Last week while practicing conditional statements with my students, one worksheet prompted: would you travel on holiday by yourself?
I think most people would tend to look at this question and immediately answer “no.” Most of my students did and until this experience I probably would have said the same. However, in reality, my experience here is like one long trip to a small and less-well-known travel destination. Of course, my job here and the support of the Fulbright Program make it a little different than a simple abroad excursion by myself. At the end of the day though, as much as I feel like I’ve adapted and integrated into life here, I am still in many ways a cultural tourist.
I had a total Znojmo weekend this past weekend, which was nice after all the traveling and visitors of the past month. The weather has continued to be beautiful and all the flowers are beginning to bloom much earlier than normal. This also means I have developed allergies for the first time in my life! Friday night my guitar teacher invited me to a performance of my music school’s traditional Moravian folk group at the largest of Znojmo wineries, Znovín Znojmo, in the landmark Louka Monastery. It was really a special night.
Of course, the wine tasting was great, but the atmosphere of the traditional music and Znojmo wine culture led to everyone singing along and it really hit me that there is nowhere near where I’m from the in the US that has this feeling without being totally kitschy. Two of my teenage students and several others from Znojmo were in the group, proudly playing a type of music that most American teens would consider lame. And after the formal performance ended, half of the group and audience stuck around to just jam and sing to Moravian folk songs. History and tradition is really so relevant here and is a crucial part of the Czech identity. For a country and population that have been stepped on like a bug by so many other nations, political systems, regimes, dynasties, and monarchies, these cultural aspects are the glue that still holds this small country and its amazingly strong and spirited people together.
Although I am studying to take the A1 Czech language exam in the next few weeks, language continuously proves to me that my American English and I are still on the outside. When it comes to castles and wine, our history and language culture is simply not compatible with Czech. On Saturday, I spent the day traveling to three Austrian castles in the towns of Hardegg, Riegersburg, and Raabs an der Thaya. They were really beautiful and two were amazingly built into the rocks of the small villages that surrounded them. On a silent Saturday morning, it was impossible not to wonder where all the people were. In the USA, we just don’t have anything like it. This became even more apparent as I failed the all-day vocabulary quiz about the names of certain specific types of castles and royal/medieval structures. I became increasingly frustrated by the seemingly endless questions about what is the name for X, Y, Z in English? The questions soon felt like accusations about personally not knowing enough or our language culture not being sophisticated enough. I definitely felt frustrated. I had to take some deep breaths and realize that in the
This became even more apparent as I failed the all-day vocabulary quiz about the names of certain specific types of castles and royal/medieval structures. I became increasingly frustrated by the seemingly endless questions about what is the name for X, Y, Z in English? The questions soon felt like accusations about personally not knowing enough or our language culture not being sophisticated enough. I definitely felt frustrated. I had to take some deep breaths and realize that in the US, unless you’re a historical architecture buff, it’s not everyday knowledge to know these words. This is not because we are an infantile country, but because of our history: we rejected monarchism and therefore have no castles or chateaus (a borrowed French word) or palaces or fortresses that dot every nook and cranny of our landscape.
My evening continued with another whirlwind of culture and vocabulary that centered on wine. My friend Hana’s family makes their own wine and graciously included me in their evening of friends and wine tasting in their home’s wine cellar. While there was nothing in particular to celebrate, the atmosphere was very festive with friends coming and going and food and wine in constant rotation. It was definitely in true Moravian fashion and I am so thankful that I was placed in this part of the Czech Republic. Yet, even though I’m so happy to be included and have been so lucky to be welcomed into the lives of people here, I still sometimes can’t help but feel like an outsider looking in. It’s hard to even remember what a gathering like this at home feels like—where I know everyone or at least can communicate easily with everyone present. With less than 4 months go, the topic is slowly beginning to creep into
Yet, even though I’m so happy to be included and have been so lucky to be welcomed into the lives of people here, I still sometimes can’t help but feel like an outsider looking in. It’s hard to even remember what a gathering like this at home feels like—where I know everyone or at least can communicate easily with everyone present. With less than 4 months go, the topic is slowly beginning to creep into conversation that I will soon be leaving. The future seems to be on everyone’s mind, whether it’s the summer, my students’ transition to university, or my plans for next year. It’s hard to imagine that there will most likely never be another time where I will live in Znojmo and have the opportunity to see all my new friends (some of whom feel like family) on a day-to-day or even week-to-week basis again. Even though I’ve dealt with many major endings before, it seems like I’ll never quite get used to the feeling of another life chapter coming to a close.
But while the door of this amazing experience is still open, I gave two foods a try that I NEVER would have anticipated before. The first was škvarky, (pork rind) or as it was translated to me, fried lard. Apparently, this is an excellent accompaniment for wine, and is better with extra salt dumped on top. Even though I gave it a try, I could not stand the taste of what felt like eating fried butter. The second thing was tartárak, or beef tartar, homemade by Hana’s father. I’m not sure how we do it in America, or how they do it in France, but the Czech method involves spreading the raw and spiced meat on bread that is fried in lard and then rubbed with raw garlic. It actually wasn’t bad, except for when one of the other guests insisted I put a thicker layer on my piece of bread. Just when I think nothing new can surprise me another week goes by. I guess that’s what makes this the best kind of holiday 🙂
PS If you haven’t yet signed the Save Fulbright petition, here’s the link again: http://www.savefulbright.org Thanks!!