Do Czechs have an inferiority complex?

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 I was looking at Actualne.cz 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...

52 Comments

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52 Responses to Do Czechs have an inferiority complex?

  1. I can only agree with you. Great post!
    However, sad to say, the modern ‘democracy’ (that czechs reached 20 years ago) brings only what you perfectly described: global markets, business, consumes, customers, profit…by replacing local culture, habits, traditions, language, life style…

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Pedro,
      Hmm, I know what you mean. Sometimes I wonder if by teaching English, rather than promoting cross-cultural communication and therefore understanding, I’m not just participating in a kind of global imperialism. Sigh.
      GIC

      • Hi GIC,
        I just have to say, I had that same inner-debate when I decided to start teaching English here years ago…language imperialism, or not language imperialism. I finally justified it by placing the aquisition of Czech language at the top of the ol’ priority list.

        I wish I could say I’ve been successful with that, but really, after going on 4 years, I still suck at it. While it is my responsibility, there does seem to be a lack of ‘quality’ opportunities to study Czech lang (in Brno). And what’s more, I’m often told by my Czech friends and students that I don’t NEED to learn Czech and not to worry about it. Co že?! Czechs not even caring if an immigrant bothers to attempt integration…kinda fits in with the whole inferiority thing.

        Keep up the posts….love the blog 🙂
        — Josie

      • sarah

        Being an anglophone here (I just found your blog today, by the way, and I love it already), I feel the same as you do: that I’m just another foot-soldier of the global hegemon. Of course, I’m American, so I’ve got that to feel guilty for, in addition.
        But I think the Czechs do have an inferiority complex, Ms. Freud — speaking of whom: did you know that he was born here? (Most people don’t.) I think it’s a by-product of being run — and in no small part being subjugated — by others for most of their history.
        I might even argue that nowadays, Czechs seem somewhat insecure of their own culture, and their own cultural heritage; that young Czechs associate “Czechness” with their weird old pseudo-Communist hoarder grandparents, and are looking West in an attempt to define themselves as modern and forward-thinking people (i.e., not really Czechs). I teach in a high school, and several of my students seem embarrassed to be Czech. And they almost all think that, as you pointed out, their language is useless and pointless: one even suggested to me that if the Czech Republic has any hope of being an important country, they’d do well to abandon the language right quick and all speak English all the time. They all think I’m an idiot for learning Czech (even my Czech teacher thinks it’s silly, but she happily comes and gossips and gets paid), and an idiot for living here. I tell them, look: I’ve got a job (the jobless rate among Americans in my post-university age group is astoundingly high); I’ve got health insurance (also rare for Americans, it seems); if I want to have a kid here, I’ll have years of maternity leave and get my job back when I’m ready to work again (unheard-of in the U.S., where the maximum leave is six weeks); and I don’t have to listen to the politicians because they don’t speak my language! Although I do rather miss Santa Claus, and don’t understand how a baby Jesus can bring me my presents. *sigh* Culture.

        Anyhoos, hooray for the Czech Republic!

  2. martin

    I didnt realized that but it seems to be true 🙁
    Good point, thank you !

  3. Alena

    (We) The Czechs might or might not have an inferiority complex, that’s open to debate (though, generally, debates about such sweeping generalizations tend to end up in pointlessness). However, I think that the evidence that you use in your post does not lead to the conclusion that you make.

    Popular culture, as evident in movies and ( to some extent) books has nothing to do with inferiority complex (I saw the same offerings in Vienna or Amsterdam or…), but rather with the dynamics of global capitalism, which comes with (fortunately imperfect) cultural hegemony. Ultimately, and though the processes are complex, it comes down to money: money to make projects happen, money to distribute them, money to gain access to forums where decisions are made..

    Of course there is an immense asymmetry: I myself (more familiar with the US context) was shocked to read a commentary that had to do with a scandal of the American NPR (National Public Radio) in Hospodarske noviny a few months ago. Obviously, nothing of the sort would ever happen the other way round. But the reason is not an inferiority complex, but the fact that “small” — defined by power (which, in turn, may be defined in the classic way pioneered by German economist-sociologist Max Weber, as the ability to get others do what you want them to do) — countries must, for geo-political reasons, worry about what the “imperial” powers do (and thus, how they need to adjust their own behavior) much more than vice versa.

    And a note on the translations: sure, part of that is crap, not only British, but also (primarily) American. But that percentage you quote also includes translations of Chinese, Brazilian, South African, Hungarian, and other writers from more “obscure” countries, really from the entire world. (It might be worth to follow reviews just in, say, newspapers such as Hospodarske noviny or Lidove noviny, and of course, there is much more that gets published that does not get reviewed.) So, the same figures may be also interpreted as an openness, interest in what goes on beyond the country’s borders, rather than — since you brought up the Freudian card — narcissistic navel gazing.

