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Life and Living in the Czech Republic

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CZECH FACTOIDS

Life is in the Czech Republic is great, but it’s certainly different to what we were used to before! So just in case it’s useful for anyone else we thought we would jot down lots of the differences and things that have surprised us in living here.

On with the show!

Camping or B&B's

  • We've done a number of English camps in the Czech Republic, and stayed in a few B&B's (Pensions). We have found sime patterns emerging!
  • The Czech idea of a towel is often something thinner than, and not much bigger than a face cloth in Britain. So do yourself a favour and bring your own.
  • Don't be surprised if communal showers don't have shower curtains. They're not missing, they simply don't have them (this may go for bathrooms in a house or flat, too).
  • Curtains! I don't remember ever staying in a B&B or camp accommodation where there have been curtains that are either thick enough to keep out light, or big enough to cover the window. In a culture where people tend to get up before dawn to start work at 6AM or so, then go to bed early, it's perhaps not so surprising.
  • Pillows! Pillows are often bigger than the ones in the UK, and lumpy and unsupportive. If you are prone to any neck or back problems, try to bring your own when travelling here.

Banking

  • Most banks in the Czech Republic have stickers on the outside doors showing things you are not allowed to bring in (motorcyle helmets etc). Unlike most countries however there's a sticker indicating "NO GUNS". Given that guns are hardly a major feature of life here (unlike parts of the USA, for example), it seems a very odd stipulation!
  • It was easy to set up a bank account in the Czech Republic. We were supposed to provide evidence of a visa (which we did not yet have), but in the end just our passports and identity sufficed.
  • We decided on a bank called “eBanka” because it was recommended to us. Almost everything can be arranged on-line, which is the sort of service that most banks here are now starting to catch up on.
  • eBanka is supposed to be one of the cheapest banks here, but even still, looking at the list of charges reminded us of the song in Les Miserables that goes “charge them for the rice, extra for the lice, 2% for looking in the mirror twice!”. Taking money from an eBanka ATM is about 5 crowns, and from any other ATM (of which there are generally plenty) is 25 crowns. Getting a statement costs. Checking your balance from your mobile phone costs. Paying a bill costs. The only free thing is depositing cash (and some of the other banks charge you for that too). At least one can avoid the 60 crown monthly account fee if at least 15000 crowns are deposited in total during the month.
  • eBanka’s online service is rather good, but instead of passwords they install an application onto the SIM card of your mobile phone that generates one-time passwords. So you keep your phone handy when going on-line: click a button on the web site and it sends a password through to your mobile phone that you then enter to get into the site. Nifty, as long as you are within mobile phone range.
  • We applied for the account one week, then picked up our ATM cards about 10 days later. There were multiple forms to sign (an important part of Czech life).

Cool Sayings

  • If you say someone is “under the picture” (pod obraz), it means they are drunk!
  • If someone is “Out of the Dish” it means that they are a bit crazy, don't understand what's going on, off-message, whatever.
  • If someone is a “Number” (čislo) that means they're a bit of a character / joker / hilarious.
  • “Hedgehog Eyes!!!” (yezkovy oci!!!) means Goodness Me!!!

Rules of the Road

  • It’s only been in the last 10 years that 2 particular laws came into effect: compulsory seatbelts, and pedestrians having right of way.
  • So there’s an appalling lack of seatbelt use, even for people who should know better.
  • Kids are very often unrestrained in cars, and are clambering around the seats...
  • Be VERY careful about using pedestrian crossings. There’s absolutely no guarantee that cars will stop for you, even if you are half way across the road.
  • At least in Ceske Budejovice (probably less so in manic Prague), everyone rides bicycles, which is great, and cyclists are respected slightly better than pedestrians (so cycling is reasonably safe).
  • It’s extremely rare to see adults wearing bike helmets, and not that many kids do either. Varya was publically pointed at and laughed at for wearing a bike helmet on the way to work. Admittedly the route is 99% safe cycle paths along the river, but even so bike helmets are compulsory in many countries!
  • GET USED to crazy passing manoeuvres! A Czech specialty seems to be overtaking while going up a hill, on a blind corner, with a bit of fast oncoming traffic thrown in for good measure. We’ve even had a car overtaking another car which was overtaking ours, meaning we were 3 abreast! It’s amazing that there aren’t even more fatalities than there are. The funny thing is that this behaviour seems to be accepted, and people drive to account for it (ie oncoming traffic doesn’t get upset when someone overtakes you at the last moment). Our advice: don’t get mad, don’t try to get even, just pull over a bit more and let them get on with it.

