Tag Archives: courtesy

Closely Observed Trams and some thoughts on Czech Manners

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petrin may blog 2009 009

Stand on a busy street in Prague and close your eyes. You will hear all the usual sounds – the hum of traffic, the occasional siren – but listen carefully and you will pick out a few noises unique to this city. One of them is the distinctive clacking of a zebra crossing to let the blind know they can cross; another is the repeated ringing of bells, not from churches but from trams warning pedestrians to get out of the way.

People still associate the old red double-decker Routemaster bus with London even though they have all but disappeared from its streets; Prague has sensibly hung onto its own transport icon, the cream and red tram. Taking a ride on them is a much more pleasant way to get to know the city even if you’re just here for the weekend than getting on a tour bus. Sometimes if I start to feel like I’m getting cabin-fever in our flat but feel too tired to go for a proper walk, I just get on the 22 tram and do some effortless sightseeing. In less than five minutes I’ve gone from Karlovo Namesti to the National Theatre and then I’m flying across the river, through Mala Strana and then twisting and turning along cobbled streets before finally ending up a stone’s throw from Prague Castle. Not bad for 26 crowns. Don’t forget to validate your ticket in the little yellow machine though or your ride could wind up being almost as much as your Easyjet flight over from Blighty…

Trams are a great venue for people watching and therefore as good a place as any for would-be anthropologists to get some kind of insight into typical Czech behaviour. You will all be aware that many foreigners find Czechs surly or even just plain rude. What you’ll witness on the tram though if you look carefully enough are frequent examples of old-fashioned courtesy which you would rarely see in London. Everyone seems prepared to give up their seat for an older person – in fact, people practically leap up should someone with a white stick or crutches get on rather than dutifully dragging themselves to their feet as you might expect were it true that Czechs had no consideration for others.

There are plenty of other examples of Czech politeness to be found in other areas of life. For example, it is customary to say ‘dobry den’ when getting into a lift and then ‘nashledanou’ when you leave.  This kind of behaviour in England would mark you out as being, well, a little odd.

In fact, Czechs just love to ‘dobry den’ each other. They can be heard dobry-denning their neighbours when they encounter each other on the staircase of their apartment building; they dobry-den the receptionist when entering even a large office building; they dobry-den the woman behind the counter if they go into a smallish shop to have a look around.  Frankly, I find all this old-fashioned politeness charming.

Let me tell you my own theory about Czech so-called ‘rudeness’. In my experience, Czechs are very direct.  They don’t enjoy pretence. It therefore makes sense that if you’re only paying someone 50 lousy crowns an hour to sit behind a till at Albert, they’re not going to smile at you mindlessly just because some bloke at their induction training told them they had to.  Can you blame them?  Controversial as this may be, I’d rather be greeted by a genuine surly frown than a pasted-on fake smile any day. As long as I stay in Prague, I think my wish will be easily granted…

petrin may blog 2009 010


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