Unimaginable Unpronounceables

The title comes from a colleague at Monmouth College, who wrote that she could neither associate the places we were to visit on our week-long trip through the Czech Republic to anything she knew nor pronounce them. Hence, the inassociable (or unimaginable) unpronounceables.

Actually, the pronunciation isn't that bad. I got most of the names right on the first try and the hardest took only two weeks to learn. In fact, in general my Czech is becoming recognizable by the general populace; and Jackie can do the hardest letter, the combination rz, perfectly.

The students aren't doing badly either. At one point in the trip, our Czech faculty member came hurrying back from having scouted a restaurant, saying, "There's a problem, the menu is entirely in German." Actually, there was no problem, since there was also a Czech menu and by now, after eating on their own for almost two months, the students can figure out with ease how beef, pork, chicken and cheese are being prepared; and they have learned (sometimes the hard way) to avoid liver and tripe. When they are pressed, they fall back on omelets, pizza, and crepes with fruit or ice cream. Hamburgers they avoid studiously, for they do not resemble our products in any respect; moreover, they are proud of their ability to get around in a foreign culture and really don't want compromise this newfound skill in the slightest way.

So strong is this anti-fast food image, that a couple of times on the trip, when we were running late because lunch in a restaurant here cannot be managed in less than an hour or even longer, I reminded them how handy a drive-in hamburger outlet would be--swift service, dependable quality, reasonable prices, and great rest rooms.

We certainly miss the convenient restrooms. About an hour out of Pilsen, after the students had been celebrating a brewery's 125th anniversary, I told the driver to pull over for a stop, but not in the woods, as was our wont, because it was too dark and raining too heavily. The best he could do was a parking lot in the next city, and somehow everyone made do. They came back wet, but not as wet as they would have been if we had pushed on.

I tell people that managing a travel program isn't too hard: all you have to do is get people food within an hour of their usual mealtime, provide a rest room two hours later, and find some interesting places to see inbetween.

The places inbetween--the inassociable unpronounceables--were no problem. There is so much to see in the Czech Republic that we could have gotten lost repeated and still had a great time. As it was, we had a varied program: a palace, a national park, a concentration camp, a polluted industrial district, a walled town, a famous spa, a fantastic monastery library, a beer museum, a renaissance apothecary, some naturally mummified Jesuits, a moated castle, and several beautiful city squares. Also, some fine restaurants and great beer.

What really made the trip were the students--bright, energetic, cooperative, self-sufficient. They could hike up dizzying heights to rock peaks, squeeze through narrow passages, then play soccer furiously until it was too dark to see the ball. They hurried into the saunas and massages in Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad), then emerged ready for food and shopping--esp. for garnets and crystal. In the Pilsen beer museum they were even polite to the young guide who said that she couldn't tell them how a simple pump worked "because she was only a woman." Their hackles went up, but they didn't say anything. They've learned how to drink without getting drunk, how to avoid dangerous situations, how to get themselves to breakfast at hours earlier than Czech or German groups can manage, and, in those situations where one has to either laugh or cry, they laugh.

In short, whenever anyone questions the future of the country, how we are leaving a mess to the generation presently being educated, I'll concede that we haven't done the best by them. Even these young people from the best colleges in the Midwest have not had as good a preparation as I'd like--partly because their schools have not given as much thought to what an education should entail as has Monmouth College. But these kids are so superior they can overcome anything. I don't think of them as Generation X; to me they are the unimaginable unpronounceables.