Why I’m grateful for a Bohemian perspective

With Thanksgiving and the arrival of the advent season, my social media pages are packed with posts about gratitude and getting ready for the holidays. Some posts ask practical, how-to-celebrate questions. Like the one I saw on Prague’s CrowdSauce group for expats. “Does anyone know if they sell oven cooking bags for turkeys here?” Or another, from a friend in the US, “Veg or no veg on Thanksgiving?” with the hashtag #everyonejustwantscarbs.

5 reasons to appreciate life in the Czech Republic (all year long)

With Thanksgiving and the arrival of the advent season, my social media pages are packed with posts about gratitude and getting ready for the holidays.

Some posts ask practical, how-to-celebrate questions. Like the one I saw on Prague’s CrowdSauce group for expats. “Does anyone know if they sell oven cooking bags for turkeys here?” Or another, from a friend in the US, “Veg or no veg on Thanksgiving?” with the hashtag #everyonejustwantscarbs.

Friends post images of their children baking cookies, just-out-of-the-oven pumpkin pies, and invitations to Christmas home tours. I’ve read tips on keeping holiday festivities simple, how to shift the focus from gifts to quality family time, and why fighting during the holidays means you care.

In the spirit of showing gratitude for my adopted homeland, I’d like to share a few reasons I’m glad to call the Czech Republic home.

A Czech Sense of Humor

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the dry, self-deprecating Czech humor. My Czech friends aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves, or to turn a criticism into a joke to deflate a tense situation. My neighbor recently damaged her car by hitting a low cement wall while pulling into her driveway, (a maneuver she does every day without incident).

Later, when we were confirming our Thanksgiving dinner menu, she texted, “If you can’t find a turkey for the Thanksgiving meal, don’t worry, I can find something to run over.” From talking with her, I knew she felt horrible about the incident. Instead of letting it get her down, she allowed herself (and her friends) to see the funny side.

Watching my Czech friends keep their sense of humor, even when life throws surprises, reminds me to do the same.

In 2005, Czechs were asked to vote for the greatest Czech of all time. Jara Cimrman, a fictitious character first introduced to the public in a satirical play in the late 1960s, won the most votes. (Unfortunately, he couldn’t receive the award because he didn’t exist). Check out Radio Prague’s full article on Cimrman to get a better picture of Czech humor.

Czech Love of Nature and Getting Outdoors

Mushrooming, walking in the woods, snow-skiing (cross-country and downhill), iceskating, road biking, mountain biking, climbing, swimming in natural ponds and rivers, trekking, tent camping, caravan camping, sleeping “pod širákem” (under the stars), rafting, canoeing, kayaking … the list goes on, and I’d be hard-pressed to find an outdoor activity, that Czechs don’t do.

In the years I’ve lived here I’ve learned (among other skills), when in doubt, pick only mushrooms with cylindrical tubes notslats – and always ask a local. Rafters and bikers greet each other by saying, “Ahoj!” Fruit hanging over fences and along country lanes is fair game for picking. Cross-country skiing is best learned when it’s not too icy, and a pub with warm drinks is nearby. Extra socks and spare underwear are essential for any kind of outdoor activity, especially when kids are involved. Czech humor is even more important than extra socks and spare underwear when learning how to cross-country ski.

A Socialized Healthcare System

For the past 13 years, whenever my children or I have been sick, injured or otherwise need the advice of an expert, we go to the doctor. Sometimes we make an appointment, other times (as in the case of sick visits to a primary care physician) we go and wait. Never have I had to worry whether insurance would cover the visit, or if I could afford to pay the doctor’s bill.

Health insurance is mandatory in the Czech Republic. The Czech state pays for children, students, and mothers on maternity leave. Working individuals make monthly health insurance contributions which are supplemented by their employers.

My family has been fortunate. We haven’t been sick much. Still, I’ve delivered two babies, had an emergency appendectomy while 34 weeks pregnant, undergone knee surgery, ridden in an ambulance with an injured infant, and mothered children with ear infections, tonsillitis, knocked out front teeth, stitches, and more.

My children have rarely received antibiotics (only for bacterial infections when needed), and I’ve been well-versed on the importance of home remedies when appropriate – honey and onions to loosen up coughs, homemade ginger tea, bed rest, and tvaroh (a fresh, curd cheese) wraps for mastitis.

Yes, there are linguistic and cultural differences. Western-style bedside manner can be hard-to-find. Sometimes, the wait is long, and the equipment is basic. Still, I’m grateful for each visit to the doctor’s (and those times when a home remedy makes a visit unnecessary).

Abundant (& Affordable) Cultural Activities for Families

From an early age, Czechs are taught to appreciate (and cultivate) a rich, creative life. From playing musical instruments and singing in choirs, to creating puppet and marionette shows and learning the art of oral recitation (as early as preschool), Czechs have a long-stranding tradition of valuing art’s contribution to society.

Even during the Communist period, Czech artists, such as film makers Karel Zeman and Jiri Trnka, presented imaginative, rule-breaking works to entertain, educate, and inspire their fellow citizens. Czechs like to go to the theater, attend classical music concerts, and watch fairy tales on television.

