20 August 2014

Do it like a Czech: Public Transport style

Question: Why is it a cultural faux pas to be loud on Czech public transport?

A. Because Czechs dislike your drunken singing.
B. Because Czechs hate foreigners.
C. Because Czechs view public transport as an extension of the public library - a place for quietly reading.

Even Smalls' Duplo people know the correct way to sit on the bus

Fall seems to have come early to the Czech Republic with a noticeable crispness to the air. There is something so calming about the cooler, less bright days that always fills me with a pleasant combination of satisfaction and excitement.

It also serves as a constant reminder that the new academic year is quickly approaching and I haven't gotten anywhere close to the bottom of my summer List of Things I'd Like to Do.

One of these things is reading more. I have a small library that I've carted around between countries, but considering I've read most of my books at least twice, my goal this summer was to treat myself to a few new books.

I'd like to think of this as my way to not just improve my mind, but also fit in with my chosen cultural surroundings.

A good game to play on public transport (I say, as I push my heavy glasses a little further up my nose) is to count how many people are reading on the tram*. THIS IS NOT RECOMMENDED AS A DRINKING GAME. Primarily because there is a very real danger that you will be so sloshed within a few stops that you will miss your intended exiting point.

Also, all of the drinking will probably make you louder and might make you feel the need to sing.

After one tram ride near I.P. Pavlova, where the tram was very full of people and their books (seriously - all of the people around me were either reading a book or a newspaper), I decided I should use my public transport time to catch up on my reading.

It turns out there must be some skill to this. Or possibly people chose to read less interesting books. My first attempt to join the reading room on wheels resulted in me jerking out of my pleasant reverie and jumping off the bus at what I thought was my stop, only to discover I'd actually gotten off early.

The second attempt, not only did I miss my stop, I spent the next hour in a grumpy funk as I hadn't had a chance to finish the very engrossing chapter.

Perhaps I'll stick with reading web-nonesense on my phone.

*There is even a book store in the metro station Dejvicka in case you forgot your book at home.

04 August 2014

Stereotypes, part 1: Booze and beauty

When I lived in England and said that I had a Czech partner, the most common response was, 'Cheap beer and beautiful women.'

Mmmm, Czech beer

This was marginally better than when I lived in the US, where the most common response was, '.....'
'From Prague,' I'd say.
'The Czech Republic,' I'd say.
'Europe,' I'd finally say. 'He's European.'

But with the Brits, I was the one who was stumped. I mean, were the roles reversed, I'd be set.
'My girlfriend's Czech.'
'Cheap beer and beautiful women.'
'I know, right? She's gorgeous and I get well-pissed whenever we visit her family.'
High-fives for everyone.

But in my case, I never did think of an appropriate response.
'My boyfriend's Czech.'
'Cheap beer and beautiful women.'
'Yup, he's a drunk and I'm uglier than his exes.' 

'My boyfriend's Czech.'
'Cheap beer and beautiful women.'
'Yeah, the men aren't as good looking, but the beer goggles help.' 

You can see why I mostly opted to follow my compatriots and reply with the simple, '...'.

Suggestion: when in doubt, revert to default mode. 
'My boyfriend's Czech.'
'Lovely weather.'
Polite smiles for everyone.

I was curious if Czechs have a similar stereotype of themselves, and so I did a little research project using my students as my research subjects. Our final unit of the year was on stereotypes. I had the students make a list of different national stereotypes, talk about them, refute them, and then make a list of Czech stereotypes. They also drew me pictures of the Stereotypical Czech, which were brilliant, but were tragically lost in the end of year paper shuffle.

The Stereotypical Czech, according to my students:
- Is lazy
- Is fat
- Has a mullet
- Drinks beer
- Is unpatriotic
- Only cares about himself
- Wears denim head-to-toe

By the fifth class of hearing the same thing, I asked one of the students why he thought he and his fellow students took such a pessimistic view of their fellow countrymen.

'Pessimistic!' he said. 'That's the word I was looking for.' 

And added it to his list.