Tag Archives: Czech Republic

A post in which my love of Czechland is explained

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1.  a loser or predicted loser in a struggle or contest
2 .a victim of injustice or persecution

I always side with the underdog.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason I instinctively love Czechland.

It’s a small nation which has been trampled on by various sets of invaders since time immemorial. Even the Swedes managed to come down from the frozen North and kick their asses. Sorry. But it’s true.

It’s about more than a livelong habit of siding with David rather than Goliath. Loving Czechland is part of a lifelong project to embrace the quirky and thus live a life less ordinary.

There’s nothing wrong with ordinariness of course.

That’s not exactly what I wanted to say. Let me try again.

Loving Czechland is like supporting your local football team: you don’t do it because they’re the coolest or the most likely to top the Premier League, you do it because to pretend to love Manchester United just because they win all the time (do they still win? I don’t follow such matters) would mean you were silly and vain and fake. Instead you make an arse of yourself but maintain your integrity by putting on that geeky green and yellow Norwich City kit with the picture of the canary on it.

And you thought socks with sandals were a style crime.

When I lived in France, there would often come a point in the conversation where the French person would fold his arms complacently. A smug smile would creep across his face and he would utter the following words:

“But of course! You fell head over heels in love with France –  our wine, our cuisine, our language – and you just had to come and live here!”

Falling in loving with France is easy. I should know; I did it. But my love affair with France was something akin to a fling with a Moulin Rouge chorus girl: intense and exhilirating while it lasted but ultimately doomed.

Loving Czechland is different.

I know I once said you shouldn’t move abroad as an attempt to make yourself more appear interesting. But settling in Prague has made my life more exotic and given me more stories to tell when I go back home. How many English ladies know that the bar snack of choice in Czechland isn’t pork scratchings but utopenci: a pickled sausage known as a drowning man? I’m sure that little fact will eventually come in handy in a pub quiz in the future.

Exotic and yet familiar: perhaps that’s the winning combination that ensures my happiness here. I’m proud to have firsthand knowledge of life and love in Czechland.

This post was supposed to be about the joys of stumbling across a Czech cultural reference while reading a random novel or watching a TV show. Oh well.


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Czech 101: 5 essential phrases the textbooks won’t teach you

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Can it be true? Girl in Czechland is in fact Catwoman?

I used to have a dream.

In that dream I’m wearing a leather catsuit and have a small pearl handed pistol stuffed in my bra.  I’m a top class operative working for Her Majesty’s Secret Service – a sort of Girl Super Bond –  and as well as having numerous secret weapons, spy gadgets and super powers, I have the ability to switch effortlessly between at least six different Slavic languages without making a single linguistic slip.

Back here on Planet Earth, there are several reasons why this is not the case. I will never be employed as an intelligence operative. I find it difficult to remember my PIN number which would suggest memorising lengthy secret codes might be something of an issue.  I’d be unlikely to squeeze into a leather catsuit. And finally, I’d currently describe my level of linguistic competence in Czech as “rubbish”.

Let me correct myself.  To say that I suck at speaking Czech would be silly underbragging.

In truth, my Czech is quite good (which means I’m a wobbly intermediate or B1 level) but I wish it was much better. In other words, I wish I was kick-ass (almost as much as I wish I could pull off a leather catsuit) but that goal still seems far away. Sigh.

Still, for those of you who’ve valiantly decided to continue your own struggle with those four genders and seven cases, I’ve put together a little list of words and phrases I wish I’d known before I’d arrived here in Czechland but never came across in a textbook.  I’d genuinely like to hear any additional suggestions others out there may have for life-saving bits of Czech they wish they’d been taught before they got off the bus/boat/plane to make a new life here. And as always, I’d be grateful if my Czech readers could point out any glaring errors.

One of those very, very long escalators somewhere beneath the streets of Prague

1.  S dovolením – Excuse me/Mind your backs

Ever get grumpy because some people insist on standing on the wrong side of the escalator making it impossible for you to pass? You could try saying pardon  or promiňte but you’re much more likely to get folk to shift out of the way if you utter this phrase, which translates roughly as “Excuse me” or “Mind your backs please!”  Unless of course the offenders in question are foreign tourists…

2. Jen se dívam – I’m just looking

We all like to do aimless browsing around the shops. When a sales assistant approaches you and offers to be of assistance, use this phrase to let her know that all you want to do is have a quiet nosy around the shelves.

3. Zatím ne/nicNot for now/Nothing for now

You’re in a cafe having your spoilt and western tea/coffee/cake – or even all three! The waitress has done you the honour of letting you practice your Czech.  She comes and asks if you want anything else.  You don’t but you’d like to say ‘not for the moment’ in a polite fashion. This is the phrase I use.

4. Dohromady nebo zvlášt?Together or separately?

As I may have already mentioned, I did take a few Czech classes before I moved to Prague. I remember practising little dialogues where we ordered food in a restaurant but oddly I don’t remember learning this super important phrase.  As the chances are in a Czech cafe or restaurant, you’ll pay the waiter or waitress directly rather than leaving the money on the table, understanding these three words is essential.