Shop Hours and shopping

  • Here in Ceske Budejovice (and surely in any smaller town), don’t expect any shops to be open after 11:30AM on Saturdays except big supermarkets. Sundays are even worse: almost nothing is open except from the supermarkets, and possibly icecream shops and some cafes. It can be very hard to buy things in the weekends.
  • Most shops open till 5:30 or 6PM on weekdays.
  • Most supermarkets (and stores in general) REQUIRE you to have a shopping basket or trolley with you as you go into the store - even if you're just going in for a Mars Bar! Why? Well some people think that it’s a holdover from Communist days, some say it’s to regulate the number of people in the store at any one time (probably true), and some say it’s to help prevent shop-lifting. Some foreigners get mad at this rule but we’ve learned to accept it... attitudes are slowly changing, but though not all supermarkets have the rule, people may still look at you with a lot of suspicion if you don’t have a basket.
  • A quite western-style shopping centre has opened up in Ceske Budejovice, almost the only one of its kind in the whole area of the country. Lots of clothes shops, big name brands, some international. Strangely (but not all that strange if you know Czechs outside of Prague!) the locals consider it far overpriced, and would far rather go to the big Globus supermarket than the new IGY centre. To our eyes it's not much more expensive than other outlets in the city, and we like the nice modern layout etc... but it's just not the Czech way of shopping.

 

Fast Food

  • Sorry Brits, Kiwis and Aussies: no fish and chips. It’s not too hard to find chips (hranolky) at little fast food joints, and most of these serve very passable hamburgers at good prices.
  • Other Czech fast foods are great too: smazeny syr is literally fried cheese, a big slab of crumbed gooey Eidam, usually in a roll with mayonnaise. Yum! Bramborak is like a huge hash brown in the style of a pancake, also very good.

 

In the House

  • Washing machines usually found in the bathroom, a much better place for them than where Brits usually put them (in the kitchen).
  • Chalk paint! Our flat has this paint on the walls that leaves a thin chalky smear on your skin or clothes as you brush against it. Someone invented this stuff. Someone manufactured it. Someone sold it. And someone thought it was a good idea and bought it and painted this flat with it. HUH!!!!!????
  • The main meal of the day is lunch. Expect a hot meal. And if you are invited around to someone’s place in the evening, do yourself a BIG favour and ask explicitly if it’s for dinner (we’ve made the mistake of not asking, twice now, and going hungry). Dinner can sometimes just consist of a few doughnuts, or a few bread rolls, or something not much more than “finger food”. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that if you are expecting a full meal you may well be disappointed.
  • SLIPPER CULTURE - like many European cultures, it's rude to wear outdoor footwear (shoes/boots/sandals) indoors. When you go to visit people, they will probably have spare sets of slippers available for you to wear. Czechs sometimes (in our experience!) get a bit shocked if you have bare feet indoors, particularly in cold weather, as many Czech houses don't have carpeted floors. Czechs seem to think that you're certain to catch cold from bare feet on the cold floors (so don't sit on them, either!).
  • You may even get used to the practise of taking your own slippers when visiting someone (earn extra brownie-points for asking people if you should bring your slippers with you...).

 

Buses

  • We like: the automated voices telling you which stop you are at. Not common in the UK.
  • We like: the fact they are so big (mostly double length with the concertina bendy-bit in the middle. This means they’re not usually too crowded, at least in Ceske Budejovice.
  • It’s important to buy your tickets before getting on the bus, or else they are more expensive if you buy them from the driver (who won’t be very happy to sell you one). Once on the bus you validate the ticket by pushing it into a little machine which stamps the date and time on it. Woe betide you if a plain clothed ticket inspector catches you without a validated ticket.
  • Tickets are generally purchased from tiny kiosks next to most of the bus stops, or from orange vending machines in some places.

