Thursday, August 27, 2009

Czech Culture 101

In one town, a man with offensive body odor joined my train compartment. He took off his shoes and rested his feet on the seat across the way. I did the same, but I had showered in the past ten years. I was about to explore other seat options when he disembarked somewhere at the edge of Austria and the Czech Republic (woo-hoo!).

I pulled the curtain across to signify “do not disturb,” and went back to reading the primer on Czech culture I’d been given by the Travel Clinic at Yale before I left. This 4-page summary “CultureGrams Czech Republic" a.k.a. "Czech Republic in a Nutshell” included overviews of population (10.2 million), language (Czech), and religion (atheist, mostly). I also learned that I might not be too popular coming from the US as we’d recently built part of a missile defense shield near Prague (Thanks, US gov!).

The primer instructed me that when I met a stranger in the Czech Republic, I should shake hands firmly and say my last name, followed by a verbal greeting, such as Dobry Den (Good day). E.g.: “Bryant! Dobry Den.”

If invited to a home for dinner, I should bring an odd number of flowers for the hostess, but not chrysanthemums as those were used in funeral arrangements. Wine and chocolates were another alternative (Thanks, “CultureGrams,” couldn’t have thought of that one myself).

The guide also told me that “Few Czech men cook” and “When a baby is born, the mother and child receive flowers and presents, while the father often goes out to drink with his friends.” Hmmmm….when was this written?

After learning that “polkas and waltzes are popular folk dances” and the rare factoid that “daily newspapers are widely read, as is an abundance of other printed media,” I felt ready to face the people of the Czech Republic.

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