In my time here, I’ve seen a lot, done a lot, learned a lot. It’s not often that I put these things into words, exactly, but I’m going to try. So, here are things I’ve learned from Prague, about Prague and the Czech Republic in general. Hopefully they will give you a window into Czech culture, too.
1) Beer is good.
2) There are many, many different kinds of beer. I used to believe that beer was limited just to “piss” but I’ve since learned that it comes in many varieties – not just light, dark, wheat, semidark, strawberry, honey etc but in many subtly different flavours.
3) When someone asks “How are you?”, the polite response is not “I’m fine thank you”, but “Ah, I feel like sh*t” or whatever is actually on your mind. Being super happy can be seen as bragging or being false.
4) Seems that the Communist/Capitalist thing is far, far from black and white. In local elections, the Communist Party just won quite a lot of votes. I’ve heard some Czech people lamenting the days where housing and jobs were secure and for life.
5) Gay Pride is big here, and a lot of fun, but adults (aka my students) will still giggle like school children at “gay” jokes and seem shocked to learn that somebody is gay.
6) A large percentage of Prague residents will escape to a “cottage” (theirs or a friend’s) in the countryside every weekend (to “the nature”).
7) Czech people seem to be into camping, hiking, walking, mountain climbing and skiing a lot more than any other nation I’ve encountered.
8) If you look hard enough and carry a dictionary/translator, you can find soy milk, gluten-free bread, vegan restaurants, organic vegetables and all that. Typical Czech food, on the other hand, is all meat, cheese and stodgy dumplings – good luck finding vegetables other than cabbage or green beans (and, of course, potatoes).
9) If you’re around any typical restaurant on a weekday (11am-3pm) you can get soup and a main meal for the equivalent of £3 or so.
10) When you enter a restaurant, you sit yourself down. Try asking a waiter for a table and they’ll look at you as if you’re a weirdo (unless it’s a very busy or touristy place).
11) It’s perfectly acceptable to drink beer at 11am.
12) The meanest looking teenagers will give up their seats on the tram/bus/metro for nice old people, and those old people will usually insist that they’re fine standing. This often results in a short exchange of “No, please, I insist” “No, it’s fine, you sit down,” etc. You also offer your seat to children.
13) Mullets are still OK here – on children, on old guys, even on people running for elections.
14) Dogs are allowed everywhere – on the metro, in restaurants, in your office while you work. Czech people love dogs (and babies, also everywhere).
15) Almost every day, somewhere in Prague, there’s a random festival going on with small food and drink stalls, or a nice farmer’s market where you can buy fresh produce.
16) Big groups of tourists are really annoying (think I knew this one already!).
17) At Christmas, you keep a live carp in the bath until you’re ready to cook it, and eat it with potato salad on Christmas Eve.
18) Also, at Christmas, Baby Jesus brings the presents. Earlier in December, “St Mikulaš” comes over with his buddies, the angel and devil. If a child has been naughty, the devil takes them to hell in his sack (unless the child sings a song).
19) At Easter, men hit women with sticks, and women give the men an egg. A revealing “fertility ritual”.
20) If you ride the tram out of the centre for 10 minutes, most people will struggle to understand English. It’s kind of nice…
21) “A beer a day keeps the doctor away”, eating massive chunks of meat make you a stronger drinker, and a shot of Becherovka calms the stomach. Allegedly.
22) Food and drink everywhere outside the Czech Republic is now too expensive. Beer is cheaper than water.
23) Czech people still cling to gender roles much more strongly than we do in the U.K. Women get three years of maternity leave for every baby they pop out, though, so it makes more sense for them to stay at home while the man’s out chopping wood and slaughtering bears, or whatever it is they do.
24) Czech T.V. is hilarious – whether it’s old English films dubbed over in Czech, badly acted dramas or “Czech & Slovakia’s Got Talent” (I don’t think it does, from what I saw…)! Czech film trailers look like this…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6mh1QiMPDE&feature=player_embedded
25) You can walk across Charles Bridge on any evening and find something lovely happening - a choir, a quartet, a man making music by rubbing glass rims…
26) No matter how many times I look up at the castle at night, I continue to be amazed that I live here.
27) Czech people enjoy their reputation as being stingy (taking bootloads of bread, cheese and ham on holiday to other countries for example) and yet none of my students had swiped a towel from a hotel room when I asked them.
28) Don’t bring up Roma (“gypsies”) unless you want to hear a barrage of thinly disguised ugly, racist sentiments (in 80% of cases). *This comment seems to be causing the most debate, so let me make it clear that this statement does NOT say “All Czech people are racist” – it says that the COMMENTS can be racist (not always) on this particular topic. The reason I say it is because I’ve ended up having to listen to all the terrible things that these ‘gypsies’ do from students (who might not have never met one) a few times. Some of the comments left below will illustrate what I mean.
29) A man whose body is 100% tattooed can get enough votes to run for President.
30) Politically incorrect jokes are very much OK here… don’t repeat them at home!
31) Czech people don’t seem to have much national pride (well, not compared to other places). I could be wrong.
32) Halloween isn’t celebrated here, although on April 30th they burn effigies of witches to celebrate the spring.
33) Public transportation was never as good as it is in Prague.