Showing posts with label Czech Etiquette. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Czech Etiquette. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Czech Funeral Etiquette

Hi Everyone,
Today’s post deals with Czech funeral etiquette and some of the issues you may face if you find yourself attending a funeral here. This post comes from the recent loss of my sister-in-law, Světlana. Světlana fought a long battle with cancer.  She went through quite a lot in the last 3-4 years, but now she’s in a much better place—she’s no longer suffering. We have this assurance from God.

No Idea about Czech Funerals and the Required Etiquette
 Světlana's was the first funeral I’ve attended in the Czech Republic, since moving here just over ten years ago. Being a foreigner married to a Czech, I always try to adapt to the ways of being and doing here, as much as possible. However, I had no idea about Czech funerals or the required etiquette, and there wasn’t much information online. Jiří was the best source of information, so I’ll share with you what he told me about Czech funerals in general. My goal is to help other foreigners with basic funeral etiquette--those who may need or want to attend a Czech funeral. But first, we’ll take a look at cemeteries here and grave rentals.

Czech Cemetery

Czech Cemeteries
Cemeteries can seem like creepy places--as they’re often portrayed in horror films. I always had a fear of cemeteries when I was a little girl. As an adult, I’ve been OK with cemeteries, but they were still not my favorite places to visit. My feelings towards cemeteries finally changed after visiting some of the very old cemeteries here and in other parts of Europe. 

Czech cemeteries are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. They aren’t creepy—just very old. You’ll find headstones, graves covered by slabs and with ornate headstones, beautiful mausoleums, etc. Every holiday you’ll see some family member tending their family graves—cleaning them, laying fresh flowers and even leaving candles. One of my favorite Czech holidays (as in holy day) is Všech svatých (All Saints Day). On this day, the cemeteries are aglow with beautiful flowers and candles.

Renting Grave Plots 
Just as in cemeteries around the world, Czech cemeteries offer spaces for urns, traditional burials, and also special sections where ashes can be scattered. This is normal and understood. However, there was one new idea that I encountered with Czech burials (which may be common in Europe)—it came as quite a shock. The shock was learning that you don’t buy a grave plot. Instead, a plot is somehow chosen, and then the family of the dearly departed pays “rent” for this grave as long as they live or are able to pay. 

Once the family or responsible persons no longer pay rent, the grave is opened and the remains are removed, to be cremated in common with other remains of those whose families no longer pay to rent a plot. This whole idea came as quite a shock to me when I first moved here. (Back home, you buy a plot and it’s yours forever, unless the cemetery is moved, then you’re moved with it—it most cases). Once the remains are removed the entire grave is re-used, possibly including the headstone and any slab that covers the grave. 

While this can be shocking for some foreigners, after living here for just over a decade, you begin to understand the pragmatic thinking of Czech people. This country is small—there’s only so much land available to use for cemeteries. So renting a plot makes sense. However, I’m not comfortable with the thought of loved ones being put into a common cremation once the rent’s not paid. 

The best option may be to just go ahead and opt for cremation when a loved one dies. Cremation is quite common here—for atheists, Christians and others. The main reasons for choosing cremation are the costs of the funeral and grave rental, and the fact that it’s hard to find space in many cemeteries in this country.

For cremations you can rent a spot in the cemetery for the urn, or you can keep it at home. There’s also the option of discretely spreading the ashes in a favorite place of the deceased. If you keep the urn and/or spread the ashes, you won’t have to worry about paying the grave rent. I’m not sure if there are fees involved for spreading ashes in a public or national park, as I wasn’t able to find this information online (at least in English). 

Funeral Dress Code for Men and Women
The funeral dress code is fairly simple and applies to everyone going to a funeral—natives and foreigners of both genders, and it even applies to kids. Everyone comes in their Sunday-best, though casual office attire is OK, too. Jeans are frowned upon, as are dirty shoes, etc. Men, women and children should dress in dark clothes—black is best, however navy blue also works. For my sister-in-law’s funeral, I wanted to wear a white shirt under a black sweater with black dress slacks, but Jiří said that wasn’t acceptable. There should be no white or other colors. So, I was dressed in black from head to toe (aside from my red hair). 