    • Charles

      I agree with most of the points above. However I think that ,although an ‘inferiority complex’ maybe part of it , it is that most Czechs don’t care that much about things celebrity, at least not enough to care where they come from. A Czech Z list celebrity or British or US really is so unimportant as to not worth worrying about. As to world literature (add cinema to that) there is a voracious apetite (at least compared to the UK) to sample everything that is out there. Perhaps it is just a touch of rrealism that a country of 10 mill couldn’t produce everything that is worth watching/reading, so let’s look outside. The other side of this coin is that the UK is poorer because few people will make the effort to watch a subtitled film; so most European films are very little known in the UK.
      There are however some exceptions; the most obvious being beer. All the big Breweries are owned by multinationals but if they were to replace the Czech product with there own branded prodcts, it would be commercial suicide.

    • Honza

      Totally agree, Alena!
      as well as I agree with the “prago-culture ecosystem” – e.g. I hate the ads by metro stairs, it is nowere else in Czech rep 😉

      and it is not so bad as it could seems… just don´t have so much money to pump our cultural self-confidence on the top and at the same time our czech cultural mentality is about don´t loose so much money for stupid pumping of our cultural mentality to the top 🙂 it is better to know more about the people and nations and cultures around – my point of view is, it is far more better and noble than what the global culture does and what I know most of the poeple think very similarly…

  4. I don’t know who Katie Price is 🙂
    I agree with Alena – popular culture is flooded by imported stars and “stars”, be it in Prague, Paris or Moscow, that’s not the issue of the Czech Republic only. On literature: I think we have a lot of quality authors and I read them, but I also read a lot of English-written books and translations from other languages. It’s great to be able to read what somebody in China or Iceland wrote. (After all, I study to become a translator, so this might be as well only shameless self-promotion :))

  5. Veronika

    I don’t think so 🙂
    I don’t know who Katie Price is and I don’t care… But I don’t care about Czech “stars” either. I read Czech authors as well as foriegn ones (not only English-speaking, but also Russian, German, French, Japanese etc. – translated of course 🙂 and content is what matters to me, not the origin of the author. Film industry is generally ovepowered by Hollywood, so it’s not just a Czech thing.
    I think that a lot if Czechs are proud of their nationality (including those “sweet” idiosyncrasies) or at least proud that they are “not American” – especially the younger generation.
    As Alena writes, I think of it more as an open-mindness (why overlook something valuable just because it’s foreign) than of an inferiority complex. And the newspapers sometimes just don’t have anything better to write about 😀
    The only thing I’m really allergic to is using English where Czech should be used. Once again I’m not alone – maybe you recall the advertisement campaign of Vodafone. Its motto was: “Je to ve vašich rukou. Now.” It killed me to see it on every corner – what was the sense in using “now”? Luckily, in a month or two they shortened the motto to the Czach part only. I wasn’t propably the only one, who didn’t appreciate using Englich in a Czech ad…

  6. Well this is so generalised speaking. It depends where you live in Czech republic. Because when you are talking about 10 million Czechs, you cannot talk about people from 1 million Prague. Thats a completly different eco-system.
    Hows your life better in Czech, than anywhere else?

    • Ain’t from Prague, I’m from Klatovy, still dunno who Katie whatever was her surname is, just another rather unfortunate generalization.

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Michal,
      I appreciate that there is a huge difference between life in Prague and elsewhere in CZ (just as there is between London and the rest of the UK) but I don’t see how that’s massively relevant to this post.
      How’s my life better here in the Czech Republic than anywhere else? Read the rest of the blog and then hopefully you’ll see.
      GIC

      • jana1238

        Hi GIC,
        with a “little” delay after publishing this post I feel urged to reply as well. I just wanted to point out that there might be a difference in between Prague and the rest of the country concerning this topic, and that, there probably is even much bigger difference in between the cultural environment of you – expat – and the Czechs. What I want to say is that there are many hidden parts of our culture, that are not very obvious to foreigners, that are difficult to find its way towards foreigners and that may have escaped to your attention. This way I guess that all the foreigner have a sort of selective perception – you notice much easier international names you already know, but you hardly notice advertisement of less known Czech beat singers concert, etc.
        In the same way the adverts in Prague city centre also reflect the fact that there is a strong international community there and they focus on it as well.

      • girlinczechland

        Hi Jana,

        I think you’re absolutely right, although being with Czechman and having plenty of contact with his family (who don’t speak English and are not Prague based) means that at least I do get a bit of an outside perspective, albeit a limited one. The “selective perception” point is very true too – brand names in English jump out at me in a way they might not to a Czech person because it’s my native language so I’m bound to notice them!

        GIC

  7. I have to add some opinion of my own, as I am Prague born and raised:) It is really different eco-system than rest of the republic, in many ways. More world-wide eco-system with its pros and cons. But! it’s really important from which social group your friends are, either which part of country, because it can change your opinion of the situation as whole.
    For example translated books, especially in Levne knihy, are mostly just crap which isnt read by anyone, or just someone:) You would go there just to find out if you are lucky enough to find something good for a good price.

    As for myself, I am proud of our culture, but I really dont care enough to read the books from our greatest novelist, I just rather buy new Star Wars paperback. Today czech cinema rather annoys me, and our so-called czech celebrities are embarrassing, same goes for our commercial tv channels. So until they realize that, Im staying with american/uk tv shows and movies:)
    Moreless, I express my patriotism via czech food and habbits, because they are more important to me:)

    As for big part of foreign news in our media channels, we are a small country, therefore we have to fill the gap of news duration with something interesting, because from commercial view no one cares about local news in primetime and foreign local news sounds sooo more interesting:))
    The pros are that we have a more world-wide look on what’s going on in the world and we are also very technical and “computerized” nation so it’s only logical that we are interested in foreign news. Its not a coincidence, that in Czech are Microsoft HQ and Google, when most of the kids here can handle a PC in they early age.
    Ok, I got myself little of the track, but hopefully I have made my point.

    But yes Czech republic has a problem with patriotism and a little bit of american patriotism would make us better people here. Of course little bit of politness too;)

  8. Honza

    btw. the lady of the unknown name seems to be still very nice, don´t have any idea how about reading but looking is fain 🙂

  9. Michael

    Thanks for the tip on where to buy Jordans book. I was thinking I would have to wait for my next empty suitcase trip to London to pick her book up in the WH Smith. I was thinking of buying it over Amazon and having it delivered here but that would require going to the Post Office and that place scares me.

    Hope I haven’t missed the point of the article. Thanks again

    • girlinczechland

      Do I detect just the slightest note of sarcasm here Michael? Or perhaps I’ve missed the point of your comment – if there is one.
      GIC

      • Michael

        I’m sorry for the sarcasm and pointless comment. It truly was dickish, no doubt about it. Sorry
        For what it’s worth I just want to say you got a great, funny writing style and I look forward, every month, to reading your latest thoughts on this crazy city(good way crazy).

      • girlinczechland

        Hey Michael,
        No worries at all: I really ‘threw my toys out of the pram’ this time as they say!
        Expect another slice of life from Ms GIC soon in which Czechman gets his revenge…
        GIC

  10. Hi GIC,
    An interesting debate you’ve started here. Like you & Josie Lee above, I experience Czech people who tell me that I don’t even need to try & learn Czech & who are astounded that I have chosen to live here. So you can call it an inferiority complex though, as others have commented, that can be a dangerous generalization.

    Regarding books, one of the good things about Czech people is that they like to read, hence there are so many foreign authors translated into Czech. As Alena & Honza say, this is more open-mindedness to the wider world than purely an inferiority complex. Where I do agree with you is that nobody needs a book ghost written for Katie Price 😀

    • girlinczechland

      Hi everyone,
      Phew, I wasn’t expecting this post to provoke quite the response that it did. In retrospect I think I’ve expressed myself clumsily or elided together two issues which I should perhaps have explored separately. If I’ve offended anyone, my apologies.

      @ Alena – reading this post through again I think it it is indeed true that the evidence I’ve presented here – the influx of predominantly Anglophone culture, both highbrow and lowbrow, is more evidence of globalisation rather than a Czech ‘inferiority complex’. However, while it is of course exciting that Czechs have an open-mindedness and take more interest in cultures other than their own, is it not, at least partly, at the expense of the fostering of their own? My evidence? How many new Czech authors are published – and fostered – in this environment every year? A mere handful. And before I get lectured, I’d just like to say that I should know – Czechman is one of them.

      As for the inferiority complex, I, like the Reverend Ricky and many other expats I know, am told with depressing frequency that I shouldn’t bother learning Czech. Are people merely pragmatists trying to save me the time-consuming hassle of acquiring another language as my native one happens to be the current main global means of communication? Perhaps.
      Many of the Czechs also seem genuinely shocked when I tell them I prefer life here to back in England. Doesn’t this seems to suggest some sense of inferiority? If not, what word should I use?

      Finally, I’m always glad when a post prompts discussion but I think the tone of the responses this time has been less than friendly. Perhaps that’s my fault as my thinking this time does, in retrospect, seem flawed. Still, as anyone who has looked through the fifty-odd other pieces that make up Girl in Czechland will see, even if I might have the odd criticism of the Czech Republic, in general, my experience here has been a positive one. If all I get back in future is negative responses, then I simply won’t bother to write anymore. I’m not paid to do this and when it ceases to be an enjoyable diversion then I’ll look for other ways to spend my time – like learning Czech, for example or reading more novels by foreign authors.

