Tag Archives: czech

Hiding in my room

As a belated birthday gift, Frank’s aunt gave me a box of chocolates from the Czech Republic.  They, as a family in general, make frequent trips back to their mother-land and bring back with them assorted goodies that they can’t get stateside.

I have saved these chocolates and am now eating them while I blog, laying in bed after the kids were put to bed.  I could have eaten them on any other number of occasions in the week since I received them, but then I would have had to share them with little children.  And these are mine, dammit.

It’s funny as a parent the things I find I hide away from my kids.  Red Twizzlers often only come out late at night to keep them away from wee ones determined to get their share.  Most of my covert candy thievery also happens under the cover of dark — Halloween bags and Easter baskets pilfered after their guards have drifted off to sleep.  It makes me wonder what wondrous confections my own mom and dad kept hidden for enjoyment only when my brother and I were out of the house or asleep for the night.

Anyway, these chocolates that I received for my birthday, they are interesting.  Tastewise they are pretty good.  I’d best describe them as milk chocolate with a creamy nutty middle.  They are officially called “Laguna Nutsnougat” which, according to the translations into every European language on the back, translates to “Seafood with Filling”.  No, really.  But rest assured, they are only “seafood” because they are molded into oceanesque shapes, like seashells and starfish.  I’m not quite sure what the culinary Czech genius was thinking when he had his epiphany, but it must have gone something like this:  “Ahoy! [because that’s how they say ‘hello’]  I am thinking… we have a recipe for delicious nougat-filled chocolate bonbons.  Only to make them into straightforward chocolate shapes is so blah, so passe, so expected.  What to do, what to do… A-ha!  I’ve got it!  Let’s make them look like mollusks!  Nothing says ‘sweet confectionary bliss’ like shellfish!”  Seriously, I can’t look at them while I eat them.  Especially the mussels.  Ugh.

The second thing to note about these chocolates is the ingredient list.  In the U.S. here, we have something in many ingredient lists called “Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” which on the surface doesn’t seem all that offensive.   The Europeans, however, do not let their food manufacturers get away with such namby-pamby fru-fru food names.  They have to tell it like it is, it seems, because the second ingredient listed, after sugar, is “hardened vegetable fat”.  Yummy.

Plum dumplings?

We had dinner at our in-laws’ tonight, because MIL was planning a plum dumpling dinner and talked about it like it was the Best Thing Ever.  I’m not sure if it’s a Czech thing specifically, or maybe a more general eastern European thing.

Has anyone ever had this?

Let me describe:

It seems you take full plums (pits included, though I suppose they aren’t requisite if you were so inclined to remove them), wrap them in some sort of pastry dough, then I’m guessing they were steamed.  You put these on your plate, top them with some sort of shredded semi-soft cheese (I didn’t ask what it was for fear it was made from something ungodly), melted butter, and either granulated or powdered sugar (your choice).

And this is dinner.

They made a modified version for my husband which had jam inside instead of whole plums, because Frank is generally loathe to eat cooked fruit.  He makes an exuberant exception for my apple pie, wise man he is.

Anyway, these people were gaga over it.  Me and the kids, not so much.  I thought it tasted decent enough, but I was sick of eating it before I’d eaten more than a snack’s worth.  We came back to our house and topped it off with dino-chicken nuggets and french fries.

Oh, Pour Cheats!

Lane is very aural.  Sometimes you think she’s not listening… and she acts like she’s not listening… but she is.  She always is!  She can nearly always tell you what you just said even if she was in another room.

She picks up people’s phrases very quickly.  Like, I call Jake “buddy”, so does Lane.  I say “oh man” when something goes wrong, so does Lane.  I say “dammit” when get ticked off, and much to my chagrin, so does Lane.  (We’re working on that one, mainly through not acknowledging when she says it.  It’s working.)

When we got down to Aruba, we reunited with Lane after she’d spent 2 full days with her grandparents.  And, she picked up a phrase in Czech from them.  I cannot spell it to save my life but it sounds like “Oh, Pour Cheats!”  This is something they utter when something gets screwed up, or they are trying to do something but they can’t quite make it work right.  I haven’t asked for a translation to English but it’s a mild curse.  So, Lane said it a couple times in the first evening we were there, and we all giggled.  (Yeah, I know, it only encourages her.  But it was funny.)

Out of curiosity, I asked her what it meant.  She said, “It means Grandma’s trying to do something!”

Blabbity blah blah swollen glands

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.

Except me.

(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?

Breaking out the crazy

We were supposed to see a house this morning at 9:30.  The owner is apparently particular about when people can see this house, so will only let people book morning appointments.  No sweat, Frank could go too.  (I’ve been previewing some houses just on my own to cull the lot of ones that Frank might go back to see, too.)

We get there, and our realtor – my MIL’s best friend and a lovely woman and someone who is perpetually early for everything – isn’t there yet.  This is odd, so I immediately check my cell phone for messages.  I discover the phone was set to silent (oops) and there are four messages.

Message 1 (8:30 a.m.):  Our realtor.  The people have canceled the appointment, and she doesn’t want us to go out unnecessarily with the kids.  OK.

After hearing this message, I tell Frank the appointment was canceled and he gets back into his car and heads off to work.  I get back into my car, where the kids are still in their car seats, and continue to go through the messages.

Message 2 (9:09 a.m.):  Realtor again, trying to reach us.  She also tried emailing me.  If I get this message, please call her.

Message 3 (9:14):  My mother in-law.  The realtor has called HER because she can’t reach us.  Um, why, I wonder?  MIL wonders why I’m not answering the phone and please call them and the realtor.

Message 4 (9:27):  My father in-law.  Why aren’t you answering your phone, Lisa?  The appointment is canceled!

OH MY GOODNESS.

I start driving away, and notice a familiar Lexus in my rear-view mirror, honking and flashing its lights at me.  The in-laws have driven to where the appointment was (I’d told them the evening before the street the house was on that we were supposed to see today).  They have come to notify us that the appointment was canceled.  Oh, and scold me for being unreachable by cell phone for a whole hour.

Oh, my goodness.  OH MY GOODNESS!  Can I say it enough!?!  OH. MY. GOODNESS!!!!!

I’m not sure if the inclination to make a mountain out of a mole hill is particular to my in-laws, or if it’s a Czech thing in general (my in-laws are Czech, they came to the U.S. in the late 60s).  Why on earth is it necessary to turn this minor non-event into a crisis?  If they weren’t so normal and nice and reasonable most of the time, I might think they were lunatics.