Sunday, 23 September 2007

Is this a hangover from communism or are you just an arsehole?

In their quest for ‘local voices’ Lonely Planet last year invited me to contribute a list of 5 things I liked about the Czech Republic. Then, earlier this week I answered 5 questions for as part of their new ‘member spotlight’. In those two cases, and indeed with most of the words I’ve ever strung together regarding the Czech Republic, I’ve been fairly positive. But that of course can only ever be half the story. In a total of almost eight years there have also been plenty of things that have had me shaking my head in frustration and muttering like a new tourist ‘It wouldn’t be like this in my country’ Here’s my Top 5.

Rude waiters.

‘Here we go’ you say, ‘another rant from a foreigner about Czech waiters’. Well, no. Actually I don’t think they’re that bad. Of course if you blabber at them in some foreign language and wait expectantly for an answer some of them are going to be a bit curt, just like waiters in any other part of the world. Overall I think Czech waiters are fine. ‘It wouldn’t hurt them to smile’, people say. Yeah but why should they? It’s a difficult job for crappy pay and most of their customers are unnecessarily demanding. And why should they try to be your friend? Are you really that interesting, I know I’m not. I’m happy if they just bring me my food. It’s not the waiters I dislike, it’s the way everybody else complains about them.

Change on the counter

When I’ve paid though (and tipped) but the change is dropped onto the table beside my outstretched hand, I always get a little put out. It feels to me like a handshake declined or by extension, as if you’ve held your hand out for something and it has been thrown on the ground at your feet. I don’t understand why people here do that. Is it some hangover from communism (the old standby explanation for anything a foreigner doesn’t understand) or does it have something to do with not being ripped off by sleight of hand until the money has been counted out? Any theories…?

I always hold my hand out for any change that I’m due. In the same way that I always ask for Kofola in bars that have exclusive contracts with Coca-Cola. I usually resort to drinking mineral water, but lately I’ve had some success with people putting the coins in my hand. I have no idea if this is a habit that’s changing or if it’s just the random selection of stores and cafes I’ve been wandering into. I’d like to hope the former.

Interminable Queues

Anyone who thinks restaurant service is bad has never stood in line at the Živnostenský (business license) office for three hours only to be told that he was standing in the wrong line and needs to go to door 366 because this door only handles applicants whose surnames begin in A-F. Or at the wrong window in the post office only to be told buying stamps is not possible. Not the number of the window that does sell stamps, just that at this window it’s not possible.

Or to get your visa registered at the foreigners’ police in Prague, where endless hordes of Ukrainians have invisible friends holding their places ahead of you in the queue because they were there for 5 minutes at 6.15 that morning. When you eventually reach the head of the queue, you find that you weren’t waiting to see an official, you were just lining up to get a number to see an official. And the office closes early on Thursdays…

This is the inside of the foreigners’ police office. You’re not really supposed to take photos in there, but officers, if you’re upset about it, you know where I live. If you line up at my front door by 7am, I might give you a number about lunch time and be ready to talk to you at about 4.45pm. On odd-numbered Mondays and Wednesdays in months without any vowels in their names.


Czech roads are dangerous places because for the most part, Czechs are crap drivers. It’s not that they don’t have skill. In fact the national newspaper today has a big article about 19-year-old Grand Prix race driver Erik Janiš (a local boy from Olomouc). It’s just that they’re not careful enough. Too many of them drive too fast and take stupid risks. Like overtaking when you have no hope of seeing what is coming around the bend. Overtaking by telepathy on damp, narrow roads at 120Km/h. Great idea!


This is the big one. If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing about this country it would be this. I’m not saying every Czech is a closet neo-Nazi or that every Gypsy is an innocent lovable angel, but most of you who are reading this know what a raw deal the Romany people get. I won’t bang on about it too much, but it has to be a keystone of any list of negatives about the Czech Republic.

If it’s so crap here, why don’t I just pack up and go home? Let’s see; 5 negatives, 1032 positives. I’ll get back to you when I’ve done the math…


Brewsta said...

Frankly, if I were a cashier, I wouldn't want to touch the hands of the multitudes comiing to my register everyday.

I think it's nothing personal - it's just that if you are touching the hands of a large number of people, you're bound to come in contact with some idiot with hygiene issues.

Of course, the money itself might pick up some of that bacteria, but it's probably less.

Michael said...

The change thing gets on my nerves as well. It's just basic politeness, surely? As for the used to really bug me when people trotted out the old "They don't want to work" line about the Roma, but unfortunately that particular problem is by no means exclusive to the Czechs.

Captain Oddsocks said...

Hi Brewsta,
I'm sure it is nothing personal, but I'm not convinced that it's to do with hygiene. Cashiers in plenty of other places seem to be able to hand you things without catching their death. Then again, maybe my recent success with coins in the hand is actually due to the new deodorant I've been using;-)?

'They don't want to work' is a funny one isn't it? Look at any construction site here and it's always a Rom swinging the pick or carrying the bricks...

Hello Xu Xu said...

Nice post.
I noticed quite a bit of racism towards the Vietnemese in Czech also.
The driving here in Taiwan is appalling, if not frightning, and the is a high road toll to show for it. In fact on a couple of occasions I've seen people who have met their fate in nasty scooter accidents.

Mark said...

Whenever I'm teaching a class about racism/indigenous peoples most Czechs students usually talk about how open and non-racist they are. To trip them up, a few minutes later I'll drop in a line about gypsies, sit back and watch them dig themselves into a hole. Classic. Generally works with Australians and aborigines, by the way.

Captain Oddsocks said...

A recent article in the paper talked to school students about racism. One kid said he didn't like the Vietnamese, because they have 'Asian Shops', and every time he buys something there it's of bad quality. Simple solution to that then isn't there?

Seems that most Czechs don't consider themselves racist, except when it applies to Gypsies or Vietnamese. Just like most Australians aren't racist unless it's to do with Aborigines...!?

Some Czechs are openly racist. Prague's Neo-nazis plan to march through the Jewish quarter on the anniversary of the Kristalnacht in a few weeks, 'to show the rabbis the flags after 60 years'. Article here: