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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Overheard …

I was sitting on the metro with my book open to page 200-something. The train pulled into Mustek station and people stepped off and others stepped on. I heard English being spoken:

Him: “… at the party, and she came.”

Her: “She came?” [flashing an unsaintly grin]

Him: “Yeah, she came.” [pause … a look] “Oh! Yeah, oh yeah, she CAME.”

Her: “How hard did she come?” [a devilish smile]

Him: “Very HARD. She nearly passed out.”

Her: “Mmm. Wish I was her.”

These two were Americans (you could tell by the lax grammar: the sentence should read, “Wish I was she.”). I know this because when you live in a non-native-English-speaking country, you are better equipped to pick out where the English speakers come from. I know German-accented English, Italian accents, Spanish accents, French accents, and of course Czech-accented English. So when American’s open their mouths, I peg them right down to their regional underwear. These two were Midwest, Detroit perhaps, or maybe even Chicago — but definitely city.

So the idea of them having this conversation on a standing-room-only train is more easily imagined than not, because they’ve probably experienced few enough English speakers around town that understand them better than adequate. I’m sure they thought they were perfectly safe. It’s funny also, for me I mean, that people don’t have a clue that when you stare at them with a certain look on your face while they’re talking, it pretty much telegraphs that you understand every fucking word they’re saying. They looked at me and turned bright red. I noticed a few Czechs give them unusual looks, too.

Perhaps Czechs have that particular sexual nomenclature term in their English arsenal. As speaking foreign languages go, firstly you learn formal grammar and syntax, and secondly you lace your small vocabulary with the choice slang terms picked up from drunks in bars and perhaps your Czech language teacher on a slow Friday afternoon: “How do you say ‘fuck’ in Czech? I mean, you know, the good way to say it?”

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