My husband has always been embarrassed by the way I watch strangers. I can't help myself, I love people watching. "Stop eavesdropping," he will say. "Stop staring!" Here in the Czech Republic I can't eavesdrop, other than to the tone of voice, but I can still watch. And one of the advantages of not speaking Czech is that I find myself watching body language more closely. And very revealing it is too.
I was doing just that recently on our local train to Cesky Krumlov from Volary. The train wends its way through the Sumava National Park on its way to our local station at Horice na Sumave. As it was the weekend and late afternoon, the train was full of people who were on their way back from a daytrip to the Sumava. The luggage racks were filled with skis and skipoles, thick jackets hung steaming from hooks and the passengers were dosing themselves on slivovice (home-brewed plum spirit) and vodka. In true Czech hospitality even I was offered the opportunity to partake of the clear but potent liquid, but I declined, wanting all my wits and balance to walk on the icy road home.
I soon came to the conclusion that our carriage was filled by one large party of skiers, such was the camaraderie in the carriage. In one corner a group was singing popular Czech songs. In the seats alongside mine an animated discussion was taking place, punctuated with bouts of silence as the bottle was passed round. Further down the carriage a man was holding forth to a woman and another man sat opposite him. I focussed on him, his face was hugely expressive - now solemn, now urgent, now breaking into a laugh. And, as if that was not enough, there were his hand gestures or should I say arm gestures as neither stayed still for a minute all through the journey.
In the UK I am very aware that I use hand gestures more than most other Brits, so much so that it was commented on when I did media training for my work. But here I would be considered undemonstrative. The Czechs are so much more expressive than the Brits. They are more emotional too. They wear their emotions on the faces and in their gestures. It makes for great people watching. But it can be deceiving - when we got to Cesky Krumlov the "great friends" all went their separate ways, some getting off, some staying on the train. I daresay that if I had partaken of the slivovice I too would have been a "great friend."