Coffee & Books and English Small Talk

The entrance to Coffee & Books, Decín © Ricky Yates

In June 2017, just a few weeks after I moved to my new home in Stará Oleška, a new café opened in nearby Decín called ‘Coffee & Books’. It is located almost next door to Vesta Reality, the real estate business who were responsible for selling me my house. During the house purchase process, I often saw the sign on the neighbouring door declaring, ‘Coffee & Books, opening soon’, and regretted that it wasn’t already open 😉

The café was set up by Honza and his wife Jana. Honza had been made redundant from his previous employment and Jana had previously organised cultural events in Ústí nad Labem. Their vision was to have a café offering good coffee and food, but to also be a venue for a variety of cultural events. Six months after opening, Jana’s daughter Martina, returned to Decín from living and working in the USA and joined them in the business.

The following two photos were taken at a party held on 22nd June 2018, celebrating the first birthday of Coffee & Books.

Honza © Ricky Yates

Jana & Martina © Ricky Yates

Having constantly spoken English during her five years in the USA, Martina was keen not to lose her use of the language. So she had the idea of a monthly evening event which she entitled ‘English Small Talk’, for people like herself who could speak English and wanted to practice it. Here is the poster for the very first edition of English Small Talk, held on Tuesday 9th October 2018.

Advert for the first edition of English Small Talk

For the first hour, it is effectively speed dating in English 🙂 You talk in pairs for five minutes until the bell goes, then you form another pair for five more minutes of conversation. The second hour is less structured and gives you the opportunity to continue a conversation that was interrupted by the bell. Or you can talk to someone you didn’t get to speak to during the first hour.

It is through English Small Talk that I have made several English-speaking Czech friends. They are nearly all much younger than me and predominantly female. The age difference is because Czechs who are over forty, were never taught English at school. They were forced to learn Russian. The gender imbalance is harder to explain. I am one of only two native English-speakers who attend.

On the afternoon of my sixty-eighth birthday back in February 2020, I arranged to meet Michaela, one of my ‘Small Talk’ friends, in Coffee & Books. I had nothing special planned for the day and I knew that Michaela, who is a school teacher of English, had her half-term holiday that week. I looked forward to coffee, cake and a pleasant chat in English.

But what did Michaela do? She arranged for several other mutual ‘Small Talk’ friends to be there as well. And she told Martina, who duly produced a birthday cake and a bottle of Prosecco. Here we are with Martina.

From l to r: Martina, me, Michaela, Tereza K, Lenka, Iva, Tereza H © Martina Víchová

And here are my English-speaking friends again, minus Martina, but with the addition of Daniela who arrived just after the first photo was taken.

From l to r: Michaela, Lenka, Iva, Tereza H, Tereza K, Daniela © Ricky Yates

Sadly, just after that delightful surprise event, the Covid pandemic hit. We had three different lockdowns in which cafés and restaurants were closed or only allowed to serve takeaway food through the door. Cultural and social events like English Small Talk came to a complete halt. Whilst there was some financial compensation from the Czech government, businesses in the hospitality sector suffered badly, including Coffee & Books.

In the Spring of 2021, Jana organised an online fundraising appeal seeking financial help to keep Coffee & Books afloat. There were prizes or future rewards, according to the amount of money a person donated. I’m pleased to say that the appeal was a success with over two hundred people donating. I made a contribution with my reward being to work as a trainee barista for a few hours, once Covid restrictions had finally come to an end.

On Wednesday 15th December 2021, I finally received my ‘reward’. Here I am, very carefully making a cappuccino for Honza the boss.

Carefully making a cappuccino for Honza © Jana Erdela Víchová

And it was a pleasure to pose for this photo with Martina and the rest of the team on duty that day.

With Martina & the team © Jana Erdela Víchová

After an initial get-together at the end of July 2021, English Small Talk restarted on Tuesday 14th September and on every second Tuesday of the month since then. It has been great to meet up again with my English-speaking friends and to make new ones. I’m very much looking forward to the next edition on Tuesday 12th April.

6 comments to Coffee & Books and English Small Talk

  • Pauleen Bang

    Dear Ricky
    What a lovely positive story. I’m so glad you got through the pandemic with “English Small Talk” surviving.
    Hopefully you will have many more meetings in the future. It is such a great idea.
    Love Pauleen

    • Ricky

      Hello Pauleen! I’m glad you enjoyed the blog post. I’ve been planning on writing about Coffee & Books since their first birthday party in June 2018. Nearly four years later…..

      English Small Talk is a wonderful idea & very enjoyable. C & B now run a Deutscher Sprichabend on the fourth Tuesday of each month & are hoping to restart a Spanish speaking evening too. Thank you for once again visiting & commenting.

  • Jonathan

    Hi Ricky,

    The majority of women attending the sessions isn’t really surprising at all.

    Language learning has always been, very generally, a thing women enjoy in itself and one men do for the perceived benefits thereof.

    As the Guardian explained a few years ago (the Mars/Venus view of the world):

    1 Language and communication matter more to women than to men; women talk more than men.

    2 Women are more verbally skilled than men.

    3 Men’s goals in using language tend to be about getting things done, whereas women’s tend to be about making connections to other people. Men talk more about things and facts, whereas women talk more about people, relationships and feelings.

    4 Men’s way of using language is competitive, reflecting their general interest in acquiring and maintaining status; women’s use of language is cooperative, reflecting their preference for equality and harmony.

    And, of course,

    5 These differences routinely lead to “miscommunication” between the sexes, with each sex misinterpreting the other’s intentions. This causes problems in contexts where men and women regularly interact, and especially in heterosexual relationships.

    • Ricky

      Hi Jonathan,

      Thank you for this interesting analysis. I’m sure some women would disagree with the last five words of point 1 🙂 But overall, what you say makes a lot of sense. Interestingly, the two native speakers who do regularly attend are both male.

  • Sean McCann

    Hi Ricky,
    That’s a fascinating business idea, full marks to all involved. From the photographs you have included I see you are often ‘blessed amongst women’ and no stranger to wearing an apron. Thanks for another uplifting post Ricky.
    Take care,

    • Ricky

      Hi Sean,

      It is a brilliant business idea and I’m so glad that Coffee & Books has survived & come through the various Covid lockdowns that we’ve had these past two years.

      Yes, I am ‘blessed amongst women’ at English Small Talk – see the possible explanation in a previous comment by Jonathan. And I thoroughly enjoyed myself wearing an apron and being a trainee barista for a few hours.