How Czech mustard gave my life a bitter taste

(Because of (temporary) feeling of indignation against Czech food industry, the title of this post is and will remain in pure English.)*

There are two things that can get on my nerves always, apart from when I have just gone out of the sauna.

Falling objects and food stains.

In Bulgaria we say that it’s not good to go back once you’ve left home, but who knew this principle was valid abroad, too!

Everything began so innocently. I was almost happy with my day: I worked diligently from 8 till 6 just like a normal worker would do (although I do mainly freelancing), pausing just from time to time to play First Aid Kit’s song “To a Poet” and sing along, imagining I was performing it live and even accompanying it with guitar (I’ve already had several tours in my mind!); I didn’t have to cook and I was even, as an exception, in a good mood, just like that, for no particular reason.

But then… I had to go to Kaufland.

I knew – opening the front door (Radek came in without having to look for his keys; why does this never happen to me?) and seeing it was snowing and I have no umbrella – that something will get wrong. “Going back to take your hat?” Radek asks me and I say “yes”, although I remember that “čepice” (tchepitse) is neither “tchepitsa” (a slightly old-fashioned Bulgarian word that means a type of shoe), nor an umbrella (which I need) but is “a hat”. It’s okay, I don’t think he actually cares.

I go back for Lukash’s** umbrella and go out, listening to “To a Poet” on the phone and as I walk I imagine I am singing the song on some stage and accompanying it with guitar. If not the whole world, then at least the whole audience belongs to me.

But then… I reached Kaufland.

Several days ago Lukash and I were in Kaufland and everything was okay. Some shopping baskets on wheels had even appeared out of the blue, in response to a long standing “dream” of mine. I never take a shopping cart, it’s too big for me; I just shove the products in my linen bag. But the basket on wheels had appeared to me as a wonderful innovation that today was just missing! There wasn’t a single basket when the previous time there had been about ten empty ones piled up together.

It’s all right, I say to myself and start rummaging the plastic wrap in the boxes of discounted bananas (thinking how there must be some people in Kaufland who don’t know that even when it looks like there are no bananas in the boxes, in fact there are some on the bottom), I find four, so there will be breakfast and I go on. Then the first sign comes: I realise I can’t hold everything in my hands (a wet umbrella, a bag and an open diary) and, as a whole, I feel uncomfortable and insecure because I’m wearing earphones. Of course, I’ve turned off the music, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to buy anything. And then, oh no, things start falling from me! Well, “things” might be an overstatement. My diary fell but that was enough to get on my nerves.

It’s okay, I tell myself again, sigh and almost forget to buy carrots for the vegetarian carrot hot dogs Lukash is making.

I reach the mustard. I see the two kinds. Lukash told me to get two of the big packs. All right, I tell myself, I take two and put them in the bag.

Some minutes later I’ll be regretting this!

I’m shopping, I pass the cheese display looking around for my favourite sign “Prosím, ochutnejte” (“ch” reads like “h”, right) (literally, “Please, taste”) which makes shopping before dinner a degree less hungry. It’s  not there (only now do I remember I forgot to buy cheese! buying that mustard continues to have a negative effect on my life!) so I go on while everything I carry is beginning to weigh a bit too much and I feel like shedding a tear but I tell myself I shouldn’t, it’s just heavy, besides no one made you not to take a cart in first place, didn’t they?

I almost forget the dark beer (I take a can of German one, I just can’t imagine I’ll manage to walk the last steps to the cash desk if I get a bottle of Krušovice) for the cake but I go back and, oh yes, I’m already at the cash desk. I can finally put my products on the moving line.

I put them.

There’s just one old guy in front of me.

Am I not lucky?

I sigh in relief.

And then I look into my bag.

Two minutes later I still don’t believe it’s happening to me.

The mustard… the whole mustard has most imperturbably smeared in my linen bag and has made absolutely everything dirty. At first I think that it’s just leaked because this type of mustard always leaks but perhaps because it’s leaked only inside Lukash’s backpack so far and not in my linen bag, I didn’t give it a second thought when I was taking it from the shelf. I wondered… I really did wonder if it wasn’t better to take a plastic bag and put it inside but no, I told myself… I’ll carry it carefully.

Well… after the two minutes passed and I began to mentally nudge myself gently and tell myself: “You know, I think this is really happening to you. Why don’t you try and do something…,” I decided it was time for action, desperation or both. I chose both and asked the lady at the cash desk to give me some bags and she looked on my products as an approaching problem, bringing out a paper roll. “No, bags,” I groaned in Czech but she didn’t seem to understand me and told me the bags were down. I let the person behind me pass, he said in Czech: “Oh, no, no, it’s not a problem” but then the cashier told him there was a problem and she couldn’t tell how much time I’d need. “Her mustard’s leaked, you know?” Thanks, I definitely feel better now, I thought.

