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


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Anonymous said...

Hello!Very nice article!It was very interesting to read about czech republic through the eyes of a person from the united states.I am from greece,where etiquette is very different and the people loud and all the time making physical contact,so my first impression from czechs was that they are a little cold and serious.Like,the men were looking at me weird when i wanted to shake hands with them and nobody was slapping each other on the back,or hugging.But i will get used to it,as i'm also planning to move to czech,to join my boyfriend.