Prague Twin

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Not Your Typical Czech

One of the things that I love and hate about the Czech republic is how together certain people are. There is a certain type of Czech person that is so practical, it is infuriating. I admire them, but it is almost painful to be around them. They are not arrogant: they are so used to being the right, that it rolls right off them.

I am usually met by these people with stares of incomprehension and somtimes pure disbelief. My whimsical ways baffle them. My total disregard for innane minutia frustrates them. But I can always deflect any situation by claiming ignorance or just pure immaturity.

When in these situations I usually let a little boyish smile creep out and that gets me "the look".

"The look" is a held-back smile with a slight head tilt, followed by a very tight little "no" shake of the head, kind of like the one your mom might give you when you are looking at the candy bins at the supermarket, only nicer. Sometimes a finger shaking is added for good measure. When it is a young lady doing it, it seems like borderline flirting. But guys do it to, so the perception of flirting is probably just my cultural bias being applied to a foreign situation.

I get the look from my accountant all the time, but it doesn't feel like flirting. She is much older than I and we are from different planets.

The reason I need to describe her is to get ahold of the essence of a type of person that I encounter here daily, but are still almost like aliens to me. She is not typical by a long shot, but she embodies the practicality that is an unalienable part of almost all Czech people that I know. She takes this practicality to its logical end.

I will call her Ann. Ann is 46 years old. She dresses smart, does her hair and is always on time. She is pleasant but very concentrated on her work. Her desk is immaculate. She drinks only water and natural teas depending on the season or if there is a call for something special. Ann uses teas as remedies as do many Czechs. She knows about herbs, plants, flowers and trees. She knows about gardening. She knows about accounting. Other than that, I really haven't found anything else that she knows about extensively. I had to provide her with a list of EU countires, for exapmle.

Ann brings her lunch from home everyday. Often, the food is from her garden. She eats fresh fruit and home cooked food exclusively. She lives a few miles away and usually walks home from work unless her husband picks her up. She has been married 20 years and happily so. She has a grown daughter and a young teenage son.

One could say that Ann is an environmentalist. She takes recycling to a whole new level. She has no less that 7 different recycling piles at home, and she takes things from the office back with her. Not the paper and magazines (two different items, of course), but little things like the creamers, those tiny little plastic containers full of cream that you need at least 5 of for a large to-go coffee. She removes the foil from the top, cleans both the foil and the plastic cup and recycles them seperately. She takes my water bottles, that I would recycle whole, at cuts the little plastic ring off and recyles the ring and the cap seperate from the bottle. Then she removes the cellophane label and throws that away because you can't recycle cellophane. I believe her when she says that. As she explains to me the various divisions of papers and plastics and metals I notice that aluminium is not included. Ann would never buy anything in an aluminum can. That would be wasteful.

As I gawk in amazment, she tells me, "Michael, it will do the earth good!"

One day when we were celebrating a birthday at the shop, the conversation started going around about what we had done when we were in our late-teens that our parents didn't know. A few had older kids who had come home from the club at 2am. (Yes, the clubs here are full of teenage kids. 18 drinking age, but it is pretty lax.) Ann said that she had an incident when her daughter came home after midnight, and that her son would not be interested in such things. She believed it.

I asked her what she would do if her son came home drunk at four in the morning? She said, he wouldn't. I pretended to believe her, but pressed, just for conversational value. The other employees were rivited with what she would say. A blank look washed across her face. She considered her options and said sheepishly, "ground him untill he is 18? Really I have no idea."

I felt a little bad, but since this was a rare opportunity I told her about sneaking out of my parents house and joy-riding the family car down to the beach with my friends when I was about her son's age. She looked at me in complete shock.

I let a little boyish smile creep out and she gave me "the look".

She thought I had made it up.


  • Great post - I love your description of Ann's recycling habits. My girlfriend and I are rabid recyclers too (we also bring home recyclable material from work becuase the Board of Education doesn't recycle) but I think this woman has us beat.

    Having never spent any longer than a couple of weeks abroad, it's always interesting to hear Americans write about their experiences living abroad.