      GIC

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Ricky,
      Thanks for your kind and very diplomatic comment. I think this post deserved a bit more thought perhaps but it was well-intentioned (see my comment below). Anyway, I am as flummoxed as you are as to why the world would need anything – ghostwritten or otherwise – by Katie Price 🙂
      GIC

  11. Alena

    GIC… take it easy… take a deep breath.. step away from this, and maybe return to it in a few months.. I just re-read all the comments and didn’t find a single one that I would classify as less-than-friendly, let alone negative. (The one you called sarcastic, I personally read as jocular, or smart-Alecky, if you will, but not malicious.)

    Obviously, all of us who responded enjoy reading your blog, otherwise we would not do it (just like you wouldn’t write it if you didn’t enjoy it — indeed, life is way, way too short to waste it on doing things that we don’t like, especially if we don’t have to do them.. some of them, alas, we do).

    Further, I’d bet that all (most) of us who “read you” are very sympathetic to you by virtue of either being foreigners living in CZ, or else Czechs living (who lived) abroad/in the Anglo-Saxon world. Hence most (all) of us know very well what you’re going through — we have been there, too. And we sympathize. And often agree with you. But sometimes we don’t.

    By writing a blog, you are producing texts for public consumption and by definition invite people to respond to you. And so they do. Sometimes, the responses will truly tickle your ego. Other times they won’t. That’s just the “business” you are in. And the evidence that the people who read you are thoughtful and have their brains.

    To use American youth’s vernacular (which I never do in “real life”) — it’s all cool. Keep on writing. ..As long as you enjoy it. Best,
    A.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Alena,
      Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response. And you are right, I have taken this all a bit too personally this time, which I’m not very proud of 🙁 Then again, no-one’s perfect – I hope you’ll forgive me.
      You and Ricky both make the extremely important point that what I write is for public consumption and therefore I should be ready for feedback, both good and bad. I don’t think I realised before, when I was writing about trivial matters like the perils of buying bread rolls, how true that is. The feedback did rightly identify the fact that the post wasn’t as well thought out as it might have been and made me consider it again properly so thank you again for your comments – honestly! I’ve taken my deep breath now as advised as you can see!
      To be completely honest, I suppose that I’ve been surprised by and enjoyed all the positive comments over the past (almost two years – time does fly) and I’ve missed having my cyber-ego stroked this time. Sorry guys. I need to, as the kids say, ‘suck it up’.
      I’m sure I will keep posting, even if it’s just to embarrass Czechman.
      GIC

  12. Hi GIC,
    I was about to respond to your recent response to various people’s comments, when this latest comment from Alena popped up. In many respects, Alena has said what I was about to say. We all read your blog because we enjoy it, identify with so much of what you say & because your acute observations make us laugh. For example, your post giving 10 reasons why being a TEFL teacher sometimes feels like being a whore had me ROFL as they say!

    I think you are probably right when you say that this last post could probably been better expressed. But don’t be too self critical &, whatever you do, don’t stop blogging.

    By writing something that expresses your opinion & putting it in the public domain, you obviously do leave yourself open to both praise & criticism. As the owner of the blog, you can delete nasty comments – you don’t have to publish them. But otherwise, as you have previously, when people leave a comment politely challenging or disagreeing with you, just write & publish an equally polite reply.

    I’m with Alena – keep on writing! Best wishes R.

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Ricky,
      Many thanks for your thoughtful comment as always: much of my response to Alena below applies to your feedback too.
      GIC

      • girlinczechland

        P.S Perhaps those who require constant cyber-ego stroking display signs do so out of a sense of insecurity….
        Gasp!
        Perhaps GIC is showing symptoms of an inferiority complex herself… 😉
        GIC

      • Alena

        🙂 No need for any extra self-flagellation either (though it might be wise as a strategy to blend in with the Czech crowd).

  13. Lucie

    Hi GIC,

    I read this article only because my sister has put it on facebook. This was my first one from the blog. I am not sure that my sister herself read all the comments as I did but the fact that someone is actually sharing it through other social webs means that there is something to it. I am Czech, I have lived in many foreign countries, last five years I have spent half of it in the UK and second half in Seoul, South Korea.

    I do not entirely agree with everything you have written in there but you have made some valid points which deserve to be explored. You know, I have always been proud of saying I was Czech.

