Culture shock or culture shiver? Eight tiny ways the Czechs do things differently

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A not so spoilt and western coffee drinking opportunity in Tesco at Novy Smichov

I wonder if it is possible to experience true culture shock within Europe these days.  The answer, I suspect, is no.  However, there are those tiny little differences that serve as a reminder you’re in a foreign land.  A bit like when you try to cook in someone else’s kitchen and the knives and forks and chopping board are all in the wrong place.  So, you’ve already heard enough about the major differences I’ve encountered since moving to the Czech Republic in other posts; here are some of my Czech culture shivers:

1.  Need to tinkle?  Fear not: there are plenty of public conveniences here in Czechland which is very, erm, convenient.  Remember though that more often than not, the toilet paper is not in the cubicle itself but on a giant roll near Pani Peepeeova by the main entrance.  Don’t forget to tear off a length and take it with you ladies or you’ll end up having to drip dry…

2. As you all know, I do enjoy a coffee but I have a weakness for the spoilt and western kind, the consumption of which offers an excuse to sit down in fancy environs. I find it puzzling though that there are coffee vending machines in the strangest places.  The doctor’s waiting room.  In the metro by the ticket machines.  And even in the fruit and veg aisle of the supermarket.  Are Czechs really so desperate for their caffeine fix?

3. Caraway seeds (kmín).  They put the things everywhere.  Sometimes you’ll find them in the cylinder shaped bread rolls (rohlíky) the Czechs love to munch for breakfast or mixed in with boiled potatoes, presumably in an effort to liven them up.  They taste ok, I suppose.  Just don’t make the mistake that I did when shopping here and buy them when what you really want is the indian spice, cumin.

4. Net curtains.  According to Czechman’s mum, only gypsies don’t have net curtains.  Make that gypsies and British residents.  They just seem desperately old-fashioned and kitsch; I’d rather have everyone stare into my living room than put some up.

5. Tipping. Unlike in England, you don’t leave money on the table, you tell the waitress how much you want them to have when you pay your bill.  So to clarify, if your lunch comes to 85kc, you could hand over a 100kc note and say ‘devadesát korun’ (ninety crowns).  Or if you want to be uber-Czech, you could just not bother with a tip at all (I’m joking, don’t lynch me please…) 

Czechman much prefers the British system of leaving the cash on the table as he feels uncomfortable letting the waiting staff know just how much he appreciates their service (or lack of).

6. Padded doors.  I visited my friend’s panelák recently and when I went to the loo, I felt like I had accidently ended up in a cell in a mental ward.  Why the padding?  Is is for soundproofing to prevent embarrassing sounds echoing down the corridor?

7. Pubs.  Table service!  Hurray!  No more traipsing up to the bar everytime you want another drink and waving your ten pound note hopefully at the barman in the hope you might get served before doomsday.  And in a Czech pub there’s (nearly) always somewhere to sit down too. 

8. Paying for things.  I’m still puzzled as to where exactly I’m supposed to put the money when I’m paying for something in a shop.  In England, the most polite thing is to place the money in the shop assistant’s hand; putting it on the counter implies that you think they’re dirty and touching them would contaminate you.  Here though, there seem to be little plastic trays by the till designed for customers to place their cash in when paying for goods: is that what I should be doing?  Is it ok to hand over a note that’s all screwed up in a ball or should it always be completely unfolded?  These questions of etiquette keep me awake at night…

I know I promised you my thoughts on the Czechs and their sense of, erm, style.  However, I decided to go for something a bit more light-hearted this time while I mull it over (phrasal verb alert! – this one means ‘to think about’ or ‘to consider deeply’ Czech readers) as I’m afraid if I write something thoughtless I’ll be torn to pieces. Anyway, watch this space: my thoughts on double denim and socks with sandals are coming soon…

Don't forget to take some loo roll with you or you'll have to drip dry...

