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Stereotypes and Generalizations about the Czech People

I am not going to tread lightly on eggshells, I am going to stomp all over them. In our modern  times to write about a whole group of people using generalizations is stealing a lollipop from  a baby - easy to do but eventually you will make mother upset. In olden days upset meant an  embarrassing scolding in the streets and a broadside with an umbrella. Now with the magic of  social media transgressions are broadcast to the whole world and the offender can never show  their face on Twitter again. But I am willing to take the risk. Generalizations enable me to  make observations that you can use to understand Czech people. I will take the candy to help  the baby. My generalizations will help you understand why Czechs are proud to hold the title  of highest beer consumers per person and why their national anthem starts with ‘where is my  home?’ (you are incorrect if you think these two are related). These are stereotypes and  prejudices I picked up along the way and maintain in my head. I keep them there because I have  found them useful. They protect me when a shop owner taps my car window, calls me an idiot,  and knocking his forehead asks whether I am too stupid to read the no parking sign. My  generalizations help me understand that I should not take his question personally.  On the  other hand, maybe he is correct, maybe I am an idiot and my generalizations are all false and  I am making the world worse off by perpetuating them. In that case I really am an idiot and it is the I excuse I use for what you are about to read.

Negative Stereotypes

seek deals but don’t trust deal makers

Czechs hunt for deals. And it must be more than simply a price reduction. It requires a  convoluted backstory justifying the price reduction. The car sat in the garage for years  because the family dog died in the back seat during grandmother’s funeral. Now  the  family is forced to get rid of the car because the uncle has a gambling problem. Sweeten the story by mentioning they are the first person to view the car because it gives the Czech satisfaction to know they found the deal before any other Czech did.

Of course Czechs know they are susceptible to an intricately crafted deal story so their  default position is that all deals are scams. A deal is a strong signal someone is trying to  rip you off - proceed with cation, ask a lot of questions, look for holes in the story.  Actually it is not just deals which are suspect. Sellers are automatically guilty of  attempting to rip off. Something must be wrong with the product which is why they are selling  it instead of keeping it for themselves. The car must of been in an accident, the odometer  rolled back, the transmission about to go. Czech don’t believe that a win-win transaction is  possible. In a two party transaction there must always be a sucker duped.

Czechs pursue and take pleasure in shortcuts. If there is an official way of doing things a  Czech will seek a way of doing it a ‘better’ way. This is especially true when the official  way is dictated from an authority even when the authority is a washing machine company.  Nothing pleases a Czech more than discovering that he can skip a step in the instruction  booklet and have the washer installed with bolts left unused. This achievement will become  legend and mentioned in every conversions in which the word washing machine comes up.

Czechs make the logical fallacy (fallacy of composition) of believing that because as  individuals they take pride in shortcuts Czech corporations must also take shortcuts. This is  why it is believed that German supermarkets have fresher food, shampoo smells better from  Canada, phone batteries sold in Czech don’t last that long. Czech news feeds this belief by  constantly highlighting studies done on products sold in Czech compared with similar products  in other countries and the result is always the same - a Czech distributor sells an inferior  product thanks to a shortcut taken. To Czechs this makes perfect sense.