Men can wear a nice shirt and slacks; some opt for a suit, though that’s not always necessary. Women can wear dresses, skirts or dress slacks with blouses, etc.—all must be dark. Shoes should be in good repair and clean. I can’t stress this enough—be sure your shoes are clean. If you go anywhere (other than hiking or working on the farm or in the garden) with dirty shoes, people will see you as lazy, sloppy and careless. You don’t want to give anyone this impression, especially at formal occasions such as weddings and funerals. (You also need clean shoes for job interviews, etc.)


Funeral Flowers and Wreaths
The type of arrangement you bring depends on how close you were to the one who passed away and your budget. Typical floral arrangements include a bouquet, a wreath or single flowers. The most common flowers for Czech funerals are calla lilies, roses, carnations and chrysanthemums. Flower colors will depend on the season and what’s available. You can choose to buy one rose and lay it on the coffin or in the grave, depending on the type of funeral service. The only rule is that a bouquet (I’m not sure if this applies to wreaths) must have an even number of flowers (unless you chose just one rose). This rule is strictly applied by Czechs. You can choose real or artificial flowers, though real flowers are often more appreciated. 

Jiří and I ordered a wreath with a base of evergreens, with white daisy-type flowers and white carnations that were tipped in a deep mauve. The wreath’s ribbon matched the mauve of the carnations. The florist asked what we would like printed on the ribbon in gold leaf. Jiří said, “Farewell, beloved sister (fill in the name here).” I was horrified (not at all the appropriate text for funeral arrangement ribbons back where I come from)! However, Jiří explained that they say this here and that it’s not disrespectful or hurtful.  

One note—we went to a florist and ordered the wreath with no problems. However, we had to it pick up the morning of the funeral and take it ourselves. I’m not sure if this is how it works in larger cities, such as Prague. The wreath was a good size and turned out beautifully. Thankfully family members gave us a ride to my sister-in-law's service—we didn’t have to manage the wreath on public transport. 

Funeral and Memorial Services
Czech funeral and memorial services vary widely—as in the U.S. and other countries. The type of service will depend on whether or not the deceased was a Christian, their own requests for the service, etc. You’ll find traditional funerals, with an open or closed casket and burial service, or memorial services only. It varies widely.

My Sister-in-Law’s Memorial Service
My sister-in-law, Světlana, had asked to be cremated, so my brother-in-law arranged a Christian memorial service for her in a chapel provided by the crematorium.  The day was beautiful—it started out cloudy, but later turned sunny, while the temperature remained cold. The chapel was decorated in a Christian manner, with beautiful stained glass windows and a very pretty altar in the front. The service was led by my brother-in-law’s priest.

My sister-in-law’s casket was placed directly in front of the altar, with tall white candles at the head and foot of the casket. They had also placed other candles around the casket—it was all quite pretty and very formal. There was some music playing—some songs that had deep meaning for my sister-in-law. The songs were by Queen, Enya and some others—very pretty and respectful songs, which struck us all to the heart. 

As the family started to enter the chapel, we each had to place our flower arrangements around the casket. There was a lady guiding everyone, suggesting where to place the flowers—she was very respectful. After everyone had placed their flowers, the scene was surprisingly beautiful—a rainbow of colors and types of flowers—just beautiful. It looked like a garden with Světlana’s casket in the middle of all the flowers, with the candles all around. 

The service itself was about 30 minutes long. The priest gave a beautiful message—he’d been close to my brother-in-law and Světlana during her battle with cancer. One note—when the service started, it was cloudy; but as the service commenced, the sun came out and brilliantly lit up the window showing the risen Christ. So beautiful and moving!

When it was over, we all slowly left the chapel and headed outside. It was chilly—we stood in knots of 3-5 people, softly talking as we waited for my brother-in-law and his parents-in-law. There was no graveside service since my sister-in-law was to be cremated. My brother-in-law will later take her ashes to be interred in a cemetery in the town where Světlana grew up. 

After the Service
Once the service was over, our family went out to have lunch together in a restaurant nearby. It was a small place and had great food. We had a really nice visit, in spite of the reason for our gathering. We all toasted Světlana. Since then, our family has tried to be a support for my brother-in-law as he grieves.

