I Don’t Speak English

“Melancholy” was the word they used. As much as I like hearing the word melancholy (mostly because it gives me the mental image of a collie made entirely of watermelons), it concerns me that people find my blog depressing. I’d like to assure my readers that although my writing is admittedly melodramatic, I am by no means depressed (I’m having rather a laugh, as Pastor P might say).

My stories just acknowledge that life can be a lot like that guy who sticks out his leg and trips you. It’s horrible at the time but is pretty funny afterwards – especially if you’re not the one being tripped. So if it’s on the blog, it’s because I’ve made peace with whatever I’ve just tripped over and I want to share the story.

I have a story I want to share. It’s about yesterday.

Yesterday was one of those days that leave you feeling like putting on socks, curling up into a corner and eating the remaining stores of your crackerjacks hoard. Oh, you don’t squirrel away crackerjacks? I do.

In fact, I ended up sitting on a bench outside a closed food store near a post office box with two ruined postcards in my hand, crying like the two year old I sometimes am.

But how I got there is a long story so buckle your seat belts, or if you’re Ethan and you don’t like long posts, just like it on facebook and tell me the first three paragraphs were your favorite.

This is how it happened…

Following a bout of my first real case of homesickness I decided to use two of my precious remaining stamps to send postcards to specific people. I took great care to write in neat cursive and I chose the prettiest postcards I own. I was going to drop them off in the post office box near ANA (the food mart at the bottom of our hill) on Wednesday morning before meeting with a woman from the school I’ll be teaching at this year.

I was nervous about the meeting because I would be going by myself and using a bus route I was unfamiliar with. Further, I wasn’t completely clear on the instructions regarding where we would meet but I figured it would be self-explanatory once I got there. (And we wonder why I spend so much time lost).

Due to circumstances beyond my control (aka facebook) I left the house a few minutes later than I had meant to so I decided to skip dropping the letters off, assuming I’d pop ‘em in on the way home.

In a shocking first, I changed buses without missing my connection or having a mini panic attack on the first bus and pressing the “stop” button three platforms early. HOWEVER, I failed to get off at the right stop at the end of my commute and ended up waiting on a bench for an hour before swallowing a few tears (“Mary York,” I scolded myself, “Don’t you dare cry in public.”) and getting on another bus to take me all the way back home.

I hoped the woman I was supposed to meet with wasn’t inconvenienced horribly. I hoped she wouldn’t think I was an awful American and suggest I be fired. (Turns out she thought I was dead and was very relieved when I called her on Jerry’s phone).

As I slowly walked back from the bus stop to the house I thought, “At least now I can drop those postcards off.” The thought cheered me up a little. But half way to ANA I saw Jerry approaching me on a bicycle – on his way to town.

“How’d you do, Mary? Did it go okay?” he asked with a big smile on his face. For the record, Jerry is the most cheerful man I know.

Resisting the urge to cry again, I explained that I must have misunderstood the directions and never met up with the woman.

Jerry got out his mobile and used the number I had to call our friend. After some configuring we decided I would wait in Zbraslavske Naměsti and she would pick me up in her car. Jerry walked me over to the square and we waited. Nearly half an hour later she showed up with another teacher from the school and I was driven to her house.

She and the other lady very sweetly wondered aloud – and in English – where exactly I had been waiting for that whole hour. I had no idea.

The meeting went well. It really seemed more like a tea party since most of it was conducted on the terrace of her home with coffee and little sandwiches. She is a lovely woman. By the end of our meeting she had forced me to take two of the peaches from her garden – “Very juicy, eat over sink!” – and a dozen eggs from her henhouse. I awkwardly put them in my purse. . . A dozen eggs and two explosively ripe peaches in my purse. “This is gonna be good…” I thought to myself.

She offered to take me back to the bus stop I should have been at earlier that day so we had a moment to talk about things other than classes and schedules. I told her about how people kept asking me for directions in Czech and I keep not having really good answers. My Czech is so bad and I don’t understand how buses work. It’s a little frustrating.

