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LEARN MORE CZECH:

Excerpts from the Group Discussions 2.


Czech Culture (Česká kultura) | More on Czechs (Více o Češích) | What is Czech (Co je české)


Slavíková, J.: WHAT IS CZECH? A research paper, Joint Masters of Arts - Migration and Intercultural Relations (JMMIR), Jihočeská univerzita v Českých Budějovicích, 2010.

7.        Bigger Safety

"I quite disagree with some points because for me, Prague is really sure city. I read that this is the eleventh city in the world for security... for safety... The city, not country, so it’s really good. I grew up in a small town, but I studied in Lima, in the capital of Peru. It’s big and it’s really dangerous. There are some places... it’s divided... But I studied in the middle, and sometimes I saw many terrible scenes. I was scared all the time. I couldn’t walk alone with... (showing a handbag handing over her shoulder) Here, it’s ok... I can go with whatever... my computer... It’s safe and I’m happy. After that, I studied in Italy, near Napoli... When I went to Napoli sometimes, Napoli was impossible... I was like in Lima... (showing being scared, shoulders up, pressing hands to her breasts) Now, I feel safe. It happens in every city, but for me it’s safe, I feel good. For example, I wear my rings... One time when I was working in Lima, one man took my earrings... It’s incredible, and I feel really happy hear. It’s fantastic.” (Peru)

"I must say I feel really safe here as well. (Me too.) This is the first time I live in a biggish city and I have no problem, walking around with my purse or backpack. Of course, I’m very careful to keep the zippers closed and keep an eye on everything, but I don’t worry about anything very bad happening, and I know that people here don’t have guns like they do in the US that they can pull out when they get angry... So I feel very safe here.” (USA)

"When I’d been here a week or something, we’d been staying with my boyfriend’s parents, just outside Prague... My boyfriend wanted to show me around, so we jumped on a train and came in, and we ended up at Vaclavske namesti, and we were just walking down, and it was the first time I’d been there, and I was still a little bit overwhelmed with everything... And then suddenly, there were two guys who started shouting at each other, and a woman was with them and was, I think, trying to say to one of the guys: Come on, let’s go, let’s go... And then the two guys started fighting, and it ended up with one of the guys on the ground with the other one stepping on his head... And I was shaking, I was like: Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god... And that in itself was really scary, I had no idea what to do. I was with my boyfriend who wasn’t doing anything, who just said: Don’t look, just don’t look. And nobody else was doing anything. And the only thing that made me feel slightly better about it was after we’d walked past and I turned around and looked behind us, there were two policemen there. I didn’t see exactly what happened, but one of them was crouching next to the guy on the ground, and the other one was talking to the other guy involved. So it seemed something was happening about it. But that is really negative, and it made me feel really uncomfortable about going there for about a year afterwards. But that really is the only really negative thing that I have seen. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I’ve never seen anyone take anything from anyone’s bag and... And generally I do feel really safe. I come from a city that has about the same population as Prague, but is spread out over a much bigger area. And there are places there where if you’re generally white and female, you just don’t go – or you don’t on your own, or you don’t go at night... or if you do go, you don’t stop... There are areas that you kind of avoid. And I don’t really feel like there’s anywhere like that here... Or at least nowhere that I’ve really heard about is being like that, or anywhere where I’ve not felt safe.” (New Zealand)

"I think compared to other European cities, Prague is still safe, but if I compare with Ostrava... In Ostrava, there were places where it’s not safe to walk... Especially near the railway station, the Hlavni nadrazi, there is just one area which is just for the Gipsy and the Roma people... I’ve never visited that place and it’s not really safe to even go there. My workplace was a bit closer to that place, so what I used to do was... There were two incidents when people thought I was a Gipsy person... Other Gipsy people. And he started talking to me in Czech... And I was like this (shaking hands in the air), I behaved like a crazy woman, and I just walked off. That made them more scared. And the trick what I did was I used to carry English books in my hands, so people knew I’m a foreigner... But nothing dangerous happened to me. I know in Prague it’s still safe because in my hometown you cannot walk alone in the night and things like that. And here, I can proudly say that I do come home late in the night, alone, and I’m fine. But obviously, you need to safe yourself as well, so when I walk down, I make sure there’s no one around me, and then I open the door.” (India)

