Life here, in the Czech Republic, is similar in many ways to life in the US. The Czech Republic shares many of the same traditions and forms of etiquette we are used to in the US; after all, many of us in the US are of European descent! So, of course, many of these traditions and customs were passed on to the following generations born in the US. At the same time, there are some great differences that are hard for us, from the West, to fathom! Here is a list of some that I have encountered since living here:
1. Shoes. It is customary to remove your shoes at the entrance (or in the entry hall) of someone’s home. The home’s host will offer you what they call “home shoes”…these are often a form of sandal that can be easily slipped on and off, or might even be what we know as slippers. The thought behind this practice is that if you wear your regular shoes into someone’s home, then you are bringing the outside dirt into the home. That is a very disgusting thought to Czechs. My first encounter with this custom was very hard for me. I didn’t want to put on “home shoes” that other people had worn. My husband could not understand this, but for me it is a matter of hygiene. But to the Czechs, it is a greater matter of hygiene not to bring dirt into their homes. So, now, I usually just stayin in my socks (which drives most Czechs crazy...they say I will get sick, etc.!!!!), or I take my own "home shoes" to wear. That's OK, as long as you don'g bring in outdoor dirt!
2. Greetings and Good byes. This is one that is not so hard to understand—it is a form of politeness that I find really nice. When entering a small shop, office, elevator, train compartment, it is considered to be good manners to greet those you encounter, and the same for when leaving a small shop, etc., you should say good bye. If you enter a big store/bank/office, it is not possible to greet everyone, so you usually are expected to greet the cashier, or teller, or receptionist before asking for their help. You will not be treated nearly as well if you fail to do these common courtesies. This was hard for me to remember when I first moved here. It felt very awkward for a while, but over time, it has become normal, and sometimes I find that when I go back to the US I want to do the same thing!
4. Knife and fork position after eating. This is another tricky custom that I have encountered since living here, in the Czech Republic! Czechs have an understood sign that they would like to have a second helping at meal time. They position their knife and fork at the 10 and 2 o’clock position on their plates…with the handles going out. I think I learned this from reading…but I can’t remember. I started watching my husband and how he placed his silverware at different times…and sure enough! When his knife and fork were at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions, then he asked for a second helping! But, when he was completely finished, he would put his knife and fork together on theright side of the plate, with the handles pointing out! This practice is also followed in restaurants!
5. Sniffing and nose blowing. I have very bad allergies and asthma. So, sometimes, when I’m very congested (even after all the meds I take) I sometimes sniff in order to breathe. Well, here, in the Czech Republic, that is a huge no-no! People look at this as very bad manners, and expect that you will blow your nose instead of sniffing. Well, that’s OK, but sometimes, with allergies, the inside of the nose lining is inflamed and there’s nothing to blow out! (Sorry…that’s gross…but true!!!). When people here blow their noses, they sound very similar to a very loud fog horn!! The first time I heard someone do this, I thought it was just someone who didn’t know any better. In the US, when you blow your nose, you do it discretely…not with a fog-horn sound! Well, the longer I’ve lived here, the more I see that this is just normal…everyone does it! Once, when I visited my GP, I had to blow my nose while in the waiting room. When I blew without much sound, everyone looked at me like I was an alien from outer space, rather than an alien from the US!!!
6. Lace! One of the most confusing customs I’ve encountered here is lace not being considered proper to wear on every-day clothing! Lace is considered to be a “tease” and a sign that you are somehow sexually promiscuous. This, in a country where it’s OK to be topless or even nude on the beaches or at the pool, etc.! I talked about this at home with my family, in the US, and no one could understand the thinking or reasoning behind this. When talking to a younger friend, here in the Czech Republic, about the issue of lace, she told me that it’s just not done as it is looked upon like showing your underwear, etc. So, if you ladies decide to visit the Czech Republic, be sure to not wear any lace or someone might thing you are more than just a tourist!
That’s all for now…you all have a great day!
© 2008 by czechoffthebeatenpath
All photos property of S. A. Vacik