The Czechs could have whistled until they were blue in the face

Author: Tereza Vrbova
Location: Prague
My uncle Jan Vrba, a hardworking, well-traveled man in his early sixties, tells this story.
“When I was a kid I didn’t know any Gypsies. I paid very little attention to that sort of travelling people. I had heard that they often put up their camp close to landfills outside our suburbs. And local women feared that they would steal laundry from the line.
I don’t think Gypsies sent their kids to schools either. At least in our school there were none.
I grew up in the Fifties. It was a strange decade. The Communists had been in power for some time, but many people still remembered the good old Thirties. The continuity had been interrupted, though, by World War II.
My first opportunity to get to know the Gypsies a bit better was when I was fourteen. I used to take occasional temporary jobs – unloading wagons or doing construction work – to make some cash. At one construction job, I had a chance to see them work.
The Gypsies in my shift worked as diggers. They worked in a very different way. The Czechs came to work six days a week at say 6 a.m. and left at 2 or 3 p.m. They worked hard and took short breaks only. In contrast, the Gypsies came only when they were short of cash. And they showed up accompanied by their entire families – grandmas and grandpas, parents, wives, aunties and uncles, kids, and umpteen other people. They all dug and, in a couple of hours, made some cash.
Selected diggers had pneumatic hammers. The power came from a compressor operated by a stocky guy whom I never heard say a word. If you used the pneumatic hammer, you made considerably more than manual workers did. Of course the Gypsies were not allowed to use it.
One day during a lunch break, the Gypsies got hold of one and started digging. When the others came back from lunch, their hammers were gone. Looking around, they spotted the Gypsies at work with their hammers.
The initial name-calling was soon followed by a fistfight.
At first, the Czechs were in majority. But when the Gypsies saw that they were outnumbered, they gave a whistle, and in a second a crowd of their friends came to help.
The Czechs could have whistled until they were blue in the face but no one would have showed up. Their colleagues were just standing around watching.
Of course when it looked as though that the Czechs would get seriously beaten, the silent compressor operator did unexpectedly back them up. He slowly descended into the trench where the battle was taking place and started throwing the belligerent parties in opposite directions. And to our great surprise, the Gypsy supporters, taken aback by his bravery and strength, were gone in a second.
So when the Czechs grabbed their hammers back, the rest of the Gypsies continued digging manually.
But I remember thinking how great it would be to have a lot of friends who would came to help whenever I called for them. “

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