, the Slovak of my dreams was (almost) the last I started understanding. (The last was a friend who mumbles, never enunciates and often makes complete non sequiteurs in conversation. I eventually realized that even some of our Czech friends don't understand him sometimes, so I felt like less of a loser!)

With plenty of exposure, I eventually started to understand spoken Slovak, first just when my Slovak spoke and later when any Slovak spoke. It's a process... I learned to read Slovak by reading what the Slovak of my dreams wrote. He gave me a three page document to read and 45 minutes later couldn't believe I was still reading! I had to pronounce each word in my head and think, "Now what Czech word does that sound like?" to figure out what it said. Once you learn the spelling rules, though, it's not so bad. It does take some mind bending, though, when you're used to just the one language.

As to native speakers, I think it depends on who you ask. Native (or fluent) speakers of about my age or older usually understand both languages without any problem, since they were brought up in a single country and listening to the evening news in both languages, etc. Slovaks seem to understand (and speak) Czech better than Czechs understand and speak Slovak, because there are more Czechs and the Czech market is bigger, so Slovaks watch more Czech TV and read more Czech books than vice versa. That's a generalization, though, and just because you understand the other language doesn't mean you can speak it convincingly, just like I couldn't speak British English convincingly even after living here. My husband, for example, perceives them as actually one language - he can write and speak both when he wants, but when he hears or reads something, he literally doesn't notice if it's Czech or Slovak. I know he's not the only one, either.

Younger Czechs and Slovaks understand each other pretty well, but there are more phrases or words that they don't recognize, because their exposure to the other language is less than in previous generations. We notice this in Prague, that young people occasionally look at the Slovak like he's from Mars: "WHAT did you just say?" And little children sometimes have a really hard time understanding, to the point that it's not a bad idea to attempt to speak the child's native language to them in order to be understood. They really aren't used to the differences in the languages yet.

There you go for linguistically. Culturally speaking, Czechs and Slovaks are pretty similar to each other from an outside perspective. They have more in common than not. Shared film industry, books, music, some shared history. But from the inside, there are definite differences in attitude and some customs! Generally the west-east relationship between the two countries really reminds me of the dynamic between the north and south in the United States. Northerners (Westerners) often see themselves as more sophisticated and educated than the country bumpkins in the south (east), and southerners (easterners) often see themselves as more warm and welcoming than the cold, rude northerners (westerners). This dynamic seems to apply between Czechs (west) and Slovaks (east) as well as west and east within each countries, i.e. Bratislava in western Slovakia takes the same attitude towards Kosice in eastern Slovakia as Prague in Czech Republic takes towards all of Slovakia. And everyone thinks that about Ukraine. :) This is, of course, another big generalization, and like all massive generalizations it sometimes has some validity and sometimes is totally off-base. It's definitely more of a friendly rivalry than a cut-throat hatred. Except when the hockey teams are playing each other...

I hope that cleared things up entirely! Or at least got the waters good and muddy.

* Actually, it seems like it got long after all while I wasn't looking. Who needs sleep?

Friday, August 13, 2010

The essence of being a bilingual child

"Ticho. That mean quiet."
"That's right, ticho means quiet. Does mama say ticho?"
"Does Apo say quiet?"
"Mama says quiet, right?"
"Yes. A Apo ticho."
"Which one do you say?"
"I say quiet. *long pause* I say ticho. *long pause* ...and quiet."


Yesterday or so K said in tones of great frustration, "I can't talk!!" Apo had asked her to answer him in Slovak and she was frustrated that she couldn't say in Slovak what she had just said in English. That's the first time I remember her explicitly expressing that thought, that she can't speak Slovak.

After that, she used "I can't talk!!" again when she wasn't able to say what she wanted in English. It was sad to see my upbeat, communicative little girl feeling so defeated. Both times I comforted her and told her that she can talk and she will get even better at talking with practice. And she will, in English and Slovak both.

