Being a traveling photo journalist isn`t always an easy job. Beside the work it generates, it takes quite some effort to find a way around language barriers and to interpret people`s answers correctly. How much are people`s answers limited by foreign language skills? What do they think about me as an inquisitive stranger? How can I know they are not just bullshitting, taking the piss or making me write something completely ridiculous? How can I know I am asking questions to people who are at least to some extent representative for the entire country?
In countries where most people learn to speak proper English in school, I experienced such barriers to be rather small. Whether or not they had been abroad made no major difference. Whether my respondents worked in construction or in legal affairs ? I could talk to them and cross-check their opitions with those of others.
..will start his studies at university next year
I hardly experienced any trouble in Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, Ireland, Portugal, The Netherlands, Austria, Greece, Romania, Estonia, Malta and Cyprus. Language barriers were almost non-existent in the UK, but over there I found many people to have no interest in what I was doing. Which made some of them give rather lousy answers or almost walk over me as I approached them. In France, Luxemburg and Belgium, I was speaking French or Dutch which made things easy. Bulgaria was alright, with quite some young people speaking English. Spain was doable with a little bit of Spanish. Italy was difficult but the people always had interesting and dramatic viewpoints which made interesting stories. That sort of made up for the many times potential respondents showed me the way to the closest bookshop when I explained them that I was writing a book.
Lithuania and Latvia were difficult but it was somehow visible from somebody`s face whether he or she would speak English or possibly German. In Hungary, it was difficult to find English speakers who were not too shy. The Czech Republic is probably the most difficult country so far. Only a very small amount of people can express themselves in English, and these people are usually the ones who made it in business or studied abroad. They somehow tend to distance themselves from people belonging to lower social levels. To whom I cannot speak because they don`t speak English. And so I have difficulties estimating how much value I should attach to the answers I get, which is a problem I haven`t felt as much as this at any point during my trip before.
Today`s intended subject was `ambitions`. I have asked about those in quite some countries and the answers were usually diverse and worth writing about. On my search for interesting stories, I don`t come across many exciting opinions on the streets of Karlovy Vary. Every single Czech seems to have ambitions that stretch no further than making a lot of money, having a lot of friends and raising a family.
Now, how should I take this? Would financial and social needs be the only elements that really matter to them? Do they not have any passions that stretch beyond the basic physical and social needs of human beings? Do they not care about anything except their own material well-being? Do they not feel like telling a stranger about their dreams? Would they not have sufficient vocabulary to express their other dreams? Do they not care about what they actually want to do in life, at the expense of dedicating all their energy to what it will bring them? Are they maybe simply more honest that people in Western Europe who would mention a list of pretentious ideals? Or do they have a different association with the word ambition?
With these questions and hesitations in mind, I would still like to mention a few reactions that I recorded today. Pavel (22, photo) has the ambition to study at university, to have family, a good job, a good life and nice hobbies. `I am currently working in a mobile phone shop and have been admitted to university, which I will start next year. I passed the entrance exams for geography, which I am quite excited about. The job I have now will allow me to pay a part of my studies. My parents will take care of the rest, even though I will probably keep working part time. Maybe at a supermarket. It`s not very easy for students in Czech Republic to find jobs on the side.`
Pavel would like to work on making a family after obtaining his bachelor`s degree, but at the latest by the time he is 30: `A wife and two children would be nice but you can`t choose everything in life. University will be a perfect place to meet new people and the diploma will make my life a lot easier when it comes to finding a job.`
Tom (23) wants to have a good job, a big car, a lot of money and a big family. `Five children would be a nice ideal. Unfortunately, having children is not very handy from the economic point of view. Under communism, people got support for every child they had. Now, every child is an extra financial burden.`
Michael (17) wants to end up working in the economical sector, because `that`s where the money is and that`s where you can have a good job. Few people in Czech Republic still opt for a career that involves any kind of manual labour. I think that the shortage of manual workers will cause big problems in the next 10 years, just like the low birth rates will cause the country problems.` Michael also intends to move away from Karlovy Vary and to settle down in Prague. `Karlovy Vary is nice for tourists, but it is not a good place to look for a job.`
Ivan (30) is already dedicating much of his energy to `the family`. His wife only recently gave birth to their first son, who is taking much of Ivan`s time and energy. `I am working at an office that distributes EU funds to Czech development programs, which I expect to do for another few years at least. After that, I may take over the management of my father`s restaurant.`
Philip (23) is currently running a clothes shop in Karlovy Vary, but he will soon be promoted to a bigger branch in Prague. `My ambition is to grow up, both personally and in business. My biggest ambition is to be able to buy a Ford Mustang one day.`
Nicola (19) still has two years of studies ahead of her, but her ideas about the future are already quite clear. `First of all, I want to go to another country to gain experience in the hospitality branch. Making promotion is very hard in Czech Republic. I prefer to work in a country where I will be challenged to improve my skills. The United States would be alright for that, I`d say. When I return, I would like to open a mid-size hotel in the North of Italy. My father is from that region, I like it a lot there and I don`t think I will ever feel like returning to the Czech Republic once I make that dream come true.`
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