Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

December 25, 2006 5:25am

I’m not going to do any unnecessary “three hours to liftoff!” thing here, I can promise that much at least. My bags are mostly packed, my laundry is mostly done, and I’ve got that oh-so-normal feeling of “holy sh*t, what am I doing?” (I’m actually on intimate terms with that emotion, though, so I’m more or less ignoring it. For further illustration, go to my September 2004 ‘blog entries to re-read my departure notes for France.) Yeah, anyway.

I am currently in Southwest Missouri with my Grandparents and my Mom. (Okay, this is all really boring, but cut me some slack here--it’s 5:30 in the morning. I’ve been awake since 4. No, this is not a so-nervous-I-can’t-sleep thing. It is actually just my attempt to get a head start on dealing with jet lag. I’ve been gradually waking up earlier and earlier over the past few days--culminating in my 4am bonnanza here [how the heck do you spell bonnanza? I’ve tried it five different times and MS still won’t accept it!] Yeah, anyway, there was also a little bit of the whole too-nervous-to-sleep-really-well thing going on too. [You know, looking at this paragraph here, I’ve decided that writing is just too linear for me. I need hypertext, I think, to get at the different tangents of thought my mind tends to follow at any given point in time. Think this is crazy? My conversations are even worse. (And I’m really trying to censor my language and content here because I told my Uncle last night that I had cleaned up my blog. I just didn’t count on trying to type at 5:40 in the morning when my mind can’t think of very many words that have more than four letters or two syllables [“culminating” was the high point of this paragraph, and the only reason I can count it as four syllables is because I got to add an “ing” to it. (Okay, what parenthesis am I on now?)])]) It has been a nice visit; it’s always good to see the family. Several of my cousins just finished round two of the baby-making. Now there are just a couple of first-circle cousins (first circle cousins are first cousins and the group of first and a half cousins [double cousins? Double cousins once removed? First cousins once removed?]. Second circle cousins are everyone else in Southwest Missouri) left to be married off, and they are both in pretty serious relationships. Anyone want to place some wagers? (Though I really shouldn’t try to start another betting pool; I lost last night’s wager pretty bad. It involved juggling balls).

Okay, time to start a new paragraph. I always set out to write things that people might actually care about in my blog, but then I always get sidetracked. I try to remember to use a better (more literary, more formal) style of writing, but then I get sidetracked with some inanne recollection that just begs to be told in a more informal (ie, disorganized) manner. I really can write collected thoughts that make sense. I should post one of my papers on this blog so that… ummm, you, the reader, can be bored out of your mind. Never mind. Vernacular it is. Speaking of vernacular, I have had a hard time getting Missourians to understand me this time around. I don’t know why. I ordered a pizza that arrived on the other side of town (it’s a small town, though, so the mistake was not fatal to the pizza). I had a retail clerk in the mall saying “huh?” so many times I thought she would hyperventilate and pass out (sound odd? Try it. It’s hard to get a breath in between the huhs). I don’t think it is my word choice (I mean, just look at my blog. We’re not talking a plethora of 50 [where the heck is the cent sign on this keyboard?] words). Instead, I think it is my sentence structure and slightly odd choice of phrases (For example, I tend to say “I’ve not” instead of “I haven’t.” I know it sounds affected, but I have (I’ve) no idea why I do it.) Okay, I’m bored with where this is going.

6am. Time for breakfast (I already had a granola bar, but that was just the wake-up snack. Now I need something more substantial. Like turkey and cranberry sauce.)

So. Before we left Maryland, my Mom bought a series of Czech Language CDs. They were the Pimsleur Method (Audiolingual) and didn’t have any companion book--just 16 half-hour lessons. We listened to the first few in the car during the drive to the Midwest, and learned how to say I speak English, Do you speak English, Do you understand English, and so on. When we got to Missouri, I continued to listen to them on my own.

Anyway, I think these language CDs were designed with American Businessmen in mind, because I now know how to pick up a Czech woman. Here is what I’ve learned so far:


“Are you a Czech woman?”

“I am an American man.”

“Would you like to get something to drink?” (There are two different ways to ask this question depending on if the person you asking is male or female. The language CDs emphasized practice asking a female this question.)

“What do you want to drink?”

“How about beer or wine?”

Yeah. So now I can pick up a Czech woman and get her drunk. I think one of the next lessons will teach the phrase “Want to come back to my place?” (I still haven’t learned to ask where the bathroom is.)

The CDs also prepare you for rejection. At the end of each lesson there is a practice mini-dialogue. For the last lesson I completed, the dialogue was very long and focused on picking up a woman. Obviously, the guy I was supposed to be was very dim. He kept asking this poor woman out for a drink, for lunch, for something to eat, to go shopping, etc. She kept turning him down. Finally, at the end, she’s like, “You don’t understand Czech.” Bam. No means No, buster. (Or, in this case, Neh means Neh.)

Czech is an odd language, though. It is indo-European, which means that is has the same roots as English, German, Russian, French, Lithuanian, Hindi etc. It is an West Slavic language, though, which means it is closely related to Polish and Slovak (Russian is an East Slavic language). What this means is that Czech contains unpronounceable sounds, inflected nouns, and way too many grammar rules. Examples follow.

Unpronounceable sounds (words and sentences):
Strc prst skrz krk,which means Stick a finger through your throat. Which is basically what you have to do to pronounce it.

Inflected nouns:
Basically, this means that each noun has a different form depending on which role it plays in the sentence (like German). In English we can say “The dog chased the cat” or “The cat chased the dog” and know the difference between the two sentences because of the word order. In Czech (and word order still matters in Czech, at least as far as I’ve been able to determine), there would be two different forms for the dog and the cat, depending on which was chasing and which was being chased. Insane, I know.

Grammar rules (gender and beyond):
Anyone who has studied a foreign language (generally Spanish, French, or German) will probably remember that some nouns are male or female (French and Spanish and German) or neuter (German). In Czech, not only can nouns be male, female, or neuter, but the male nouns can also be animate or inanimate. Why does this matter? Because adjectives have to agree with nouns. Oh, by the way, adjectives have two forms: hard and soft.

Grammar rules, cont. (gender of speaker and listener):
This one I’m still not too clear on, but there appears to be different forms of certain words that people use depending on whether the speaker is a male or female and the listener is a male or female.

The good news? Czech has no article system (the, an, a). Not completely sure this balances out all that other stuff, but it’s a start.


At 1:38 PM, Blogger Captain Disgruntled said...

The only baseball-related story I can remember: one year the (Minnesota) Twins made it to some sort of playoff. Someone in my household was watching a game on television. You know how fans in the stands sometimes bring those huge-ass banners with the numbers of Biblical verses or exhortations to particular players? Well, the Twins had a first baseman of Czech extraction, and the only thing I remember about any of this was a bedsheet-sized banner in the stands demanding

"HRBEK!! Buy a vowel!!"

And good luck with the Czech chicks in that conference hotel bar there.


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