Tag Archives: credit crunch

Češi, máte pravdu! Six Things the Czechs Are Right About

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– God, has it really been over a week since I lasted posted? Damn. Better come up with some of my usual, witty, whimsical observations about life and love in Czechland or else my readers will forget about me.

– Forget witty and whimsical! They’re so last Tuesday. When are you going to stop writing about trivial nonsense like failing to bake a cake in the shape of a lamb and flowery gilded plates? Why not try addressing a really important topic for a change, say racism?

-Done that.

-Or the Czech inferiority complex?

-Done that too – wished I hadn’t.

-Or how about the legacy of Communism? Can it really be blamed for all contemporary Czech society’s ills?

-Hmm, sounds meaty. But today I’m in the mood for frivolous. How about one of those ’10 things’ posts that are contributing to the death of journalism?

-Suit yourself.

Greetings readers! Today’s post has been inspired by another Brit expat writer, Stephen Clarke, and his hilarious book, Talk to the Snail in which he outlines “Ten Commandments for Understanding the French”. According to the first precept, to be French is to be always right. This rather extreme self-confidence might be an explanation for the legendary alleged Gallic rudeness. I am French, therefore I am right – and also superior to you.

While Czechs can be rude, this does not in my view originate from arrogance or any in-built sense of cultural superiority. Now I don’t want Czech readers to start getting big-headed but I think perhaps you could do with reminding about all the things you are right about.

Six Things the Czechs Are (or Were) Right About

1. Eating your main meal at lunchtime

It’s better for your digestion! It’s a decent excuse to escape the office! It saves you having to cook in the evening! It’s more social than shovelling down a sad pre-packed sandwich in front of your desk! Embrace this Czech tradition! (hold off on the exclamation marks in future paragraphs but talking about food gets me excited).

2. Jak to řekne ‘credit crunch’? Or The Art of Frugal Living

Can you imagine Czechs taking out 110% interest mortgages and juggling repayments on five different credit cards? No, because unlike their British and American cousins, they aren’t idiots. If you want to buy something, you save up for it and as far as is humanly possible, this also goes for large purchases like a flat. While I sometimes get sick of the petty penny-pinching of Czechman and his compatriots (‘buy soap instead of shower gel, use one teabag for three cups of tea, blah, blah, blah) when it comes to the big financial decisions, you can’t fault their approach.

How do you say ‘credit crunch’ in Czech anyway? Is this a term that’s bandied about in the media constantly? I suspect not but correct me if I’m wrong…

Here it is. That piece of paper that meant the end of Czechoslovakian democracy.

3. 1938

Chamberlain. Appeasement. That piece of paper that was supposed to secure peace in Europe but didn’t. You were right. We should have defended you, Czechland, but alas, instead you were sold down the river. In my history lessons we were taught we didn’t have a choice – apparently Chamberlain followed a policy of appeasement not to avoid war but to give England much-needed time to rearm – but whatever the reason, it meant the end of Czechoslovakian democracy. Consider this an apology. Sorry chaps.

4. Cubist architecture

Did you know that Czechoslovakia was the only country to construct buildings in a Cubist style? Well you do now. Quirky, eye-catching and timelessly stylish, Cubist architecture is something the Czechs were definitely right about.

Now that's what I call a lamp post!

5. Being a stay-at-home mum: the option of lengthy maternity leave

I don’t say that juggling career and the responsibilities of motherhood anywhere in the Western world is easy. However, at least in the Czech Republic, you have the option of remaining at home to look after your child for an extended period, even if the level of maternity pay offered is no king’s ransom. In the UK, the financial assistance offered by both employers and the state is of a minimal duration, leaving women no option but to head back to work asap. I know this is a complex issue (perhaps even more so than the impact of Communism on contemporary Czech society) and I don’t believe women should be forced to take three years out of their career but at least in the Czech Republic it seems that the state acknowledges that mothering is an important job worth giving some financial support to.

6. Table service in pubs

Why do we Brits think that being sociable in a pub has to involve crowding around the bar in a mock convivial fashion? Having table service – and a seat – makes the whole pub experience so much more pleasant.

More evidence of Cubism's impact on the buildings of Prague

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In praise of Czech thrift: five ways to save during the credit crunch

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Canteen food, Czech style, complete with meat, dumplings and a thick sauce.

Canteen food, Czech style, complete with meat, dumplings and a thick sauce.

Thanks a lot for all your comments to my last post on the issue of spoilt and Western behaviour.  Rather than trying to reply to them all, I thought it would be easier to write a new post.

Just in case I didn’t make myself clear, I don’t think Czech thriftiness is a bad thing.   Far from it.  As one of you already said, what’s so impressive about the way Czechs save money is that they manage to do it so instinctively.  It is rare that Czechman would forget to prepare an adequate amount of sandwiches and other provisions to take along with us on the train or plane and why not: they’re cheaper, tasier and being wrapped up in tissue paper, better for the environment too.  However, what I do find funny (in both senses of the word) is that now I’m in Czechland the way I handle money marks me out as prolifigate while in British terms I’m considered to be what is euphemistically termed ‘careful’ (i.e a bit of a skinflint) .  

You should have my sister’s reaction when I made her have lunch in St Barts Hospital canteen (cost £2.50) rather than splashing out on poncey-nouveau-fusion-grub at a restaurant  (potential cost £10+). 

‘I come here sometimes with Czechman,’ I explained by way of justification.   

‘You deserve each other,’ she replied, looking up from her burger and chips with a contemptuous look.

Anyway, in the interest of balance and for the benefit of my sister, here are some valuable tips in the art of financial management I have learned from the Czechs.  None of them are going to make you rich overnight but hey, there’s a credit crunch on so every penny (or crown) counts… 

1) Grow your own.  Not a practical option for city-dwellers but this is something the Czechs excel at.  A weekend with Czechman’s family always means returning back to Prague with a sack of potatoes big enough to see us through a nuclear winter. I guess since they knocked down the Berlin Wall there’s less chance of that actually being necessary.

2) It is possible to make two perfectly good mugs of tea with just one teabag.  I was shocked when Czechman first attempted this but provided you avoid the horrible Lipton rubbish and stick to the Tesco Red Label builders kind, the results are perfectly drinkable.

3) When buying for any Czechs in your life, remember that inexpensive but thoughtful gifts will be probably be more appreciated than they would in the West.  For example, one Christmas when I was particularly short of money I managed to buy a copy of the Independent newspaper from 1989 featuring the Velvet Revolution on the front page.  It only cost me £3 including postage but he loved it.  Job done.

4) It is also possible to knit a bathmat out of old rags.  There’s nothing Czech about this but I think it’s the strangest thing I’ve ever done to save money. Czechman was very impressed by my ingenuity though.

5) The main lesson to be learnt from the Czechsters is this: you don’t need to spend a fortune to have a good time.  During my long weekend at Czechman’s brother-in-law’s family cottage thanks to some clever budgeting we spent the grand total of 180Kc (£6) on food each.  This covered all our meals for three days.  Yes, we did eat some rather suspect pink luncheon meat but we didn’t resort to boiling any rabbits’ skulls or consuming any offal. 

My next post will steer cleer of matters financial and will not include a list.  Instead I’ll be writing about another Czech cultural institution: the summer film festival…

ragbathmat_01a

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