I first thought of these stores as convenience stores. They sell the necessities, and they’re open later than their less-convenient cousins. Večerka is what people call them, večer meaning night. In the end they are not like your local 7-11, however. They close at noon on Saturday just like everyone else, and stay closed until Monday morning.
Still, after I tromp home in the evening the little store down the hill from me is a welcome sight. They actually have a refrigerator with beers in it, ready to drink. They have a bottle opener by the cash register. They have guys standing around drinking. No sir, not your typical 7-11. It’s a bar with a deli counter and no tables and no rest room. Maybe I’ll elaborate on that in another episode. There’s a park across the street. Maybe I won’t elaborate.
It’s a family business, as so many businesses still are here. The demise of the family business is directly connected to the rise of the automobile. If people didn’t have cars, WallMart would die. Think about that the next time you drive to vote against a box store.
Um, where was I? Right. The little shop down the hill. If the store has a name, I don’t know it. Shops here are labeled by what they sell. The big sign across the front of the shop reads “Potraviny”. So does the sign on the shop two doors down. But that, I think, is another episode. It was a nice night; I had walked the last couple of miles home. Home, however, was a place with little food and no beer. A visit to the večerka was in order. I walked in and there was a pair of drinkers there, leaning against the ice cream cooler. The store’s owner, who I don’t see as often as her mother, was in charge. She was speaking with another woman who had a smallish, well-groomed dog.
I stepped in and greeted everyone, as is the custom here. The dog snapped around and watched me carefully. It was not aggressive, just alert. I went over and introduced myself to the pup, giving him a sniff and rubbing his ears. I spoke gently and had a new buddy. He was a good little guy. He was also standing in front of the beer fridge. “Pardon, pardon,” I said to him as I opened the fridge door. It was that, I think, that won over the pup’s owner. She laughed and said something to the shop owner, giving me a warm smile.
I grabbed a couple of Gambrinuses and also successfully asked for some salami. (An aside – there are stores here that make a big deal about being self-service, but most places you have to ask for what you want. Some stores don’t even display much of their inventory, except perhaps in the windows outside. You pick out what you want before you walk in. Toasters, phones, cookware, it doesn’t matter. People just know where to go to get what.) There were different sorts of salami, and as she gestured between them I said, “To nevadi.” It doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter to me, but more than that I had uttered the cornerstone of Czech philosophy. It doesn’t matter. The beer came to thirty crowns, including deposit, the sausage was twenty. She had rung up the beers before the sausage adventure; she punched in the twenty, the register flashed fifty total. I handed her one hundred, and she gave me eighty change.
Apparently “You have given me too much change” is a phrase so unutterable here that no amount of sign language, no pointing to the green glowing 50 on the register while pushing back the extra thirty crowns made any sense to her. Finally one of the drunks behind me said “dzbrnpl frnzlp padesat frnplzt.” Padesat is fifty. She lit up with recognition, reclaimed the money, and thanked me sincerely several times by the time I packed up and left. She wanted to make sure that it was more than just a casual “thanks.” It was a little embarrassing. When you first come to stay here, you will often hear about the reserved nature of the czechs. Maybe that’s why I fit in. They may be reserved, but I’m reserveder.
So I left, wishing all a good night, as is the tradition here, carrying slightly warmer looks from the shopkeeper, the dog, the dog’s owner, and even the drunks.