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Maria & Brett's HUGE Trip 06-07-08-09-? ok, so the Socceroos lost in 'that' penalty against Italy; Adriatic summers aren't long enough (bliss!); and we found that you should never use the term "Eastern Bloc" when talking to a Czech (Central Europe, please).

Oddities and curiosities of life in the Czech Republic - Part II

CZECH REPUBLIC | Sunday, 28 January 2007 | Views [3353] | Comments [2]

Neo-retro post-classical non-cubistic minimalistic-wanna-be emergency waiting-room chair. Be warned: one sit in this chair and you'll end up with a needle in your eye (true story).

Neo-retro post-classical non-cubistic minimalistic-wanna-be emergency waiting-room chair. Be warned: one sit in this chair and you'll end up with a needle in your eye (true story).

Imagine what you know about communism. Then try to think of the opposite. In the past 17 years Czechs have not only adopted free-market concepts but they also go nuts for the stuff.

Communism was abolished following the Velvet Revolution of 1989 – so called because of the relatively peaceful manner in which university students and academics successfully campaigned to end the communist regime. You could say that the fall of the Berlin wall had a flow-on effect. Czechoslovakia later divided into the Czech and Slovak republics in 1993.

Most Praguers tell us “There is Prague, and then there is the rest of the republic”. We haven’t seen most of the Republic but it’s clear that communistic principles would have very little support amongst Praguers, who enjoy all the mod cons found anywhere in the rest of the West, including:

* an endless supply of flash late-model Ferraris, Porsches, countless Hummers, and even the odd Lamborghini here and there. It seems Praguers (of the ‘illegitimate’ kind.  If we go missing after posting this, mum/dad, we love you) like to drive cars that promise to knock your lights out should you dare step off the footpath.

When Maria asked one of her students why Czechs drive so dangerously he told her “we sit in our offices all day and all week, so we like to just get in our cars and get the adrenaline going”. Great news for pedestrians! Last week from my tram window I saw an old lady who had been literally squashed to her fateful end by a truck, and she had been crossing at a zebra crossing. It was a vivid reminder to cross the road carefully (and for Aussies to look left first, not right!) and to appreciate every minute we have on this Earth with our family and friends.

* hypermarkets and shopping centres like Tesco that are open until 11pm even on weekends. Staff at Tesco use rollerblades to get around the super-stores, very impressively demonstrating their skills weaving in and out of queuing customers.  Public liability – what’s that?!

Unfortunately with the hypermarkets also comes hyper trolley rage. We find that people haven’t realised that road rules directly apply to shopping trolley driving (ie, stick to the right). We’ve witnessed double- and triple-parking; speeding; overtaking 3-wide; not watching while driving; abandoning the trolley; trolley rage (ie shouting of abuse, sticking the finger up, even approaching someone else’s trolley) and even collisions. The strongest personalities – usually the old women – win out. We stick to the aisle sidewalks and use a basket instead.  Maria- I even had someone put something in my trolley because, I’m presuming, they couldn’t be bothered returning it to its rightful home on the shelf!  I had no time to react as I was completely flabbergasted at what I had just witnessed, doing a double take and then a triple take. The person continued with his shopping.

* fashion to die for and die in (see our entry under “Fashion Crimes”)

* cutting-edge modern telecommunications (except in one little area in Prague where we just happen to live!!!  Murphy’s Law I say, hence, no internet at home) – free Wi-Fi in any self-respecting trendy café (there’s no shortage of these), and a mobile penetration rate of more than 100% (at least one sim card per person, based on the total population of approximately 10 million).

The Czech Republic’s military history still has an imprint on Prague today. I nearly dove for cover head first into the nearest rubbish bin when I heard my first air raid siren fire up across town. Looking around nervously I saw that little old ladies carried on their conversations and the police on patrol continued to smoke their cigarettes. Thinking there must be an explanation for this indifferent behaviour I found out later that this drill happens every Wednesday at noon – giving me the chance to gawk at all the tourists having their turn ducking for the nearest rubbish bin!

Queuing up is a strange phenomenon, but a reminder of communist times when queuing for hours was the norm. For us the thought of standing in a line of 40-50 people in front of a sole metro ticket office window while 4 others remain closed is ludicrous, and worthy of loud complaining. Here it doesn’t raise a single Czech eyebrow. We’re toughing up – and carry a spare set of specs with us to put on in these emergencies when we need to see things through Czech eyes.  Maria – This phenomenon seems to be getting worse.  A bank with only one teller – EVER! A supermarket with 15 registers yet only three working at one time, hence, the line up of 20 people at one register.

