It is not so long ago that I was walking in the Old Town, in Prague. I come here almost every week to see the beauty of this wonderful city, the city of my ancestors. Because I had my homework finished, and I had practically nothing to do, I decided to have a little tour. I went to see the Prague Castle and had a look in some of the touristy shops with souvenirs. I also went to see the Old Town Square. I also decided to go up the tower of the Old Town Hall. The whole building is the wonderful work of Mikolas Kodan and Jan Sindel, two great Czech architects and professors of astronomy and mathematics living in the 15th century.
It was a hot, summer day and I began to be thirsty. I had nothing to drink. I decided to go to a restaurant. Since I was standing in the middle of the Old Town Square, I didn’t have to search for long. The Old Town Square is a place with many restaurants, cafeterias. I chose a quite small little restaurant. I sat down and waited for the waiter. He came and asked me what I want. In French. When he saw I didn’t speak French asked me again, but this time in Spanish. I was scared, what language will he use now, so I told him that I want him to bring me the menu. In Czech of course. The waiter looked very surprised. He answered in very bad Czech, with a Russian accent.
I was surprised too. I was sitting in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. The first language he should have used is Czech, possibly English. Nobody in the restaurant spoke Czech. Not even the waiters and the barkeep. The menus where in German, French, English, Spanish, Russian… but where was Czech? When he brought me the menu, I was surprised how cheap the prices are here. The prices! I mean have you ever seen a bottle of Vittel mineral water for 15 Kc? This was even cheaper than are prices on the outskirts of Prague! I decided to order a water. I was brought what I wanted. While I was sipping my super cheap water, I looked at the menu again to see if I could get myself a small snack. The shock almost killed me. In small letters, on the very bottom of the page was written, that ‘prices are in euros’! So instead of 15 Kc, I had to pay 15€ or 420 Kc. My allowance per two months is 400 Kc. All wasted just for a stupid water. I didn’t feel like a Czech citizen. I felt like a tourist. Nothing was in Czech. The menu was in many different languages (no Czech). The prices were in euros. Even the waiter couldn’t speak Czech properly! I felt like crying.
Everywhere I heard languages from many places of the world, mostly Europe. I imagined the nightmares about the prices I’ll be having this night. The ice in my glass was slowly melting. I paid and went home.
When I am in the Prague city center now, I speak ONLY English even though I am in the Czech Republic. But I keep saying to myself: “Why do I have to feel like a foreigner in my hometown?”
I would sort the people of Prague into three groups:
• Group A: people who work service institutions
• Group B: people who speak Czech and English.
• Group C: people who speak only Czech.
Group A start to speak English to all. Group B say to themselves: “Oh! This is cool. I’ll start to speak English to!” This causes Group C starting to learn English, so they can be like Groups A and B.
Believe me – I have nothing against English whatsoever. It is good to speak English. But why speak English at home? Patriots during the times when Bohemia was part of Austro-Hungary and when everyone spoke just German fought for the Czech language. If we won’t be careful the situation will repeat. Step by step, we will all start to feel like foreigners. Do we really want this happening? I know this happens in most European countries. In Slovakia, Austria or in Germany, they have the same problem.
Look at some nations, like America, for example. No national language, almost no traditions… nothing in which they could be original. Just a big cocktail of people of different nationalities, traditions… or a pile of… foreigners who live on one spot (no offense). In my opinion it is better when the people of a nation unite in one language, currency, traditions. This is why the Czech Republic used to be “beautiful”.
This desire to catch up with forty-odd years of communism, this desire to be more western can destroy our beautiful national language. Having a national language is great! Why? May be to promote unity and assimilation? The Czech crown, our national currency is not only the name of the money in which we pay; it is also part of our national identity. We know we are having euros by 2010 but I think, we can keep at least our national language, instead of swapping it for English. Don’t you?