When In Doubt, I Don’t Open My Mouth

Last week, I had my first salon visit with no special help from a Czech speaking individual.  On my previous visits, I always had some form of assistance – be it from another English speaking salon customer or my husband.  Contrary to his liking, I used to drag my husband to come with me to the salon whenever I needed a hair procedure done.  You can’t blame me.  With my limited Czech, I don’t want to come in for a haircut and come out with a perm.

We are here in Czech for a year now and even though I didn’t get any formal language education, my day to day interaction somehow increased my vocabulary and I can now navigate my way through places and “important ” domestic tasks, like buying bread for instance. 🙂   So, I finally decided to brave it out and set up a salon appointment all by myself.

In setting up my appointment, I initially tried calling one of the salons I found on the internet.   Although their website was in Czech, google translator helped me out and translated it for me.  Because the website can be translated, I immediately thought that maybe they speak English.  When I dialed the salon number, a nice lady from the other line answered the phone in Czech.  After we exchanged pleasantries, I immediately asked:  “Do you speak english?”  To which she flatly replied: “Ne”.  So I was forced to speak Czech.  As I struggled through my Czech, I was not able to make an appointment because according to her, the schedules I wanted were all booked.  Hmmm.  I wondered if I may have misused some words or mixed up the days.  Unfazed and determined to make the appointment, I personally went to the salon to book it myself.  While I was there, she opened her schedule book to skim for vacant slots.  This gave me the opportunity to take a peek and pointed out to her days that are favorable for my schedule.  Alas!  I got a hair appointment.

On the day itself, I was prompt in keeping my scheduled time.  But since I booked very close to their closing time, I was the only customer there.  The lady who did my hair was very nice as she patiently listened to me explain what I wanted with my hair.  I explained it in 3 sentences:  “I am here for a hair appointment.  I need a hair coloring procedure.  Please make sure to cover my gray hairs.”    But to make sure she did not misunderstand what I was saying, she gave me a catalog to pick out a hair color.  After I picked out my choice,  she immediately started working.

Then we both shifted to “mute mode.”  She didn’t start talking nor did I initiate a conversation.  It was the weirdest hour and a half that I’ve ever spent in a salon.

One of the peculiarities that I find among Czechs is that they would rather ignore you than admit that they can’t speak your language.  In Europe, it is a requirement to speak 2 other languages other than your own.    English, being the most common language spoken by foreigners is recently being taught in schools as an elective.  But still, a great majority of Czechs don’t speak English.  My hairdresser was probably one of those that don’t.  Or maybe she was more conscious of her accent that’s why she didn’t talk to me.

On the otherhand, I am normally a very friendly and talkative person.  But I opted not to talk for fear of making a mistake or appearing rude.  I have a penchant for misusing words.  I once interchanged čočka (lentils) with kočka (cat).    I also once went to an optical shop and after the optician said she didn’t speak English, I said “to nevadí” (it doesn’t matter/nevermind).  I was later on told that it is not polite to use “to nevadi”  in that context.  So, I guess it’s better not to use certain lines if  I am not sure how to use it.

Thus, the appointment started with a nod and ended with a smile.

22 thoughts on “When In Doubt, I Don’t Open My Mouth

  1. Teaching English (or other “first foreign language”-for ex. German) starts in the elementary school (in 1st or 3rd grade as I remember form my childhood) in the CR. In the 3rd grade two foreign languages should be in the curriculum. Naturally, you probably won’t become very fluent after two lessons per week for 9 years (That’s caused also by focusing more on grammar than speaking itself).

    After elementary school, kids go to one of three types of schools:
    – three-year schools – “učňáky” – future hairdressers, shop assistants, bakers, carpenters and so on.
    – four-year schools – “odborná střední škola s maturitou” – more demanding school than “učňáky” focusing on a specific area (like electrical engineering), good to get a job, graduates can also attend a university
    – four-year schools “gymnázium” – universal studies (biology, chemistry, languages, physics…) attended by children who head to universities, not enough to get a job currently.

    Although languages are taught at all of these schools, the best English teachers are at gymnázia… I think what you learn at other types of schools is not very helpful when it comes to really speaking English – hence the lack of ability to communicate with you at the salon…


  2. Oh I can totally relate Grace. My strategy of learning a new language is basically “parroty”. I listen bto conversations and then try to mimic those frequently used phrases when i have the chance. I once made a major blunder when I said hello in a very casual way to my husband’s grandma while in the company of her friends. I was told it is ok to speak this way to grandma but only in the presence of close family members and never with other elderly/unfamiliar people around. I was so embarrassed I feel like not speaking Polish at all anymore.


  3. At least she got the job done 😉
    I’ve often wondered how it must be to speak only one language… Imagine all the books you can’t read, or shows you can’t watch!


  4. I find those language tapes with a book a useful way to learn a little in your own time…A learned a few languages that way!!! I’m really glad that I don’t have a language problem with my move to France but alas my son does!! It’s not easy!!


  5. You take it too seriously, I am czech man, and sometimes when I speak in hairdresser saloon, hairdressers (women) are shocked. I am supposed to shut up, sit all ten minuts with no move, pay 150 Kc and get out:) Generally are salesladies, hairdressers, waitresses rude and reluctant there, although
    things are going better with time.


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