The Expat Bible without Religion

The Survival Guide & Business Directory 2012. Photo © Ricky Yates

In more than one previous blog post, I have mentioned the extremely helpful website For example, it was through the forum on their website that I found Adrian Blank of Nepomuk to help me through the various hoops in order to register my right-hand drive car here in the Czech Republic.

As well as their website, also annually publishes the ‘Czech Republic Survival Guide & Business Directory’. A new edition comes out around the end of September each year. We discovered the then new edition of the ‘Survival Guide for 2009’ within a few days of our arrival in Prague back in September 2008. At that time, were specifically asking for new locations from which the guide could be distributed to English-speaking expats. Finding it such a useful source of information ourselves, we offered to take copies to distribute to newcomers who come to St. Clement’s Church and ask for one of our welcome booklets. Since then, we have distributed around forty copies each year.

The ‘Survival Guide’ is distributed free of charge as the cost of production is more than covered by advertising. It contains a great deal of highly useful information that any expat coming to live in the Czech Republic might need, covering employment and business, accommodation and real estate, health, education and leisure activities. This page of the website gives full details of the guide including the claim that it is, “Known locally as the expat ‘bible’”.

Each of the three editions that we have previously helped distribute have included just over a page entitled ‘Religion in Prague’ giving basic details of the English-speaking Churches as well as contact information for other faith groups. Therefore, when I discovered whilst attending and exhibiting at the Expats Expo on Saturday 8th October, an event sponsored by, that the new 2012 edition of the ‘Survival Guide’ was now available, I picked up a copy for myself and made a mental note to go to the office during the following week, in order to pick up a supply of the new edition to distribute from Church.

The first thing I did upon picking up my copy of the 2012 ‘Survival Guide’ was to check that the information about St. Clement’s Anglican Episcopal Church was accurate. I went to the contents pages at the front and then to the index at the back, to try and find ‘Churches’ or ‘Religion’. Could I find the information? No – because the 2012 edition of the so-called ‘expat bible’, has been published with all information about both Christian Churches and other religions, completely eliminated.

As well as immediately speaking with two staff members on the stand, both of whom claimed to know nothing about the decision to exclude all information about religion, I also sent off a strongly worded email via the ‘contact us’ page of their website. When several days later, I had not received a reply, I rang the office. No one there would admit to having even seen my email. But about half-an-hour later, my phone call was returned by their Creative Director Dominic Bignal, who also claimed not to have seen my email but knew about my complaint from feedback from the staff members on their stand to whom I had spoken.

There followed a rather interesting twenty minute phone discussion. Mr Bignall’s main points were as follows.

  • They had to reduce the size of the new 2012 ‘Survival Guide’ from 220 to 200 pages because of not having sold sufficient advertising, therefore something had to go.
  • They had judged what to include or exclude based on the number of visits to the various parts of their website.
  • If we had paid for an advertisement then we would have been included.
  • Going to Church was so specialised that if people wanted to find us, they would.

I have to say, as I also personally told Mr Bignall, that none of these arguments hold water and/or contradict what claims.

  • If they needed to reduce the size of the ‘Survival Guide’ by twenty pages in order to be commercially viable, why didn’t they just slightly edit down each section rather than completely cut out one section? Allowing for the fact that 25% of guide is advertising, they needed to reduce about 165 pages of text to around 150 – hardly an impossible task.
  • How does know that what people look for on the website is the same as what they look for in the ‘Survival Guide’? Bearing in mind that the information about Churches is already well hidden on the website, it’s not surprising that it doesn’t get so many visitors.
  • claim to provide unbiased information. But if you advertise……
  • The last argument can apply to anything that appears in the ‘Survival Guide’. Yes – put ‘English-speaking Church, Prague’ into Google and up will pop St. Clement’s and six or seven other possibilities. But the same applies to Tennis Clubs, Museums, gay bars etc, all of which are included. It is an argument for the ‘Survival Guide’ not to exist in the first place.

What (or Howlings s.r.o. – the company who run the website & publish the guide) have done, is a combination of discrimination and ignorance. Discrimination against those who practice the Christian or any other religious faith. Ignorance in thinking we are so small a group of people that we can be safely ignored.

