Petra Gelbart: "Black Mugs" in the Prague metro
I was on my way home from a successful Romani event here recently at the Prague Pride festival, full of impressions, feeling happy and proud. My own children and some others whom I had taken there, including a girlfriend in a long colorful skirt, had participated in a program organized by the ARA ART association.
Motivated by Honza (Jan) Bendig, we had just finished singing our own version of "Me tut užarav" before getting on the tram. Once we were on board, I looked for the information flyer published by the Prague Transit Authority - over the last few days I had noticed their other printed announcements, which discussed how many times a day a Prague tram opens its doors, or how many commuters running to make the bus the average driver will wait for.
This particular flyer told commuters about the slang terms used by transit employees. The authority is now celebrating 140 years of mass transit in Prague by publishing something called "Drivers' Slang" on its website.
Of the several hundred slang expressions that exist, the authority chose 26 for posters inside of buses, metro and tram cars this summer. One of the terms they chose for a poster was "black mug", which is what they call the 87-7171 metro car.
These posters will be up until mid-September. The smile faded from my face when I saw the poster reading "Black mug - the 81-7171 metro car".
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I have seen people accidentally naked, covered in urine, being hopelessly drunk or with uncontrollable flatulence, but I had never experienced something this embarrassing before.
I wondered how the American public would respond if the New York Transit Authority published a "funny" acknowledgment that this or that particular subway car is colloquially referred to as a "nigger", which is just as insulting of a curse word as "black mug" is (černá huba in Czech). The very idea is absurd.
There would be no need for the public to respond, because in the year 2015 something like that simply would not happen there - although America has other problems of its own, of course. I know because I have been living in the USA since 1988.
Not in the Czech Republic, though. In the Czech Republic, this is normal.
In the Czech Republic too few people take any interest in what Romani children like the three who were travelling with me on the tram might say to this gem of a poster, or how they might feel to know that the concept of "black mug" is being officially, de facto approved of. Congratulations, Prague Transit Authority.
You get first prize for asocial behavior, and that's saying something. After all, this is a country where, even after many years of coexistence with people from other countries, what we need really need are more posters, bigger ones, on all the benches at all the bus stops, telling the public "Don't speak rudely to foreigners."
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