How to Be Spoilt and Western: a Beginner’s Guide

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The first time I heard him say it was during a trip on the 254 bus. We had passed through Stamford Hill and we were now travelling along the Seven Sisters Road towards Manor House tube.  This long straight stretch of road was flanked on both sides by a collection of vast housing estates. Although they weren’t the high rises filmmakers use as a backdrop when they want to suggest urban decay, something about them depressed me.

‘Can you imagine what it would be like to live in one of those?’ I said in a low voice.

‘You are just spoilt and western,’ came the reply from my Czech companion.

I admire the way Czechs know how to get by without spending a lot.  I do, really.  I’m pretty thrifty myself: I can make a roast chicken stretch for at least three meals and unlike many of my British friends, I have modest savings rather than a whopping overdraft.  That’s why it puzzles me that my behaviour is still somehow deemed spoilt.  Anyway, here’s a list of my deviant actions I have complied so you can judge for yourselves…

 8 Ways to Impress your Czech Partner with your Spoilt and Western Behaviour

1)      Paying for anything you already have or could somehow get for free.  You’ll notice how very few Czech people ‘forget’ to bring a carrier bags with them to the supermarket now you have to pay for them.

2)      Owning more than two pairs of jeans.  It has taken me a number of years to convince Czechman that owning more than six T-shirts, two sweatshirts and two pairs of jeans is not bad and wrong.

3)      Spending money on having a tea or coffee not because you really want to drink it, but because you want to sit somewhere warm while waiting for the train/bus.

4)      Using a taxi.  Ever.

5)      Refusing to eat sandwiches in a bus shelter in a remote part of Scotland in the rain while on holiday and demanding to be taken to the nearest pub for lunch instead.

6)      Believing it is acceptable to spend more than 100Kc (£3) on a hot meal at lunchtime (including a hot or cold beverage).

7)      Believing it is acceptable to spend 150kc (£5) on a hot beverage and a slice of cake while socialising with girlfriends.

8)      Refusing to travel abroad by coach rather than by plane.  It may reduce your carbon footprint.  It may be cheaper.  It may be a way of avoiding annoying stag parties.  I’m not sitting on a coach for fifteen hours.  Sorry.

DISCLAIMER 

The points listed above may or may not be based on actual events or reflect the current views of Czechman who may or may not exist.

Sorry.  I had to put that bit in or he’ll get upset.

38 Comments

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38 Responses to How to Be Spoilt and Western: a Beginner’s Guide

  1. Marek

    Loool … really!! Bulls eye again. I just knew this one was gonna be great!

    Why the disclaimer? Objectively, ALL of those things listed ARE spoilt and western! 150 for coffee and a slice of cake?! I bet you are one of those people who make calls from your mobile rather then sending a text, just because it`s “more convenient”.

  2. girlinczechland

    Wow, this isn’t the response I was expecting! You think *all* of these things are spoilt and western? Geez…

    Just on the coffee and cake thing, I know 150 is a lot *but* my (perhaps lame?) justification is that I don’t go out drinking and if I did, would probably end up spending something like 150kc on beer and bar snacks. Maybe.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading more reactions to people from this (although a little nervous)…

    GIC

  3. Eso

    LOL, It’s actually very fitting description 🙂

    I have some friends like that, but I have also some friends who really throws money around.

    I am personally in the middle. It means that from time to time, my natural Czech stinginess resurfaces. Sorry, that’s how I was raised 🙂

    And hey, better be mingy than credit-crunched 🙂

  4. gil (gvkb)

    I can rarely bring myself to chose a dish on a menu here that costs over 100kc. Especially now that the pound has dropped 25%…..As for coffee and cake at 150kc! You cannot be serious…..:-)

    And I keep rejecting items in supermarkets in England on that basis that they are far too expensive. Eating out in the UK has become almost impossible for me since living here for six months of each year.

    (Btw that nice email notification of new posts to your blog seems to have given up the ghost 🙁 )

    • girlinczechland

      Oh no! Even the fellow westerners think I’m spoilt! I will definitely have to review my spending patterns very closely… 🙂

      I’ll look into the email notification business. Perhaps I just need to go and whip the coding pixies a bit harder. That’s supposed to be funny btw.