Everything is in mustard. The lady isn’t as bad as I think. She bravely thrusts her hand into the mustard and takes out lemons, gives me bags (she finally figured out which bags I’d meant!), fusses around with the paper roll and complains to her neighbour that she had to go home at 8 (I guess I’m not the only one with a bad ending of the day). I’m beginning to think I’ve chanced on a nice cashier when suddenly she scans my bananas twice. “Ale, ne…,” I begin but my Czech abandons me when I need it the most.

Here’s what I’d have said if the same situation had happened in Bulgaria:

“No, no, I took these bananas from the boxes with discounted fruit, they just already had a price label but I weighed them nevertheless and, indeed, they weighed more than what the label said so I put the new label on top of the old one which means I did you a favour. If you don’t believe me, weigh them and you’ll see they weigh less than the weigh on the two labels taken together.”

But I’m in Czech Republic at a cash desk covered with mustard and Czech has abandoned me, so instead I say just:

“Ale ne…” (“But no…”) and then I wave with my hand. Having my bananas scanned twice isn’t a problem. The  mustard, however, is!!!

Then she asks me if I don’t want to go and get new mustard because half of this is already gone. “No,” my Czech comes back for a while, “I don’t want any mustard anymore!” She asks me again and apparently she can’t see how desperate I am feeling about life if she keeps on offering me not something like a hanging rope or a gun but more mustard!!! In the end she can’t believe I don’t want a new pack of mustard so she sends a colleague of hers to bring me some but the colleague never comes back. That maybe saves my life.

I remove the layer of mustard from my wallet, pay some money (I don’t remember how much, at all, my mind is hazy) and then, for the first time, I see the people around me and the ones at the other cash desks. I want to believe what I read on their faces is compassion but if I judge by their smiles it’s rather amusement. (I don’t get that. When I see a suffering person I always put myself in their place and begin to suffer, too. That’s why I never watch videos of falling skaters!)

Well, whatever. That’s not a problem. A problem is that I’m going home and I had to clean the mustard off everything. I aim at the exit ready to call Lukash and start crying on the phone as I’d cry to my sister if I were in Bulgaria, ignoring the fact he’s a man and he’s not willing to listen to such bullshit, at all. I am definitely calling him, I decide, but when I go out it’s still snowing and I have two bags and an umbrella so I can’t hold the phone.

I guess when you want to cry but something happens and you can’t do it, you can’t start crying because of this thing. The crying apparently gets neutralised because on the way home I wasn’t crying, I was just mentally mourning my doom of a woman who has to carry her heavy bags full of things covered in mustard. I was trying to rate in terms of their terribleness the three most unpleasant female things: carrying heavy bags, realising that what you felt there is the beginning of the period (sorry, men, but that’s life and in other circumstances you’d have been period, too!) and having your bra strap fallen down. I didn’t have enough time, though, because Kaufland is not far from home.

I walk in, the umbrella falls down (go, objects, fall, you can’t scare me anymore), I go to the kitchen resignedly, see that Lukash’s left me half a baguette and half of the cake I actually had left for him and this time I nearly cry from tenderness. Finally, however, I decide that all of this is happening to make me more patient so I diligently start taking everything from the dirty bags and wash it: bananas (paid twice), onions and other things which I normally don’t put in running water. A wallet… I throw the dirty bags and only after a while do I realise that when we take out the plastic trash next time we’ll have to touch them again so I quickly collect them into another clean bag… I see the second pack of mustard, the one which had only leaked a little, and put it in the fridge most reluctantly, hoping it will feel my hate. I soak my linen bag (shit, it’s still waiting for me in the washing tub :() and I come here to complain to you because Lukash is good, he’s left a baguette and cake for me so I can’t interrupt him while he’s taking photos and cry to him about such things.

I don’t know what the lesson here is except that I should put the mustard in a plastic bag, as the lady at the cash desk suggested, too… There are, however, two ways of accepting the situation: I can either agree that that’s just the way my world is and when I can’t open something or get how something is turned on or when something spills or smears exactly when it shouldn’t, or when objects fall, it’s normal, it’s just the way my world is.

Or, I can decide that as an advanced post-socialist country Czech Republic should think more about how its products are packaged so as not to cause such problems to its citizens! And before I decide to send an angry letter to the mustard’s manufacturer, Kaufland, the Ministry of Foods, the president or just to a random Czech, I’ll go back to the kitchen. I have a linen bag to wash and I have to make a dark beer cake because tomorrow we have an exhibition in our flat.

One thing is certain. Those carrot hot dogs… not only will Lukash make them… but he’ll also put the mustard on them.

That’s how the terrible thing looks like BEFORE you put it in your bag.


*The titles of the posts related to Czech Republic in my original blog are written in transcribed Czech (that is, by using the Bulgarian alphabet). This way I practice the language and give my readers some new words. 🙂 (But I think I’m abandoning the “technique”.)

**The man I love and the reason why I am living in Czech Republic.


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