5. Ano means yes – but so does no (or ‘naw naw naw’)

Why couldn’t one of the many Czech learning textbooks I collected over the years have mentioned the fact that ano is not the only way of saying yes? In fact, ano is a rather formal yes, while the much more common word expressing agreement, is rather confusingly no. It’s pronounced ‘nawww’ and usually repeated several times in short succession: ‘naw naw naw’ is a common refrain in Czech conversations I’ve noticed.

Saying no when you mean yes – or ano – has been one of the toughest Czech speaking challenges I’ve encountered. It feels weird – the linguistic equivalent of trying to pat your head and rub your belly in a circle at the same time.

Right, that’s enough for today. So, it’s na shledanou from me  – or should that be a more informal pa pa?

I’m going to bang out a catsuit on my new sewing machine from a couple of bashed up leather jackets.

Wish me luck.


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Podolí: Girl in Czechland’s Guide to Prague’s Outdoor Swimming Complex

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I’m back from my Greek Odyssey. I have a suntan of sorts: we English folk don’t really go brown, just a slightly darker shade of pale. Czechman and I like to joke about it: before I was Mozzarella white, now I’m more of a smažený sýr.

Anyway, although I did have a lovely holiday since I’ve returned to Czechland I’ve been in a grumpy mood. Yes, yes, I’m well aware that life can’t be one long vacation but that doesn’t stop me wishing I was back on an Ionian island.

What to do to recapture a little holiday magic? Head to Prague’s biggest outdoor swimming pool, Podolí.

I first discovered its existence thanks to a Prague guidebook I picked up in London years before moving here. I remember it was published by coolhunter’s bible Wallpaper* magazine.

The fact that it’s taken me three years to make it there is perhaps an indication of just how hip I am.

There are three pools: two outdoor, one indoor. Once you’ve overcome the trauma of nude showering (there are menacing signs in capital letters ordering you to rinse yourself without your swimming costume on before taking a swim) there are other obstacles to overcome. Like avoiding the packs of teenagers who’ve clearly just come here to pose – sorry, hang out – rather than do any exercise. After all, who can manage to breaststroke while wearing a straw triby at a jaunty angle?

Having said that, the grandmas don’t bother to take off their glasses. I suppose that’s forgiveable as it’s more about practicality than style. Beware though: despite being able to see where they’re going, the grannies still move slower than a giant sea turtle who happens to be going very slowly because he left his specs at home.

It’s not just the teenagers perched on the edge of the pool who couldn’t give a monkey’s about swimming. Almost every bit of the scorched grass is covered with sunbathers, some of them topless. I knew there was a reason Czechman liked coming here so much.

There are refreshments on sale. A thought occurs: perhaps if my local swimming baths had provided draught beer poolside my Dad could have been persuaded to take me there more often.

Or indeed ever.

If you feel that fizzy alcohol, physical exertion and sunshine don’t mix then you can always buy an ice-cream instead. And the pools are not only an Olympic sized 50 metres (well, two of them are anyway) they’re also pretty deep. As any lifeguard on duty is most likely mesmerised by all the boobs it’s probably best to minimise your chances of drowning by staying off the beers and only swimming near the edge so you can easily take a rest if you start to flag.

After I get tired of dodging bespectacled grannies and frolicking adolescents, I retreat to the spectator’s stand for a bird’s eye view of the madness. From this distance it looks as though the swimmers are trying to spell out a message in a kind of synchronized semaphore but can’t quite manage it. What a clever observation, I think to myself.

Perhaps I could use it along with a few more of my usual witty observations as the material for my next blog post?

P.S To get to Podoli you need to take a tram to Kublov, which is thankfully a mere five minute walk away from the swimming complex itself. The 3 and 17 both go there. The price you pay depends on the amount of time you plan to spend in the pool: if you exceed the time on your ticket you’ll have to cough up extra to get out. There’s some kind of all day ticket at this time of year if you go through the summer entrance but I didn’t manage to find it. Next time, eh?


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Five highlights of my weekend with the Village People

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No picture of that 70s pop group The Village People this time. You'll have to make do with a photo of the glorious Bohemian countryside instead.

More people find this blog by searching for “Village People” than more obvious search terms like “Prague” or “Czech”.  I suspect they may be trying to track down info on the 70s pop group who created disco classic ‘YMCA’ but hey, who cares?

The Village People (aka Czechman’s parents) are essential characters in the exciting story that is The Adventures of Ms Girl in Czechland. I’ve recently returned from another restorative weekend in the Bohemian countryside and would now like to regale you all with the comic highlights of the trip.  I make no apologies for the fact this post appears in the form of a list whatever a certain silent blog lurker – yes Czechman, I mean you –  may have to say.

1. Girl in Czechland Wins Name that Tune

While in hospital I spent a fair amount of time listening to Czech composers.  Honest. Anyway, Czechman thought it would be a good idea for me to impress his parents with my newly gained cultural knowledge.