    By Blogger Reality-Based Educator, at 12:45 AM  

  • I, too, was impressed by the recycling. In my area we're given a little plastic bin that's holds maybe three twelve-packs of aluminum cans. This is supposed to store our recyclable materials for two weeks. Most of my neighbors put out the little bin and perhaps a bag of cardboard or paper. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Now, granted, I do have a family of five/six. So, we do go through more materials than most of my neighbors, yet still... We have the little bin, a big bin and a trash can all dedicated to recyclables, plus put out several bags of paper and/or cardboard a week. Sorting is unnecessary, as all the materials are just dumped into a garbage truck (though one dedicated to recyclables instead of garbage) and wouldn't stay sorted anyway.

    Here and I thought I was doing rather good. But, I guess it all depends on who you compare yourself to.

    By Blogger Mark, at 1:00 AM  

  • Back in Tasmania, some years ago, I used to deal with a couple of construction workers, Breznik and Sloboda.
    Stan Sloboda was a big cheeky bear of a man, very Australian in an immigrant sort of way. His partner, I never new his first name, was as you describe.
    Business was more than business, but actual survival to him, despite the fact that they worked constantly.
    I had a specialized lumber store, furniture and finishing grades. But Stan confided to me one that his partner “thinks Australians are stupid and wasteful.”
    He went on to explain his friend’s attitude, telling me about Czechoslovakia. You waste so much, so much lumber is just burned or left to rot. We are used to salvaging even old garden fruit trees for the lumber, he told me.
    I realized then just why so many of Australia’s immigrant cultures look at the rest with such distaste. Oh you can get close, and I have, but you will never emulate those small cultural values which are so fundamental.
    I’ve experienced similar here in Canada, where people don’t even recognize what wasting water means. When you were bought up from the cradle respecting the immense value of water a dripping tap or free running hose is really horrifying.

    Sorry about the novel.

    By Blogger Cartledge, at 2:07 AM  

  • It sounds like Czechs have all the logic and efficiency and practicality of Germans, without coming across like human bulldozers. (I'm part German, so I assume it's OK to make fun of your own ethnic group.)

    They sound like very likeable people.

    By Blogger Tom Harper, at 7:45 AM  

  • RBE,

    Thanks, I think she has everyone beat.


    I've heard about that in the states. People want to recycle but the local gov. doesn't give them the opportunity. Everyone sorts, and then it all ends up in a land-fill.


    It am consistently impressed with the stewardship that people here display, not only with their surroundings, but with themselves. The one exception is alchohol. I think even Ann gets quite a swerve on now and then.

    I grew up during the drought in California, and to this day, if someone walks away from a sink with the water on I start to get nervous. I can't even watch my wife do dishes because she wastes so much water.

    Feel free to write a book anytime. As you know, I NEVER do that.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 7:53 AM  

  • Tom,

    That is a fair assesment. The culture is very similar without the overbearing nature of the Germans. Also, they are practical here, but not so tidy as the Germans. Inside, yes. Very tidy, but outside is outside. Nature is allowed to be nature.

    They are quite likeable in the respect that I wrote of. I could write another post about the dark side..... Hmmmm.....

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 7:57 AM  

  • Hi
    I enjoyed this piece thoroughly. My husband was born in CR but lived most his life in South Africa - I still get the 'nitpicky' legacy, though!

    We are moving to a village in CR at the end of the year and I'm terrified I'll never adapt...

    I have added a link from my blog ( to your blog (under "Czech blog links").

    I hope you don't mind :-)

    By Blogger Dee Bee, at 12:21 PM  

  • Hello Prague Twin.
    I really enjoyed reading this article.
    I would like just add also some characteristics of Czech people.
    They are really very hard working.
    Do you know in which time they usually wake up? About 5-6 a.m.!!!!
    Can you imagine?
    I have known about this fact only when I had to go to foreign police in Prague. I had to wake up at 4:30 a.m, and when I came to the bus station, there were lots of people who went to work. I was really shocked!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:26 PM  

  • Cartledge just for the's not Czechoslovakia. It's the Czech Republic.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:49 PM  

  • t was preeti good site then other when i visited last month
    and got good information about work from home

    work from home

    By Anonymous naveed ahmad khan, at 11:09 AM  

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