      GIC

  5. gil (gvkb)

    Thanks – coding goblins surely? Pixies are nice friendly creatures…..

    You’d best stick to your guns on the money for food issue – otherwise visits to the UK will become impossible 🙂

  6. Laredo Lamer

    “You’ll notice how very few Czech people ‘forget’ to bring a carrier bags with them to Albert or Billa now you have to pay for them.”

    Well, that was the point of making the plastic bags not free. Is it a bad thing? I know that the fact, that Czechs are now bringing their own shopping bags, isn’t because of some environmental consciousness. But i still think it’s a smart way to use natural thriftiness of some czech people to do some good. (Before that, many were taking the free plastic bags by handfuls just because it was for free)

    • girlinczechland

      Hi there,

      I don’t think the fact that Czechs always remember to bring a carrier bag is a bag thing at all. I just think the fact that myself and most English people I know *do* forget to bring carrier bags with us even to places where they don’t give them out anymore for free and Czechs don’t is a good example of Czech thriftiness versus spoilt Western decadence.

      In other words, I’m on your side on this one! But I still don’t want to go to England by coach or eat sandwiches in a bus shelter in the rain when I’m supposed to be on holiday… 😉

      GIC

  7. Marek

    Oh nooo Girl,
    that was ment to be a joke. I thought it was so obvious I did not use the smiley face. I am totally on your side on this! I mean, I do understand the need for a good beverage and special cake in a fancy restaurant. Although, being Czech, I rarely use a cab and most of the things in the list I would not spend money on. 🙂

    I also think there is another level to it – the girl/guy divide. Most of my female friends would argue with me about exactly the same things. When hiking in the middle-of-nowhere places in a mixed group, there would always be gender-based fights about using too much money, stopping at places too expensive and even using too many stripes of toilet paper (you have not mentioned that one) 🙂

    Eso`s got a point though. One of the explanations for why Czechland has not been hit that hard with the credit-crunch is that Czech consumer patterns are more on the stingy side. Definitely an overdraft and debt would be considered a personal failure and moral downfall by many people. Thus, when the crunch hits and you are spending little while having no debts, you can always survive by spending even less. In the UK (and elsewhere) on the other hand, your mortgage and overdraft payments are fixed, so when you are hit by a recession you have no way to cut your expenses and the whole consumer market is hit much harder.

    Sorry for such a long comment. I just feel bad that my first post was misunderstood and want to make up for it by being ultra clear.

    In fact, you should go and soothe your nerves with something sweet in Cafe Louvre and insist you won`t take anything below 200 Kc!

  8. chigau11

    Hey Lady 🙂 you know that i’m absolutely not western by origin … but i think i’m even more spoilt than you:)

    1. i don’t believe in free stuff:) and i never take carrier bags with me
    2. i have tons of clothes and i keep buying more 🙂
    3. that’s what i would do, sitting in a warm place while waiting, because my comfort is very important to me:)
    4. i do use taxi … they even have my number and name on the database, cos i use it a lot 🙂
    5. no sandwiches under the rain (though sometimes it can be very nice and romantic) 🙂
    6. i don’t remember last time i saw a meal under 100 kc … i think meal under 100 kc was somewhat 3 years ago …
    7. it is absolutely acceptable 🙂 and that’s what we usually do:))))
    8. hate coaches … i prefer comfortably comfortable comfort 🙂

    oh well, let’s go spend money this week 🙂 *wink*

  9. Sophy

    haha,your blog made me laugh again.
    Good points,but among all those I dont do,I do always bring bags to Albert or Billa but not to Tesco,coz bags are free there.Although I have tons of clothes,I guess I have a little Czech spirit.Im Chinese and my husband is part jewish after all.

  10. Katka

    Girl, you hit it all on the nose. My favorite is #3. My husband and I go round and round on that one. 🙂

  11. I’ve not even got to Prague yet and I’ve already noticed these traits in my boyfriend and his two male friends living here in the UK. Each one is spot on, despite the relative cheaper cost of a lot of those things in the UK. I wonder how much more it will be exagerrated once we’re in Prague… hmmmm. He’s not getting my coffees!!! Though I do understand that purchasing clothes is relatively a lot more expensive in Prague. I’ve been used to TK Maxx and H&M with GBP… wondering how I’ll manage that one!