    When I was in the US, almost no-one knew what that meant, but then (I think after a short google search) they came up with bunch of names of scientists, politicians, writers, ice-hockey and football players who are well known about whose they just did not know were Czech. Not to mention Czech beer and Czech supermodels 🙂
    In France and Belgium they knew where our country was, they also knew a little about our history, most of people were familiar with Krtecek (Mole / Taupek).
    In Britain, well people generally know about the Czech Republic but it is mostly the facts you can read on CIA factbooks but not really about the culture. While in US or other European countries, you cannot really find anyone who does speak Czech or who are interested to learn the language. On the other hand, when I was in Korea, I was just amazed. Everybody knew about the Czech Republic, they were familiar with our country, they were in love with Prague and they either have been, wanted to go or already had tickets booked to go there. Later on I found out that there was a Korean drama “Lovers in Praha” and therefore Prague was labelled as the most romantic city in the world (it was higher on the list than Paris). Language wise, it is really funny to say, but we have met so many Koreans who actually spoke Czech, as the English is really very poor in Seoul, we started to make fun with my husband that in Korea you meet more people who speak Czech than those who are fluent in English 🙂 (there are few Universities in Seoul that actually have Czech language studies). I have never said to anyone to not to learn the language, only thing I feel obliged to say is that Czech is a really tricky language (if you really want to speak fluent and be grammatically correct) and unfortunately I cannot say Czechs are very supportive of foreigners who do not speak well, they make fun of them which is very disappointing and discouraging.

    In general, Asian nationals who decide to live in the Czech Republic took up the language courses and they do integrate what should be appreciated. I think not many Czechs realise that this does not really happen everywhere in the world. If they just visited our neighbouring countries they would realise that other nationals just come to a foreign country to take advantage of the social security and healthcare systems but they refuse to integrate into the society, they expect the hosting country to change laws and regulations so that they feel more like at home but do not want to give anything in return. This does not happen with Vietnamese who decided to live (for good or for several years) in the Czech Republic. And they should appreciate that and encourage not only Asians but all foreign nationals who want to stay in our country and are willing to learn the language and get to know the culture.

    On the other hand is the globalisation. I have never realised that while in Europe (as I am fluent in English as well as in French), but while in Korea…wow what a wake up call! I have realised that if the country wants to globalise there is a lot of work to be done. In the Czech Republic (Prague in particular) we want to have foreign tourists, foreign companies and we want to host international conferences and so on to be on the map. But this means we need to make it as easy and as comfortable as possible for foreigners to be able to survive in the city / country. When we came back from Seoul and were in Prague, we have realised that for instance the subway is with a very poor English signage, so are the buses, trains and so on. Maps and information centres are not of a good quality, especially the maps are not widely available and not easy to understand. The quality of service is very very poor and people are not really helpful. I think if I were a foreigner on a first time visit to Prague (on my own and not with an agency), I would have some desperate moments.

    And this has lead me to a question whether the Czechs really want foreigners in their own country. Certainly they are happy to meet with some in a pub, to talk to, to have a beer with, but they do not expect them to settle down here. They like visitors but not those who decide to stay long-term.

    It is the same thing when you meet with Czechs and talk to them about their country. They will certainly tell you a lot about all the things that are much better elsewhere, how they are not happy with this and that how in US it is much better and so. But they do not do anything about it and they still want to stay here and not to go abroad where they think it is a paradise. What really plays on my nerves is that these complainers usually stayed abroad for a holiday at most. They have never stayed abroad long enough to become part of the society and there could experience not only the advantages of the system but also the disadvantages. I really think they do not realise that each coin has two sides. Also the other thing that makes me probably even more angry is that they do not assume responsibility for playing their part in the Czech system. If they were responsible enough to bring the attention to the issues they are not happy with, things would probably change. A typical Czech feels ripped off all the time but what he/she does is either go to the pub, complain and gets drunk or goes for a shopping spree and few espressos with a girlfriend to talk it through. The result is the same, nothing changes.

    And this, I think is the part of the Czech inferiority complex. I cannot really say how it is for younger generation (I am now 28 years old, when I was at the primary school the first year I had to call my teacher Comrade and the second year it changed – revolution in 1989 brought a lot of changes, but since I was really young, I went with the change and have not suffered any major shake ups, it was part of the rest of the change – growing up), but I think that the previous generations growing up and living under the Communist regime cannot really be any different.

    Firstly at the beginning of the second world war our country’s faith was decided by other bigger countries (I can still hear my history teacher: It was a summit about us without us), how important would you feel you were if others were deciding about your future? The Czech Republic lost parts of its territories and its independence through Munich Agreement in 1938 later on was proclaimed part of Third Reich, then WWII, after that Communist regime and finally in 1989 the baby got its independence back. But if you were growing up, living in the period between 1938 – 1989 when not even the Head of states could do any decisions on their own, would you feel one person could have any significant impact on anything that was going on? Most of well-known Czech personas who got to be known abroad were in exile or living outside the CR anyway.

