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.