"But with the car stealing it’s real bad... It’s really one of the dangers... And with my friends, they came to Prague, and we took a walk down Wenceslas Square, at night, and they were like: What is that? Why are all the people trying to get me to brothels?! It really ruins the image of the country. People selling drugs... It looks like a red street in Amsterdam... But in Amsterdam, it’s in the outskirts, and here it’s right in the centre of the city...” (Kazakhstan)

"Just talking about the cars... One thing that I’d experienced in New Zealand, in Auckland... I’ve had two cars stolen – once when I was small – it was a family car... and one when I was older... But here, we do have a car, a Skoda Felicia, it’s full of rust, it’s about 15 years old... We live in an apartment, we don’t have a garage or anything, so it’s just parked on the street... We always intend to lock the door, but at least twice we’ve come to the car in the morning, and realized that we must have left unlock overnight... There were things in the car that have been pulled out, like somebody’s been through the glove box, and once somebody had gone through the stuff in the back. But I cannot imagine that happening in New Zealand and the car not being stolen. So that’s a nice thing.” (New Zealand)

"I don’t miss being afraid to go out on the streets at night.” (Brazil) "Big time.” (USA) "I really enjoy the safety of living here.” (Brazil)

"Here it’s nice in that sense that you have no stress. You can walk around the street safely. ("Safe, it’s perfect.” USA) It’s good, it’s nice. You can walk around at night... OK, you get the usual bad guys, whatever...” (Italy)

"But the funniest thing is that people from outside of Prague think it’s a dangerous city, and I’m like ‘Where are you from?! This is the safest city I’ve ever been in my entire life!’ That’s part of the reason why I stay here.” (USA)

"You’re right, Prague is really really secure. I mean, you see policemen everywhere...” (Germany) "That doesn’t make you feel secure. Not to me. I seriously... I see police, and I get out as fast as possible...” (Italy) "But that’s the reason why the city’s secure.” (Germany) "The more there is, the more I feel ‘What the hell is going on? There is something strange.’” (Italy)

"I’ve lived in Rome, Boston and a few other places, and I can tell you right now that this is a breeze walk compared to living in any of those other cities. It’s amazing. I’ve been robbed three or four times within a three-month span in Rome, I’ve been close to being beat up really badly in the US where I come from... Run over in Italy...” (USA)

8.        Wonderful Transport

"One thing that I love in this country that I haven’t seen anywhere in Europe... OK, you don’t count UK as Europe... In Europe: Transport, transport service in this country is amazing, it’s so good!” (Italy) "Yes, it’s amazing.” (USA) "I can’t believe there are people that complain.” (Italy) "Nearly as good as in Germany, yes.” (Germany) "I think here it’s better. It’s a lot easier to understand.” (Italy)

9.        Dresscode and Appearance

"And about the things which surprised me when I came... Mostly the way people dress... Because I come from Russia, and there every time we go somewhere, it’s like... really high heels, make-up, all this stuff... And here people are so relaxed, like nobody cares... That’s was kind of surprising for me.” (Kazakhstan)

"I really have quite the opposite experience! (Me too!) Coming from the US... I was here in October and I was walking around in jeans and flip-flops and a sweatshirt, with my hair back in a ponytail, and I was the only person wearing flip-flops in October! I like my flip-flops!” (USA)

"We [Asians] are a bit more conservative about certain things. Initially, I thought it was something more common, something European, like... I see some Czech girls, they are not really dressed properly, as I would see in other countries. But then I did see something similar in Slovakia, in Budapest and in a few more European cities... Especially in summer, the Czech girls would purposely try to dress in a way that doesn’t look sexy... but it looks more in a slut way. And what I don’t like is the fact that many people actually think this is sexy – especially foreigner guys. But when I was recently in Switzerland, people were still dressed a bit better.” (India)