Czechs don’t trust Czechs

If not clear from the above - Czechs don’t trust Czechs. I have first hand experience with  this truism. In 1980 my family immigrated from Czech to Canada. Because we were escaping the  communist regime we had to leave the country by pretending to be going on vacation. To  solidify the deception all we had were 2 suitcases with swimsuits and sunscreen. The border  guards convinced we were going on vacation let us pass to Austria. We successfully scammed the  Czech state - a personal victory for my father. From there we kept driving south until we  arrived in Italy. There we applied for asylum in Canada. After a year in a refugee camp we  finally got our invitation to Canada. When we landed we knew nothing, had nothing and knew  nobody. We lived in a hotel and waited for the Canadian government to tell us what to do next  - as Czechs we had no hesitation trusting Canadians. Then one day with a knock on our hotel  door a bald man introduces himself as a volunteer for a Czech group that assists recent Czech  arrivals. With a smile he came to help us find an apartment and fill out all the forms for  government assistance. My father's first instinct, his gut reaction, a scam. Why would a Czech  want to help us? What is in it for him? It just did not make sense. But with no alternative he  buried his distrust and let the man help us. Fortunately, it turned out the mystery bald man  was not a scammer and he did help find a place to live. To the surprise and delight of my  father there were no strings attached - maybe a few years in Canada turns Czechs honest. Our  first of many first impressions in the new land were positive. But even with this experience  distrust does not go away. There are tens of thousands Czechs living in Canada but unlike the  Chinese, Italian or Irish which form strong communities Czechs keep to themselves. Czech’s  blend into the existing culture rather than create a mini Czech community within Canada.  Czechs don’t actively gravitate near each other to attend the same schools and community  centres. A call for organization is met with suspicion. Czechs ask: why is this person trying  to organize us - is it a scam? A Czech with a used car lot has no Czech customers. Of course  there is no hostility against other Czechs, it is simply an little angel on the shoulder  warning caution. Unclear is how long has the angel been there? Does it go as far back as the  14th century when Czechs Hussites distrusted Czech Catholics resulting in the Hussite wars?  Maybe, but definitely the angelic whispers in the ear become shouts during the communist  regime as one constantly worried that a neighbor reported a curse mumbled against the state -  best to keep quiet, trust only family.

Czechs don’t trust government

1918 was the year Czechs received their first modern democratic government - handed to them  with the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after WW1. But unfortunately in less than a  generation Hitler walked down from Germany and took the government away again replacing it with a fascist  one. After WWII the Russians came and infected the government with their unique style of  mismanagement. By 1968 Czech was officially a puppet of USSR. Czechs had to wait 30 years to get their own government back. When it came in 1989 the transition back was not smooth or fair. The fall of  communism rewarded corruption as those on political top hosted public  asset fire sales to their friends. Factories, buildings, lands where sold for cheap  to friends and those able to return the favor. From the outside it appeared an orderly transition from communism to  democratic capitalism but Czechs know in their bones that corruption was behind every  arrangement. The old masters are the new masters with blue hats instead of red. 

The last century has not shown a bright light on Czech government so it is no wonder that  Czechs have little faith  in their government. Of course corruption exists  everywhere but for a Czech corruption is baked into the system - accepted as a fact that cannot changed. A favorite gesture around  the pub table is tapping knuckle to forehead and insisting that the latest  scandal is only possible in Czech.

Yet even this pessimistic view of government is not cause for revolt. Government’s inability to benefit its citizens is accepted as natural as a tree struck by lightning. 100 years of oppression and corruption has tough the  Czech the special ability of ignoring the government - treating it as an evil existing in the  clouds with no impact on daily lives. The government decrees and promises changes and Czechs promptly ignore. Czechs are well practiced at adjusting their behaviour to  align with whatever the political winds of the day are. There is little push back. ‘governments do  your thing and I will do mine. As long as you don’t force too much change on my daily life you can do whatever you want.  Let me live in peace and I will leave you to do whatever it is you do.’  Czech’s don’t start revolutions, they wait them out in the company of friends and family. The  stereotype is Czechs are passive and submissive. Some might consider this a negative stereotype but  Czechs see it positively. 