55 Comments

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55 Responses to Culture shock or culture shiver? Eight tiny ways the Czechs do things differently

  1. LMAO at both point 1 (the embarrassment of Pani Peepeeova shouting after you as you forget to retrieve said toilet paper at start) and point 6 – sense we might be envisaging the very same place… ;-))

  2. martin

    4. Main reason for net curtains is privacy because czech people are curious. Its my living room ! 🙂

    8. i am not aware of any specific habit ‘where to put money’ … definetly is not perceived as unpolite to put money on plastic tray e.g. when shop assistant is bussy with cash machine/packaging your goods.

    • Dan

      The curtains, many other bad habits of Czechs are a residuum of the communist times. Eg. back then privacy was very rare and you wanted to avoid people spying you at home. Remember, you newer knew, who hates you and who might slander at the wrong places (your boss, school, pol. party, bureau etc).

      • girlinczechland

        Hello Dan,
        Never considered the nation’s apparent net curtain obsession as being related to the Communist era – interesting and feasible, but don’t venetian blinds do the same job? I guess they are more of a nuisance to clean though (ooh, Girl In Czechland gets all houseproud ;))
        GIC

      • Janica

        I thought we were using only curtains as there was nothing else – if I remember it right, blinds came just after revolution. Yes, another thing to blame communism for – two options af a house design, only curtains and saving everything including the toilet paper in the public loos. As the last one I also don’t like the web curtains. But why not to use the obvious solution – normal, colourful and opaque curtains? Especially when so many women used to sew various articles at home. A real mystery.
        I was quite amused about the cumin – kmín part, it gave me a hard time when I started living in London, too:).
        Padded doors – I actually didn’t notice this phenomenon but I think you guessed the reason for it:).
        Don’t worry about the paying thing, just don’t throw it on the floor and it should be fine.
        I am only trying to respond for some less serious topic for once:).
        Jana

  3. Paul Oxenham

    Hi GIC,
    Another fine expose of Czech life. I’d like to add my own thoughts if i may.
    1. Toilets! Do Czech people really need toilets indoors? Every day on my drive to and from work i spy at least 3 or 4 people standing (and the occassional bop) by the side of the road relieving themselves. There is no effort to hide behind a tree!! If it was the UK we’d be arrested.
    2. Coffee! The most common place for drinking coffee in Cz would appear to be outside the petrol station. There are even picnic tables for this event. In the evening and at the weekend, the ‘Benzina’ also doubles as a bar. Unfortunately, there is no table service!
    6. Padded doors! I teach in a lot of companys with such doors. How do you knock????? I’ve had pupils miss half a lesson because they don’t hear my efforts to ‘knock’ on the door!
    8. Paying for things! Oh yes! I always hand over the money. It is more polite, i feel, than putting it on the counter. How do i get my change? It varies from place to place. Notes in the little tray and coins in my hand. Coins in the little tray and notes in my hand. Whatever, the worst of all is coins on the counter! Have you ever tried to pick a coin off a sticky counter? It’s no fun.

    Whilst i am here, can someone please tell me why the Czech government changes the language every week? I have my lesson, i study, and when i use what i have learned i am told it is wrong!! Apparently, everything is an ‘exception’!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Hezky vikend

    • martin

      “why the Czech government changes the language every week” … what you mean by that ? Yes Czech language is difficult to learn, its not logical often you have to remember some special rule… i admire everybody who wants to learn czech language because we are so small nation.

    • Martina

      Hi,
      yes, we do need indoor toilets… I guess you don´t spy people on your drive to work, you spy men only 🙂
      Good luck with your studies.

    • Russ

      The government changing language? What?!?
      If what you learn in your lessons doesn’t fit what people say on the streets, that’s the difference between “book” Czech and colloquial Czech. The government has nothing to do with language, and the Czech language actually changes far less than English. That’s because, like French, for example, there’s ONE authoritative body that makes decisions on official Czech grammar/language and publish it in ONE book. Unlike English, where if enough people say something incorrectly, then the grammar books (and there are at least 30 that claim to the the authority…all somewhat different) just change the rule (see use of “whom” or correctly forming a 3rd conditional sentence) to fit the mistake.

