Iberian or Slav?

I mentioned recently that I’ve been trying to decide what to do at the end of the next academic year. One of the options is to go aroad, and up to now I had only been considering China and Spain, the former for the pay and the latter for the culture. But recently, while I was in Bratislava, I fell back in love with the language there, and my close friend raised an interesting proposal: what if both lived in Prague together?

Me in Prague. Don’t ask.

I visited Prague about five years ago and loved it. I was staying with a particularly debauched friend and spent most of the time, between stunning sights and sleazy sex clubs, in an alcoholic haze. Needless to say, I’ve changed quite a bit since then, but my love for the city stayed, and I vowed I would one day return for longer. This wish gradually eroded as I began to realise I was trans. Last year, I did research into how it would be to transition in Czechia, and decided that the downsides vastly outweighed the positives.

But a lot has changed in this past year. Not only have I improved consirably as a teacher, but I’ve started my medical transition and am approaching a stable dose of hormones. Changing your ID in Czechia is very difficult – you have to get sterilised to change your legal gender, which is sadly the case for many European countries. Now, though, I’m confident that they would accept my changed identification from the UK and I would be able to quickly get back onto the medication I’m currently on. The main issue would be being out in the workplace, but I’m starting to feel more and more capable of confronting these issues, as I’ve seen within the last year how far confidence and professionalism can go. Besides, the UK isn’t perfect in this aspect, either.

One of the best things about Czechia is the surprising abundance of skeleton-based sculptures. Again, don’t ask.

I have some kind of connection with Slavic people. Many of my close friends are Slovaks, who I know through Esperanto, and I’ve also gotten close to Russians, Poles, and Croats. Although Slavs have the reputation of being cold and unsmiling, underneath that shell there is a fiery and darkly witty heart.

Similarly, since I started learning Spanish I’ve grown fairly close to Iberian culture. Spaniards especially are very warm, chatty, and unpretentious. The late sleeping, slightly-chaotic lifestyle doesn’t particularly gel with me, but neither does the beer-swilling, politically-incorrect attitude of many Slavs. Again, there’s just as much of British culture that grates against me, and being trans, I’m always going to stick out of the social norm.

The thing is, though, my infatuation with Iberia could be short lived. When I was learning German in school, I felt a similar surge of interest in German culture, until I eventually realised, through talking to friends and reading critiques online, how politically right-leaning, cold, and stifling Germany actually is. It could be the same for Spain. It has a much rosier perception in most of Europe, but every culture has its negative sides. And I haven’t even been to the country yet! On the other hand, I keep meeting and befriending more Slavs, and being reminded of my interest its languages and literatures. And I can’t underestimate how great it would be to live in a city with one of my closest friends, rather than the daunting process of starting my local social life back at square one.

I’ve been learning Spanish this past year-and-a-half with the assumption that I would go teach in Spain at some point. If I end up going to Czechia next year, that would mean pivoting to start learning the language now. I’m confident that I could learn it to a decent level within that time, but that’s assuming I do go there.

I can’t stop rolling this dilemma around in my mind, fruitlessly Googling for quizzes and thinkpieces that will somehow make the decision for me. I think for now, my strategy is going to be to dip back into Czech, get to the level where I can actually read things, and see whether it intensifies or dampens my interest. Also, I really need to visit Spain in person.

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