At the end of my first post of 2011 entitled ‘Why I like living in Prague’, I did say that there were a small number of things that I don’t like about living here but referred to them as ‘minor irritants’. At least two commenters have since remarked that they would really like to know what these things are. So for Karen and Vance, together with everyone else who read that post and thought the same but didn’t leave a comment, here goes!
Mindless graffiti – The picture on the left, together with the two below, illustrate far more clearly what I mean than anything I can write. This is mindless, pointless graffiti. Please don’t let anybody try to tell me that it is art – it isn’t! And sadly, it is very widespread right across Prague.
I am well aware that it is a problem that is not unique to Prague – it occurs in very many urban areas around the world. When I lived in the Oxfordshire countryside before I moved to Prague, from time to time I used to travel into London by train. One of the things that always struck me as the train entered the London suburbs was the appearance of graffiti on walls and buildings alongside the railway tracks. In the villages of which I was Rector for over fifteen years, graffiti was virtually unknown.
Here in Prague, graffiti is more commonly seen on walls and buildings which are not in a very good state of repair. It is not often that you see it on newly renovated buildings. But it is rarely far away and it so detracts from nearby beautiful art and architecture. For example, the picture below shows a building in central Prague with a series of attractive mosaic squares on it. But the mindless graffiti underneath completely dissipates the beauty of the artwork.
As in the UK, once you leave the city and head out into the countryside, graffiti is rarely seen. Why this should be is a question to which I do not know the answer. Sybille rightly says to me that, rather than just complaining about it and suggesting that the police should do more to try and catch the culprits, one should rather ask what drives people to mindlessly spray or write things on buildings in the first place. Is it boredom, frustration or a feeling of helplessness and an expression of the social ills that there are here in Prague?
What ever the reasons – I do wish that graffiti wasn’t there defacing buildings.
Smoking – Unfortunately, the enlightened practice of banning smoking in bars and restaurants that has been introduced by law in many European countries in recent years, has yet to penetrate very far into the life of the Czech Republic. Since the middle of last year, bars and restaurants have been required to display a sign saying whether smoking is allowed everywhere within the premises; or that they have separated areas for smokers and non-smokers; or that smoking is not allowed anywhere within the premises.
In the vast majority of bar –restaurants, particularly small to medium sized ones, most proprietors allow smoking everywhere. Some larger premises do have separate rooms or areas where smoking is allowed and those where it is not allowed. Even in these places, the level of separation often leaves much to be desired. Very few bar-restaurants, with the exception of some of the more upmarket ones in touristy areas, have opted to ban smoking altogether.
Change will eventually come – but it will take some years. In the meantime I have to suffer my clothing smelling of stale tobacco smoke and the unseen but very real dangers of passive smoking.
And now to two things which really can be described as Prague peculiarities or minor irritants.
On the left is a picture of a digital clock and timer of a variety that you will see at the end of the platform of every Prague Metro station. At the top is a very accurate clock showing the exact time in hours, minutes and seconds. Underneath is a timer. But instead of counting down to the time when the next train will arrive, it counts upwards telling you instead, how long it is since the last train departed! How absurd. Unless you know the frequency of trains on that line, at that time of day and on that day of the week, the information is useless!
Just for once, the London Underground is better. There you have clear electronic signs saying how many minutes until the next train arrives and what its destination will be as different trains share the same lines in certain places. Would it take that much work to make these timers on the Prague Metro do the same?
The second minor irritant is rather difficult to illustrate with a photograph so I won’t try. Since the middle of 2006, it has been compulsory to have dipped headlights turned on when driving in the Czech Republic, whatever the time of the day or time of the year. Research has shown that driving with dipped headlights during the many dark days of winter does help reduce the occurrence of accidents. However, I fail to see why on earth you need to use them on a bright sunny day in the height of summer. I much prefer the law adopted recently in Croatia which requires you to always use dipped headlights once the clocks have gone back at the end of October each year, until they go forward again at the end of March.
However, the Czech approach to road safety does appear to be somewhat contradictory. Research shows that most road accidents happen at dusk because of the change between daylight and darkness. Yet street lights which help mitigate this problem, never come on just as it is getting dark. Instead, it can sometimes be nearly dark for half an hour before they do. Even on days like today when the sky was very clear, near darkness had descended before they came on. On cloudy days, the situation is inevitably far worse.
Clearly, rather than working off light sensors which would make most sense, streetlights in Prague are turned on by timers, regardless of the level of light. Why do I have to drive with dipped headlights on a bright sunny day in June when the city authorities in Prague cannot turn the streetlights on as soon as it begins to get dark in mid-winter?