    Imagine you wake up for 20 and more years into some world, then from one day to another the world changes completely and you have to catch up with the change. It takes time to grasp how the world has changed and what possibilities / opportunities it offers and even harder to adapt yourself. If you were told you were inferior your whole life, how would you start believing otherwise?

    And then there is my generation. We were lucky, we can still remember few things about the Communism but not so much that we would feel sour about that. Nobody really did any injustice on us, we have had the opportunities to experience differences between the east and the west and I think we can still appreciate all the new things that happened (silly thing, but imagine tasting your very first prawn when you are 15, you appreciate it because it is something that was not part of your daily life and also you can appreciate it because you can still try it when you are inclined to trying out new things). We do enjoy travelling, experiencing and we have learned that one person can change things.

    However it is not easy, even though we have a certain idea of how things should work and what we would like to see, we still have to interact with the older generation that has a completely different view of the reality. That includes not so friendly and well-behaved elderly shop assistants who still live under the communist times, as well as civil servants / white collars at the local but also central authorities. This sometimes gives me despair.

    We arrived back to the Czech Republic this summer (it is eight months now) and it is just recently that I have overcome the “reverse culture shock”. We stayed in this country only because we are expecting our first born child and we thought the Czech Republic is the place where we want our child to grow up. Well, now we are re-considering. Either we are going to find the place where we would fit much better or we have to try to do something about all the things that we think could change for a better in our home country.

    Do we feel inferior because we are Czechs? Certainly not, but I have to admit it is different to say “I am Czech” when you are abroad to people who have not lived here or when I say “I am Czech” to people who know Czech Republic and Czechs with all their flaws.

    • Wau, really great post indeed. I must agree with many things you wrote. I am little bit younger (3 years to be exact), but I need to point out, that it takes more than one generation to change a country, and I consider myself as a part of that generation, which feel about our republic in a whole other perspective.
      We just started to change, somewhere we already did, somewhere not. Im from Prague, (I live in Scotland now) and you can see there the most of changes. So, Im proud of my country, most of us (at least in Prague) do not go to pub to talk about how politics has gone bad, we know it and we participate at elections. We are very technically skilled nation and also very practical, compare to UK for example, and we have a “selský rozum” 🙂
      But.. the problem I see is that many smart persons like us just abandon Czech republic in favour to some other country where they can have a better life or salary. Instead to go back and put through the things they have learned abroad.

      Last thing, I must strogly agree with you that Czechs arent used to long-staying foreigners, especially if they didnt master the czech language. Even I have the same handicap and feel about Czech republic like a home without foreigners. As a matter of fact, you cant be a part of czech society without mastering the language, at least in today’s Czech in general. However, it is not really bad thing, nor good thing.

  14. Kik

    perhaps this is due to the fact that actualne really is more of a ‘red top’ style media. the guardian? no way. in fact nowhere near. with some of these ‘red top’ media you may have noted they simply buy news in bulk, daily mail being a very popular source. you can tell by the translation being all funny and ‘czenglish’, appearing on the very same day as the original ‘story’ with a reasonable delay (translation time). that is katie ‘glamour’ price sorted.

    pj harvey though? quite a different story. she is in fact semi-well known and popular among the ‘indie’ crowd (how that came about, i dunno). but apparently she is quite well known in the US, too.

  15. danielsoft

    hello GIC,

    I have discovered this blog a few days ago. It’s interesting, nice work!

    I would like to add a post about a little inferiority mini-complex. It is actually more a matter of history, than a problem which persists today, but made a lot of people a lot of headaches. It will be connected to my profession (as you can guess from my nickname, I am a computer programmer).

    You learn Czech. All this declination etc. stuff really is complicated, but you have to admit one thing: our phonetic spelling system is very consistent: there is basically a rule, that one sound is represented by one letter and you sequentially read them one after one with no side effects. But, you need all these “extended” letters like š,č,ř,ž,…

    Convincing a computer (developed mostly in America and Western Europe) to work with them flawlessly used to be a pain. Back in the 1990s there were -I guess- five different encodings: the mess was created, because before companies like Microsoft and IBM considered to add support to their systems, clever Czech programmes invented their own.

    I used to work with Linux distributions in the late 1990s and the first thing you had to do after installation was to hack the Czech characters support into it (“rozchodit češtinu”).

    Also (now not talking about Linux, but generally) it was not uncommon some tools, which convert a document from one format to another, to work well, except the diacritics were garbled and turned into some strange characters.

    The source of the inferiority mini-complex here is “they do not care about us, the country is too small for the encoding support”

    As I previously said, the remark is mostly historical: today, the operating systems (Linux, Windows, Mac) support Czech encodings and keyboard mapping out of the box, most programs behave normally… but there are still some residual glitches: for example it is unwise to name a file for example “česky.doc” instead of “cesky.doc”, because when burning to a CD/DVD, publishing on a web server or even packing into a compressed archive, you may get some incompatibility errors.

