Monthly Archives: February 2011

Do Czechs have an inferiority complex?

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 I was looking at yesterday when an article about PJ Harvey, the English musician and singer songwriter, caught my eye. I am a huge fan so I decide to print it out and underline key vocabulary which I will look up, scribble down on a bit of paper and then promptly lose before managing to commit any of them to memory.

I don’t bother to print the article. I do find myself thinking about something that’s been bothering me for a long time. Czechs, I’m no Sigmund Freud, but I think you have an inferiority complex. 

Why should the fact that a not particularly famous English alternative musician be launching a new album be of interest to Czech people? Could you imagine a similar piece about anyone Czech appearing on the front page of the Guardian or the BBC’s website?

Of course the answer is no. And don’t tell me this is just because the Czech Republic is a small country.

I still struggle to imagine what it must be like to grow up in a place where most of the ads you see on the metro are for books and films produced somewhere else. Around eighty percent of the fiction market in the Czech Republic is made up of translations. That means that only Czech authors write only one fifth of books published – I know, I’m a maths genius as well as a witty blogger.

I am well aware that English is the main global means of communication – I wouldn’t have a job otherwise – but isn’t the message is here that Czech is at best uncool or worse still, utterly inconsequential? Isn’t there something sad about that?

Forget PJ Harvey for a moment, who is at least talented and interesting. Why should anyone Czech care about glamour model and reality TV star Katie Price? While wandering around Levne Knihy the other day in search of bargains I came across one of her novels (no doubt ghostwritten, even more certainly trash) which to my astonishment, had been translated into Czech.

Who cares about this vacuous woman? Why should an English Z-list celebrity be of more interest than a Czech one? Surely you have enough annoying fame-hungry blondes of your own to fill this particular gap in the market?

Czechs, I see this as a symptom of your inferiority complex. It’s a shame because you have plenty to be proud of. I know I spend I lot of time teasing you for your idiosyncrasies but there’s more to Czechland than grumpy shop assistants and dumplings. You pioneered Cubism. You invented the sugar cube. Forget Kafka and Kundera: you have Hrabal, Klima and Hulova and others who I can’t read, but would if they were translated into English which rather proves my point.

Big nations do have something to learn from small ones, even if we arrogantly overlook you too often. Like how to economise more and therefore be less of a capitalist drone. The importance of family. The joys of the cigar-shaped bread roll.

I think that part of the reason I’ve had a good deal of interest in the blog is that Czech people are surprised a) that anyone from the Big Shiny West would come and live here b) more puzzingly still, we might think our lives are better here. I know mine is.

But you can keep your own ex-reality TV “stars” if you don’t mind.

Here's is the shy and retiring Ms Katie Price. Do you think she can even point to the Czech Republic on a map? Why then, my Czech friends, are you reading her so-called novels?

Here it is Katie! The sometimes strange but mostly great little country known to most of the world as the Czech Republic. How is Peter Andre these days? Oh, that's right, you're divorced. I really shouldn't know that...


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New Year’s Irresolution or Playing with Fireworks

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Don’t laugh too hard but one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to update this blog on a weekly basis.  Yes, I know.  But I really will try harder in future.  Honestly.  And to reply to some of the very nice emails I’ve received too.  Sorry, grovel, sorry. 

I intended my first post of the year to recount my first New Year’s Eve here in Czechland.  I know the celebrations will be a distant memory for most of you by now but I’m going ahead with Plan A anyway.  Why?  Because it seems the Czechs like to see out the old year with a bang.  Literally.

In English, there’s going out – the simple act of leaving the house – and then there’s going out- out – a super-duper-slangy faux phrasal verb which means that you intend to head to the bar, then to a nightclub and party the night away until the small hours. 

I don’t like going out out on New Year’s Eve.  It’s crowded, expensive and therefore no fun at all in my view.  Fortunately, in 2010, I was invited to mark the passing of the previous twelve months at the home of a fellow member of the Czech Wives’ Club: the unofficial title for the group of English coffee-buddies I have assembled who also have moved here because they fell for a Czech Man (aww).

The  friend in question offered to make curry and stock up on alcohol: we promised to bring more booze and plenty of posh nibbles from Marks and Spencers.

The first challenge was getting to my friend’s home.  She is a panelak resident so this meant taking the metro for twenty minutes, then a bus, then a bit of a walk.  Fine: I’ve lived in London, I’m used to having to trek to people’s houses on public transport.  However, what I wasn’t prepared for was the aerial assault of incendary devices which awaited us. 

It seems that one New Year’s tradition we’ve skipped in the UK is throwing lit fireworks from balconies onto the heads of unsuspecting passers-by.  We save such behaviour for Guy Fawkes’ Night.  Or, depending on where you live, the ASBO kids throw missiles at residents all year round.

What was the most interesting of all in my view was the reaction of the Czech menfolk to all this.  They thought we were silly English girls over-reacting yet again.  They didn’t seem surprised or concerned that when we stepped out onto the balcony, the entire sidliste (estate) looked like a scene from Basra with flares being set off in every possible direction.  What the Czechmen found more amusing still, was our terrified reaction when they decided to light up sparklers – indoors! And without gloves! This prompted even more squealing and hysteria.

It seems that in Czechland, children at school do not experience the annual visit from the Fire Department where they are shown photos of the mutilated hands of youngsters who lost several fingers becaus they were foolish enough to play with fireworks. The Czechmen thought that our hysterical behaviour was just further evidence of a health and safely culture gone mad.  They aren’t so hot on Health and Safety here in Czechland.  You’ll have noticed this if you’ve ever spotted burly men walking around a building site wearing only flipflops.

The Health and Safety Gang, rather like their cousins, the Politicially Correct Brigade, do have too much control over British society.  To go through life without any risk at all is to miss out on a good deal of exciting experiences.  I learned this first hand last weekend when I went skiiing for the first time in real mountains.  However, surely somebody needs to warn the Czech Republic’s youngsters that throwing fireworks around might not only make their New Year kick off with a bang, but with a prolonged stay in hospital?

Phew.  That’s enough moralising.  Now I’m off to pack my suitcase ready for my visit to the homeland.  Stay tuned –  I’ll try not to leave it quite so long next time.


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