  12. Eso

    I showed your list to my friend, who is Czech living in UK and he wrote me his three suggestions to Brits (Londoners) 🙂 :

    1. tracksuit ISNT’T ideal dress for any occassion.

    2. There is no shame in throwing trash to trashcan and really it isn’t necessary to throw it anywhere on ground where you stay or sit.

    3. If you move aside on sidewalk and let others to pass, then you aren’t less man, woman or child!

  13. Vero

    How about going to the hair salon?
    In my family it was a ludicrous waste of money going to get a proper haircut at a fancy salon when mom could cut it with her scissors for free at home.
    Please refer to my elementary school pics for my terribly uneven bangs….
    Actually, the first time I ever went into a hairsalon was when I turned 30!!!

  14. Lana

    Spot on 🙂 While thriftiness is not an exclusively Czech feature, they do it so effortlessly and naturally that after living among them for a while you start wondering – maybe you are spoiled. I remember trying to take my Czech father-in-law for coffee while he was visiting Prague, and the confused look on his face once he understood my broken Czech. “Why? We have coffee at home”.
    Or using a taxi for anything, including the wedding. “Why? We have a car. We’ll just park around the corner, it’s a short walk to the city hall from there, white dress and all”.
    And, mind you, I was born in ex-Soviet Union, where living conditions were much harsher. But I cannot use this line – whenever they feel that my logic might prevail, they mention tanks 🙂

  15. Marek

    The exceptions being having my hair cut by trainee hairdressers for about 3 to 6 CZK (10-20p). Actually, there used to be a place in Skolska street (off Vodickova) that used to do it. I had my hair cut for a £1 in 2001. Worth a try even now? 🙂

  16. Gormie

    I have been reading a blog written by a Czech girl living in Tokyo. It is very funny, because, you know, Japanese people are weird. Your blog is the same, except it’s the other way around: it’s about weird Czechs. I can see now, for example, how it may feel strange to some people to eat warm sausages with their hands. It just never occurred to me, since is so common in our country. It’s fun to see ourselves through the eyes of a foreigner. Your blog is great!

    • girlinczechland

      Aww, thanks for the nice words! I don’t think I would bother to carry on writing if I didn’t get any positive feedback so ta very much.

      GIC

      P.S Yes, you Czech are all weird. 😉

  17. Honza

    Hey, why did you erase my message?

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Honza,

      Umm, I don’t think I did… Must have been some techinical problem. Try posting again and we’ll see what happens!

      GIC

  18. Honza

    Ok, sorry for that, but i thought you erased that =D I will post it later, thanks for answer

  19. MichaelL

    Spot on!

    I’ve actually asked my brother in law, his opinion on how something tasted, and his reply was its expensive. Again I asked… but do you like the taste, his reply – yes but its expensive.

    I was talking about 20 crown bread spread.

  20. Jen

    This itemized list would have saved me a lot of headache with my ex-Slovak boyfriend and perhaps may have prevented me from even making the move to Prague in the first place for someone as thrify as he was. Although, had I never been lured here, I wouldn’t have been able to clearly define all of the things I am not, one of which is a penny-pincher.

    I don’t care how much of a financial crisis the world is in, I will ALWAYS have my cake and eat it too…even at 150 kc / nearly $10 USD. There’s some things that just aren’t meant to be sacrificed!!

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  24. Honza

    There are similar estates in every European country… also, the paneled public housing in the UK was gentrified and the flats now go for top pounds. Newer apartment buildings in this style are a common European site, but of course they’re demeaned when built in nations which were not occupied by the US after the war.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello again Honza,
      It is indeed true that gentrification has led to the equivalent of panelled social housing in the UK fetching top prices. However, I think this is more a reflection of the frankly crazy housing market in the UK where buying yourself a second home in the country (a ‘chata’ let’s say) – something which is pretty normal here unless I’m mistaken – would be completely beyond the reach of most people. I think it’s true to say that people in the UK are more obsessed with getting on the housing ladder and are more inclined to see their home as an investment which they hope to do up, sell in five years and move to somewhere better. Anyway, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!
      GIC

  25. pat

    It’s all true and I laughed reading it, but you should also realise the trend is slowly turning around. Nearly EVERYBODY was poor during the communist era, saving every penny wasn’t the matter of choice, but young people (30yo and less) aren’t so afraid of using a taxi anymore and don’t care so much about bringing their own bags to Billa, because everyone is richer nowadays – you can buy more stuff for the same work. Nevertheless, some of those things we are taught by your parents and we kind of feel it’s the right way to go. 😉 By the way, most people still can’t afford a menu for 100CZK+ on a daily basis, they just don’t earn that much. 🙂

    I like your blog.

