Today is May 1st which means Czech boys will be kissing their sweethearts under trees in blossom to celebrate the arrival of Spring. Aww. I think Czechman will have to have his arm twisted to participate in this tradition. He may be Bohemian by birth, but he is conservative in nature and doesn’t really like public displays of affection. Don’t worry ladies, after being beaten on the arse with a stick in the name of marking old Czech customs, I’m not going to let him get out of this one.
Anyway, today’s post is completely unrelated to May Day. Instead, I’ve decided to delight my little audience with a list of fascinating facts about Czechland. If you know most of them already, you have my permission to pat yourself on the back and feel smug.
10 facts about Czechland you had always wanted to know but were afraid to ask
1. The Czechs are a resourceful bunch. They were responsible for such contributions to the advancement of mankind as the screw propellor, the sugar cube and Hittitology. We also have them to thank for the word ‘robot’, introduced to the public by Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R. That’s what Wikipedia says anyway.
2. Skoda, the internationally renowned car brand, is also a Czech word meaning ‘pity’ or ‘shame’. Czechman sees no irony whatsoever in this, not even when I regaled him with my collection of Skoda jokes which I picked up in the primary school playground. It includes such howlers as ‘What do you call a Skoda with twin exhausts?’ The answer? ‘A wheelbarrow’! Stop it, please! My sides are splitting! Oh look, there goes a kidney…
3. The Czechs are of course, responsible for producing many of the world’s great beers: Budvar, Staropramen and Pilsner to name but a few. One unfortunate result of this has been the birth of the Beer Bore, the bastard child of that equally loathsome creature, the Wine Snob. He wants to explain to you at great length just why Gambrinus is so much better than Pilsner, despite the fact that the latter is 12 crowns more expensive. He uses words like ‘hops’, ‘malt’ and ‘distillation’ repeatedly while you nod politely. Just shut up and drink it.
4. Was Franz Kafka Czech or German? Even academics can’t make up their minds (see here). He didn’t write in Czech, that’s for sure. Still, the fact that he lived in Prague does help to shift a lot of souvenirs.
5. Milan Kundera is Czech but he wishes he wasn’t. This is the obvious conclusion to be drawn from his decision to write his most recent novels only in French. Merde! Who does the pretentious frog wannabe think he is? If I had to choose between being French or Czech, I’d opt for Cesky every time.
6. Goulash may be considered one of the cornerstones of Czech cuisine but it was, of course, originally Hungarian. I’m not sure they can be blamed for coming up with the concept of dumplings made from potatoes and semolina. These Czechs! Such innovators!
7. Ultra-chic mini-breakers be warned! This is not a city in which to parade around in your Jimmy Choos – and not only because you will mark yourself out as being spoilt and western. If the cobblestones don’t scrape all the leather off the back of the stiletto heels, you’ll end up stranded in a metal grate down in the metro while people point and laugh. Most uncool.
8. One invention that the Czechs – or at least most shop assistants – wish had never seen the light of day is the 1000 crown note. God forbid you try to pay for anything with it. Ever. You may think that by picking up a few bits at Albert in order to break into it is reasonable. Pah! Prepare to be humiliated as the checkout lady complains volubly about having to part with a tiny fraction of the change her till is crammed with. I find the best policy in this situation is to look pathetic and mumble, ‘Nic malého nemám’ (pidgin Czech for ‘I don’t have anything smaller’).
9. Vaclav Havel is ace. Few people who’ve actually done something significant to change the world remain so modest and unassuming. I wasn’t blown away by his most recent play, ‘Leaving’ but I enjoyed it more than Tom Stoppard’s Czech related offering, ‘Rock and Roll’. I suspect that Sir Tom is just too smart for me though. He’s sort of Czech too.
10. Hi Mum. The place where I now live isn’t called Czechoslovakia anymore. It’s the Czech Republic. It is not acceptable to call this country simply ‘Czech’, as in ‘I’m going to Czech on holiday’. Don’t. I can’t bear it. ‘Czech’ is an adjective, not a noun. You went to school back in the days when they taught English kids something about grammar so you should be able to get your head around this. And yes, they do have telephones here.
I wrote today’s post while drinking café au lait in Café Louvre. Here’s what the waiter brought me. The coffee is in the little porcelain coffee pot and there’s a thimbleful of fizzy water tucked behind it in case I get too dehydraded by the caffeine. I’m a sucker for a well-presented hot beverage.