    Those incompatibilities are also a reason why some people communicate on Internet “cesky” instead of “česky”.

    • Hello Daniel,
      if I can add something to that, reason why our language and keyboard encoding is so supported nowadays, is because of important software companies like Microsoft, IBM etc. have their regional front offices in Czech;)
      And the reason why we use on internet czech language without diacritical marks so often is thanks to mobile phones and texting. For a long time texting with diacritical marks were shortening the message itself. Now we do that, because it takes less amount of time to write a text. Its just a habit today.

  16. #boys

    I think that the inferiority complex only has to do with proximity to Germany and PPP (Purchasing Power Parity). Germany is such a powerhouse economically that every neighboring country is in its shadow. When I rent a car that has CZ plates I feel a little inferior when I’m driving in Germany. Any other country, not so much. The Czech people typically, as a national character, have the type of intelligence that will be valuable in the world of global networks as opposed to the more industrial national character of Germans. The Czech Republic will be another Switzerland someday.

    When you’re discussing the global entertainment industry the Czech Republic has an advantage over vast areas of the English speaking world. The American entertainment machine is overwhelmingly located in Los Angeles and New York. Are these two cities really so great at producing citizens who are talented. Of course not! Talented people from other, mostly English speaking places, get up and move to New York and L.A. because that’s where they have the most opportunities for success. The typical American city the size of Prague doesn’t have anything like the music, film and literary life that Prague has because all of the talented people got sucked out of them. The Czech language helps to keep talent local.

    Here is my short list of reasons the Czech Republic is a great place to live:
    1. Great system of marked hiking trails.
    2. Beautiful countryside.
    3. Czech people love children.
    4. Consistent, predictable food quality in restaurants serving Czech food.
    5. Most larger villages have a great square with street life.
    6. Lots of recreational opportunities.
    7. Wild mushrooms.
    8. Many fully furnished castles with guided tours.
    9. great bread.
    10. Not many fences.

    • Jana

      Love the list, as this was one thought that went through my mind reading this blog post and the many reactions to it: what is it that really makes life here in the Czech Rep good for foreigners?? Would anyone else come up with another one of their own?? And how about you, GIC??

    • I would just move the wild mushrooms from #8 to #1 on the list.
      Lenka

  17. Jirka

    Czechs might have inferiority complex but I think it is orthogonal to what you have said.

    1) It is much cheaper to translate book/movie than to create a new one. And obviously 10 million of Czech produce less than the English/Spanish/French/German markets do. Also you translate what have been proven to make money. It is much cheaper and easier to translate a post about some musician in the middle of Idaho than to do a research about a similarly inconsequential Czech musician. Especially if you are aktualne.cz

    2) I am surprised that you think 20% of the books being Czech is a small number. Try to go to Slovenia. On one side you have 1 : 600 (10 million vs 6 billion) on the other you have 1:5.
    And yes, I read and watch foreign books and movies. I did read Hrabal, Capek, Kafka, etc. But what is wrong about reading Tolstoy and Dan Brown, as well? Why should I close myself into the Czech literature? I wish it there was far more foreign movies and books available.

    Actually, when I was living in the U.S. I was surprised how ignorant the people were of anything not produced by the U.S. publishing houses. They really did not care. In the U.K. it was a little bit better, but not much.

    I short, I think that Czechs have many problems. But I do not think this is one of them.

  18. I agree with Alena, didn’t read all comments but wanted just point out that most of the things mentioned have nothing to do with czech people souls but rather with money (media, publishers, simply businness – who’s gonna translate a good czech book into english when the book is not selling even in Czech? Its’ good? Who cares? People want gossip magazines and so on). Its the same for tv programmes (you can cry for quality but all u get is mexican telenovels and Big Brother reality show and Radio programms with all the commericals….I believe its everywhere the same, not just in Czech Republic.

    And as for your idea of ‘Czech people being surprised that anyone from the Big Shiny West would come and live here (an be happy)’ —believe me, thats so untrue—–don’t flatter yourself there, we don’t look up to ‘Big Shiny West’ and if we ever did definitely not in this way!