Positive Stereotypes

pride in the country’s birth story

Fifty years under the umbrella of the Austro-Hungarian Empire Czechs finally had their own land to govern. Before 1918 Prague had a substantial German speaking population and government was seated in Vienna. Czechs interests were forced to align with  Vienna’s interests. But after the first World War and with the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian empire Czechoslovakia was born and Prague become the political center of the Czech speaking  people. This period is looked back at with prideful nostalgia. A time when lives were simple,  government honest, economy booming and Czechoslovakia on a straight path to prosperity and a smoking chimney home for everyone. The first president Masaryk was adored even during his time. A dignified bearded man with top hat and full Hungarian moustache. Contemplative, conservative but also  visionary enough to be a representative of both the past and the future. He is revered by young and old because he represents the spring and budding times of the newly born country. For his services during the nation’s birth he is honored with the main street in almost every city named in his honor. The First Republic, as this period is called, is used as a benchmark of excellence against which present conditions are compared.  Life and times were at their peak - Czechs don’t agree on much but all agree on this.

pragmatically peaceful

Czechs are proud of their history and country but at the same time pragmatically peaceful and patient. The Austrian-Hungarian stranglehold lasted for 50 years in which the Czechs simply blended into the system. Prague was full of German speaking people and decrees came from  Vienna but the Czechs did not mind too much. They went about their day and waited till they could grab the rains. When it came in 1918 they embraced it quickly and adjusted to self-rule. But less than 20 years later the German’s came and took it away. There were packets of  people who resisted but in the end the resistance disappeared into the background and Czechs  went back to waiting. The Russians came next and again the Czechs waited. Outwardly they were communists and willing participants of communism but their souls remained untouched. They loitered ready to emerge again - unfortunately this time they had to wait for 50 years.  The Russians were peacefully pushed out and the hidden Czech soul reemerged with the opportunity to recreate the glory days of the First Republic.

Unlike countries in similar situations where civil war or violence results Czechs were always able to turtle up and wait for the storm to pass. Over the past 150 year they have been able to do this 3 times.  On some unseen level Czechs are connected to each other and regardless of the political situation they bond together and wait for the sun to return. When it returns they emerge together. They dust each other off and continue where they left off agreeing it was a terrible time and placing blame on the oppressor. They all belong to a small country in the midst of a turbulent continent. If Czech don’t care about each other nobody else will.  All they have is each other - they would never say it out loud but they all know it. 

pride in the land, forests, lakes and rivers

Czechs enjoy discussing their little country with visitors. Tourists come to see the medieval bridge and castles but Czechs love the land - the actual dirt. There are forested mountains in the north, lakes in the south, fields of beer hops in the west, and rivers meandering through it all. There is even the largest rock bridge in Europe in a landscape resembling the badlands of New Mexico. Czech has everything the world has to offer - just a miniature version of it. The mountains are hills and the lakes are large ponds. The rivers don’t rage they stroll. It’s impossible to get lost in the forests because you are never more than an hour walk from a cabin offering beer and noodle soup. It is cold and snows but not -30°C, its hot and  rains but no torrential. Czech don’t need to see the world because the entire world is represented in  their little country. You can go skiing in the winter, boating in the summer, tenting, canoeing,  mountain biking, cliff climbing - it’s all here. That is why Czechs take pride and speak of it fondly. Why fly somewhere when it is all here. Ask a Czech about their land and they will list vacations they spent within its borders and how much they enjoyed it - how beautiful the dirt is.

a very healthy distrust of authority

Czech has some of the most aesthetic churches in the world and has hundreds of them. In  Prague the churches are old, majestic and gothic. The builders must of had God in their head and the hand of God as a guide. Most villages have as their center piece a church - a beacon to all that God lives with them. With these reminders all over the country it is  difficult to believe that the modern Czech does not believe. The churches are here but the  faith has ascended away. 

Jan Hus was burned at the stake in 1415 for the crime of questioning the authority of the  Catholic church. He argued the catholic church has too much power and is abusing it.  This seed of distrust in authority has been passed on through Czech blood to the modern day.  The distrust of authority started with the heavens but has come down to the politics  of man. During the last century Czechs have endured abusive masters from the Austro- Hungarians, to Germans, to Russians  - monarchism, fascism, communism.  This century made  obvious that authority is not in their best interest. While the thickness of gold lining churches was evidence to Hus that authority was not working in the people’s interests, the  languages spoken by the masters has been a  giveaway for the last century. The Czech’s mind has  been chiseled at with a constant drip of authoritative cancer.  It might of ended terribly - it might of devolved into a North Korea of central Europe, but it didn’t because Czechs have perfected a shield against any future masters – ingrained distrust in authority.