At the moment, though, her understanding and complexity of thought exceeds her ability to form effective responses in words. Goodness, do I ever know what that feels like! Sadly, though, there's not much I can do to help her through it other than what I'm already doing.

Be patient, Baby K. It will come soon enough.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Don't mess with Babka. She will take you down.

I never did the post-visit debriefing. Babka left last Tuesday after ten days with us, and I have to say it was the most pleasant, least stressful for everyone visit we've had yet. I think we're finding our stride.

I didn't keep up the all Czech at home the whole time, but there was a lot of CZ/SK flying around. It mostly depended on how much energy I had at any given moment to deal with addressing K in Czech, but I did still have to do a whole lot of translating. This because K is talking a lot more sense than last time we saw Babka, so I have to clue Babka in to what K is telling her. I would let K clue Babka in herself, but K is holding firm to her position that if K understands a word, everyone should understand it. Which basically adds up to me doing a lot of interpreting for a little girl who cuts no slack for anyone who can't keep up!

My favorite part of Babka's visit, during the trip to lovely Scotland, was how the Slovak of my dreams and I convinced her to think back and tell us everything she remembers about her family background and childhood. It isn't something she talks about much, so he learned almost as much as I did. Like that his grandfather was the dance master for the town, leading all the dances and teaching the dance classes. Maybe that's where his grandson got his dancing talent?

I think the best part was her stories about her own mother-in-law. We never met any of the Slovak's grandparents, because the last of them died when he was K's age, but his paternal grandmother sounds like a piece of work. Once Babka picked up and left with her little son in tow - without telling her husband - because his mother gave all the children chocolate, "Except for you, [Apo], you don't like chocolate anyway." So of course he cried and cried at being left out. So Babka took him and left, and when her husband came back from mushrooming with the brothers-in-law, no one could tell him where they'd gone! Apparently, the last straw came when her husband's mother was staying with them (her five children took turns keeping her for a month each). Babka had to bring her meals in bed because she was ill and bedridden - supposedly. One day when Babka got home from work, her mother-in-law told her the plates were in the wrong cupboard and the cups should be over there and the towels were folded wrong blah blah blah. Babka asked how she knew what was in the cupboards if she couldn't get out of bed, and it turned out maybe old granny isn't QUITE as bedridden as she claims...

Babka packed up her mother-in-law's things and set the suitcase outside. When her husband got home, she told him, "Take your mother to a hotel, and if you don't like it, you can go too!" I'm telling you. You do not mess with our Babka!

We also asked about how it was that they went from a Hungarian-speaking family to speaking only Slovak later. She has mentioned before that in school they were harshly disciplined for speaking Hungarian, which surely makes a strong impression on a young child. She also talked now about a time, walking with her mother and sister in the street, when a group of men came up and slapped her mother across the face and said, "In Slovakia, you only speak Slovak." This was during the Slovak protectorate during the war. That incident, combined with the beatings in school, combined with the natural inclination of a child to speak the school and neighborhood language, made Babka more and more resistant to speak Hungarian at all that eventually she couldn't even when she tried. She said her parents gradually spoke more Slovak to their daughters, because the girls refused to speak Hungarian with them (they were able to speak it perfectly well, actually - it wasn't that they were immigrants who didn't know the language) to the point that the younger girl never even learned Hungarian.

Now Babka is able to understand some Hungarian, I think, but refuses to even try to speak. Her son, our Apo, learned Hungarian not from his parents but from the older couple who took care of him in lieu of daycare. Once he stopped going to their house, he had very little opportunity to use it and never learned to properly read or write.

And that is why we don't speak Hungarian today. I don't know about you, but I find it a very sad story. Babka still carries the hurt from being mistreated by the ignorant and misguided and from losing her language. I wish I could say that attitudes across the world have entirely changed in our generation - but they haven't, have they?

I can tell you, though, Hungarian speaking or not, I don't ever want to get on our Babka's bad side! And neither do you.