“Anglicanka is going to sing you something,” Czechman announced while we were sitting on the brown sofa in the living room one evening under the cross-stitched picture of Prague Castle. Perhaps now you see where Czechman’s aversion to kitsch comes from.

I hum them a couple of bars of Smetana’s Má Vlast. The tune is distincly recognisable but The Village People looked nonplussed. 

Czechman tells them the answer.

“Oh, Smetana! Of course I recognise it now!” Czechman’s mum tells me. “I just didn’t think you would know that!”

If you’d like to find out more about why Má Vlast is such a big deal in Czechland, then you can listen to this programme in the Radio 4 archive where Jan Kaplan explain how significant it became to him while living in exile.

2. Ms Girl dines out on old Shepherds Pie

Everyone likes receiving praise. On the rare occasions when it is handed out by a Czech person, you can usually rely on it being genuine. 

Later that same evening while sitting on the brown sofa, the conversation turns to food.

“That thing you cooked for us,” began Czechman’s dad, “I don’t remember what it was called, you know, it had meat, then potatoes then meat…”

A dish I’d prepared where meat and potatoes were the main ingredients? This could only mean one thing.

“Shepherds pie!” I replied excitedly. “But it has meat, potatoes and then cheese.”

“Yes, that the one! I told the boys at work the next day, ‘I had some English food, I don’t know what it was but it was really tasty.”

I’ll be dining out on that particular compliment for some time to come.  If you also want to win over your Czech in-laws, here’s a recipe.

3. Točena zmrzlina comes to The Village 

Točena zmrzlina is that special kind of ice cream that you usually only get at the seaside or from an ice cream van back home.  In Prague, however, every other bakery seems to have a hatch where they sell these whippy ice creams to passers by.

Why must they test my very weak willpower like this?

Anyway, a točena zmrzlina stand has appeared in The Village. There seems to be no shortage of customers judging from the mini-crowd which had gathered there when we cycled past on Saturday.

Czechman’s mum, however, was unimpressed.

“20kc for an ice cream – and you have to buy a large one! Iwas so disgused that I went and got one from the Co-op around the corner instead.”

Did I mention that beer is also točene which means that the literal translation for točena zmrzlina is draft ice-cream. Hilarious! Or perhaps not…   

4. Therapeutic Work: Watering the Plants in Babička’s Garden

Now that the weather is improving, a visit to The Village means spending plenty of time in Grandma’s garden. We feed the chickens. We drink tea and eat cream cakes. My favorite task this time was watering the plants. I doubt I’ll ever become particularly green fingered – although I should at least try to keep the violets Czechman’s mum gave us alive for a while – but there’s something therapeutic about pottering around in the sunshine with a watering can

5. Hunting for Communist Kitsch in the Cottage

I’m a pretty clumsy person. Despite my best efforts, I’ve recently managed to smash a grand total of five of our glasses. Instead of going to Ikea to buy some more, we spent Sunday hunting around in the loft of the Czechmanovi’s cottage looking to see if any replacements could be found. 

Czechman was delighted to stumble upon the drinking vessel below. Does that mean that even Czechman has a weakness for nostalgic bits and bobs after all?






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Czech Style Crimes Part I: The Headband

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As you will now be aware, I spent a significant amount of time this winter in a hospital bed.  On the upside, I missed much of this year’s super freeze.  However, it does mean that I didn’t get to write my planned blog post about cold weather headgear.

Time then for something a more lighthearted than my tales from the ward: a switch from matters medical to millinery.

Czechs are a practical bunch and they tend to favour the functional over the fashionable. Fair enough. But it is the very fact that Czechs pride themselves on being sensible when it comes to sartorial choices which makes their preference for one particular winter garment so puzzling.

The headband or čelenka as it’s known in these parts.  I ask you loyal readers – why?

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, here is Exhibit A.

What possible practical purpose is being served by this small piece of fabric? The lady in question will have toasty ears but what about the rest of her head? Doesn’t she want to keep her little grey cells warm? Or at least protect her scalp a little from hail or snowflakes?

It isn’t just the female half of the Czech population who are guilty of this style crime. Someone ought to tell this gentlemen that unlike a hat, wearing a headband doesn’t help hide the fact that you’re going a little thin on top:

It has been suggested to me that the reason Czechs prefer headbands is because they are less likely to interfere with your hairstyle.  Let me present further photographic evidence debunking this myth: 

Perhaps our model might benefit from having a hat to cover up her messy mop. I should know: it’s a trick I’ve used many times myself.

Czechs, you know one of the main points of my blog is poke fun at you in a friendly, affectionate manner. But really, I’m confused. Baffled. Mystified. Please help me to understand. Why on earth do you wear these things?

And what will Girl in Czechland be wearing on her noggin this season? Why, a bowler hat of course – complete with tight leather pants and high heels, just like this lady singled out for praise by the British edition of Grazia’s style pages.


There’s more chance of me knitting a neon pink čelenka than being seen wearing anything like this. People might mistake me for a streetwalker. Presuming of course, that I could manage to walk anywhere in those shoes.





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