A few months ago, a British friend who has lived in Germany for many years, alerted me to this online article entitled, ‘How to be German in 20 easy steps’. It is written by a British man who is obviously trying to become accepted in the country in which he is now resident. The article had both Sybille and I in stitches 🙂 But ever since reading it, I have been formulating in my own mind, the equivalent article. So after nearly four & a half years of living as a cizinec / foreigner in the Czech Republic, here is my guide in ten easy steps as to ‘How to be Czech’.
1. Drink beer
The Czech Republic has the highest per capita consumption of beer of any nation in the world. The country also produces an abundance of excellent brews including Pilsner Urquell, the world’s first pilsner pale lager beer, Budvar, Kozel, Gambrinus, Radegast, Staropramen, Krušovice, Starobrno, Bernard and Svijany. In very simple terms, if you want to be Czech, you need to drink beer and enjoy doing so.
You also need to know how to drink beer – in particular to remember that in a Czech bar, your beer glass must always be placed on a beer mat. And going into a Czech bar, sitting at a table, taking a beer mat from the central container, and placing it in front of you, will frequently result in a half litre of Czech beer arriving, without you having to say a word! And be reassured – as far as Czech people are concerned, beer is not alcohol 🙂
2. Get a title
The Czech people love their titles – and use them! Even a simple office worker seems to have Ing. (Engineer) in front of their name. My recent reminder to renew my car insurance came from Ing. Pavel and Ing. Annabella, who both work for the Czech branch of a well-known German insurance company.
I was tempted to illustrate this point by photographing the mail boxes on the ground floor of our apartment block, but decided for reasons of personal privacy, it would be unwise to do so. But you would be amazed how many Mgr., Ing., JuDr., etc there are in our neighbourhood. Therefore our mail box very firmly has ‘Rev’d’ in front of my name. For if you are going to be Czech, you need to have a title!
3. Dress Czech
Whilst recognising that I’m now setting foot where most angels would fear to tread, here is my advice to ladies as to how to dress Czech. Ladies – when wearing a dress or skirt, make sure that it is short – basically finishing mid thigh or even higher! And do not think that this is just restricted to young ladies. In the Czech Republic, you will frequently see a mother and her daughter out walking together, with the daughter pushing a buggy containing her new-born infant. You will then often notice that there is a competition between mother and the new grandma, as to which one has the shorter hemline.
Another aspect of the Czech female look is showing cleavage – usually plenty of it. Please don’t think to reserve such a look for a romantic evening dinner with your boyfriend or husband. If you are going to be Czech, showing plenty of cleavage &/or wearing a short dress or skirt is also the required dress code for going around town during the day and for wearing to the office.
When it does get really cold, then the correct Czech female look is spray-on jeans tucked into knee-high boots. And the boots really should have high, narrow heels, despite the cobbled streets and pavements of the historic centre of Prague and other Czech towns and cities. For part of being a Czech lady is being able to walk in such heels and not trip up on the cobbles.
There is far less of a dressing Czech code for men. But if any man wants to really be Czech, he needs to stop worrying about having his hair cut. A true Czech man has long hair and ties it back in a pony tail. As with ladies and short hemlines, the pony tail look is not just restricted to young men. Plenty of Czech men in their fifties & sixties have them too. Gents – you want to be Czech? Grow a pony tail!
4. Take your shoes off when entering a house or flat
Upon your arrival at the entrance door of a Czech home, you must take off your shoes. Your Czech host may well say, ‘Oh don’t worry about your shoes’. Ignore what has been said and still take off your shoes, leaving them in the entrance hall by the door. Failure to do so will result in you forever being known as the foreigner who didn’t take off their shoes. Nobody will ever think you are Czech.
Don’t just obey this rule when entering a Czech home. Adopt the same rule in your own home too. Then when Czech people come to visit you, not only will they take their shoes off upon arrival, they will recognise that you are also on your way to being Czech.
5. Be sportif
Despite Czech cuisine being somewhat unhealthy – if you can deep-fry it, they will 🙂 – you still see remarkably little obesity. The reason is that in order to be Czech, you need to be sportif. Go out for a gentle walk in a city park or alongside the Vltava River, and you will be passed by a succession of joggers, cyclists, skateboarders and roller-bladers. To be really Czech, you need to be one of them.