My Thoughts
I have to say that my sister-in-law’s memorial service was beautiful—as beautiful as any other Christian service I’ve attended back home. According to Jiří, this funeral wasn’t typical for here—many people are atheists and funeral services are usually for family and friends to have closure—to say their farewells. There’s no talk or thought of a soul living on, etc. However, it is interesting to note that even if someone claims to be an atheist, they may still opt for a Christian funeral or memorial service. These services are usually done in the Roman Catholic tradition, as this is the most prominent church in the Czech Republic.

My sister-in-law’s passing has left a hole in our family; however God has given us the assurance that Světlana is with Him. God was very present in the midst of this family—His presence was so strong at the service—I can’t describe it—there are no words, but He was there with each of us. He continues to comfort and console our family and my brother-in-law. God is good. 

This is a short take on funeral etiquette in the Czech Republic and the types of funeral issues foreigners may face here. The information I’ve provided is only a small bit from my one experience with funerals here. Still, I hope this basic information may help others who have to attend funerals here. 

That's all for today! 

Have a great day!

God bless,

RIP Světlana--you're loved and missed. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

St. Clements & the Old Catholics

Hi Everyone,
This week's been very busy with trying out new places to write, writing, filling out writing samples, sending my resume, etc...a very busy week.  So, I have to apologize for just now telling you about a fun gathering I attended last weekend.  My church, St. Clement's Anglican Church, and the Old Catholic congregation got together to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the relationship between our churches.  The joint service was held at the St. Laurence's Church on Petrin Hill.  But before telling you about that, I'd like to share some pictures from the ride up Petrin Hill.

The Funicular

Petrin Hill has many walking paths leading to the top, with many of  the paths offering a gentle, but invigorating hike up.  In decent weather the paths are filled with families, couples and older folks enjoying the scenery on the walk up Petrin.  Last Sunday morning I went to the service on my own, but Jiri didn't want me to walk up the hill by myself, so I took a ride on the funicular.  The funicular is an interesting vehicle that rides a rail up a very steep side of Petrin; it goes up the hill and back down again.  On the ride up I took a few pictures.

St. Laurence Old Catholic Church

The Church of St. Laurence

The top of Petrin is a beautiful spot filled with gardens, a hall of mirrors, and more; and is a great place to spend an afternoon away from the city.  The church of St. Laurence sits on the top of Petrin which in ancient times was a place of pagan worship (according to the plaque on the church).  Czech legends also say this is the spot where Libuse , a prophetess and the mother of the Premyslid dynasty, foretold the future greatness of  Prague.  St. Laurence's Church is thought to have been built by Boleslav I in the 10th century.    

 Chancel area

The Anglicans and Old Catholics

St. Clement's congregation is associated with the Old Catholics in that our church is under the jurisdiction of the Old Catholic Church of the Czech Republic (who are not Roman Catholics).  We are actually the English-speaking parish of the Old Catholic Church in Prague, and are under oversight of Bishop Dusan Hejbal.  Old Catholics were once Roman Catholics, but broke away (in the Netherlands) in 1724.  The split was caused by a disagreement over doctrine.  My understanding is that Old Catholics are still Catholic, but are really more like Anglicans and Episcopalians.  (Chaplain, please correct me if I'm wrong!).  

Combined Service

The two churches held a combined service with portions of the service in English and Czech--sometimes using both languages at the same time.  It was a beautiful service lead by Bishop Dusan and our chaplain,  Rev. Ricky Yates.

 Rev. Ricky Yates

Here are some pictures of the inside of St. Laurence:
Organ and Choir Loft

Side altar

Side altar with sculpture of
Madonna and Child

After the service, the Old Catholic congregation put together a delicious buffet of different meats, cheeses and other Czech food.  We all mingled together and conversed as we could.  Not everyone could speak much of the other's language, but we still managed to have a wonderful, fun time. 

 Anglicans and Old Catholics mingling

I stayed and visited with everyone for a bit and had a great time.  After that, I wandered around the top of Petrin for a while taking some pictures.  Here are scenes of some of the beauty of the hill that came to life when the sun came out.

 Petrin Tower

 Is this Moses's burning bush?
No, but certainly a beautiful tree.