"Especially in the swimming pool, or around the riverside, girls suntan topless – and a lot of them. This thing is really surprising for me, because I never saw it in any other culture.” (Kazakhstan)

"And the other thing is, always I believe in freedom. I think people need to express themselves how they want, in dressing, in religions, in politician... whatever. For me it’s really good when I see... I don’t know, you are surprised when they... maybe topless or maybe... But for me it’s fantastic, see the woman like prostitute – because they’re free, it’s their life! For me it’s fantastic! (Yes, this is the big difference here.) I had the limitations when the society said ‘This is you, you have to use this kind of dress.’ No, we are here to live, we have to choose our way, whatever you want. And in religions, too. I’m catholic and my husband is atheist. And it’s fantastic, it’s better! We have the possibility to choose, so it’s his option. And my parents-in-law are atheists, too. I’m catholic... And I’m happy when I see this kind of people with all the colours here (showing at long standing hair – like punkers, probably) – Wow! And I say ‘Phew... the freedom is here.’ (showing a gesture of strength and victory)  And in other countries, people are ‘Look at them.’ (showing an appalled pointing gossiper) Here, it’s fantastic. You can choose who you are. I’m happy here. And for me it’s one thing that I like here, because people use what they want. It’s not so... model...” (Peru) "So strict?” (New Zealand) "Yes, they choose whatever they want, and that’s fantastic. Because that’s the world that I want, with freedom!” (Peru)

10.   Being a Foreigner

"I miss not being a foreigner. Because I think the very fact that you’re a foreigner makes it a little harder, or leaves us a little more sensitive, and in a defensive position, because I think that influences a lot, especially when it’s the bad sides that we very well exposed here.” (Brazil)

"I think it happens a lot in Europe, though, across Europe, you know. I don’t think it’s any different from if you go to France or something. They’ll also treat you like a foreigner, you’ll feel also ostracized, by all means.” (USA) (In what situations do you feel that you’re a foreigner?) "I feel really foreign when I’m with a group of friends: many times I go out with mixed Czech and foreign groups... And then I feel the difference: sometimes they are speaking English, sometimes they are speaking Czech... I do understand something, but then I miss the jokes. Even if I understand the words, I miss the background. They say something – cultural...” (Brazil)

 "What I miss is to understand conversations...” (Italy)

"It’s just really difficult with the declinations. I have tried, but it’s very difficult. I really feel like it’s very important to learn the language especially if you’re here for a long time.” "Sometimes I think I should have chosen another country, because of the language.” (USA)

"When a foreigner goes somewhere outside, they do want to meet local people, but when the language comes, some people are scared, because they don’t speak the language. And also, I’m scared I might say something wrong in Czech, something funny that might piss off the Czech people, so I try to be on the safer side because I don’t know Czech words so much. And even now I rarely have Czech friends here, unless I’ve done some business with them, I don’t have Czech friend to go and hang out in Czech pubs or something like that.” (India)

"And so the other thing that has happened a couple of times... Even in an area that I know well, like around my house, a couple of times somebody, a Czech person came up to me and asked: Do you know where this place is? Speaking Czech... The first time it happened I was listening to I-pod, so I didn’t hear them, I took it out, and I just said: Sorry? In English. And the person replied to me English: Oh, you’re a foreigner, you won’t know... And it was only after she’d left that I passed what she’d said, and she was asking where a street was that I knew where it was... And I could’ve told her... if she’d been willing to listen... But this "Oh, you’re a foreigner, you won’t know” – just completely being written off because you’re not Czech, you weren’t born here.” (New Zealand)

"The only thing was [that with] older people there is still tendency to have bitter feeling towards Russians, so from his uncle and aunt I would hear something like ‘Despite the fact you’re Russian, we still really really love you, you’re still a nice person – despite the fact that you’re Russian.’ I just find it funny. It really just makes me laugh. It still doesn’t change anything, their attitude or anything... They just still have this mindset.” (Kazakhstan)

