The English Are Coming!
By Kamal Sunavala

I have always maintained that for all their dullness and lack of culinary imagination, the English have one special talent. To arrive. They arrive in splendid style, with a terribly British greeting which most non-English people wouldn't consider normal, with an umbrella and a polite smile.

But there is one more thing I forgot to mention. Whether the Englishman speaks fourteen or four foreign languages, he will unfailingly carry with him, his English. He will insist on saying Hello and Goodbye and quickly follow it up with the local phrase. But he won't leave his English behind. And after he has arrived and helloed everyone in this dual manner, he will sit down and continue colonising his beer partner with his English. This of course is amusing for the beer partner who may speak perfect English and will respond with gaiety. And it will continue to charm his beer partner who may not speak more than two words of English and will still respond with gaiety.

Such is the charm of the British form of the language everywhere. Full credit to its bearer, the inimitable British gent. As I live life in Prague, more and more, I find the locals trying to be flexible by throwing in a few voluntary words in English. Waitresses, check out ladies, launderers, ticket vendors and the like. This, I can confidently tell you, was not the case in 2002 or 2003. Only in the very expat places would you get the polite enquiry - Two times soup, please? Now of course, it's all good morning, have you choose? My word, I am stunned that they are smiling and speaking English and it was not an expat restaurant.

When the English colonised Africa, they didn't ask the Masai and the Kikuyu if they wanted to learn English. They simply assumed that no one could be immune to the charms of Charles Dickens and the Bronte sisters. Or to the charms of a black umbrella and a bowler. Now, they simply assume with the same simplicity of thought, that bangers and mash will make it on to menus in Prague. And of course it has. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw it in two places on the same day.

Of course, having instructed in English in this country it warms my heart to see and hear people who are participating actively in the international language. It does do the clichéd job of making life easier and bringing people together in pubs and potravinys. It does expose them to a new confidence of being able to, in turn, colonise the English, by lending them Czech habits of daily life, well-explained in English.

And sometimes when I walk around the shopping areas, (yes, even writers must buy fabric softener) I see signs in English everywhere in the stores, explaining kindly that bavlna and barva are two different words and the latter does mean colour so I needn't worry about skin rashes. This quiet and never-ending colonisation of the English is perhaps what makes them think that they are the greatest nation in the world and will remain so, irrespective of which nincompoop rules them. As long as they arrive in splendid style and on time and announce themselves with a proper British greeting, which can be anything really, depending on which part of England you come from, they know that the world will continue to be fascinated at this little bit of culture offered up with a smile.

With that amusing thought, post-shopping, I walk into a café with the sole intention of coffee and a quick read when a smiling waiter comes up to me. I don't have a bowler but I do have a black umbrella and can say Hello there very brightly. I do; amused that even little old me contributes to this wondrous phenomenon. His smile droops a little as he proudly informs me, I have no English.

A very quaint and previously unheard form of expression to announce that he doesn't speak any English. I wonder if I should continue the colonisation efforts but funnily enough, and strangely enough for me, I simply take a break today and tell him in polite English, It's okay, I have some Czech.