    • honza

      The government does not change the language. There is an institute that publishes the grammar rules from time to time. To your disappointment, the last official change of some Czech grammar rules took place in 1993. 🙂
      As for the money, there really is no rule how to hand it over. I personally appreciate when the money is laid in the tray, so I don’t have to deal with the notes and coins in one hand, trying to get them in my wallet in the other hand without losing them. What may be a surprise particularly for Americans, Czech do not crumple the notes or even write on them which is quite usual in the US. Czech people use wallets where the money are at most fold but definitely not crumpled.

  4. Paul Oxenham

    Martin, it was just my way of saying how difficult the language is, and that the rules always seem to change. I’m slowly improving, but it will take a while. One of the biggest problems is that i’m learning from a book and learning ‘perfect Czech’. It is very different from the language used by day to day Czechs. I suppose it is the same as English in this way.
    Martina, of course Czechs need toilets 🙂 It was just an observation, and not meant to cause offence. Yes, i should have said men, but i did see one woman showing some flesh last week on the road to Nachod last week(she could have been Polish!).
    Thanks for the good luck message. I need all the luck i can find 🙂

  5. I think any culture where you can still go to the toilet casually outside without fear of arrest has something going for it – I could never understand why human beings give each other less rights than animals in that respect. That having been said, I did get some bird poo on my car the other day, and I’d rather that place to go was reserved for non-humans of the flying kind. If I saw some human squatting on my bonnet crimping one out onto the windshield, I would wonder whom I’d upset now on my blog, or whom I’d forgotten to tip!

  6. Hi GIC,

    I look forward to hear your thoughts on Czech style, in the meantime though I couldn’t help myself but placing socks and sandals at the top of my Top 10 signs that you’re in Czech Republic[1]. Hopefully my Czech friends will forgive me 😉

    [1] http://cometoprague.com/history-curiosity/top-10-signs-that-youre-in-czech-republic/

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Lorenzo,
      I’m really scared about broaching the topic of Czechs and fashion: I’m worried I’ll be lynched! It’s true about the socks and sandals though – and slippers in the office? Is that taking ‘smart-casual’ too far? This question and more will be tackled in future posts…
      GIC

    • Elle

      I look forward to your thoughts on Czech style too! Please don’t forget the embarrasingly short shorts on men, especially when worn with the socks and sandals combo!

      I’m married to my own Czechman and always love your blogs…they are a great comfort, lol!!

      • girlinczechland

        Hi Elle,
        I’ve started work on the Czechs and style blog but I’m afraid it will cause even more controversy than the seven linguistic errors of Czechs post… We’ll see or ‘uvidíme’ as the Czechs are so fond of saying (or at least Czechman is).
        GIC

  7. Well, as for the tipping and paying in restaurants – the “Czech system” isn’t really how it should be done, even here. It’s just that nowadays, in most restaurants, the staff either don’t know how it should be done properly, don’t really care or even don’t know that they’re doing it wrong. But the proper way of paying should always(!) be that the waiter brings you your check, preferably hidden in a “checkbook” (don’t know the proper word, sorry) or at least hidden somehow and leaves (very important). You take a look at the check, put your money into the “checkbook” along with the check and leave it on the table in a way that it’s clear that it’s “ready”. The waiter then comes and takes everything away from other guest’s view. He then takes the money from the “checkbook”, counts it and puts the proper amount of change back into the checkbook. Then he brings it to you once again, thanks you for your visit and leaves you for good. You then take your change and leave the intended tip in the “checkbook”. And then you leave. That’s how it should always be done, no matter what country (well, at least in Europe) – it’s proper, distingushed and discreet, and, in a way, it’s almost a ceremony of respect and politeness. And that’s how it was always done here as well not so long ago, at least in proper restaurants (pubs – not so much, of course).