Keep that in mind, people!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Stubbornness She Gets From Her Father

"Mama, come dole!"
"You should really say either 'come down' or 'poď dole'."
"Come dole."
"Try 'come down'."
"Come dole."
"How about 'poď dole'?"
"Poď down."
"OK, now she's doing this on purpose."


Also, a couple of weeks ago K started talking about "time out", which was odd since we call it "the quiet place" or "the stair". She likes to tell her dolls off a lot. :) Then she started saying something that I eventually decoded as "I'm going to be cross with you!" This caught my attention as it's a very British phrasing that she wouldn't have heard at home, and I couldn't think of anywhere we'd been together where she'd have heard it, either.

This left nursery as the most likely source for both phrases, so on her next school day I asked her teacher if they'd been having disciplinary issues with her. She gave me the answer every parent longs to hear when she said, "Oh no, we never have any problems with K! She must hear us saying that to a couple of the other children who misbehave." I was really hoping she'd say that, but knew it wasn't impossible that K would get in trouble herself, either. The teacher also mentioned that the only thing with K is getting her to keep her shoes and socks on. BE GLAD SHE STOPS WITH THE SOCKS AT NURSERY is all I have to say about that.


And that is all for tonight. Been kind of busy the last few days so I haven't had a chance to blog until now. More next time!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bursting Into Song

K has had certain favorite songs for a while, but would never sing along. She liked to do the motions or dance a crazy dance while listening, but never sang herself more than a word or two: "twinkle twinkle", "prší prší", "kolo mlýnske".

But this month, that changed, and with very little lead-up. All of a sudden she was busting out with at least 3/4 of the lyrics to several different songs. I think the first one I noticed was a nearly complete rendition of "Wind the Bobbin Up", which was funny because that is a British one that we sing at playgroup but not at home. All of a sudden Wind the Bobbin Up became her favorite song, from which she likes to segue straight into the chorus of "Hokey Cokey" (she says "cokey cokey", the US version is "Hokey Pokey"). Those are part of our car songs now though, since she likes them so much!

She did start using more Slovak while Babka was here, but the most dramatic development was again in song. We were singing along to her Slovak children's CD - "Medveďku..." and suddenly she chimed in with "...daj labku!" We fell off our chairs and that song mysteriously and instantly jumped to the top of our repeat list. Hahaha.

Medveďku, daj labku.
Pôjdeme na svadbu.

Medvedica ráno vstala,
všetky deti vychystala

medveďku, daj labku.
Pôjdeme na svadbu.

The middle part is sung very fast, too fast for her to keep up, but she can do the slower repeated refrain. We sang a good deal on the trip to Edinburgh, including this one several times, and it was so funny to see how K watched my mouth VERY INTENTLY to get the rest of the words. Especially struggling to pronounce the "sv" in svatbu (she still has trouble putting two consonants together in either language). I talked with her a little about what the song is about, since it has words she doesn't know.

We sing this song a lot now, with us singing the first word and her jumping in to complete the rest of the chorus, then we sing the complicated middle part and she finishes off with the part she knows.

K also picked up on another song that Babka taught K/us while she was here. It even had hand motions, which is of course K's favorite type of song. K sings the first phrase and is working on learning the rest.

Nechcem ťa, nechcem ťa, nechcem ťa znať,
poď ku mne, poď ku mne, ručku mi dať,
pravú mi daj, ľavú mi daj,
a už sa na mňa nehnevaj!

I also heard Babka playing a game with K that involved telling a story and K filling in the missing parts, that coincidentally had K practicing some word endings. I need to get Apo to do something similar with her!

