Mailbox

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Today's Mailbox includes Topics: ABC of Czech program. Jewish minority in the Czech Republic. Bungee jumping. The average age of Czechs. Listeners mentioned and quoted: Joseph Pecenka, George Smith, Michael Jurik, Robert Purssglove, John Ashburn, Kofi Adanentu

Welcome to Mailbox. Dita Asiedu, who usually joins me in the studio is off at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, and with me today is Pavla Horakova, which is fine because I'd like to talk about one of Pavlas regular features, which is very, very popular. Did you realise, how many listeners really enjoy your ABC of Czech?

Well, I've had a number of letters, which is very nice.

Yes, the praise for your Czech language program, which is on the air every Wednesday keeps coming. For example Joseph Pecenka of Cedar Lake, Indiana in the US writes:

"ABC of Czech was great, it took me back over 20 years when my wife and I would be leaving my grandmother or her grandmothers house after a visit and hearing those familiar greetings."

And George Smith from Liverpool, England

"I like the ABC of Czech. I have recently started to learn Czech and I find the feature very helpful. My wife also prints it off the internet. We have just booked a visit to Prague again, so I will practice my Czech when I come over, it should give the people of Prague a good laugh."

Czech pronunciation is difficult, but I don't think people will laugh, they're always glad to see foreigners are at least trying to speak the language.

Other listeners find your program just as helpful, Michael Jurik of Shelburne Falls, Massachsetts, USA writes pretty much the same:

"Thank you for a splendid radio/Internet offering, "Living Czech"."

Actually, Living Czech is not my programme. It was broadcast in 1999. It was written and presented by my predecessor Nick Carey. There were more than 30 Living Czech programmes and if you have access to the Internet, you can find them on Radio Pragues website, thats www.radio.cz/english. The programme I present is called ABC of Czech.

And does it differ from Nick Careys programme?

Well, it has a very similar format. It's part of the current affairs block every Wednesday and there is always somebody else with me in the studio who helps me and reads the Czech bits. I try to pick different themes than Nick but of course, our topics often overlap, as there is only so much you can say about a language in 3 minutes to listeners who perhaps never heard a word of Czech in their lives.

How do you choose the topics you deal with, its not a systematic language course.

Of course, it's not - that would require a whole team of experts to do that. I'm just trying to give listeners a taste of the language. The series is called the ABC of Czech firstly because it is really about the basics but also because the topics follow the alphabet, so for example this week, we had J for jobs and next week it will be K for kitchen.

Do you have problems explaining some of the oddities of Czech?

Oh yes, I always have to put myself in the shoes of a listener from the other side of the world who has never heard any spoken Czech and I try to be as clear as possible and not to go into too much detail.

So, you're planning many more issues of the ABC of Czech? Will it go on and on?

Well, if I can count right, there are 16 letters left in the alphabet, that's 16 more shows to go, but from time to time I break up the series and insert a special edition dedicated to something which doesn't fit in. So ABC will run till the end of the year and whether it will go on in the next year depends on you listeners. So please, if you enjoy it or hate it, let me know and also don't hesitate to send me your questions and queries about the Czech language or about the programme.

Thanks for the information and for continuing in the effort to help our listeners learn more about the Czech language. Actually, we cut short Michael Juriks mail. He also wrote:

"My father's parents came to America from what is now the Czech Republic and even as a small child I was astounded at their ability to speak Czech, Slovak, German, Russian and Polish."

Yes, people, especially the older generation, used to speak a number of languages, especially in Central Europe, where there were so many nationalities all mixed up inside a single state.

Which is the reason for another speciality of the Czech language - there are two words for the English word nationality - obcanstvi which means citizenship and narodnost which means identifying oneself with a certain ethnic group.

Which brings us to a word of criticism from Robert Purssglove. He quotes the article on minorities in the Czech Republic on Radio Pragues web-site which is based on the last census, and includes the Jewish minority. Rober Purssglove e-mails:

"Your article on Czech minorities lists ethnic origins. "Jewish" is a religion and not a country."

Neither is, for example, Roma, or, if you prefer, Gypsy, a country. Yet the Roma minority is very distinctive and those Czech citizens who do not consider themselves of Czech nationality in the ethnic sense, have a full right to declare themselves Roma.

As for the Jewish minority, the 218 Czech citizens who declared themselves of Jewish nationality in the census obviously feel their origin from the territory which is now partially Izrael and do not consider themselves Czechs. A much larger number of Jews do, and Jewish is just their religion. In Czech we use the word with a capital letter when referring to nationality, and a small letter when speaking of religion.

And now, something quite different. John Ashburn from Oslo, Norway asks

"Is bungee jumping popular in the Czech Republic?"

I wouldn't actually use the word popular, but it's known and catching on fast. The main problem isn't a lack of young people who'd like to try it, but the lack of a place where they could jump. Most of the attempts so far have been from mobile cranes, but that's really the same.

Now it seems that there will be a place specially for bungee jumping, the Zizkov TV tower in Prague. There was a trial jump there in May and it seems that it meets all the requirements, so they're planning to build a special platform about two thirds up designed for bungee jumping.

That's going to be an interesting addition to the tower, I wonder whether it will renew the controversy connected with it from the very beginning. There haven't been many buildings in Prague that met with such protests. It's the tallest structure in the Czech Republic - 216 meters tall, that's about twice the size of the tallest building in Prague which has 27 floors. It was built in 1992 and people were saying it would spoil the Prague sky-line, which has always been dominated by church towers - Prague is called the city of a hundred towers.

But the Zizkov tower is not actually in the historic centre of town and we've gradually got used to it. And the restaurant which is about half way up is getting more and more popular. In fact we were there the other day and it was quite pleasant. We were lucky, it was a sunny day and the view was lovely. I really do think Prague has got used to the tower. I just wonder whether that will still be true when bungee jumping starts there next year. Psychologists say it's going to catch on fast and that there will be lines of young people waiting their turn to jump.

Hopefully, there won't be any accidents. There has been one casualty in the town of Prerov in North Moravia some three years ago, when a 24 year old boy was killed when he jumped from a rock 32 metres high. But the organisers say that can't possibly happen in Prague, they are going to run it very professionally. Well, it's a sport, if you can call it that, for the really young, which is a constantly smaller and smaller group of Czechs.

I see you're looking the question sent by Kofi Adanentu from Accra, Ghana:

"Is the Czech population getting older, like in most countries of Europe?"

Yes, Kofi, it certainly is. One out of five Czechs is older than 60, and experts say that in the year 2030 it will be one out of three Czechs. The birth rate has been dropping and for 8 years now more people in this country have died than were born. You said that in 2030, thats in 18 years, thirty percent of Czechs will be over 60, well, in the middle of the last century, it was only 13 percent. Not a very promising trend, but as Kofi said, its more or less the same throughout Europe.

Authors: Olga Szantová , Pavla Horáková
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