    I’m Czech, yet I hate “the Czech system” with a passion (and have the tendency to sometimes – politely – let the staff know that this really is not how it should be done) . It’s an awfully rude “system”. Everybody around you overhears the waiter telling you how much you’re paying, he’s standing above you all the time peeking into your wallet, you have to quickly come up with how much you want to tip them (this is the part my gf hates the most if/when she’s paying), then you have to basically tell them how high your tip is (so once again, anyone can hear that) and then, to top it off, more often then not, there’s the customary act of “damn, I can’t find the right amount of coins/bills, hold on a second, I’m sure they’re here somewhere” from the waiter prompting you to “up the tip”. It’s rude, awfully rude. It’s a shame that the proper way of “paying rituals” in a restaurant has become almost extinct here and most people do not even care…

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Case,
      Did I mention already that Czechman really hates the (so-called) Czech system of tipping? As a non-native speaker of (some) Czech, it really stresses me out having to a) decide how much I want to tip b) make sure I’ve come up with the right number for said amount and that I pronounce it in a comprehensible way! Waiters who have spoken to me in Czech until it comes to the bill and then suddenly switch to English (probably to make sure they get the right money out of me) don’t get tipped at all. The last time it happened, I actually said in a grumpy voice ‘Mluvim česky protože myslela jsem že jsme v Cechách’. Czechman said this was too harsh and the guy was trying to be ‘helpful’ but I think I made my point 🙂
      GIC

  8. Hi GIC,

    As always, I thoroughly enjoyed your wry observations on Czech culture and the Czech way of doing certain things.

    With regard to point 4, I agree with you that net curtains are somewhat kitsch. And putting them up does seem at odds with the very relaxed attitude that Czechs have towards the exposure of the human body. A ground floor flat in the neighbouring block of flats to the one where I live, has net curtains hung inside the full length windows and doors that overlook and give access to their patio and garden. Yet the young mother who lives there, regularly comes out onto the patio to hang out the family washing, only wearing her bra & knickers!

    Regarding point 5, whilst telling your waiter/waitress either how much you want to pay or how much change you want, is quite commonplace, I’ve never been frowned upon for leaving a tip on the table. And what Case describes in her comment does still happen, particularly in slightly more upmarket restaurants.

    I’m also in agreement with you in point 7 as to how nice it is to have table service and somewhere to sit down in a pub. Very early in my time here in the Czech Republic, I made the mistake of trying to order at the bar before I discovered the Czech way of doing things.

    The one Czech habit that I still find so culturally different is the way a waiter/waitress comes along and whips your plate away the moment you’ve finished eating, regardless that other people with you at the table haven’t yet finished their meal. No one seems to be able to offer me an explanation for this practice. Maybe some of your Czech readers can? I myself have written about this and associated cultural differences in an older post on my blog http://rickyyates.com/eating-drinking-in-a-czech-bar-restuarant/

    • standy

      Hallo GIC,Ricky,
      I think that the national habits are always a little bit strange for foreigner.I read already before,that some foreigners in the Czech Republic
      are wonder that the waiter carry the plates away immediately finishing eating,but here it is normal.
      I remember sitting above ( over ?? I dont know what is right….or well??) empty dishes in some nice Restaurant in Austria all the time till we went.The same heppened to me this sommer in Italy. The only one people who was suprised were the Czechs………….”The waiter is blind??Should we sit here with dirty plates??It could`nt happened in the Czech republic!!”
      The waiter was not blind, only we were the misunderstanding foreigners……….

      • tHe_jinXeD

        Guys,

        this ritual of cleaning the table as soon as you finish your meal is called “débarrassé” and it comes from french style of service. However, I can’t tell if it’s a cultural inheritance from the faded times of czech-french relationship (19th cent.) or just a random phenomena.

  9. Re Czech Fashion…I don’t think you’ll be lynched, as the national sartorial sense seems to be a current topic of domestic debate. Take a look at this: http://respekt.ihned.cz/respekt-in-english/c1-42137150-buy-me-track-pants-love

    And yes, that thing with the money trays in the shops gives me moments of massive social anxiety!

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Becka,
      Thanks for posting the link. There will be a Czech fashion related post soon I promise – just as soon as I stop moaning about the joys of communicating in a foreign language, whether it be Czech or English!