"Another thing is... I don’t want to be sarcastic, but I noticed that most Czech people, they don’t travel so much, and even the Czech people who travel, they will live outside their country for a while, but still they want to come back home. And also especially, when they have partners, they want your partner to come here rather than they move to your partner’s home country, because I think they get scared that... they find it more easy to adjust with their own country than adjusting maybe in US, or in Peru. Because with my ex-boyfriend, he never even said that he was going to India. I did not even prepared him for the culture shock, because... I don’t know... I wasn’t seeing so far with him. But this is very very commonly seen that most foreigners who have come here, they’ve come because their partner have asked to move here. (Reactions: ‘It’s true.’) Another thing is... There are exceptions with this point, which is: When Czech peoples, they come together, for example you go out, they’ll speak only Czech. Even when they know there’s a foreigner, they will try to still speak Czech. This happens with me at my workplace. There’s Slovak and Czech girls, and they’ll speak Slovak and Czech, and they know there’s a foreigner. They even say ‘Oh, we want to improve my English.’ but then they don’t talk. Two more points is... which I was told... is that: If a Czech person offers you to help, never say no, because it’s very rare that they will help you to offer. Even when I was moving to this flat, some of my colleagues, they knew I’m moving, but no one offered me help. And in the end, there was something I badly needed help, so I had to ask a Czech girl ‘Can you help me?’ And she was hesitant, but then she helped me. So this is what I’ve been told clearly: If they’ve offered you to help you, take it, you’re blessed. And... yeah, obviously, they don’t like to interfere in your personal life so much... and with the neighbours, also, they don’t talk so much... This is something that I miss, because back in my hometown it’s like... You have your neighbours, they’ll sometimes send you some sweet dish, or they’ll cook something and it’s ‘Oh, come over, we can eat together’ or they’ll invite you for parties. But here it’s like you’re invisible.” (India)

(A couple of weeks ago, she was describing Czech people to a friend from Australia intending to come to the Czech Republic.) "At the end, I read back over what I’d written and I thought: Pretty much what I’m describing is New Zealanders or Australians who’ve been cut off from the world for forty years... And I was thinking about it afterwards for a while, and I really do think that’s what it is. It’s the same people that I’ve been living with my whole life, but just without being exposed to people from every country in the world from the time that you’re born... (New Zealand) "Just being isolated...” (USA) "Yeah. I mean... I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a street or been in a classroom or workplace with only New Zealand people or even only white people. I think that that really changes everything. That from the time that you start meeting people, you’re meeting people who weren’t born in New Zealand, whose parents weren’t born in New Zealand, who speak five different languages... who eat different foods from you...” (New Zealand) "And it wasn’t like that here.” (USA) "No.” (New Zealand)

11.   Czech Character and Identity

"They like beer – and they like to do anything that makes them want a beer. [...] They don’t know how to drive: they respect too much the limits.” (Italy)

"I think Czechs are very efficient, very straight to the point. On the other hand, I felt a little bit of impatience [on the side of Czechs].” (Brazil)

"Whenever I come to the Czech Republic, especially landing at the airport, I always think ‘Uh....’ (showing she’s unhappy and bothered) You know, people don’t smile... Not so much. On the metro, people have always these grumpy faces, not looking very happy... And that always brings me down a little bit.” (Denmark)

"Czech men, if they meet girls who are foreigners and if their English is not so good, they will still try their best to crack a joke and most of the times their jokes are not funny; it’s completely out of the question. I think it was also because... I realized that many Czech people when they try to speak English they want to speak perfect English, so they even want to use big words which they should avoid if they don’t know the meaning or if they cannot pronounce it properly, so they should try to be sticking to simple English – at the beginning stage.” (India)

"Officially, I heard that Czech sense of humour is self... – deprecating? – Yes, but it’s the official thing... I haven’t noticed that.” (France)

"And the other side... What I’ve noticed that Czechs have more... I don’t know what’s the right word for that... They’re more creative in some ways, when stuff goes wrong, when they need to solve a problem... They always can come up with some solution which is not very common, or not very logical. If there is a law, they always can find a way around it. It’s a good thing, I definitely think, they’re just very very creative in some cases like that. While I think in western countries, it will be like ‘That’s how you do it and that’s how you should do it, and there are no other ways.’ Which is different, definitely.” (Kazakhstan)

How would you describe your identity?