The back of St. Laurence's Church with 
rose gardens in the foreground

Rose bud from the garden

Beautiful red rose opening in the sun

That's all for now.  If you're ever in Prague and would like to find an English-speaking congregation to worship with, please be sure to check out St. Clement's.  We would love to have you join us!  You can find us on a map at the church's website, with directions, too, along with the contact information.  We are a congregation of many nationalities, but all services are in English.  You can even join us for coffee and refreshments after the service!

Have a wonderful weekend!
God bless,
Sher :0) 

All photos are the property of S. Vacik
(c) 2010 by czechoffthebeatenpath

Monday, April 7, 2008

Czech Etiquette, or Lack Thereof

Hi Everyone,
After writing Friday's post, I was reminded of a couple of personal stories dealing with Czech etiquette, and sometimes their lack thereof! One of the stories deals with my husband, Jiří, and my Mom right after our wedding!

We were married in December of 2004, here in Prague, and my Mom was able to come over for the wedding. We had a beautiful wedding and reception afterwards. We also had a tour of parts of the Šumava, letting my Mom meet our new in-laws!

After that tour, we came back to Prague for a few more days. One day, my husband, Mom and I had all been out shopping. When we came back to our studio apartment, my husband was doing his normal routine--changing clothes. But, he started to do this in front of Mom! Jiří began shucking his pants in front of Mom, while talking to her at the same time! I was so shocked and couldn't even get a word out of my mouth! Mom was very relaxed...and didn't react at all...just kept talking to Jiří!! Finally, I was able to say something...and told him it was not proper to shuck his pants in front of Mom!! Jiří became very embarrassed and went into the bathroom to finish changing. Poor guy!!! Mom was OK, just a bit surprised, but she stayed very cool and calm throughout this whole process!

Here, in the Czech Republic, it is OK to change clothes in front of family and very close friends. It is even considered normal and appropriate! The Czechs say that God made us born wearing nothing, so it is only human, and there's nothing wrong with changing in front of others. Everyone does this...I have been the witness of this many times. It is very hard for me to experience this "custom", being from the US and very strictly raised. When I was growing up, if we had one room, we would at least go into a bathroom to change...not do it in front of other family members or friends. But here, that is not the case. Often in the past, here in this country, families would have several children who all stayed in one room, and sometimes, even the parents would be in the same room. There was no place for privacy as we know it, in the US. So, here, if other family members were in the same room, they would turn their backs when someone was dressing or changing clothes.

One extreme example of this practice of changing in front of others was on a canoeing trip my husband and I took a couple summers ago. We had finished our canoe trip, and were working on getting the canoe out of the water and onto the beach, when next to us, a woman who had just finished swimming pulled off her swimsuit bottom and changed into biking shorts--right there in front of everyone on the beach! I was so shocked and embarrassed! My husband said that is a bit extreme, most people would not behave in that manner in public. But, still, Jiří was unable to understand why this upset me so much! It is just not done where I come from!! I am not able to change in front of others...this is something that I cannot adapt to. It might be OK for some, but not for me!!!!

Another practice that has been very difficult for me are the greetings and good-byes. Here, it is common practice to shake hands, hug, and also give one another a kiss on the lips when greeting others or saying good-bye. This is mostly common amongst family and very close friends. Well, I'm not at all used to this! My family, back in the US, is demonstrative, but we don't kiss one another on the lips. That is solely the realm of husband and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, etc.! But when I first came to the Czech Republic, everyone was greeting one another and me, too, with hugs, kisses and hand shakes. There were some very awkward instances when I would turn my head as someone was trying to greet me!! Now, everyone understands that I'm not accustomed to they will kiss me on the cheek. That's OK and I can do that when saying hello or good-bye!

Living here, in the Czech Republic, has been an interesting experience, so far. I'm learning alot, but am only on the outside of the onion as far as understanding customs, language, etc. in this country! It is an on-going process, I only hope one day I will graduate to the next layer of this onion of experiences and learning here, in the Czech Republic!

God bless and have a great day,
Sherry :0)
(c) 2008 by czechoffthebeatenpath

Friday, April 4, 2008

Czech Etiquette

Hi Everyone,
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!

God bless,
Sher :0)
© 2008 by czechoffthebeatenpath
All photos property of S. A. Vacik