Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The (Extra)ordinary Hassles of Cross Cultural Living

A few months ago I had the joy of cross-cultural experience that was pretty extraordinary, but at the time it just seemed like normal life for someone who has lived in various countries and spoken various languages.

It all began when I drove our dog to some friends for safekeeping while we were at a retreat for a week. On a stretch of highway going down a mountainside in between two tunnels, I was pulled over for letting the car drift a little too fast. If you have ever watched “The Return of the Jedi” where Luke and Jabba are talking with C3PO translating, you have a fairly good idea of how my interaction with the Czech police officer went. I used only English and he used only German, but we both understood the other and had a nice two-language conversation.

I had no Kronas on me, so I was given one month to pay a fine and a slip of paper explaining how to do it.

Three weeks and two trips out of town later, I was able to finally head to my German bank to make the transfer. The teller informed me that I did not have all the information I would need to pay the fine. It turned out I was going to have to take care of it in person.

A few days later I set out for the Czech Republic with:

No idea what city the ticket had been issued from (the cop’s handwriting was illegible.)

No idea where a police station was.

And, not a single word of Czech in my vocabulary. (Czech is the first language I have had any degree of contact with that I have not bothered to even learn how to say yes, no, please or thank you.)

I drove straight to the closest major town across the border. (Interesting trivia: Teplice was once one of the most polluted cities on Earth and also close to where they filmed the battle scenes in Prince Caspian.) There, I found the first police related building I could and took my ticket in. I can’t explain to you how I learned this with no Czech, but I was told that I had walked into not a police station, but a jail.

I went and got some lunch.

As I ate, I started to study the ticket alongside a map and decided that I might be looking for a miniscule border town near the tunnels I had driven through. So I set out down some back mountain roads looking for a town called Petrovice. When I found it, it was tiny, but I couldn’t find a police station anywhere. I resorted to once again multilingual communication and amazingly, found it at last.

All in a day's life here in Europe!


  1. Funny story...it's usually not the big things that complicate our lives....it's dealing with the normally mundane such as this. Congrats on finally making it happen.


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