It’s been a whirlwind of a week, but I seem to have survived – and here are 10 random things I have learned about the Czech Republic along the way.
- Practically everyone is named Jana, Ivanna, or Tomáš. Like the Koreans all having the surname Kim or Lee, or the Irish naming 90% of the population Paddy, Seamus, and Sinead.
- The Czechs are not – contrary to my initial fear – all about the beer, although it’s certainly the drink of choice. They also have a variety of national beverages that are drunk as shots. Most taste like undiluted death with a side of heartburn, with the exception of becherovka, a cinnamon flavoured drink which tastes exactly like bottled Christmas and – in my experience thus far – promotes somewhat extreme feelings of love, peace, and harmony.
- Czech people who speak English well do so with an inexplicable Welsh accent.
- It is extremely rude not to greet strangers when entering a lift, shop, or other enclosed space. We have been reminded multiple times that when we go to our schools next week we must say “dobrý den” to every adult we meet upon entering the building, or we will instantly earn a reputation for being extremely ill-mannered. In the past, the school has received multiple complaints about new teachers for this reason.
- Conversely, there’s no concept of meaningless polite questions like “How are you?”. If you ask a stranger this question, they will have no idea how to respond in the expected manner, i.e. with an equally polite, meaningless “fine, thanks”. If you ask someone you already know, they will possibly take you literally and proceed to give you detailed account of whatever currently ails them.
- Most bars operate a table service system, and Czech people are generally unused to the practice of paying for every drink as you receive it. I am not sure how I feel about this, as it results in a huge group bill at the end of the night and you have to remember to go to the bar before you leave and pay for your own drinks. How do you remember which drinks were yours, when you’ve been there for 5 hours and the afore-mentioned shots have been playing a role?! One of my Czech friends had the following sage advice for me: make sure you are never the last one to leave.
- No means yes and yes means no. Honestly, I am living in a state of perpetual confusion and misunderstanding. The Czech word for “yes” is “ano”, so you’ll very often see someone nodding in agreement and going “ano… no, no, no…”. To add to my confusion, the word for “no” is “ne” – which I’ve spent the past 4 years hearing as an emphatic “yes” in Korean.
- There are bugs here that I’ve never seen before in my life. They look like ladybirds at first glance, but have different black-on-red patterns rather than spots, and are a little longer and flatter. As you probably know, I really don’t like insects, but these ones don’t bother me – they’re quite cute. Just as well, as they’re everywhere. In swarms. I was having a coffee and reading at the picnic table outside the school restaurant the other day, when I became distracted by a loud gnawing, munching sound. I kept looking up, expecting to see some wild animal, until eventually the librarian – who was sitting at the next table – laughed. It’s the red bugs, she said, pointing. They sit on the fence and eat the wood. Blimey. The world is not a safe place.
- Czech dumplings are not what I imagined them to be. I’m familiar with British ones, which are balls of dough, and Asian ones, which are thin parcels with hot fillings, but Czech ones look more like slices of chewy bread. They’re quite strange. I’ll no doubt be writing in more detail about Czech foods when I’ve been here a bit longer, so for now I’ll just leave it at that. Czech dumplings are quite strange.
- Your toilet at home is in its own little tiny room, separate from the bathroom – meaning you then have to go to the bathroom afterwards to wash your hands. To the new foreigners here, this is a very weird concept, and each of us thought we’d got a dodgy flat until a Czech colleague shook her head and told us they’re all like that, uttering a phrase with which I am sure to become very familiar over the next year:
It’s a Czech thing.