      GIC

  10. Kuba Uchytil

    I don’t have net curtains at my appartment. I keep having fights about it with my mom, roughly once a year, but I think I’m just too cosmopolitan in this, so I resist 🙂

    The “direct” tipping is actually fine for me, at least in places that don’t know any better (i.e. what Case described). At least until you attempt to give your first negative tip (usually due to a math error), that is often quite surprising for the waiter 😉 You know, “Two hundred sixty eight.” “Two fifty, thanks and goodbye…”

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Kuba,
      Net curtains. It’s another pet hate of mine. They’re just so ugly and kitsch. And they soon start looking grey instead of white which is also very depressing. Carry on being cosmopolitan, that’s my advice!
      Negative tipping! I like it! That’ll soon confuse them…
      GIC

      • Kuba Uchytil

        They don’t turn grey if you wash them on a regular basis – which is very depressing in itself; I hated taking them down and hanging them again as a kid 🙂 Sunblinds are just so much better.

  11. Russ

    Biggest culture shock for me, both when I first came and now after 8 years, is how so many shop assistants seem to actually NOT want money. They avoid or ignore customers and then if you ask for help, they act like you’re bothering them. I know I’m spoiled from years of overly-polite service in the US, but I really don’t expect to be met with wild enthusiam and conversation. But the person who’s being PAID to help me could at least pretend that it’s a neutral experience, if they can’t be bothered to smile and pretend that it’s enjoyable.
    The people who sell tickets at the train station (and yes, I always speak Czech to them) are often VERY rude, and they don’t know (or pretend not to know) the information they should I always have to inform THEM of the special sale or discount I’m entitled to. Go just a hundred kilometers across a border to Germany or Austria, and the service is a world away!

    The other three things are the way so many Czech people don’t clean up after their dogs, how it’s perfectly normal to blow discusting smoke into a stranger’s face while they’re trying to eat, and how so many people completely ignore lines/queues and just walk right up to the counter past the few people who are waiting.

    I guess all of these fall into one category: basic common courtesy. The style and pace of life of Czechs among coworkers, friends and family is great. I like it much more than in the US. But the general treatment of strangers (particularly by people whose job it is to help strangers), I don’t think I’ll ever get used to. I know there are people everywhere who get a cruel pleasure out of ruining the days of perfect strangers, but there seem to be a lot more of them here, and so MANY of them work in customer service jobs. ?!?

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Russ,
      I think the customer service issue (or lack thereof) must be more irritating for an American than for us Brits as I have the feeling that the whole service culture is much stronger in the US than in Britain. That said, it still gets my goat when people in shops are rude to me although I’m working on developing a thicker skin…
      As for the pace of life here, I completely agree with you: it suits me much better too and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy living here so much. And I want to say once again that I *do* enjoy living here, even if sometimes there are things that get me down – there would be plenty of things to niggle me back home too, it’s just they wouldn’t involve having to decline the genitive plural 🙂
      GIC

      • Russ

        I’m actually used to the service without a smile, but when they’re downright rude, I complain. And I recently travelled through Germany, Austria, Italy, and Slovenia and everywhere I went people were much more friendly, so it’s not just a US-thing (but I know what you’re saying with that comment, btw).

        As for genitive plural, when you get to it, I think the plural declinations of genitive and dative (two of the worst in singular), and even instrumental in colloquial Czech, are much easier than the singular. There are really just two main models and a couple exceptions: not like in singular, where there are four “official” vzory, but actually about six or eight (when you consider words like ‘les’ or ‘svete’ which are classified as being ‘podle vzoru hrad-bez-hradu’, except that they take an ‘a’ ending in the second case instead of ‘u’!!!)