 

Free Time

  • In the weekends, with the shops closed, town can be almost completely deserted. On a nice day you can see where everyone is: out in the parks or by the river. At other times, there’s just no-one anywhere! I’m still trying to work out where everyone is. Must be indoors (the Czechs are pretty family oriented), or could be out in their country shacks (chata). But there doesn’t seem to be a mass exodus of cars at the start of the weekend, so I am guessing people spend a lot of time at home.
  • There’s a saying that “All Czechs are musicians”. We’ve certainly met a lot who have learned to play a classical instrument or play really mean guitar. Kids in families very often (usually) learn an instrument.
  • There don’t seem to be many obese Czechs, at least that we have seen. We put this down to plenty of exercise — lots of cycling and roller blading, and taking dogs for walks.
  • On the other hand, there are a fair number of beer guts around, and we personally know a number of people with cholestorol problems. The Czech diet can be quite good, but at its worst it’s terrible, with lots of cholestoral-bomb doughnuts, pastries, fried food, and fatty pork (ever had a pig’s knee?).

 

Hair Colour

  • I’d love to do a web page on this, but I’m not so keen on just photographing lots of people in the street!
  • In line with many other Central/Eastern European countries, hair colouring is MUCH more common than in the UK. There are days when I sit in the bus and try to spot someone on the bus or outside who has their natural hair colour. I don’t usually find many. Often the colours look great, but there are some weird colours going on here... certain shades of orangey red that should not be seen on anyone, let alone people over 60!
  • Guys as well as girls.
  • Wash/cut/colour for a woman might be about 450 crowns, about £9 UK at time of writing. So it seems pretty cheap except that over here 450 crowns is rather a lot of money. A men’s dry cut is about 50–90 crowns (£1–1.80 UK).

 

Christmas customs

  • Merry Christmas = veselé vanoce
  • Christmas in the Czech Republic is celebrated on the evening of the 24th of December. The traditional meal, served at 6PM, is not turkey, but carp (kapr) and/or fish soup, with cold potato salad! Many people still buy their big live carp a few days ahead of time, and keep them alive in the bath! In these last few days before Christmas, there is a fishy smell all over the neighbourhood as everyone prepares their fish soup and fried carp in advance!
  • Carp can be bought alive or dead, often from stalls which seem to be on every street corner. Each stall has a big tank with the huge live carp, and a slaughtering table where they, uh, do the business if you don’t want to do it yourself.
  • As Christmas dinner is so big, Czechs don’t eat much else all day. In fact, tradition has it that if you fast all day before Christmas dinner, you’ll see a gold pig!
  • Since St Nicholas (Svaty Mikulaš) has already visited earlier in December, it’s not St Nick/Santa who delivers presents on Christmas Eve, but the baby Jesus himself (Ježišek). But kids don’t have to try to imagine an actual baby squeezing down a chimney — Ježišek delivering presents is a rather more abstract concept than Santa doing it. The presents are exchanged (and opened!) on the evening of the 24th rather than on the 25th.
  • Christmas trees (pl. stromičky) aren’t such a big thing here as in the UK/NZ. We had ours up at the window, with lights glowing, at the beginning of December, but many Czechs we know only put them up on the 23rd of December. It seems such a waste to be cutting down a live tree, for just 2 or 3 days of Christmas celebrations (actually, even for a month it’s a bit of a waste...)
  • Close to midnight on the 24th of December, most Catholic churches (kostel) have a midnight mass — sublime music inside, and reportedly extreme drunkenness outside. We didn’t make it to our local kostel, but our neighbourhood was quiet with no trouble in the street.

 

Can you help us?

There are SO many more things we could add to this page... perhaps you can help!

Please your factoids to us... and we’ll try to include them. Any subject welcomed!


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