We had a make-up Easter dinner at the in-laws’ today. It was OK.
So, there’s this thing with my in-laws. They are from the Czech Republic; they came to the U.S. in the late 60s. They met here, married, had my husband, and in that time found a whole network of Czech people to be friends with, who also mostly came here as adults in the late 60s or early 70s. Thus, everyone they socialize with is Czech and speaks Czech.
(They all speak English, too… but none have the conversational English skills like they do in their native tongue.)
In most circumstances this isn’t a big deal. When it’s just us, my in-laws largely speak English. However, the more Czech people you add, the lower the likelihood of conversations taking place in English.
Today’s dinner wasn’t just us. It was also my husband’s aunt & uncle (both Czech) and another woman they are friends with (also, Czech). The gobbledy-gook abounded.
After being around the Czech-speak for years and years now, I can make some of it out. I can listen to most Czech conversations and figure out the general subject, both from the smattering of Czech words I know and the occasional English words that lack suitable Czech translations thrown in. (The first time I heard Frank speak Czech was on a phone call from college to his parents, where he was telling them he had mono. The conversation went something like this: “Blahbitty blah blah mono blah blah health center blabbity blah blah swollen glands.”)
So anyway… today = lots of Czech people = not so much English spoken. Frank, lovely man he is, often tries to steer the conversation back to English. But if he’s not involved in the conversation, or isn’t in the room, there’s little hope for me. I know that there is no malicious intention here. These folks are most comfortable speaking Czech, and it’s just sort of their default setting. And I’m outnumbered.
This all used to make me feel nothing but outrage, and scorn, and rejection. Part of me realizes that really, my attendance at these social gatherings pits me as a stranger in a foreign land. I do still feel like there is a level of rudeness in their negligence to not try to actively include me in conversations, like where I’m sitting at the dinner table with them and they are blabbering on in Czech… but it’s been so ongoing I’m sort of numb to it, too. I have made a habit of sort of staring blankly into space when they speak in Czech, and I find it’s quite effective to switch them back to English, at which point I start paying attention and smiling and looking engaged and interested. (That psychology degree does come in handy sometimes… operant conditioning, anyone?)
It does help that I know it’s not malicious, and they do make an effort: it’s not like I sit there for four hours without a word of English being spoken! I would say that today, it was maybe 60% Czech, 40% English when I wasn’t being directly spoken to.
Anyway, I’m getting all rambly and I’m sorry. After these gatherings I always feel a little disorganized and out of sorts, and just generally blah at not feeling like I have a solid place in the inner circle, or something. Then there’s just the general frustration at the language barrier thing. How do I fix it? Do I become a bratty diva and insist everyone speak English around me? Do I take all my oodles of free time (note of sarcasm here) and try to learn more Czech? Should I just make sure my kids don’t learn Czech so I always have at least someone to talk to?