  26. Kate Burley via Facebook

    The full details of this story should surely be another blog post??

  27. Not sure about that: he’s not on Facebook but he does read the blog …

  28. Misunka

    I have to admit that even though I am Czech I could classify in few points as a spoiled westerner. Maybe it’s because I was born and have lived almost all my life in Prague. However, Czechs ability od saving money definitely has at least one negative aspect -the majority of Czechs are cheap and selfish. Cause sometimes is not the ability of saving but simply being greedy..

  29. honza

    Haha, great. However, there are reasons for these:
    1) Supermarket bags
    The reason comes from the past. Before 1989 you did not get any bags in the shops. Everyone had to take his/her own.

    2) Owning more than two pairs of jeans.
    I don’t think this is true for the majority of locals 🙂

    3) Spending money on having a tea or coffee.
    This has a point. Most Czech people don’t spend money on things they don’t need just because people generally don’t have too much money here. Not talking about coffee but in general. Most salaries are fractions of what you get in Western Europe but the prices are mostly similar.

    4) Using a taxi.
    Taxi in Prague is extremely expensive compared to what you earn and what public transport costs. Paying maybe 20 times more for taxi than for metro/tram is too much for most locals. I don’t know how much a metro ticket in London now is but if it was something like 5 GBP, imagine paying 100 GBP for a taxi. I don’t think it costs that much.

    5) Refusing to eat sandwiches in a bus shelter…
    There are a few points here. This is changing a lot now, however, it still has something to do with money. Before 1989 it was unthinkable for most people to go to a restaurant for lunch on a trip. It was just too expensive, so everyone took sandwiches. It also has something to do with the Czechs being keen on hiking, camping and generally spending time in nature where a restaurant is the part of civilization they want to avoid being on a trip.

    6) Believing it is acceptable to spend more than 100Kc (£3) on a hot meal at lunchtime.
    This is unfortunately correct. Lots of Czech people still can’t tell the difference between a restaurant and a canteen and think that food must be cheap. This is gradually changing in bigger cities with better restaurants but somewhere in the village you would still meet lost of people who would never go to a more expensive restaurant (partly because they just can’t afford it). On the other hand, you have to consider that restaurants here are much much cheaper than in the UK in general and for some 6 GBP you’ll get good food and drink in an average restaurant.

    7) Believing it is acceptable to spend 150kc (£5) on a hot beverage and a slice of cake.
    Again, this is just because such price is 3 times higher than the average price for a coffee and a cake here. This is the price you’d pay in Starbucks, however, Starbucks here is way more expensive than normal cafe here and only western tourists go there because the price is the same as they would pay at home. Here it is overpriced.

    8) Refusing to travel abroad by coach rather than by plane.
    This is all about money. In case the plane is cheaper, everyone would chose the plane. In case the coach is significantly cheaper, most people would choose it just because they need to cut the costs. However, I have to say that many Czech coaches are way more comfy than some low-cost plane and offer better services incl. personal entertainment system, free beverages etc. etc. It just takes longer.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Honza,

      Thanks for taking the time to leave such a detailed response. My reply will be much shorter I’m afraid, as I’m finally managing to sit down and write a new blog post after a *very* long time! No 7 caught my eye as it was a reminder of how my attitudes have changed since I first arrived: now I would certainly think twice before spending 150kc on coffee and cake! I think around the 100kc is a more realistic price – although the cukrarna Fox and Deer does *lovely* (but expensive!) cake so and go and splurge there every now and again.

      Here’s a link for anyone who is curious:

      https://www.facebook.com/foxanddeer

      Anyway, back to work on that post…

      GIC

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