13 May 2010

Nine things I've learned since coming to the Czech Republic

I’m in my seventh month in Prague, the weather has warmed to pleasant spring perfection and I’m really enjoying this beautiful European city. I’ve been in the Foreign Service long enough to know each location has its particular culture and individual points of interest, so I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned since I’ve been in the Czech Republic.

1) Some people in Prague walk faster than I do. This may seem odd to you, but it is the first place I have ever lived where people on the street routinely pass me. I walk especially fast; not intentionally, it is just what I do. My 6-foot 4-inch son, who has a very long stride, doesn’t walk as fast as I do and asks me to slow down. I have been places where people look at me oddly, wondering where the fire is, I suppose, as I scoot past. Here, I am frequently outpaced, and I love it.

2) Prague is the sixth most visited city in Europe but only about 8 percent of tourists are American. I guess that means Prague is a best-kept secret from Americans but, believe me, other countries’ citizens love to come here. The CR is full of Europeans, South Americans and Asians.

3) Czechs are not friendly until after you say hello. Maybe this is a holdover from the insecure times of communism, but Czechs generally don’t make any eye contact with someone they don’t know, whether on the street or in a store. But the minute the other person says, “Dobrý den (hello),” that reserve melts away and he or she becomes open and friendly.

4) The Czech language is HARD! I think there is a reason only 11 million people speak this language, and it isn’t just because there are only 11 million Czechs! I have learned to get by in Czech when I order a meal or go to the grocery, but I will never be able to hold a simple conversation.

5) Czechs over 30 are not particularly interested in learning English. They were required to learn Russian or German—languages of occupying forces—and they are nationalistic about maintaining the Czech language. Who can blame them? I believe their thinking is, because they live in the Czech Republic and have their own language, foreigners who visit or come to live should make the accommodation to get by in the local language. I agree! We Americans think the same way. I just wish Czech wasn’t so hard.

6) Most Czech women are in the normal weight range. This is probably because almost all Czechs participate in a broad range of sports, but I have a sneaking suspicion it is also because refrigerators are tiny. Keeping the fridge stocked requires several trips a week to the market, on foot. I only feed one person, and I know my physical activity has increased just from grocery shopping. Additionally, once I’ve done the shopping and have lugged the groceries back to my apartment, I’m not too interested in eating.

7) Flowers are important. Prague is a city, but it blooms. Flower shops (květiny) are no more than two blocks away, no matter where you are in Prague. Citizens take great pride in displaying plants and flowers, and bouquets are a common gift. It really adds to the ambiance.
8) Czechs love tea! This was a total surprise to me. The CR is famous for its beer and Budweiser Budvar Brewery, home of the original Budweiser beer, is here, but tea shops with exotic teas from around the world are common. Many restaurants have a special tea menu with dozens of choices. By the way, local beer is often less expensive than tea, coffee or colas!

9) Finally, until 1989, every Czech baby had to be named from an official list of names. Legally, a non-Czech first name was not permitted on a birth certificate, and this tradition had been in place for centuries. Each name—male or female—had a “name” day on the calendar, and name days were celebrated rather than birth days.

No doubt, as I live here longer, I’ll learn more interesting facts about my temporary home. But I think the most important thing I’ve learned about Prague is—I’m happy living here.

Top: Astrological clock
Bottom: Tyn Church, Old Town, Prague

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.


  1. Anonymous13 May, 2010

    I love the CR. Riding through the country-side on the train reminded me of Lord of the Ring because everything was so green and the houses seemed so tiny!

  2. Didn't know you had a blog! Am glad I found it because I love reading your stories. Can't wait to read the rest today and get caught up (am starting from the bottom up!). Miss you! Monika