        My main problem with declination is not knowing the gender of the word to begin with, and then not knowing what case I need; if I know those two things, I’m usually ok. Yes, gender is usually easy to tell with most words, but when I start speaking, I come across a lot of word pairs like “postel/kostel” or “stroj / kolej”…in each case one is masculine and one is feminine…but which is which? And then with cases, I’ve got most of the prepositions down pat with the case they take, and some of the verbs just seem intuitive (like “rict nekomu neco”), but there are a lot of verbs that seem to randomly take one case or another (If you TELL someone, they’re dative, but if you ask them, they’re genitive? If you accept something it’s one but deny something, is it the same?)
        I seriously feel, sometimes, like the language was invented as a parody of linguistics…some of the rules (“mobile e”, two to four things ARE one plural but five or more IS another?!?) sound like they were invented by Monte Python! But after teaching English for years, I could say the same thing about our rules (or lack there of) for spelling, tenses, and the use or not of articles.

        One positive thing I can say about Czechs and their language is that overall, I’ve found them VERY encouraging and enthusiastic about foreigners’ attempts to speak it. (Rude shop assistants don’t count here, as they’re rude to people who speak perfect Czech, too, and they just grab the first reason to snarl at you they can find). I’ve been here eight years, so I’d say I should be fluent, period. But Czechs tell me all the time “you’ve ONLY been here eight years?!? How is it that you speak Czech so well.” And Czech friends introduce me to their friends and say “he speaks Czech fluently”, which isn’t true. My passive ability could sometimes be described as fluent, but my spoken definitely isn’t (a nikdy nebude…ale porad se snazim!).

  12. Honza

    Pani Peepeeova :oD it is so funny!

    I have just found your blog and it is great!

    Thanks

    Honza

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Honza,
      Thanks for the compliment and glad I managed to make you laugh: that’s the aim of the game after all 🙂
      GIC

  13. Mme Verdurin

    Hey there, looking forward to your thoughts on Czech style or non-style, as the case may be. I have some pet peeves but please please please omit the tired cliché about socks and sandals… it’s been said and written a million times, it’s not new or interesting and, finally, they are now worn by hipsters in many parts of the world as a fashion statement. (Berlin comes to mind. The Germans have always loved to sock-sandal combo, anyway.) Try to come up with something that hasn’t received so much coverage and that is really specific to this country. I’m sure you’ll have plenty to say… can’t wait!

    • Russ

      I agree. I’ve never understood the fascination of the “fashion-police” with this minor infraction. I find myself shocked (or sometimes even saddened) by the way Czechs dress (and I generally could care less about fashion) sometimes, but I never notice this thing.
      What I find myself noticing most, is how many women in Prague OVERdress. Or they follow a new fashion trend so blindly and completely that it’s embarassing to see. Some of them come to work or take their baby for a walk in outfits that seriously look to me like they came from a costume shop and were labelled “prostitute”.
      And then many of them wear SO much makeup that they look absurd. One cliche that I agree with is that Czech women, as a whole, are very beautiful, but many of them cover up their natural beauty with a coat of make-up that looks like what actors in the theater wear.

      Anyway…just my two cents about something that really isn’t important at all in my opinion, but I know people like to talk about it.

    • Jaroslav Kotlaba

      I am prone to sunburn so sandal without sock can easily turn into spanish boot (španělská bota)

  14. Sarka

    I’m Czech and I like net curtains 🙂 Honestly, I can’t imagine living in a flat and not having net curtains hanged on windows. To me, it adds to the cosiness and “warmth” of a place. I prefer the longer ones, not net curtains cut to the length above the radiators. You have to wash them from time to time (once a year, or once in two years, I don’t know I’m not very experienced in washing net curtains) to prevent them from looking grey. Without net curtains a room looks a bit cold and too “open” to the street. But I have to say that it’s rather a feeling nothing, ehm, rational. People probably wouldn’t be able to see inside rooms during a day.