Having a baby or toddler that needs to be pushed around in a baby buggy or stroller is no excuse. Just pop on your roller-blades and push the buggy/stroller in front of you. This is strollering – the ideal form of exercise to lose weight after giving birth. If you don’t have the confidence to try it, classes are available as this poster below explains.
If none of these sportif activities appeal to you, then try playing floorball, a form of indoor hockey at which Czechs excel. Or go ice skating in winter, play tennis in summer. Yes – part of being Czech is being sportif. See also what follows in points six and seven.
6. Go to the chata or chalupa for the weekend
One little frustration of living in the Czech Republic is the impossibility of getting anything done in most offices on a Friday afternoon. Why? Because everybody is busy packing up and clearing their desks so they can head off to spend the weekend in the chata or chalupa.
A chata is a (usually) wooden small hut or chalet, located out in the Bohemian or Moravian countryside. A chalupa is a bigger and usually more substantial version of a chata – a ‘country cottage’ might be an appropriate description in English. Particularly for any English-speaker who has fallen in love with a member of the opposite sex who is Czech, going to spend the weekend with the Czech relatives at their chata/chalupa, can be the make-or-break experience as to whether the new relationship will flourish and will certainly define whether, as a foreigner, you are going to succeed in becoming Czech.
Part of the chata/chalupa weekend experience is also being sportif, as in point five. Cars leaving Prague on a Friday afternoon will have bicycles up on the roof rack in summer, or skis/snowboards in winter. Some wealthier Czechs will have horses at their chalupa, ready for weekend riding. It isn’t just going to the chata/chalupa for the weekend – the real test for being Czech, is joining fully in the whole experience, including the various, mainly sportif, activities.
7. Enjoy being out in ‘the nature’
Even for those Czech people who don’t own or have access to a chata/chalupa, going out into the Czech countryside and being in ‘the nature’ as they tend to say in English, is deemed highly important. If you want to be Czech, you need to do so too, and be seen to enjoy it.
This means taking the train out of the big city to a small village or town, and then walking for many kilometres along one of the numerous way-marked paths through the forests and over the hills, to another spot where you can catch the train home at the end of the day. Or heading out of the city to where you can hire a canoe and paddle your way along the river, over a few rapids, to a distant location many kilometres downstream.
In summer, these activities can also often include swimming in the many rivers and lakes that are part of ‘the nature’ in the Czech Republic. And for some Czechs, being in ‘the nature’ also means being ‘au naturel’. Certainly don’t expect changing facilities at river and lakeside bathing spots and be aware that many Czech women don’t believe in wearing bikini tops. If you want to be Czech, just join in doing what Czech people do when they are in ‘the nature’.
8. Get a dog
The statistic I’ve read is that 40% of Czech households, have one or more dogs. I often think it might be higher than that. But as I know from our personal experience with Sam the dog, if you have a dog, suddenly complete strangers start talking to you and, far more importantly, to your dog. You have a dog? You must be Czech!
9. Read a book – wherever you are
Czech people love books and love reading. The number of flourishing bookshops is testament to their love of reading. To be Czech, you need to be a bookworm too. But don’t confine your reading to fifteen minutes in bed before you go to sleep. No – read a book wherever you are.
What does that mean? It means reading on the tram, metro or bus and whilst standing & waiting for the tram, metro or bus. But don’t just restrict yourself to these locations. The real test as to whether you are Czech is being able to read and walk along at the same time! Yes – you need to be able to read a book, wherever you are and whatever you are doing.
10. Speak Czech
The most obvious, but also the hardest. Whilst many younger Czech people, welcome the opportunity of speaking English with a native speaker, and will respect you for having adopted and practised points one to nine above, the final test is being able to speak their language. Which means getting four genders and seven cases correct, every time 🙁
Did I mention ten easy steps. Sorry – I meant nine relatively easy ones and one that is extremely difficult.
Update December 2013
Following a further major upsurge of interest in this post, I’ve written and posted an update entitled ‘How to be Czech in 10 easy steps- revisited‘.