Saturday, January 05, 2013

Czech presidential candidates: test your English

Czech TV and LHC: Tonight, the Hyde Park Civilization [click for the full video] program of the ČT24 channel was airing an unusually high-brow episode about CERN. I haven't seen any remotely comparably advanced programs about particle physics in English.
In one week, Czechia will vote its new president who will replace Prof Klaus (who's been the Czech president for 10 years) in March in the first direct presidential election ever.

The two candidates who are expected to pass to the second round, Mr Miloš Zeman and Mr Jan Fischer, were facing one another in a direct TV debate last night: full 90-minute video.

Zeman was showing his beautiful daughter, Fischer was showing his son without excessive adjectives but with red socks. ;-)

Zeman was more convincing, entertaining, and he is widely considered the winner of the debate. The two Gentlemen have comparable chances to win; Schwarzenberg (the aristocrat who loves to sleep during talks and whose German is probably better than his Czech) and Franz (a blue hybrid of Avatar, a Smurf, and the native American totem: 90% of this artist's and professor's body is tattooed; he actually loves to call himself an Avatar) may be the two men who may surprisingly jump among the top two i.e. to the second round of the election. If I wouldn't have to care about realistic chances of the candidates, I could also vote for Ms Jana Bobošíková.

However, the video above also shows a test of their English which was performed by a U.S. journalist, Erik Best, who has been living in Czechia for decades.

You may see that Zeman's content (about journalists etc.) is more colorful than Fischer's dry comments about our prosperous economy.

Their English is idiosyncratic, Fischer's passive English may have some problems as well, and their pronunciation is far from that of native speakers (Zeman's "th" is just bad) – although your humble correspondent in no way wants to pretend that he is able to emulate native speakers. But I still think that my English is better than theirs while their English is better than the English spoken by an overwhelming majority of other Czech politicians. Well, I think that Klaus' English is better and there are of course a couple of politicians who have lived in the Anglo-Saxon world for so much time that they simply have to speak well.

Fischer is a former prime minister in a 2009 technocratic government (which hasn't done much, either positively or negatively) and the current vice-president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He tries to be a candidate liked by everyone and manipulates with a tolerable dose of populism. In the 1980s, Fischer was a rank-and-file member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, for career reasons, something he considers a "mistake" today. He is a pretty boring chap and he is ethnic Jewish.

Zeman, a former prime minister in the late 1990s as well as the ex-boss of the Parliament, a forecaster (who was only a communist party member for two years around the Prague Spring 1968), the moderate left-wing founder of the modern powerful Czech social democratic party who was often the natural legitimate opponent of right-wing Klaus in the TV debates of the 1990s before they realized that they were far closer to each other than they were to the traitors in the two parties they had led for quite some time :-), is quite a character. He's been employed as the pensioner at the Bohemian-Moravian hills for a decade now. He lived out of $500 a month or os and he owns a $100 boat, among other things. ;-)

He loves to tell anecdotes and he is never constrained by any political correctness; incidentally, he is also a climate skeptic of a sort. So he has ignited quite some excitement when he was the prime minister – e.g. when he compared Yasser Arafat to Adolf Hitler, something that apparently wasn't quite mainstream in the Western media of that time. :-) He wants to invite Israel to NATO and redefine NATO as the alliance to struggle against the "Anticivilization" stretching from North Africa through Indonesia that is partly funded by drugs and partly by oil. In order for me not to insult any bigots and their fifth columns in the Western countries, I won't name the Anticivilization by name.

Some jokes by Zeman are cool.

For example, Zeman and Klaus arrive to Hell. The Devil is sitting on the throne. He chooses Klaus to be the first one whose fate must be decided. Suddenly a disgusting old biddy with tons of warts appears next to Klaus and the Devil says: "You've been sinning all your life, Mr Klaus. You must be punished and the punishment is that you're obliged to copulate with this lady for the eternity."

