Tag Archives: Kafka

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...

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Ten things you had always wanted to know about Czechland but were afraid to ask

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Today is May 1st which means Czech boys will be kissing their sweethearts under trees in blossom to celebrate the arrival of Spring.  Aww.  I think Czechman will have to have his arm twisted to participate in this tradition.  He may be Bohemian by birth, but he is conservative in nature and doesn’t really like public displays of affection. Don’t worry ladies, after being beaten on the arse with a stick in the name of marking old Czech customs, I’m not going to let him get out of this one.

Anyway, today’s post is completely unrelated to May Day.  Instead, I’ve decided to delight my little audience with a list of fascinating facts about Czechland.  If you know most of them already, you have my permission to pat yourself on the back and feel smug.

10 facts about Czechland you had always wanted to know but were afraid to ask

1. The Czechs are a resourceful bunch.  They were responsible for such contributions to the advancement of mankind as the screw propellor, the sugar cube and Hittitology.  We also have them to thank for the word ‘robot’, introduced to the public by Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R.  That’s what Wikipedia says anyway.

2. Skoda, the internationally renowned car brand, is also a Czech word meaning ‘pity’ or ‘shame’.  Czechman sees no irony whatsoever in this, not even when I regaled him with my collection of Skoda jokes which I picked up in the primary school playground.  It includes such howlers as ‘What do you call a Skoda with twin exhausts?’  The answer? ‘A wheelbarrow’!  Stop it, please!  My sides are splitting!  Oh look, there goes a kidney…

3. The Czechs are of course, responsible for producing many of the world’s great beers: Budvar, Staropramen and Pilsner to name but a few.  One unfortunate result of this has been the birth of the Beer Bore, the bastard child of that equally loathsome creature, the Wine Snob.  He wants to explain to you at great length just why Gambrinus is so much better than Pilsner, despite the fact that the latter is 12 crowns more expensive.  He uses words like ‘hops’, ‘malt’ and ‘distillation’ repeatedly while you nod politely. Just shut up and drink it.

4. Was Franz Kafka Czech or German? Even academics can’t make up their minds (see here).  He didn’t write in Czech, that’s for sure.  Still, the fact that he lived in Prague does help to shift a lot of souvenirs.

5. Milan Kundera is Czech but he wishes he wasn’t.  This is the obvious conclusion to be drawn from his decision to write his most recent novels only in French.  Merde! Who does the pretentious frog wannabe think he is?  If I had to choose between being French or Czech, I’d opt for Cesky every time.

6. Goulash may be considered one of the cornerstones of Czech cuisine but it was, of course, originally Hungarian.  I’m not sure they can be blamed for coming up with the concept of dumplings made from potatoes and semolina.  These Czechs!  Such innovators!

7. Ultra-chic mini-breakers be warned! This is not a city in which to parade around in your Jimmy Choos – and not only because you will mark yourself out as being spoilt and western.  If the cobblestones don’t scrape all the leather off the back of the stiletto heels, you’ll end up stranded in a metal grate down in the metro while people point and laugh.  Most uncool.

8. One invention that the Czechs – or at least most shop assistants – wish had never seen the light of day is the 1000 crown note.  God forbid you try to pay for anything with it.  Ever.  You may think that by picking up a few bits at Albert in order to break into it is reasonable.  Pah!  Prepare to be humiliated as the checkout lady complains volubly about having to part with a tiny fraction of the change her till is crammed with.  I find the best policy in this situation is to look pathetic and mumble, ‘Nic malého nemám’ (pidgin Czech for ‘I don’t have anything smaller’).

9. Vaclav Havel is ace.  Few people who’ve actually done something significant to change the world remain so modest and unassuming.  I wasn’t blown away by his most recent play, ‘Leaving’ but I enjoyed it more than Tom Stoppard’s Czech related offering, ‘Rock and Roll’.  I suspect that Sir Tom is just too smart for me though. He’s sort of Czech too.

10. Hi Mum. The place where I now live isn’t called Czechoslovakia anymore.  It’s the Czech Republic.  It is not acceptable to call this country simply ‘Czech’, as in ‘I’m going to Czech on holiday’.  Don’t.  I can’t bear it.  ‘Czech’ is an adjective, not a noun.  You went to school back in the days when they taught English kids something about grammar so you should be able to get your head around this.  And yes, they do have telephones here.

I wrote today’s post while drinking café au lait in Café Louvre.  Here’s what the waiter brought me. The coffee is in the little porcelain coffee pot and there’s a thimbleful of fizzy water tucked behind it in case I get too dehydraded by the caffeine.  I’m a sucker for a well-presented hot beverage.

cafe-au-lait

 

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