Making sandwiches, a trip to Vienna, and the stages of culture shock

This last week, I felt very… foreign. Just a little bit lost. I had passed the happy stage of moving, where everything’s new and fun to explore, to where it was irritating that things weren’t as easy as they were in the last place I lived. For example, making peanut butter sandwiches had become difficult, as I couldn’t find any peanut butter.

Albert store, Czech Republic.
Albert store, Czech Republic.

After staring at the variety of off-brands of Nutella at the local Albert store, I felt like knocking them off the shelf and shouting WHY AIN’T THERE ANY PEANUT BUTTER UP IN THIS PLACE?? 

(I really do like the Albert store. It has both gluten-free noodles and bread.)

Hradec Králové is beautiful, the bus system great, my fellow students friendly. However, there is the larger issue of my not actually speaking Czech that has made life interesting. I think my zen was slightly shattered last week when I accidentally and not on purpose bought decaf coffee. (I love coffee and never, ever drink decaf. What’s the point?)

Decaf coffee. Sadness. That word "bez" is so important...
Decaf coffee. Sadness. That word “bez” is so important…

On the bus ride home with my large jar of coffee, I noticed the word “bez,” which I knew from asking for “bez lepku” (gluten-free) that “bez” means “without” in Czech. So this coffee was without something…. and, with a sinking heart, I figured that “kofeinu” mean caffiene. Sigh.

The, there was also the pointless argument involving laundry at my dorm: the washing mashing broke while washing my clothes, so it took me twice as long to do one load of laundry. And since I was over the time limit, I was charged extra. Grrr.

Plus, the baffling exchange at the pool yesterday. Apparently, I’ve been wearing the one for students— and here in Czech, you can’t be a student if you’re over 26. (I’m 32.) When this was explained, I just offered to buy another one— but, apparently, it was a really big deal to figure out how to refund my money, and to explain to me the refund policy/student age limit policy, in excruciating detail.

In the end, I got to swim— just like I finally got my laundry done, and got proper coffee— but it took twice as long as it should, and was a bit of a headache.

And honestly? I don’t want to hear someone explain the rules of anything to me for 20 minutes straight. In English, or Czech, or any other language. The impatient midwest American in me was showing through: I just want the thing done. It’s not working, or something not right? Fine— let’s just fix it. Talking won’t fix it.

Also, I spent several days last week attempting to make color printouts in Hradec. Which turned out to be an adventure: the first day, I got lost finding the printing lab, but it didn’t matter— I had forgotten my password to the computers. The second day, with the help of a wonderful young woman who spoke a bit of English, it turned out it didn’t matter I forgot my password. The University of Hradec Králové didn’t recognize my username because it wasn’t in the system.

In the end, I got my printouts— colorful photos of food particular to Detroit: square Buddy’s pizza, barbecue ribs, gyro sandwiches, falafel and hummus, pierogies and kielbasa, coney dogs. As an English teacher, there’s a certain look my students sometimes get that I have to watch out for. It’s when I talk too fast, they don’t understand the new grammar, or the new vocab is just going over their head. 

I know this look, because I’ve gotten it myself: when people try to explain things to me in a language that I don’t understand. To stave it off in my own students, I’ve found things that are Not English (photos, for example) are a great way to fend off the classroom ennui. And my seventh graders were getting that “look” the longer I talked about countable nouns and food— hence, the photos.

Ingredients for a good sandwich. Or several.
Ingredients for a good sandwich. Or several.

To center myself, and get rid of that “lost” feeling, I decided to make sandwiches. Proper sandwich making is a great distraction: you need to figure out what kind of sandwiches you want, buy the ingredients (which may involve a trip to several stores, especially in Europe) and finally, assemble them.

An assortment of gluten-free tiny sammiches.
An assortment of gluten-free tiny sammiches.

I decided to make a pile of tiny, open-faced sandwiches. At a house party I was invited to, they had been served, as appitizers. Also, I had seen these little sandwiches sold at stores around Hradec, and I wanted to make my own veggie, gluten-free ones.

Sandwiches sold in a small shop in Hradec Králové.
Sandwiches sold in a small shop in Hradec Králové.

It was like a fun scavenger hunt: for mayo, for pickles, for the right kind of bread, and for veggies. The tomatoes and grapes came from a little produce store near the Adalbertinum stop in Hradec. But while the sandwiches were tasty, I still felt lost.

Fruit and veggie shop near the Adalbertinum stop.
Fruit and veggie shop near the Adalbertinum stop.

Which is why I’m planning to go to Vienna, they speak German there. (I’m actually on a bus, with wireless, as I write this.) I realized I had to go after I kept buying carrot juice from a certain store— it was called Karroten Sauf. And I was happy, because I thought I had learned the Czech word for juice.

Nope. Guess the German lessons from college stuck more than I thought— “Sauf” is German for juice. And like the tomato sauce I bought, I was gravitating toward that store because I could read the labels, not just guess— and accidentally wind up with decaf coffee.

The Tesco in Futurum.
The Tesco in Futurum.

And I finally found peanut butter. It was at the Tesco, the giant supermarket in town. In the end, though, I ate my peanut butter the way a proper comfort food is sometimes best consumed: out of the jar with a spoon.

Peanut butter! Victory!
Peanut butter! Victory!

2 thoughts on “Making sandwiches, a trip to Vienna, and the stages of culture shock

Add yours

  1. Your article has put a big smile on my face :)))). No I am not laughing at your situation. I can actually comprehend the tyranny of being in a foreign land :). You said Detroit? I lived in Troy for a while. Yay to the victory of Peanut butter and boo for a decaf coffee….language bar can sometime be funny or not ;)…

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