I’m here to stay, Happy Chef!

It felt completely surreal to be walking into school to start a new job less than 24 hours after I’d been adrift, floundering, and thinking I’d probably just procrastinate for a while by taking off around the Balkans with a backpack.

The first induction day was overwhelming, to say the least. Mazes of corridors, staff rooms, copiers, libraries. Handbooks and schedules, contracts and paperwork. Accommodation forms, locker keys, tours, seminars. And all coated with the bizarre feeling of “I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up here”!

My colleagues and employers seem fantastic, though, and I’ve got to say I find the Czech people to be generally lovely, so far. Stern personnel lady from yesterday has turned out to be no-nonsense but kind-hearted.

I know it’s all a bit much to take in right now, she told her shell-shocked new recruits about halfway through the day, as we sat there, panic-stricken, amidst an ever-growing pile of papers. But please, please, come and ask any of us if you need help. I know Czech people look very unfriendly and unapproachable most of the time, to foreigners, but we’re honestly not. We’re just not smiley people. It’s not grumpiness… it’s relaxed facial muscles. 

Relaxed facial muscles. I like it.

Everyone was very helpful, and huge efforts were made to make us feel welcome and reassured. And look, I really can’t fault a nation whose people can’t fathom the idea of an employee induction week without the words “pub night” appearing on the schedule. Twice. The first such event was immediately after the last session today, and I found myself in what will most likely be my new “local” – a modern yet cosy bar just down the street from the school – sitting at a long table laden with the infamous Czech beer and traditional Czech food, with a dozen or so faces that are no doubt going to become very familiar to me in a very short space of time.

However, the highlight of the day was lunch time.

On Friday, when CELTA ended, Happy Chef had given us a bottle of champagne and – in a fittingly childish but adorable move – a big bag of Kinder Surprise Eggs, which were a total hit with everyone as we had our celebratory drinks that evening. Nothing beats the sight of 18 newly qualified teachers and their tutors drinking tequila and playing enthusiastically with toy cars and model Smurfs. I was feeling extremely sad about the loss of Happy Chef from my life.

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Well. The school provided us with a free lunch today, and to my great delight I found that it was being prepared for us by Happy Chef. I almost danced into the restaurant, where I saw him in his clown trousers (I really don’t know. He truly is a most eccentric little guy.), looking stressed and Possibly Insane, but smiling excitedly at the sight of all these new teachers to impress with his food.

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Better not disturb him when he’s busy, I thought reluctantly, my gaze drifting nervously to the fist-shaped hole in the kitchen door. I took a seat with my new colleagues and employers, and looked up to smile quietly at him as he proudly brought over the first tray of deliciousness.

Oh my kaaaaaad!! he shrieked suddenly as he spotted me, and I grinned at him. Hey ________! [I can just about pronounce his name now, but I still can’t spell it.] I’m back!

He didn’t quite know what to do, then, so he hopped from foot to foot for a second before ruffling my hair like I was a five-year-old, and then running back to the kitchen at the sound of a plate being dropped. Everyone at my table stared curiously at me.

Erm… I drink a lot of coffee, I said by way of explanation. He got me through the CELTA, and I probably paid his rent for the month. 

We didn’t get to have our usual nonsensical conversation because he was so busy, and I felt a little sad when the boss lady brought the post-lunch coffees over to our table and all the identical, tiny cups were distributed among us. No more Hayley Special Coffee, alack, alas! I put on an admirably brave face, though, and picked up my cup – and then almost spilled it all over the person next to me when an indignant yell went up.

No no no no! Hayley! What are you DOING?! I would never give you this tiny cup, never! Happy Chef was stretched out across the counter, practically horizontal, an agonised “STEP AWAY FROM THE TINY CUP” expression on his face. I started to make your coffee first, look – see? It takes longer because it is your special giant coffee.

I waited meekly, but I really couldn’t hide the half-amused, half-smug grin. Pretty sure everyone else hated me, sat there with their minuscule coffee cups, but I didn’t care.

As I was leaving, I glanced into the kitchen to shout my usual thank you, and he waved at me with a typically stressed but zany smile. See you later, I called, the kindergarten teacher in me pausing out of habit for his reply. Alligator! he sang. In a while, I added, over my shoulder, as I started climbing the stairs. Crocodiiiiiiiiile! he sang back happily.

He’s like an overgrown toddler. I left, then, laughing happily to myself despite the strange looks it attracted from the strangers I passed. All of a sudden, I have a new job, a new home, a whole bunch of cool new colleagues and potential friends, a new country to explore, new children to teach. That was actually confirmed by my Surfside Realtor pal when I spoke to him last time. .. but best of all, the Happy Chef is now a permanent fixture in my life.

I’d say that, once again, by complete ridiculous happy accident, it’s all worked out rather well in the Life of Hails. :)

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2 thoughts on “I’m here to stay, Happy Chef!

  1. Sometimes, I really, really want your life!

    Will need to try and find the name of the hotel where we stayed in Prague for you to pass on to potential visitors. Also, there’s a place behind Wenceslas Square that does really good food… which I will also need to look up the name of. At least it DID do good food when we were there for New Year 06/07. I can’t promise nothing has changed in the past 6 years!

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