“But it helps you learn also,” she told me. “Each coin has two sides.”

She gave me directions and a hug and I stepped onto the bus, wallet out.

The bus driver looked at me, startled. Suddenly he began making a fuss (no idea what he was saying). He pointed at my wallet and shook his head as he was talking.

“I can’t buy tickets on this bus?” I asked. Could my day get any worse? I had used my return ticket already after waiting an hour at the stupid bus stop earlier in the day so I had no ticket to get home with now.

“Nemam,” I told him – “I don’t have.”

He got angry and pointed at the door, obviously frustrated that I was holding up the bus. I still had no idea what he was saying but he kept shouting at me in Czech and I felt obligated to respond so I just said the first thing I could think of – “Nemluvím anglicky!”

“I don’t speak English.”

I told the furious bus driver in perfect Czech that I don’t speak English.

For a second he just stared at me. Like I had just smacked him with a brick. Then he sighed, exasperated, and motioned me into a seat at the front of the bus (it was a very full bus, of course, because anytime you endure something humiliating, it has to be in front of lots and lots of people).

I sat down and stared out the dirty window, feeling as fragile as the twelve eggs still nestled in my purse.

I don’t speak English. I don’t speak English. I don’t speak English.

Could I almost feel my heels tapping themselves together, wishing to take me back to Kansas? Again I told myself not to cry. You’re on a bus for Pete’s sake.

What I could feel for certain was one of the peaches seeping through my purse onto my pants.

This day was a long time in coming. I knew I would have one of those ‘New Place’ experiences where something goes horribly wrong. I have been expecting this and I’m sure there will be more days like this as I get used to my new home.

So upset over the bus kerfuffle, I didn’t remember to drop off my postcards at ANA. I got home and kicked off my shoes and said to myself, “You survived the day, there’s no need to cry now. It’s all done.”

That’s when I remembered my postcards. I scooped up my purse, set the eggs in the fridge and what was left of the peaches on the counter and raced down the hill to ANA. One thing could go right today. I could mail these postcards.

ANA was closed but the post box was right out front next to an ugly wooden bench with splintering slats. I pulled out the cards, slightly bent from living in my purse all day. A sob caught in my throat as I held them in the fading light of the evening. A huge, wet, pink circle made wrinkles on the picture and smeared the ink on my cards. The peaches had leaked onto them. It looked like the second moon of Tatooine was rising over Prague Castle.

I didn’t care that someone was biking down the street towards me or that at any second a bus full of strangers would get dropped off at the stop half a block away. I sat down on the bench and sobbed my eyes out.


I’ve not had a good cry since June 23 when I wailed into Joy’s shoulder after swiping a car. It was about 16 hours before I boarded a plane to fly across the world. She said I wasn’t crying about the car as much as I was probably just crying about everything else that was building up – Joy said I should let it out, and I did. Because it’s important to cry, this I firmly believe. But it’s also important to live on.

See, sometimes I only look at one side of the coin. The side where life trips you up. Where you miss buses and say dumb things to people in languages that don’t belong to you. But the other side of the coin is a chance to learn or to help or to let someone help you. It’s a chance to try again. It’s a chance to tell a story.


One thought on “I Don’t Speak English

  1. Mary,

    It’s great to catch up with you again. My life got sticky, gooey and full of melancholy (go ahead and smile) and my M.O. is to hide in (vs. out. )

    I learn, smile, and most importantly, feel understood each time I read your blog. Mary, you are unique in that you, “Tell it like it is, Sista!” Most people can only share the shiny side of the coin. Like your “no tears in public” policy.

    Youth often sees through one dimensional eyes. Often and sadly, many people never make to the third dimension. You have advanced swiftly, young Jedi (good analogy?!?)

    God bless you dearest, Mary. May your travels always be interesting and may you always arrive safely home.

    Your sister in Christ,
    Florence Ann

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