The second man who has to face the Devil is Zeman. Suddenly Claudia Schiffer, a supermodel, appears next to him and the Devil says: "You've been sinning all your life, Ms Schiffer. In order to punish you, ..." :-)

Or I liked Zeman's apparently true story about his visit to the White House shortly after 9/11. Zeman is a passionate smoker who smokes everywhere – including nuclear power plants, he says (he's also known as a big fan of the Becherovka 17% herbal alcoholic beverage from Carlsbad but he claims he consumes less than a bottle today these days haha) – and he just couldn't live without a cigarette. But there was a problem: the boss of the house was Bush 43, a fanatical anti-smoker. However, Zeman showed him a diploma – a honorary citizenship – he just received from the governor of Texas a week earlier. So he told Bush, "as one Texan to another Texan, I tell you that we Texans have to help each other". He asked Bush to allow him to smoke. And Bush did, albeit he wasn't too happy. Years later, Bush seemed much happier about the incident.

Zeman labeled this ability to get the permission as one of his life's achievements in foreign policy. At the end, Zeman's fellow economist Valtr Komárek improved the anecdote significantly when he said: To appreciate Zeman's story, we must understand that in the same room, the Oval Office, another person had already been smoking (=blowing, doing a blowjob in Czech) before Zeman. It was Monica Lewinsky. :-)

In the debate last night, Zeman tried to make funny comments on chess etc. when he revealed he didn't know "rock paper scissors". He chose Margaret Thatcher as his favorite female politician because she was willing to wage an offensive war against Argentina which led to the legalization of tango in that country. ;-) Imagine something like 90/2 minutes of similar gems.


  1. Ha! It's funny to see what's cooking in the Czech political kitchen. I always like to analyse their body language. Each of them look like they're going to do the gorilla's chest beating when the journalist starts asking the questions. Like "mine is bigger than yours".

  2. They both speak English better than I speak Czech, but I must say that at times I had no idea what they were saying. to be fair there some British accents that I find very hard to understand too, and I am sure that speakers are native English speakers.

  3. Well, the British accent is a legitimate form of English. Fischer's and Zeman's English doesn't quite enjoy this status.

    Still, I find it remarkable how a native English speaker may misunderstand either. Everyone who has lived in Czechia and who has learned English is bound to understand them. In some sense, the passive English of people in the U.S. must be worse than ours if you don't understand them! :-)

  4. The educated Brits aren't hard to understand, except that some of them tend to cut words short, or mumble, as a sentence proceeds. But there are many Brits who are hard to understand. I once sat on a bus-stop bench in London and chatted with a middle-aged woman with shopping bags for 20 minutes. The first thing she said - "Aye, so yer a Yank!" - was pretty much the last thing I understood. For 20 minutes, I just nodded my head, shook my head, and made meaningless brief remarks, hoping I was choosing correctly.

  5. Yes, Lubos; I agree. I had no problem understanding Fischer and Zeman at all. In general, I have no difficulty understanding the English of educated people no matter what their native tongue. Sometimes, uneducated people can prove difficult for me to understand even when English is their native language. Not surprisingly, the chance of this happening increases with their distance from California. A very heavy Scottish brogue can be a real challenge.

    I have read that two workingmen from north-east England may not be able to understand each other even when they live just 90 km apart. Accent gradients can be steep.

  6. Just a quick note: the volume of alcohol in Becherovka isn't 17%, in fact it is 38%. Not that it matters...

  7. Oops, thanks, Sustaku! A big error. ;-)

  8. I would be interested in some context as to why they agreed to submit to the English "test." Was it a stunt by the TV station or is this something that happens every election? It seems to me, as a native English speaker, somewhat demeaning to be forced to speak in a foreign language to demonstrate an ability to serve the people of my country. And why English and not German or French?

  9. It was clearly a stunt of the TV station (first one of this type), and it was partly optimized for the candidates who speak English and Russian. So the same U.S. journalist Erik Best also tested their Russian. ;-)

  10. The daughter looks okay but what about the bottom half? One needs to look at all the evidence before making a judgement.

  11. If you really find that half so important, I recommend you to search Google Images for her namesake, Veronika Zemanova. ;-)