As a commercial organisation, Howlings s.r.o. are free to choose what they include in their annual ‘Survival Guide’ and what they exclude – a point Dominic Bignall reiterated to me several times over during our phone conversation. Whilst this is true, they also claim that their ‘Survival Guide’ is ‘Prague’s most comprehensive and objective expat publication guide’. As far as I am concerned, following their unilateral decision to exclude all information about the practice of religious faith, both Christian and otherwise, their guide is no longer comprehensive and certainly not objective.


8 comments to The Expat Bible without Religion

  • Well said, Ricky. I had to use the search facility on the website to find the current churches page as it is so well hidden.

    • Ricky

      Thank you Perpetua – a member of my Chaplaincy Council recently made the exact same comment as you. The information about Churches is so well hidden on the website that it is no wonder that the area gets so few visitors.

  • Yes, a well presented argument, Ricky.
    Thank You.

  • A rousing critique! Well said.

  • Hi Ricky,

    It’s interesting to see your perception of our conversation in writing – I will however for your readers clarify the points – what you have written is simply not accurate to what I said.

    You wrote: They had to reduce the size of the new 2012 ‘Survival Guide’ from 220 to 200 pages because of not having sold sufficient advertising, therefore something had to go.

    I clarify: – We revised the survival guide into a smaller new magazine format and we actually sold more advertising and therefore had to edit sections of the guide.

    You wrote: They had judged what to include or exclude based on the number of visits to the various parts of their website.

    I clarify: Yes this is correct and we are about re re-launch our directory and I mentioned that the exclusion of any listings this year did not mean that free listings would be excluded every year from now on. I also mentioned about how there had been other sections removed from the Directory not just – religion.

    You wrote: If we had paid for an advertisement then we would have been included.

    I clarify: You asked how you could ensure you are included in the directory and I responded – the only way we can 100% guarantee inclusion is for paid clients as they pay for inclusion within the directory. The way you wrote it above gives the impression that due to you not paying this is why you were excluded – this is NOT the case.

    You wrote: Going to Church was so specialised that if people wanted to find us, they would.

    I clarify: I never said that going to church was ‘specialised’

    As you made it very clear to me in our conversation that there would be reprisals to our decision to exclude religion from the survival guide I would appreciate at least being quoted accurately – I have therefore provided you with words direct from myself so that I can not be misquoted.

    Kind Regards

    Dominic Bignall

    • Ricky

      Hi Dominic,

      Welcome to the blog though I must say that it has taken you rather a long time to get here! And I have approved your comment exactly as you wrote it because I am not afraid of debate. But equally, I will exercise my right & respond to what you wrote.

      It has taken you a long time to get here. I drafted my original post within a few days of our phone conversation & finalised it within a couple of weeks & then published it. You are now recalling our conversation almost three months after the event. I leave it to my readers to judge which is likely to be more accurate.

      You certainly did say that you, “had to reduce the ‘Survival Guide’ from 220 to 200 pages” & I took it as being because you had sold less advertising as you regularly mentioned that you are a commercial organisation that needs to make money to pay salaries, etc.

      Yes, you did say that excluding a free listing this year didn’t mean it would not be included in future years. But I wrote about what you have currently done to the latest current edition of the ‘Survival Guide’, not about what you might hypothetically do in some future edition. And when I asked for an assurance that a section on religion would be included in the 2013 edition, you declined to give me that assurance. I’m sure other sections have also been omitted though I have yet to identify them. I note with interest you do not list them in your comment either. What were they?

      I think most people would view your comment regarding advertising to ensure an entry in the ‘Survival Guide’ over and against what I wrote as ‘splitting hairs’. My point still is that what you admit you said does nullify the claim to be ‘unbiased’.

      You certainly made a comment to the effect that going to Church was a ‘minority pursuit’, ‘specialised’, or something of that nature indicating that it was insignificant compared to what you did include. If you didn’t think that, why was religion excluded?

      Finally, the only ‘reprisal’, (as you put it), we have exercised is not to stock the 2012 edition of your ‘Survival Guide’ in St. Clement’s Anglican Episcopal Church. The few remaining 2011 editions we still had went in the nearby paper recycler.