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…