How Do You Say "Hold the Fries" in Czech?
My husband and I are in a local pub on the outskirts of Prague. The menu is solely in Czech. No translators are around and I forgot my Czech book, a pun I repeat often during our month long visit. I try not to play the Ugly American who expects the natives to speak her language, but I’m hungry. Despite listening to the Rosetta Stone CD for months, I recall only “thank you,” and “English?” which tonight gets a resounding “ne” from our waiter. With Slavic origins, consonant clusters, and multiple accent marks, Czech is tough.
Fortunately we know our alcohol. “Pivo” (beer) was mastered early in our trip. And Czech for chardonnay? Chardonnay.
We order drinks, peruse the menu, and shrug at the server who stands poised with pencil and pad. Smiling, he points to a word and “moos.” Yes, moos. Ah, beef! For the next menu item, he snorts, raises his leg and touches his knee. Pork, we get. But knee? Pig knuckle is a popular Czech dish. Paul ordered it once and loved it. But it was so large, it could have been a knee. Paul gives a thumbs up.
I can speak this language. So I quack. Twice. Diners stare. I understand their looks, if not their words. Our waiter shakes his head. No duck.
We try Google translate and discover chicken dishes with undecipherable accompaniments. When Google offers up “socks” my appetite wanes.
I return to the beef and nod, ignoring that the waiter is pointing to his stomach. Beef belly? Using his own translator app, he types into his cellphone and shows me the result: “alone.” My beef will be alone? I envision a slab of meat on an otherwise empty plate. He pulls up a photo of fries. Oh, do I want a side?
Fries aren’t my thing. I request “salat,” a rare recognizable Czech word. The waiter nods. I hold up my glass. Another Chardonnay. Paul chugs his pint.
Our meals are set before us. We delight in the savory smells. Paul’s sizable pork knee/knuckle is accompanied by pillowy dumplings. My steak is hardly alone, but embraced by creamy mushrooms and a fresh tomato salad. I bite into a tender juicy piece of meat and blow the waiter a kiss.
I copy the Czech name of my beef entree, noting it’s the fourth menu item. I’ll want to order it again.
Or maybe I’ll just moo.
Renee C. Winter is a retired attorney, and currently is a volunteer writing teacher at the Santa Cruz County Jail, which has taught her that talented writers can be found anywhere. She writes personal essays, which she refers to as memoir pieces. Her work has appeared in such literary journals as Qu, Coachella, Catamaran Literary Reader, Exposition Review, 34th Parallel, and others.