I got pleasantly lost today in the snaking streets of Prague. I didn’t mind it though, I just picked up my Kundera and went along with the pull of the Czech mindset with another chapter of Laughter and Forgetting. I arrived in Prague yesterday, and so far I’ve learned that the familiar “dobry den” (good day) will get friendly service here. I suppose the phrase has its origins in Russian but it seems to work in many other Slavic countries as well.
During our trip to Malta my kids tried to compile a list of funny geographical names. Well, those that are funny to us Finns. Naturally the idea for that came from the word Malta, which in Finnish means ‘hold your horses’ and Valletta, which is pronounced in the same way as ‘it’s a lie’ in Finnish. It didn’t take them long to find Lima on the world map, which in Finnish means ‘mucus’. I will not go into detail of what they managed to put together with all this material (and the rest of it, which I have mercifully managed to forget by now), but obviously the realization of how differently languages work was a fun one for the unexperienced traveler.
I, on the other hand, am mesmerized by the fact that the first thing I stumbled upon in Prague was the Maltese Square. I suppose I need an update on my history knowledge. Here, by the flooding river Vltava I remember that Finns call Czech the language without vowels. And I know foreigners struggle with too many vowels in the Finnish language. Otherwise I find the sound of Czech very familiar to the Finnish ear. By the way, ‘valtava’ means ‘huge’ in Finnish and ‘kampa’ – a park by Vltava river – is ‘a comb’ in Finnish. I was looking forward to spending some time in the Kampa Museum which is a modern art gallery showing local work by the river Vltava, but it is closed due to damages caused by the floods. I have been admiring the beautiful building from the numerous bridges crossing the river and hoping they will get enough funds to restore the museum.
It is easy to get exhausted in Prague. There is an endless stream of people crossing the river first this way and then that way. TripAdvisor has 1,753 restaurants listed for Prague. Approximately 1.7 million tourists visit Bohemia every year. Amazingly though you cannot get by with English in the local food stores, even though that is the most often heard language on the Charles Bridge. A friend told me just to leave out all the vowels of the Finnish words and it will pass as Czech. He was joking of course, but it is true that sometimes language barriers exist in our minds only. I’m convinced we all could manage just like my globetrotter grandmother who doesn’t speak any foreign languages. What she lacks in vocabulary, she fills in with smiles.