Many Czech cultural events (seasonal festivals, crafts markets, museum exhibitions) are offered free or at low cost. The country’s public transportation network (comprised of trams, buses, the metro, and trains) allows school groups to go on frequent field trips, families without cars to get nearly everywhere, and older children to gain a sense of independence as they explore Czech culture on their own.

My ten-year old son enjoyed his first Czech opera this fall, The Devil and Kate, performed at Prague’s National Theater. I was happy to accompany him, especially once I discovered (midway through Act I) the English captioning.

A creative life spills over into my family’s leisure time. In addition to going to the theater, my children often put on impromptu shows for us (as well as any visitors who happen to be present). We’ve had magic shows, dinosaur shows, zoo exhibitions, and guitar performances. They’ve narrated excerpts from Josef Capek’s classic, O pejskovi a kočičce (stories about a dog and a cat who keep house), and each December 5, they dress up as St. Nicholas, a devil, and an angel to celebrate Mikulas.

As a parent, I’m grateful to live in a country where planning our leisure time is not a question of what to do, but rather which option to choose.

Loyalty (Friends & Family)

As I scoured local stores this week looking for sweet potatoes (bataty in Czech), pumpkins, and fresh cranberries, I was struck by my options. Although the availability of specialty items has sky-rocketed in recent years (which makes holiday food preparation one step easier), the basic components of my family’s Thanksgiving meal haven’t changed.

For the past 12 years, my family has celebrated Thanksgiving in Prague with friends of Czech, American, Slovakian, French, and Polish descent. We serve turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn pudding, salads, pumpkin pies, and whatever else anyone brings to the table. We rotate houses and take turns preparing the turkey. By now, we know what to expect and how each dish should taste.

Our children put on shows, perform magic tricks, and exclaim over the different languages they hear. We are the closest thing most of us have to a family in Prague. After the years of joining together, for this one day (usually Saturday after the official Thursday holiday), we behave as family. There are arguments (who had the toy first), political discussions over wine, and maybe a tear or two.

Giving Thanks

With each passing year (and every new Thanksgiving celebration), the Czech Republic has become a place I’m increasingly grateful to call home. Not because it’s where I have my permanent residence, or because life has gotten easier for my family over the years. (Both of which are true).

Experiencing life through a Bohemian perspective has opened my eyes to a culture and a people that have taught me to laugh at myself (when I can), to get outside (as much as possible every day), to appreciate the privilege of going to the doctor (when necessary), to show my children theater and art (or let them perform it for me), and to value old friendships that feel like family.

Wishing you and your family a joyful holiday season!

(If you happen to be looking for oven roasting bags, try Makro or the DM drugstore.)

For more posts by Emily Prucha, visit her website: https://halfnhalf-life.com/

About the author:

Emily Gates Prucha teaches English and writes about raising multilingual children in the Czech Republic – the land of beer, castles, and Krtek (The Little Mole). Read more of her stories about Czech culture online at www.halfnhalf-life.com. As far as Czech traditions go, she doesn’t like being whipped at Easter but having a carp swimming in her bathtub at Christmas suits her fine.

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The Bumpy Road to International Love in Prague

The ever-growing cosmopolitan city of Prague is home to lots of international cuisine, culture and most of all people who truly are from all over the world. It is no surprise to encounter mix-raced children, a group of friends speaking in several languages at once, and international couples and families. Being an international couple takes a lot of work, from deciding what meal to cook, what language to speak, what day to celebrate Christmas on, or whether to celebrate it at all.

The Bumpy Road to International Love was originally posted in The Bridge, a magazine belonging to the International Women’s Association of Prague.

The ever-growing cosmopolitan city of Prague is home to lots of international cuisine, culture and most of all people who truly are from all over the world. It is no surprise to encounter mix-raced children, a group of friends speaking in several languages at once, and international couples and families. Being an international couple takes a lot of work, from deciding what meal to cook, what language to speak, what day to celebrate Christmas on, or whether to celebrate it at all.

Kimberli Jo Lewis, from Rhode Island, USA met her husband in Germany. Joachim, born in Wuppertal Germany, was first introduced to Kimberli at work. Because their official first meeting Germany very brief, Kimberli considers their first meeting to be in Mallorca Spain in May 1997. As if the beach and warm weather wasn’t enough to bring two people together, the two bonded as they participated in a jeep rally together. Joachim was in lucky because “he was the only person in the event that spoke Spanish,” Kimberli says, “I actually wanted to go in (his) jeep, not because I wanted to meet him. I thought it would give us an advantage!”

After a busy few months of little contact, they ran into each other at a Christmas market. Santa must have teamed up with Cupid that December because as the two sat down together and drank German Mulled Wine or Glüwein they realized that “it was meant to be”. Their globally scattered family and friends complicated their wedding planning and resulted in a plan to have a secret wedding in the Chapel at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas.