Overall singing has gotten a lot more interesting in our house since K started to chime in! And - best thing of all - she appears to have inherited my sense of pitch. My slightly tone-deaf husband and I have both been hoping for that!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Travel with Young Children

IT GETS BETTER! Oh my goodness, 2.5 is the best age yet. We just got back from a quick trip to Edinburgh for my mother-in-law's birthday. We have actually done a lot of traveling with K so far: family visits across continents, shortish vacations (2-5 days) in other countries/cities and many, many day trips to cities around England. K has always been a good traveler in the sense that she adapts well to change and sleeps in moving vehicles, but she was always just along for the ride. What does a baby care if she sees Westminster Abbey? Recently, she was more interested in spotting squirrels than admiring architecture. She still likes a good squirrel, but the difference between this trip and previous ones was night and day: she was interested in EVERYTHING! Like, the same things we were looking at!

Sometime about a month ago, K started mentioning "castles", a word that I had certainly not taught her. Nursery? Quite possible. It started in the sandbox, claiming that she was building a castle. Then she started building castles with blocks at home, and these really big soft play building blocks at her playgroup. When she had been going on about them for a while, Apo and I bought her a book with flaps (what kid doesn't like flaps??) about castles. I told her that princesses and kings and queens live in castles, but she wasn't too impressed. She is mostly into the castles themselves. Though she did take heed when she learned that knights ALSO live in castles - she likes knights.

Enter trip to Edinburgh, complete with CASTLE! How fantastic for a little girl who loves castles, to live in Europe where they HAVE castles. We walked to the two castles at either end of the Royal Mile and talked about what lovely castles they were. I showed her the bridge and the gate and the cannon (cannons are very heavy; Katka can't lift one. Mama neither. "Apo," she suggested, nodding wisely. Apo is surely strong enough to lift a cannon.) Then she had an ice cream that she insisted on eating SLOWLY to savor it as much as possible.

She also enjoyed the cathedrals we went in. "More castle! I so excited!" she cried. Sort of, I explained. This kind of castle is called a cathedral and it is very beautiful. "Bootiful," she agreed. She looked at the stained glass windows and guessed what the pictures were. She sat in the pews. She looked up, up, up at the ceiling.

We looked down every narrow, winding alleyway. We oohed and aahed over every view. We looked in gift shops and tried on funny hats. On our way back south Saturday, we stopped in Durham and York on our all-day trip. In Durham we visited the cathedral and looked over at the castle. Apo and I had a conversation about how do you explain "don't step on the graves" to a person who has no concept of a grave because they have no concept of death. Answer: you don't, you just lead them away by the hand. In York we visited the Viking museum and walked through town, stopping briefly in the foyer of Yorkminster. They were closed because it was time for evening service, but K and I listened to the singing for several minutes. We were VERY QUIET and cupped our hands to our ears because you have to talk softly in a cathedral and we wanted to hear the singers. K waved Apo over to make him listen, too.

The other main thing we did in all these places was take pictures! K is used to having her picture taken with us when we travel, but this time she kept posing and making us snap pictures of just her. Against a wall, standing on a post, sitting on stairs, everywhere! She seemed to notice a group of young Japanese tourists taking pictures and posing for them, because then she wanted to do the same thing. Her foot up against the wall, arm just so. Then she would move six inches over to the next nook and want another picture. I have to say, it was pretty funny.

In a toystore over the weekend we saw a Sherwood Castle happyland set and with all the castle love lately, decided to get it. K already has a cottage and some people from the same line, so we thought a castle would be a great staging ground for more play with those figures plus the couple of little knights and pirates she has. She loves it so far. She declared that the top tower was for dancing and put the princess (Marian) and Friar Tuck figures up there to dance together. I tried to suggest that Robin Hood might be a more appropriate love interest for Marian, but K seems to entirely reject the idea of Robin as a main character of any sort. She is a firm Marian/Tuck shipper, as she has showed the same preference for the few days since we got the set! I guess she likes the rare!pairs.

We had a blast with K on this trip. She still has no sense of history and she DID still misbehave some (lack of nap), but she understood what we were doing and she appreciated the travel and the sights and the sounds and the fun in a way she wasn't able to before. And that's BEFORE the sense of history kicks in! It is only getting better from here and we are so happy to be starting on this journey with her.


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