Don’t offend or be offended

Take your shoes off before entering a Czech home © Ricky Yates

The picture on the left illustrates a Czech practice that any foreigner visiting a Czech home, needs to be very aware of if they do not want to cause serious offence to their hosts. When entering a Czech home you should always remove your shoes.

Normally, this is done immediately after you have just set foot inside the front door of the house or flat you are visiting. There will usually already be a number of pairs of outdoor shoes sitting on a mat in the entrance hallway and, as a polite visitor, you should remove your own outdoor shoes and put them alongside those already sitting there.

Sometimes your Czech host may say, “O don’t worry about taking off your shoes”. If you want to be invited back, ignore what has just been said and still remove your shoes. Those who take what has just been said at face value will always be known and remembered as the impolite foreigners who didn’t remove their shoes!

The accompanying picture is of the doorway of a flat on the first floor of our block of flats where we live. The scene always brings a smile to my face each time I walk past it. Sybille reckons that the reason all the shoes being left completely outside on the public landing and stairway, is because the family have a young puppy who might otherwise chew them. But not only are there shoes but also a motor cycle helmet. And I love the provision of a shoe horn to help everyone put their shoes back on again as they leave!

What is newly reconstructed? © Ricky Yates

This second photo is of an advertisement on the side of a public telephone box for the M1 nightclub in the centre Prague. When Sybille and I first saw it several months ago, we nearly collapsed in a heap with laughter. Not only does it feature yet another example of Czenglish by indicating that one should ‘Make left’ rather than ‘Turn left’, one also has to ask whether ‘Newly reconstructed’ refers to the building wherein the night club is located or to certain parts of the young lady’s anatomy!

What the advertisement does illustrate is the very relaxed attitude that Czechs have to the exposure of the human body, something that comes as a complete shock to some people, particularly to those conservative Americans who hail from the Bible belt. This relaxed attitude is sometimes reflected in men publicly urinating when they could quite easily use a little more discretion. But it also has some very positive aspects, particularly with women being totally free to breastfeed in public places without anyone, (other than conservative Americans!) batting an eyelid.

During the summer months, there are a number of places in and around Prague where it is possible to swim and sunbathe, in or alongside open-air swimming pools, lakes or rivers. In these locations, some women happily go topless. It is far from being obligatory but just accepted as being natural and normal.

All I have described is part of what any foreigner needs to understand when s/he moves to live and work in a different culture and society. Learn how not to offend, and equally, learn how not to be offended.

4 comments to Don’t offend or be offended

  • Ricky, now that was interesting and it made me realise that perhaps Thailand is not so unusual. You may well be aware that Thais always remove their shoes before entering houses(their own or others)some shops and of course Buddhist temples.

    The Czenglish looks very similar to Tinglish or Thaiglish as we call it here.

    However despite Thailand’s reputation for the sleazy side of life Thais themselves are very prudish/shy and going topless on the beach would soon land you in jail.

    I wonder do you and Sybille follow the rules about shoes at your own home?

  • Ricky

    Mike, Thanks as always for visiting & leaving a comment. The answer to your question is, “Yes – we do!” We take our own shoes off when entering the flat and keep them on a shoe rack in the entrance hallway. Therefore all our visitors see that & almost without exception do the same without us even asking!

  • One of our mutual friends from an English-speaking country told me “sure, you can wear your shoes in here.” Oh, it felt like luxury! But I can see why Czechs do it, you only have to watch dogs being walked on Prague paving to see how dirty the streets really are. Turkish people also take off their shoes, and despite dogs and cats roaming the streets everywhere in Istanbul, the streets seem cleaner to me than in Prague (I think it’s due to the bumps in Prague paving).

  • Firstly I like the examples of Czenglish you Show, very entertaining but also innocent. Secondly I would bat an eyelid at breastfeeding in public too as (you know) it doesn’t happen in England. If it does then certainly not in London Since moving over to America I haven’t seen too many examples of them being “conservative Americans” as you put it. Maybe it’s just the older generations as my grandmother-in-law is highly strung!? Great post, Thank you for sharing your experiences!