Ten things you had always wanted to know about Czechland but were afraid to ask

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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.

cafe-au-lait

 

24 Comments

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24 Responses to Ten things you had always wanted to know about Czechland but were afraid to ask

  1. That is indeed one impressively proffered bunch of drinks. Seeing the fag-pan in the background gives me a rush of nostalgia (and painful wheezing.)

  2. leon

    well, I would guess that saying just “Czech” instead of Czech Rep. would be acceptable. Indeed, for a few years the word Czechia was promoted, once the government realised it didnt have a catchy name to call themselves. And besides, the czechs call it Czech as well!

  3. girlinczechland

    I know it kind of works in the Czech language, it’s just I think it doesn’t sound right at all in English. I know, I’m picky! It must be the teacher in me… 🙂

  4. Hi

    Nice to see you like it here. I’m down the road by about 2 hours by car.

    Check out my blog, it’s only been up and running for about a week or so. It’s about more mundane things than your excellent site.

    Not so well laid out either, but I’m working on it.

    cheers

    Terry

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Terry,

      Thanks for saying nice things about the blog. I checked out yours: I completely agree the sausage situation here is lamentable and I too am fascinated by the trams.

      I’m adding a link to it too. Czechland bloggers of the world unite!

      GIC

  5. Josh

    I hear ‘Czechia’ still used commonly by Czechs, but I might confuse Pragniks with eastern Czechians 😉

    Now that you have found your feet , see if you can find all the hidden communist era pubs that exist in apartments rather than on the streets. Best ambience for my money.

    ps excellently anwrittend uplifting blog by the way, well done 🙂

    • girlinczechland

      Thanks a lot!

      I want to know more about these secret pubs: I just asked Czechman and he denies their existence. Perhaps he thinks it would be unbecoming for me to hang out in them…

      GIC

      • Jiha

        I’ve never heard about these, maybe because I am too young, and I’d like to know more too, but very nice, old apartment like pub, or reading room, as they call it, is Unijazz here:

        http://www.unijazz.cz/en

        The organization behind it has a history reaching to 1980′ but I don’t know about the place itself. It’s somewhat difficult to find – from Jindřišská street you need to go to a passage to a building first, then at the door with the sign ring a doorbell and climb up to the 4th floor. Better visit it soon as the greedy developers have some plans with the profitable building near Václavské náměstí.

      • girlinczechland

        Hi Jiha,
        Thanks for the link to Unijazz: it looks really interesting and I’ll definitely be checking it out soon..
        GIC

  6. Marek

    Great blog! Funny observations and great attention to detail. I think I`ll start promoting Czechland as a proper short English name for The Czech Republic. Catchy, easy to work with and, anyway, better then Czechistan. Looking forward to read more!

    • girlinczechland

      Thanks very much! And please do encourage the use of ‘Czechland’ as the official English abbreviated version! I think it sounds charming 🙂

      • Marek

        It does, doesn`t it 🙂 Just to be on the safe side, one should respect the historical regional constelation and acknowledge Moravia and Salesia. Hence a more proper name might actually be `Czechlands` (like Netherlands – The Low Lands). There we are! It was all waiting for you to suggest, no government experts needed.

      • Nikola

        Czechland is good. I have another one. When my nephew who used to live in England with his Czech mom and English dad, was going on vacation to the CR, he always said he was going to Czechyland (kind of like Disneyland, I guess). It always sounded cute to all of us but his teachers in England were not sure where he was going …

      • girlinczechland

        Aww, cute story! I like the idea of Czechyland but if I start using that as you say it will probably cause even more confusion…

        GIC

  7. ducky

    Czech is how people from Czech refer to the Czech Republic and is most widely understood here.

    I say pick your battles, words like ‘controlled’ (you can be controlled when you’re home on sick leave) and ‘nature’ (we spent the weekend in the nature). 😉

  8. I love your writing style. When I first saw the title – Ten thinkgs you had always wanted to know about Czechland but were afraid to ask – I thought it would be a boring blog about facts that we’ve all heard before. Yet, it was filled with interesting observations and cute stories. I loved the way you wrapped it up with a pic of your tea. Keep up the good work. Forgive me if I overlooked it but I didn’t find an option to register to receive new blog entries by email. Do you have that capability?

    • girlinczechland

      Hi there Katka,

      Glad you’re enjoying the blog. I’m not sure yet about how to make sure people can receive notification of new posts by email but I’ll look into it 🙂

      Hope you keep reading!

      GIC

  9. I love this post! I am going to link to you probably tomorrow 🙂 My favorite on is number 10….this I am dealing with all the time since I live in the US.

  10. Pingback: What you were always afraid to ask about the Czech Republic | Czechmatediary

  11. Dawn Oass

    Dear Girl in Czechland,
    Well well, much to my amusment and utter delight, I am sighting here with my Czech boyfriend, soon to be husband,and reading your website with a big smile on my face!
    I too, came here on holiday almost 2 years ago, and well, ta daa! I’m getting married this weekend! I am from the midwest of the US and I also fell head over heels for a local boy here and made the big move to be with him..
    I would love to chat more as we are a rare breed here!!
    Cheers and good luck!
    Dawn

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Dawn,

      Aww, I love hearing about other Czech-related love stories! Glad you’re enjoying the blog and *good luck* with your big Czech wedding!

      GIC

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  13. Ada Petrova

    I don’t want to be scrupulous here.. Just to set it right – the word “robot” was brought to life by Karel Čapek’s brother – Josef Čapek. However Karel used it in his books and thus made it known.

  14. Non-czech man

    Perhaps better later than never…

    “Nic malého nemám” means “I don’t have anything small” (not “smaller”). A guy saying something like that might be seen as if he’s making a pun and referring to his manhood. 😉

    “I don’t have anything smaller” would be “Nic menšího nemám.”

    Btw, supposedly another word coming from Czech is “pistol.” But it seems there are mixed opinions about this one.

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