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.
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:
When I left my rural hometown in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia as a recent Duke graduate in January of 2002, I never dreamed I would end up making a home for myself halfway across the world in the heart of Central Europe.
But, here I am.
Like many, I was swept away by Prague’s magic – the cathedrals and the spires, the walk over a snow-covered Charles Bridge in the still of a winter night, red roofs and crumbling facades, pubs that served cheap Czech beer. I taught English and soaked up the experience. It was an adventure, but I didn’t think I’d be here long.
Then, I fell in love. My beau was Czech. We met at the Sparta ice-hockey arena, both having gotten tickets from a mutual English-teacher friend. Ours was a spring romance in a fairy tale city. Radek shared my love of travel and an active outdoor life. We ate strawberries in the hillside orchard beneath Prague Castle, roller bladed in Stromovka Park, and drank frothy, half-liter beers in Letna’s beer garden.
On the weekends, we explored the Czech countryside. Radek introduced me to the castles and chateaus that were scattered over his country’s landscape like freckles. He showed me where he tramped as a teenager during the Communist reign, sleeping with his friends in an abandoned tower.
Radek also taught me to gather mushrooms in Czech forests. I learned to pick only the ones with tubers not slats underneath the cap. Later, Radek’s grandmother showed me how to prepare fried and breaded mushroom řízky in her tiny kitchen.
Together, Radek and I canoed the Vltava, pitched our tent in a riverside campground, and listened to Czech musikants lead fireside sing-alongs. I didn’t know the words, but the music stirred something inside me that felt like home.
Flash forward 16 years (and two cross-continental moves) later.
My family of five has been living back in the Czech Republic for more than 13 years now. Many Czech friends, my own children, and my mother ask me why we don’t live in America, or when we’re planning to return to the US. I used to ask myself the same thing.
Now, I can’t imagine leaving.
WHERE IS HOME?
On good days, I am at home in my adopted country of the Czech Republic. Beer is cheaper than water, there are more castles per square meter than in any other European country, and “Czechlish” is my family’s language of choice.
On other days, my children are embarrassed that I can’t speak Czech like a native, or I yearn to chat with my mother but realize by the time she’s awake, my day will be halfway gone.
As time goes on, I’ve realized that home is the space we have created as a family – a space that exists in between our two home cultures.
Home is a place where our nationalities, languages, cultures, traditions, and habits rub up against each other, get blended in and mixed up until I don’t know which part is Czech and which American.
Just as I am influenced by watching my children grow up multilingual in the Czech Republic, my identity changes each time I visit America and watch my children adjust (once again) to the customs and traditions of my own childhood.
WHY HALF ‘N HALF?
In 2007, a friend asked me to write a lifestyle column for a local newsletter, The Prague Daily Monitor. We brainstormed for names and finally settled on Half-n-Half to give equal tribute to my family’s native cultures.
One of the first stories I published was about celebrating Halloween in the Czech Republic with my toddler daughter who dressed up as a princess kitty-cat. Readers responded with their own tales of mixed-heritage Czech Halloween celebrations (which included reciting Czech poetry and singing songs at a local pub). A lively dialogue was born.
For the past decade, I have continued to write stories, articles, and blog posts about my experiences living abroad married to a Czech, adapting to Czech culture, and raising children who speak “Czechlish.”
My articles on travel, Czech culture, and tips for families have been published on Prague TV and reprinted for other websites. My Half-n-Half blog ran on The Prague Daily Monitor from 2007-2018. For more examples of my work, see my portfolio page.
HALF ‘N HALF MISSION
Raising children who speak multiple languages and can lay claim to multiple native heritages often requires dedication and sacrifice. Some days it feels easy. Other days, it helps to know that you aren’t alone.
For me, it has been an amazing (yet challenging) experience to raise my children far from my own roots, to travel both in (and beyond) the Czech Republic, and to share stories with people from different cultures, faiths, and countries.
If you are interested in learning more about Czech culture (healthcare, education, outdoor life, traditions, holidays, food), multicultural family life, and travel, I would love for you to join me (and my family) at Half ‘n Half.
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If you have your own Half ‘n Half story to share, contact me at email@example.com.