Mluvíte dobře anglicky

Even the beggars here are multilingual.

Surely, I thought, in the Czech republic, in a place I don’t know the language, where I don’t understand the difference between someone asking me for directions or asking for money – surely here I’m safe. Surely I don’t have to go through that moral dilemma of to give change or not to give. I can walk past a street canvaser, or those dudes in shopping centres selling credit cards, and just throw my hands up when they start talking at me, shake my head uncomprehendingly. So this is the approach I take with the beggars.

“Nerozumím”, I say, “I don’t understand” – forceful, hurried; but they just repeat it in English.

“Please, do you have any small change to give to me? I have trouble with the payphone and…”

This happened to me a few days ago at a metro station (the underground). A guy came up and asked me for change. He was all sunken features in a pale as paper face, with a manner as monotone and practised as his speech.

“Nerozumím” I said, looking up at him and shrugging. He was standing, though his posture was stooped, and I was sitting on one of the shin-high, metal railings that loop around the wide pillars that line some of the metro platforms. They’re low things, not for sitting on really, but they can double as benches if the need arises.

“Please, do you have some change,” he said, switching automatically to English. “Just a few crowns for me, I…”

I broke eye contact and shook my head, stared hard at the tiles. “Ne” I said. “No.

He stopped and leaned in a little closer.

“You are a mother fucker,” he said, and turned to shuffle away. He said it in the same monotone as before, but in clipped, well-pronouced syllables, with a comfortable space between “mother” and “fucker” for emphasis and clarity.

I was incenced. “You’re more of a motherfucker,” came my mumbled, primary school reply. But, you know, I meant it. Surely, on the scale of things, he was far more likely to fuck mothers than I was. He was the motherfucker. I was just some innocent waiting to catch my train.

I said it loud enough for him to hear me but he had already turned away and was asking someone else. In Czech this time.

I came up with all sorts of clever retorts on the train, at my station, up the escalators, on the tram. But really, when I think of it now, I probably should have just complemented him on his English and left it at that. That what my Czech language tapes would have done.

– Zoe Barron

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1 Response to “Mluvíte dobře anglicky”


  1. 1 Geoff February 24, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Ha! What a motherfucker. (And you’re right, he probably has fucked more mothers than you. Though you could if you put your mind to it.) I hate it when you come up with a great comeback five minutes too late.

    Funny though.


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