  15. radko

    i am czech and i hate net curtains. 🙂

  16. Lucie

    Regarding coffee – machines.Well, most of Czechs I know drink this coffees only in “emergency” situations, when there is no place and time for a real cup of coffee (petrol station, that’s a good example).To enjoy a coffee, we prefer to sit in “kavarna” and have a real, good one.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Lucie,
      I’m glad these coffee machines are for emergency use only! As you’ve probably already gathered, I also much prefer the sit-down kind in a nice, cosy kavarna. 🙂

      GIC

      • Russ

        Unfortunately, most Czechs seem to enjoy their kavarna (like their hospoda) full of smoke, so the coffee tastes more like an ashtray. It’s one reason I’m thankful for mass-chains like Starbucks and McDonald’s, because they introduced the idea of letting people enjoy their food/coffee without breathing cartonfulls of cigarette smoke in the process. Now there are even a lot of small, local kavarnas that are smoke-free. Unfortunately there are still only three or four pubs and nowhere to dance for non-smokers.

  17. Šárka

    Hello Girlinczechland,
    I really do enjoy these observations everytime I hear or read them of foreigners. It always reminds me how much they care of us and wish to help us to get understand better to some things, because it is clear that all these things are the heritage of the recent history here in the easter Europe and it is so nice to feel this care.
    What sometimes just seems to me is that sometimes the foreigners as if did it in a way too “showy” regarding to the sensitivity of Czech people which is hidden behind of some kind of “external rudeness”, the part of character specific just for Czech and Slovak people much more than to the other countries around here.
    I really do like your webpage and the friendly way of talking and being.

    I can imagine how much the rudeness of Czech people all around us is intolerable and shocking for the english lady when everybody here knows how much polite the English people are. Even if I am Czech, I feel it very unconfortable too so much and what we do is that we always complaing of it of others but doing it too by ourselves. 🙂

    Well, the language that you mention, I can tell you, we are always very HAPPY to hear that some foreigner knows our language because we know that it is a very difficult language to learn.

    The net curtains, I do not have them too and my neibour sitting by her window and watching to our flat what we are doing if we watch TV etc. 🙂

    The toilets, I do not agree, in the offices, in the restaurants, the supermarkets, are very nice and clean toilets.

    Coffee machines aren´t they just for the modern look….?? 🙂

    The shop assistants, there are two types of the shops. 1. As soon as I enter to the shop, I just step inside, she immediatelly shows up and tells “Can I help you?” before I have ever had a time to look around where I am and without getting remember what I actually wanted to buy. 2. As you mentioned, no care. 🙂

  18. stockholmien

    Concerning the net courtains. i realy don´t like it, but it is not a specific czech feature – just do a one-day trip to Dresden or Leipzig, and you will see a german (saxonian) passion for kitsch courtains…

  19. jakr

    ad 3) caraway seeds – it is not a national obsession, it is just a way of helping certain food to digest easily. That is why caraway seed is added to potatoes when being boiled.

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Jakr,
      Surely it can’t just be a question of digestion: it must be about taste too, right? And if they’re really such a universal panacea, why aren’t they used so much in other countries? When I wanted to cook goulash for Czechman I really struggled to track them down back in the UK. And while we’re on the subject of strange additions to food, sticking huge salt crystals on bread rolls: why?
      GIC

      • jakr

        caraway seeds and boiled potatoes – it helps to remove some stuff from potatoes which is not ok for human beings. I am not a chemist to explain more. On bread, no idea why it is. I hate crystals of salt on bread myself, no idea why it is on it.

  20. Mme Verdurin

    This debate is getting silly. Czechs use caraway seeds because it’s a traditional Eastern European ingredient. I guess we’re used to it. It’s a specific taste that’s very distinctly local. Like malt vinegar to Brits! So don’t expect a detailed explanation of “why”. The answer is, “’cause! We just do use it. Get over it.” Ditto for salt crystals – to me they are crunchy and tasty. Czechs like the salty. In Scandinavia they put giant crystals of sugar on their baked products.

    It’s funny, you take great pains to come across as so polite – and you are! -but the gist of some of these “questions” really is, “Wow, I wonder why this country isn’t like the UK! Why is it so… Czech? Can someone explain?”