Democracy and market economy is just another authority that cannot be trusted. People vote and go through the motions of participating in the process but distrust remains. No belief God will save them or democracy will save them. Both heavenly and manmade authority exists only to exploit and abuse. Maybe it is why there has never been civil war amongst Czechs - even  though they differ on which authority is marginally better they all agree authority cannot be trusted.

Today Czechs are mostly atheist and apolitical. Church holidays are celebrated and people go through the traditional motions but the belief in a higher power has been squeezed out. Belief that the government will help is sponge dry.

the village is utopia

Imagine you are in a discussion with a Czech about the immorality of the president being one of the richest men  in the country. You get excited and start ranting about injustice and fairness. You suggest remedies and solutions some of which border on revolution. The  response from the Czech on the other side of the table is one word - klidek. It means  calm down, relax. It is meant not just for the current moment of excitement but as a lifestyle change. Don’t get excited about things you cannot control. Government corruption is not  worth worrying about

There are 2 major cities in Czech totaling a population of 2 million. The remaining 8 million people live in villages scattered through the country. Villages with a church on main- street, bakery, butcher, couple restaurants  and monthly newsletter.  Sidewalks congested with too many baby carriages parked outside the ice  cream shop. Some spend their free time in the garden, some fishing, some at the pub. Buildings hundreds of years old and slow change - everyone likes it that way. Years meander along in predictable cycles of celebrations and festivals. This is the state of klidek.  You worry about your home, your backyard, your family and neighbors. You enjoy the simplicity. In the village people go shopping every day. Not because it is efficient but  for exactly the opposite reason. Klidek is slowly waking up, strolling to the center, saying  hi to a couple friends, the smell of fresh bread, the church bell breaking silence  reminding all that time has moved ahead. 8 million Czech’s live this life and even though they  might have down days they are always revived realizing that have it a lot better than the  unfortunate souls in the big city.

A Czech would say: In the big city people are busy, are passionate about politics, are driven to change the world. They go to the movies, shop  in big stores, rush to work, strive for promotions. They honk and get honked at in return. They do what big city people do but it is not in their heart – it is not Klidek.Village life is what Czechs really are.  A villager will never claim they are tired of the calm and want to move to the big city where all the action is. But everyone in the city, even if it takes a couple beers, will admit that one day they will turn it all off and return to the purism of village life. Back to where some traces of the First Republic still remain.

What to do with these stereotypes?

I strongly suggest you keep these stereotypes secretly in your head and don’t discuss them with Czechs. They will deny up  and down and provide counter examples for every point made. They will argue that I have no  idea what I am talking about and that I probably never met a Czech in my life. My only  response is that somehow over my time spent here the stereotypes formed - I came to Czech with  no stereotypes and now 10 years later I have them.  Remain aware of them, know they exists, but don’t acknowledge them. Don’t say, “I heard Czechs look for  shortcuts” or, “I thought Czechs want to live in villages”. Just watch and listen. If you notice unexpected behavior or hear an odd viewpoint try to make sense of it through the lenses of these stereotypes. As you travel through Czech keep score of the times these generalizations help. My bet is they help more than they hinder and that is why I might be an idiot.

Did I bring you pleasure? :)

I hope you find this website helpful. I created the website because I love Prague, I enjoy writing about it, and I get a weird kick out of helping you make your trip to Prague more enjoyable.

I wrote a book about local travel in Prague. The book is my pride, my joy, my unbiological offspring. It was written with a passionate heart. If you find this website helpful consider getting my book full of useful tips that will instil in you the confidence to wander the local streets of Prague. The book is included in the popular (proud to say over 1000 sold) Prague Local Explore Kit.

Thank you,
Roman : Prague 2023

Prague Local Travel Kit