You see, it's as easy as "Jak se máš?" (pronounced 'Yock se mosh' for English speakers)
We started our Czech language studies and in Lesson 1 learned some of the basics; hello, what's your name, where are you from, what do you do, and so on. My Honey and I paid close attention to the pronunciation and intonation as we repeated each phrase with our teacher's help. We did our homework faithfully and came across the phrase "Jak se máš?"
We practiced diligently and returned to class for our teacher's opening question, "Jak se máš?" We answered as best we could with "Dobře", the ř sounds like the ř in Dvořak, and made our way through our second meeting. Another adjustment to be made: pedagogical differences.
Since our biggest hurdle is not being able to practice our Czech day to day I decided to give my new favorite phrase a try the next time we went to the grocery store. As the cashier turned from the previous customer to us I asked her, "Jak se máš?" She looked surprised and a bit taken aback. Then she turned a shy smile on me and said, "Dobře." I had no idea how to respond since she didn't ask me, "Á ty?" So I just smiled as warmly as I could and nodded my head in response.
Phew! I made it. I tried out my first official Czech phrase on a local citizen and lived through it. Hurrah for me!
When we went to class the next week the story of my grocery store encounter bubbled over right away. The teacher stopped and looked at me as if she hadn't understood. I repeated myself carefully knowing that English is her second language. She still seemed a bit distant and then a broad smile broke out on her face. At first I thought I'd made a major cultural blunder. As it turns out, the LORD used my hesitant attempt at practicing my new language to promote the desire of my heart.
Evidently, according to the teacher, "Jak se máš?" is a phrase that is not normally used in such casual interactions as checking out at a store. It's okay to say, "Dobry den." (hello / good day), but "Jak se máš?" (How are you?) is reserved for other settings. It seems that here in CZ a simple "How are you?" is a meaningful question that implies a serious interpersonal relationship - that one person really cares about how the other person is feeling. Of course, the further implication is that certainly nobody would care about a cashier in that sense.
Pause for contemplation.
Well I did and I do care about how the cashier was feeling. Yes, I wanted to practice my Czech, but I could have chosen other phrases and other situations to do so. I really did want to know how the lady who was serving us was feeling. Why? Because she's made in the image of God and He in His perfect plan caused us to be face to face for a few moments. It was up to me to make the most of that divine opportunity to show forth His existence.
Maybe if you were there with us when we check out with our groceries you'd understand more fully. Twice a week we make our way through the line with our collection of goods. When the cashier finishes the order before ours, she (or sometimes he) sits back just a bit as the previous customer takes their purchases and loads them into their bags or backpack. The interruption might take only a minute or so. Sometimes it's a bit longer.
During that suspension of activity it's as if the cashiers' power sources were switched off. Their facial expressions go blank and they sit staring off into space until the way is cleared to begin handling our order. Out pops the usual question about whether we have the club card for their store which we don't. Then the regular routine of scanning prices and pushing products down the ramp begins. We've experienced this exact set of circumstances about 100 times over the last year.
But this time it was different! As I pondered what the teacher shared I felt more and more excitement. What happened was not merely a bit of language practice. By God's grace I'd been able to establish a small presence on the beach head of Prague. I pray that His Spirit will use my little "Jak se máš?" to let 'my cashier' know that she has value and that at least one customer cares about how she's doing.
Jeremiah 29:7 tells us that we ought to pray for the nation where God has placed us and my Honey and I do that. It's also important to live in such a way as to give evidence of God's presence before the watching world. So I'm keeping my eyes open for 'my cashier' every time we head to Billa. Who knows what the LORD has in store?