 "My identity is shifting. I was always thinking I was half Czech half French, especially because I spoke Czech right from the beginning, or we could come here, so I really felt half and half. Which was not very easy, in primary school in France to be half Czech etc. Now it’s becoming easier, but I know from my younger sister – sometimes they say you’re from Chechnya, instead of Czech. So it’s not very easy every day when you’re a kid. And since I’m here, I really feel French. Even though I can communicate with Czech people without problem, and I can speak of things that were 20 years ago or during communism and everything, at one point in the conversation, they would say to me: ‘But in your country...’ or ‘You as a French...’ or ‘You aren’t like this’. So actually I don’t really feel Czech anymore. So it’s a really interesting feeling, this change.” (France)

"In Denmark, I always felt ‘OK, I’m not 100% Danish.’ and so I always thought ‘OK, I must be part Danish and part Czech.’ and so I’d always say I’m Czech and Danish at the same time. And I was at international school, so there it was a bit more normal, and the more mixed you were, the better. Then when I moved to Scotland, if I would say I’m Czech and Danish, people would say ‘Which one? You can’t be two. Is that one country or what?’, so depending on the person sometimes I would say Czech and sometimes Danish. And since my parents moved back and I was coming more here, I thought ‘Well, I’m not really totally Czech either.’ There are some things I don’t quite understand... And also, for me it is the language, partly. Because when I say I’m Danish, then I’m lying because I still speak Danish with an accent, and so a Dane might say ‘Well, you’re not totally Danish.’ And if I say I’m Czech, it’s not fluent by any means, so I feel like I can’t say I’m totally Czech. So I’m either, or I’m none, or I don’t know.” (Denmark)

What do you think is Czech about you?

"Sensitivity maybe, for arts and music... All the Czech family plays an instrument, in the French side, nobody plays an instrument. There’s always been something in the Slavic countries with music, so this part maybe is more my Czech part.” (France)

"The one thing I know in Denmark that I thought was different compared to Danish families was that my family was a bit more strict, whereas the Danish kids could do more than me and my brother were allowed.” (Denmark)

"Well, it’s true that here the kids had to go to sleep very early, and in France we didn’t have to go to sleep so early.” (France)

12.   Gender Roles

"My parents were a bit more traditional with the gender roles, a little bit. I don’t know if that’s a Czech thing or if it was just with my parents...” (Denmark)

"But I felt, when I came here, one thing that was different than in the US... I just felt like the genders were more distinct. It was really clear that the women were wearing make-up, they had their hair fixed, mini-heels... I felt more women were wearing skirts and dresses than in the US, where everyone just jeans and tennis shoes or flip-flops... I felt like there was a really big gender distinction. And then when you find out about the names, that also have the "ova”. And especially with the babies. When you see the babies that already have their ears pierced... It seems that the culture is more gendered.” (USA)

"And you have a list to choose the names for the babies...” (Peru) "I was really shocked about that as well.” (USA) "You have to choose Czech names, but if you’re a foreigner, you have the possibility to put another name but with a special document.” (Peru) "You have to do research first...” (USA) "You have to ask the government: please, I’m a foreigner, I want another name...” (Peru) "In the US, there are no rules and the craziest names ever... Nothing extreme is good.” (Kazakhstan)

13.   Education and Culture

"They have a high level of education...” (Germany)

"I agree with the education point. I think Czechs are also proud of being well-educated and speaking čeština, which is těžká. They are really proud of speaking SUCH A DIFFICULT language and of being so smart to the point of mastering it. But I admire the focus on the mentality.” (Brazil)

"During the first two or three weeks, these guys that I was around with, they always tried to show me around, to show me this place and that place, tell me about the culture, food – where this comes from and this comes from. That for me means being proud. It’s nice. In Italy, 99% of the people will always show you the food – screw the city, you can go and look at the city yourself. Where to eat, what to eat, how to eat it...” (Italy)

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