It’s even funnier when the longer-than-usual escalators down to the metro system stop working; people just stand on their step and wait for it to start moving again. (Tourists usually sit down to enjoy the long rides up or down from far beneath the earth’s surface). Be warned, however, as the escalators move so quickly that you need a long run-up to mount and dismount safely.

We were shocked to hear that a popular communist party is making a comeback in the far east of the Republic where thousands of mining jobs have been taken away and unemployment is on the rise. Apparently the locals would prefer a system of government that assures income, reasonable social conditions, education, health and other fundamental necessities. Maria – Brett you make it sound appealing!  I’m sold!

We enjoy asking students what they remember from the communist times. As we teach in businesses most students are in their early to late twenties and thirties. One character was telling me one morning at 7:30am about his memorable experience of trying Western chocolate for the first time. Having put up for his whole teenage years with chocolate made by the state-owned company, he proudly recalled that he had a “mini orgasm” the first time he tried smarties.

Shortly after moving in we agreed to meet our landlord at our apartment at a particular time so that he could deliver some furniture. When we arrived home we found his shoes in the hallway, his coat hanging on the rack and him in the living room on all fours assembling a kitchen table. While Maria and I looked on in dumbstruck amazement, trying to find the right way to say “what the %$# are you doing in our apartment”, he found the words to ask me for private English tuition – every week, in our apartment.

Hmmmm, let me see…. Letting your landlord come over once a week, to your house, for private tuition, and receive peanuts and a weekly inspection in return. I very quickly found the right words to convey “f*$# off”. When I asked some students whether it’s always been common for landlords to do this, they simply reminded me that landlords have only existed here for the past 17 years – they didn’t exist during communist times so the concept is relatively new. It’s all clear now!

Beer, Politics, Beer

Walking home one night we noticed a man a few paces ahead of us walking down the street with a pint in his hand – full of beer fresh from the keg. We worked out that he must’ve walked up to the pub on the corner, topped his beer up from the tap to then head home to down it in front of the telly. Hang on, this is the land whose synonym is “beer” so I guess that does make sense.

Thank God the restrictive licensing laws of Oz haven’t reached this far yet. Actually, you can buy a beer anywhere, anytime, even at Macca’s or the large chainstore Tesco – there’s a section dedicated to hot meals and drinks you can buy and have on the spot. It’s quite a sight to see older men strolling around the store with a plastic schooey of beer in hand as their wives dart around the store committing trolley rage. If Tesco installed a big screen tv and broadcasted the football or ice hockey this would certainly be the equivalent of the “hubby chairs” you can find in clothes or shoe shops.

Politics goes literally hand-in-hand with beer here. As at the end of December the Czech Government is currently not yet “formed”. Following general elections in June when members were elected to their seats by their electorates, there were as many seats held by the opposition as the ruling party (ie, 100 on each side). This has led in effect to a deadlock, grinding the effective function of the government to a halt.

What is needed is one member to basically swap sides to give the ruling party the majority number of seats (eg 101-99). This is a bizarre requirement for a democratic government because the member who crosses over would most likely abandon their constituency in doing so.

So what’s this got to do with beer? It is now December and the government still hasn’t formed – so of course every second newspaper and billboard is somehow related to this stalemate. And, yes, the Czechs are as over it as we are. To try to encourage Czechs to stay interested in politics election campaign booths have even resorted to giving out free beer instead of the usual two-tone flyer. I still don’t know what party I voted for!

Following recent newspapers reports on EU regulations that would push the price of beer up, every second word on the street was “mutiny” or “suicide” or “lost their mind” (according to our, ahem, advanced Czech!). When you can buy a pint of beer for less than an aussie dollar you realise this stuff’s more than in the local blood – it’s cheaper than water! Of course when Finland successfully rallied with the Czech Republic against these proposals the Czech Finance Minister presented his Finnish counterpart with …. a keg of beer – and this made front page news.

What will happen in Part III?

Will we witness Brett gathering enough courage to go for a mullet haircut after 5 months of avoiding the shears? Will Maria commit the ultimate act of shopping rage and exact revenge on all the unwitting trolley ragers? Or will we finally step in one of the many steaming, smouldering dog poops that line our footpaths like rosepetals laid out for a maharaja's princess... Only time will tell. (And you can vote for your favourite ending - email us)

Tags: Culture



Dog poop!!!! Dog poop!!!

I love your blog guys, I feel like I am with you giggling the whole way like a naughty 4 year old (with a mullet) keep up the good work. Glad to hear you are enjoying your stay
love gav xxx

  Gav Mar 29, 2007 3:27 PM


Bom post amigo,narração muito boa e esclarecedora

  Mairink Apr 26, 2010 1:50 AM

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