  19. Being challenged by keen eyed, sharp witted person can’t be bad for us Czechs.
    Look at how the GirlinCzechland’s observations ruffled our fetters. You have to love her for that!
    During communist years I remember vividly eyeballing the Westerners at my visit to Brno’s trade-fair. (Brnenske veletrhy) They looked so luxurious compare to us Czechs. They even smelled good. I vividly remember feeling so inferior next to them. Worst yet, it was Friday, my hair promptly greasy since my once a week bad would be Saturday. The whole country took baths at Saturdays.
    I also remember during those gray years my visit abroad with my father, him answering someone’s question about his nationality. “I am Czechoslovakian.” It was obvious to me that he was proud of every single letter in that word. Czech from the west, Slovak to the east. I spend many years figuring where his pride came from.
    Not till I lived among those nice smelling westerners did I realize how dear our humble Czech spirit is to me. So exceptionally handy and resourceful most of us are. I can’t think of anything that make me feel inferior today. Curious of course, but my inferior years are long gone.
    Thank you Girl in Czechland for the topic that brought bitter sweet memories.
    Lenka

  20. pecheresse peach

    such a true post, im from the uk and wud happily read anything other than katie prices trashy novels!..even in another language that i don’t understand wud b more beneficial to me than to read her rubbish.. I am helping my Slovak friend to translate her novel to English now, its really great to think she will try to get published in both countries ,like you say I think soo many english speakers would love the chance to get the translated version from a new and interesting czech author rather than the same old stuff from the same old people! I love ur blog, i feel jelous u get to live in Prague I wish I was there often, keep up the good work and funny reports.

  21. IMHO, good things about Czech life in Liberec are (in no particular order):

    1. Not feeling at all unwelcome as a long-term British foreigner (unlike Germany, even if you speak German)
    2. The direct communication without any fake politeness
    3. The great depth of friendship possible with kindred spirits of both sexes
    4. The unpushy encouragement to learn Czech and tolerance of my many mistakes. In 6 years I have never been mocked.
    5. Lack of the FAKE political correctness found in the UK
    6. Fantastic sense of humour
    7. Great food and beer, Becherovka etc
    8. Beautiful countryside
    9. Women are comfortable with being women
    10. People freely interact in groups at parties
    11. Czechs can handle their alcohol in public
    12. You can pee anywhere anytime 😉
    13. Well-marked hiking paths
    14. Lots I cant remember now

    • Mike, I read your list all the way down with a big grin.
      I just may copy it to carry in my pocket on my upcoming trip
      in case I need my spirit to be lifted while there.
      I especially like #5 – refreshing compare to the US.
      My husband, however, voted for # 12.
      Take care,
      Lenka

      • Jirka

        My Czech friend is living in London. Her husband is black and she found the “fake PC” better than the genuine Czech attitude. When they were living in Czechia, her husband was beaten twice and her son once because of their skin. In London, nobody seems to care. She says maybe it is fake, but at least they are safe and as a bonus, they don’t have to listen to all the comments on the street.

      • girlinczechland

        Hello Jirka,
        I’m always pleased to hear that people are happy in the UK (if happy is not too strong a word) but it saddens me to hear that your friend’s husband encountered such difficulties in the Czech Republic. Do you know where they were living (i.e in Prague or in a smaller town)?
        GIC

      • Jirka

        (For some reason I cannot reply to your July 25, 2011 at 10:25 am comment). She lived in Plzen. I think it is much better in Prague.

        I am a Czech, I was living in the U.S. for ten years and now I live in Prague. I am not a fan of fake PC, but having returned from the U.S. I find it surprising how many people I do not know tell me jokes and comments that are not just non-PC but simply very insensitive to many people. Why does the teller in Komercni Banka has to tell me some stupid joke about cripples? Does he realize I might have a disabled kid or wife? (I do). Or that he might turn into a cripple on his commute back home? And all those comments started by “I am not a racist, but …”

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Mike,
      Wow, a list of good things about Czech life really deserves a post in itself but I’ll put my top three here as an appetiser:

      1. Living in Prague means enjoying more of the advantages of life in a big city with less of the minuses
      2. Family seems more important here. Women don’t have to go back to work three months after having a baby. Granny gets taken care of, not shoved in an old people’s home.
      3. Thrifiness, I have learned, is a good thing. You don’t need to spend a fortune to have a good time. Perhaps all that cash I frittered away on takeaway coffees really was a waste.

      I agree with your no 2, 5, 6 and 8. Not too sure about 4 though (but perhaps that’s because I live in Prague) and I obviously can’t comment on 12 🙂

      GIC

  22. Hi,
    I found your post very interesting, even when the example you cite to backup your theory about czechs’ inferior complex are totally different from the one I have. For a while, I have contemplate the Czechs’ duel superior-inferior complex and sorta discuss with my friends. Well your posts might inspire me to write it out.
    Thanks

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Cindy,
      I think this post needs revisiting. So many Czechs are surprised when I tell them I actually enjoy living here – I never received that reaction when I was in France! The difference is surely that the French are extremely proud of their culture and the Czechs less so…? Anyway, glad you found this of interest.
      GIC

  23. Takahashi

    Just a small note. Read more Austrians! Inferiority complex is Alfred Adler’s theme, not Freud’s 😉

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