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Mme Verdurin,
      I obviously suspected it was just a question of taste which is why I was puzzled when ‘to aid digestion’ was offered up as an explanation for the addition of caraway seeds to various foods. There’s no such thing as a stupid question in my view: not being curious as to why things are different is more of a crime in my view or indeed, not bothering to pay attention to the differences. And yes, I agree that this ‘debate’ (if you can call it that) is all getting rather silly as the Monty Pythons used to say, so I’m going to leave it here although not before saying that I think my blog adds up to a little more than ‘Wow, why is this country so Czech?’ or else I presume people wouldn’t waste their time reading it.
      GIC

      • Hi GIC,
        May I come to your defence from the somewhat churlish comment of Mme Verdurin above.

        Your blog is a reflection on being a Brit living the Czech Republic & is written out of that experience. As you say in your piece entitled ‘Who is Girl in Czechland?’, “Although there are some things about life in the Czech Republic which get on my nerves, in general moving here has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Many Czechs are surprised when I tell them that:” It certainly isn’t saying “Wow, I wonder why this country isn’t like the UK! Why is it so… Czech? Can someone explain?”

        Yes – you do point out things here in the Czech Republic that seem rather idiosyncratic or odd to us Brits. And many of your Czech readers seem to appreciate you doing so. So please do continue to ask “Why?” And do continue to make your insightful observations of life in ‘Czechland’ which I shall continue to thoroughly enjoy reading.

  21. Mme Verdurin

    Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend. In response to thoughtful, probing questions such as “why do Czechs put caraway in everything” and “why are there salt crystals on my rohlík” i should have just said, “because we like it”.

    • girlinczechland

      Do I detect the slightest hint of sarcasm in your reply Mme Verdurin? 😉

      As James Boswell says in his ‘Life of Johnson’, “I am fully aware of the ojections which may be made to the minuteness on some occasions of my detail… and how happily it is adapted for the exercise of petty ridicule… but I remain firm and confident in my opinion that minute particulars are frequently characteristic and always amusing.”

      GIC

      • Jana

        Well, there might have been some sarcasm in Mme Verdurin’s post. However, I think what she wanted to point out is, that whilst it is very interesting and amusing to point out some cultural differences between your and our home country (after all, is it not the main role of this blog, which I realy like reading very much?), sometimes there is not much point in trying to get “behind” these differences.

        Surely, it is worth trying to find out “why” and often I end up ashamed myself by not knowing the answer:-) (such as I unwillingly managed to embarrass our British friends by asking why is there a crown in the Christmas crackers). But sometimes the simpliest and most accurate answer probably is “because it is the way we do it” 🙂 Having this said, I would not, for example, search for much of philosophy in a broad usage of caraway in our country. Simply it is our traditional seasoning and hence we use it.

        Anyway, I returned to your blog after about a half a year and still keep on enjoying it very much. Please continue writing, and dont worry, you dont have to defend yourself in advance if you wish to write about some “darker” sides of living in the Czech Republic. Every country has its own pluses and minuses and we are very well aware of those of us. Dont worry, we do not get offended that easily:-) And it is much more fun if you write about those, than if you sticked to a political correctness.
        Good night!
        Jana

  22. I miss coffee machines haha! And could not get used to not having curtains for such a long time in the UK! It’s so funny 😀 Just like all those things you find weird in THE (haha) Czech Republic…

    But… So many things I agree on with you… Keep going! Love the thought of the funniest girl from UK living in CZ 🙂 Love you xxxoooxxxooo 😀

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Jana,
      Like it says on the front page of the blog, declarations of love always welcome! Hope you keep reading…
      GIC

  23. girlinuk

    In the Czech cuisine we use plenty of root crop and it might potentially contain nitrate and solanine. These two harmful substances can be avoided by using caraway seed. ..after all years of using it we love it!
    When you finish your food it is rather churlish take the plate away when everyone still eating, but if everyone had finished eating, by the social norms, it is necessary to take all the plates away. Check rules of social behavior or choose a good restaurant to get a good service which is expensive and you will have to tip more than 10% of the final price.
    In the Great Britain you can see net curtains everywhere :)). However, you can use a google to find out about history of curtains and why they have been used.

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