I’ve been thinking, sometimes, lately, that I am doing all right, that I’m getting past this cultural shift, that I’m getting towards an understanding of Czech culture and this country. The other day in Czech language class, we were talking about fairy tales, and where we would say “and they lived happily ever after”, the Czechs end their fairy tales with something like “a jestli neumřeli, tak tam žijí dodnes,” which translates to “and they lived until they died.” We started laughing when we heard that – how very Czech. And when a friend was here, I took him to the Kafka Museum , and was able to say of the David Cerny sculpture in front (peeing-statues-spell.html), “That’s totally, totally Czech.”
But then something trivial happens to remind me that I am, still, a stranger in a strange land.
I went to the DM (the eastern European version of CVS) to buy travel size toiletries for a plane trip coming up – previously I have taken buses (they’re called Student Agency for a reason), or mooched. Drugstores are utterly exhausting and enervating anyway, but combine foreign brands and products with labels in 20 or so languages that aren’t English, and I had to buy myself a fruity lip gloss to make myself feel better.
I would look at a packet and think – Ok, there’s a picture of a woman, with hair, and some berries. Is this conditioner? What is conditioner anyway? I’ve got no idea how to translate that concept. Is “Hairsplitzen” something I want? How about “rentfuller”? When Czech is the language on the label I recognize most, it’s a bad sign. I spent a good 10 minutes poring over what I think was the lotion section. I have skin that gets angry and itchy at the mere thought of artificial chemicals, but was I willing to pay four times the price for Dove, which I know, over something in a white package called “Balea”? Did I trust the green stuff if I thought that looked like an aloe plant on the front?
In the end, I made some selections, and am hoping for the best. When the price rang up as only 320 crowns (about 15 dollars) at the checkout, I was somewhat shocked – I felt like I had made it through enough of an ordeal that I should at least be buying a house, or something like that. I walked out into the sparkly Prague sunshine, remembered that I bought all this because I’m flying to Greece tomorrow, and put on my fruity lip gloss. I hope that was lotion I bought.
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