Arriving at the Chapel ready for a private July wedding in 1999, Kimberli and Joachim were surprised by 35 friends and family members from the U.S. and Europe – turns out Kimberli’s best friend in California had figured it out and organized for everyone to come. “So much for keeping secrets” exclaims Kimberli. But the surprise was welcomed and the wedding was beautiful. Although she and Joachim kept a double household, Kimberli returned to Prague in 2007 and they spent most of their time here. Kimberli started and registered a business in Prague and likes it because it is “small enough to meet a lot of people, but is still a capital”.

But being an international couple is hard work – but especially after meeting at a jeep rally – there are no bumps along the road that this couple can’t handle. They juggle four languages in their household (Kimberli’s sister-in-law is Ukrainian and her stepson is half Spanish) and disagree about Christmas traditions. The family is used to coming to agreements about “food, celebrations, cultural habits and even language” explains Kimberli.

On his foreign student exchange in China, Dalibor met his wife Ann who was finishing her Masters. They met to practice English and Chinese together and didn’t imagine that a language partnership turning into something more, “it wasn’t my plan or intention” says Dalibor. Ann teases him and calls a ‘cheater’ because she doesn’t believe that her Czech husband just wanted to learn Chinese. Whatever the intention, language lessons led to love and love led to three weddings!

Dalibor’s closest family witnessed his official wedding with Ann in the Czech Republic. Then followed by a traditional Chinese wedding in Ann’s homeland. Their third and for now final wedding was back in the Czech Republic and was more traditional – many guests, music and food. As if two weddings in one country didn’t suffice, they also decided to move to the Czech Republic, where Dalibor settled for Prague, which suited Ann’s needs better than his preferred choice: Brno. But Dalibor “really wanted (Ann and him) to be together” and he “took it as a new positive challenge and chance”.

Prague proved to be a great home for the international couple. Ann managed to make friends among the big expat communities and now has Chinese friends who live and work here. But it did not go without complications – Ann had a lot of visa problems and “was approached in a very cold and unwelcoming way” says Dalibor, worrying about her first impression of Prague. It took the help of a lawyer and more than 8 months to get temporary residence, which normally takes up to 60 days.

Other challenges included differences in culture – such as the Chinese standard of the man being the “sole breadwinner… and his parents should contribute a significant a significant amount of wealth to the new couple”, says Dalibor, in whose culture gender roles are more equal. He also feels for Ann who is so far away from her family and friends. Although Skype is great, it doesn’t replace personal contact and if there is need to urgently visit her family because of a problem, it is extremely difficult if not impossible.

They also find differences in how they spend their free time and interactions between strangers. Czechs cannot imagine spending a whole night in a karaoke room singing, and the Chinese have trouble with the closed-off nature of Czechs who don’t just interact and act openly with their neighbors like the Chinese do. After living in China for a year together, even Dalibor find some aspects of Czech culture frustrating. But being n international couple “is immensely enriching”, says Dalibor who has experienced “different culture, different psyche, and different ways of life”.

Anna Mazur and her husband Cyrus Skaria met in London. Anna was studying in Warsaw but decided to spend a month in London to learn English, and she met her Indian husband who was finishing his PhD at the University of London. It was love “at 2nd sight” she says smiling. She realized she was in love with him as they ate lunch together in Hyde Park on her second day in London, “I don’t know why but the whole place/situation and him seemed almost magical”. Like in every fairy tale, love led to marriage – the couple got married in India in the same location as Cyrus’s parents 35 years ago.

Moving to Prague has “changed everything in our life” explains Anna. She gave up her developing career and moved to a place they didn’t know. What was meant to be temporary has stretched into what is now two years. They left their home, family and friends and started a new life. Although Anna describes Prague as “a wonderful place” she is not sure that it is the best place for an international couple. “It looks like there are two worlds in Prague”, she says, referring to the expat circle and the “outside world”. Her husband especially struggles with the Czech language, and for Anna, who understands it a bit better still finds it her greatest issue saying, “It gives us grief sometimes”.

She doesn’t see Czechs as being very friendly, just “sad and tired”, and misses how at home, strangers would greet each other – which isn’t done in Prague. Due to his Indian origin Cyrus is often associated with the Roma and is treated with an attitude, “one lady looked at my husband then at me and then she shook her head with disapproval”. But she still thinks that Prague is a beautiful city and a good place to live, the only downside is interacting with the outside world. For her the struggles of being an international couple started with language, because she wasn’t fluent in English when they met, as well as deciding where to live and settle down, “we live in a country which is not a home country to me nor to my husband” – and they think they will have more such stops in their journey.

Wise Words from the Couples:

Kimberli believes that being part of an international couple and having an international family “is wonderful (because) it widens your perspectives and exposes you to things you might not experience otherwise”. Her secret to keeping such an international lifestyle is being “flexible and able to compromise”.

Multilingual Dalibor and Ann see overcoming challenges as “contributing positively to (their) mutual relationship,” because it requires a “special deal of commitment”. He would like to thank Ann for the three-and-a-half years they spent together – their relationship is helping him become a better man.

Anna Muzar didn’t plan on marrying a foreigner and she’s learned a lot about Indian culture, family values, life style and cuisine and sums it up as a “great experience”. She finds the diversity in their family a huge benefit and she hopes that their 3-month-old daughter will one days be multilingual, speaking Polish, English and Hindi.

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.