Jsem Assimilatedovat

Just try it

Just try it

As I was getting on the tram I found myself in a common situation. A woman with a stroller (pram) was looking for help getting it off the tram. Man or woman, if you live ever take public transport in Prague, hoisting prams is an occasional surprise workout. I gladly offered my help, helped, and then got on.

A few minutes later I realized that I had used the informal form of the verb instead of the formal form. In Czech, formality is built right into the verb conjugation. It is considered very rude to use the informal form with a stranger.

While most Czechs take foreigner’s Czech with a grain of good-natured salt, and the woman herself didn’t seem bent out of shape about it, I worried. And then my worry began to worry me. Why did I care so much? This demanded some serious attention and consideration.

So I retired to a pub.

Four beers, a shot, and lots of jotted evidence later, it was clear that I have been assuming some Czech habits over the years in various areas.

Then I made a list. It’s below.


OK, OK. We all know that the Czechs love wearing socks and sandals. But there’s a good reason for this – it’s the most comfortable thing you’ve ever done to your feet. And once you go socks and sandals, there’s no turning back.

Lots of expats start out making fun of Czech clothing idiosyncrasies. Besides the socks and sandals there are the plaid-thigh Czech hiking pants (extra points if they are tearaway), scarves, and the Canadian tuxedo (denim jeans and top or jacket).



We expats even make fun of it when we start doing it, trying to keep it ironic. Haha. Look at my hiking pants. I’m soooo Czech.

Over time, however, the jokes end and the irony stops. We start understanding that the Czechs are on to something here. These pants are great for walking and lounging! Plus the legs rip off! My neck is so warm. Eventually, the joke actually becomes part of our normal wardrobe and you have scarves, pants, socks, and shame to keep you warm.

That said, if someone sees me in a full denim outfit, you have my permission to point across the river and tell me about the králici.

How am I? Sit down, I’ll tell you…

Last week during our Sunday call, my dad asked how I was. And I told him. After ten minutes and an embarrassed silence on the line, I realized my mistake, and corrected myself. “I mean, I’m fine.”

And all was well.

The Czechs often poke fun at us Americans for using “How are you?” as simply another way to say hello. And it’s true. We typically ask “how are you?” with no real intention of actually finding out how the person is doing. The correct answer is “Good. You?”

Americans in Prague might learn this the hard way when they ask a Czech colleague how they are and get, you know, a descriptive and honest answer.

I knew that I was a card-carrying member of the Czech Borg when I started actually answering the question “How are you?” with detailed answers.

But I swear, I’m fine.

Happy ending, Shmappy ending!

Uh, just to be clear, this is about movies, not massages which reach third base.

On my flight back to the U.S. last summer I watched three films, which ended like this:

Film #1. The nerdy guy gets the girl and the unlikely guys get the job.

Film #2. The underdog opens a successful business. The good guy don’t go to prison and endure unwilling ass sex. The bad guy does both.

Film #3. Ben Stiller redeems himself after 83 minutes of embarrassing himself beyond human understanding.

The Czechs – and many other non-Americans – have a distinct idea of the “happy American ending.” To those who think that all American films end happily, I suggest checking out feel good movies of the year Requiem for a Dream or 21 Grams. Just hide all your sharp things first.

Still, the “happy American ending” is a real thing and does drive the Czechs nuts. They consider the endings of dramas or comedies in which everything works out to be unrealistic of the real world. While watching a film with a happy ending with a Czech person I can feel the eye-roll happening in the seat next to me.

I knew that my soul had been invaded by Czech when I said: “How can this be a good ending? Nobody died and I’m not crying.”

True story.

It turns out that after years of watching Czech films, an ending isn’t an ending without the hero’s pointless death, without the Germans stumbling across the good guy’s hiding spot, without the Russians attacking. Or without the bleak understanding that life will go on in disappointment and apathy until we all collapse while dragging little bags on wheels onto the tram. In the rain.



This past summer I visited more than a few watering holes in the U.S. While I loved the novelty of sitting at a bar and watching baseball, I was faced with so many liquid options that I nearly busted a blood vessel in my eye.

I have come to the conclusion that I like pubs to be a simple affair and in Czech pubs, it really couldn’t be more simple.

“What do you want?”



And in some pubs they don’t ask you if you want another beer, they bring them until you tell them you don’t want another. This must be the beauty in simplicity thing I’ve heard so much about.

There’s more.

An interaction with a Czech waitress is usually brisk, efficient, and involves no smiles. Now, when I first came to the Czech Republic, I was always put off by this, but now it makes me feel warm and fuzzy. A Czech waitress who smiles at me or, worse, takes an interest in my life makes me feel like I owe her money.

This made my summer relatively uncomfortable in restaurants and pubs. Our waitresses were always bubbly, lovely, and smiled ear to ear as they engaged us in conversation. My parents are never one to spare a human around them every single detail of their lives, so I ended up sitting through more conversations with waitresses this summer than I did conversations with my students all last semester.

One waitress even sat down with us, actually causing me to run to the bathroom to hide while my mother asked her if she was married and told her about my published works.

My mantra: Give me beer, don’t smile at me, and then go away.

Honorable Mention: Goodbye Goodbye Goodbye Goodbye Goodbye

Yesterday, while saying goodbye to a colleague, I said:

“Čau čau, ahoj, mějte se!”

And then I needed a drink.

If you don’t know any Czech, the above are 3 different phrases to say goodbye. If you are an expat and know some Czech, you know where this is heading.

Americans are often rightly made fun of for saying hello about 5 different times in 5 different ways to open the same conversation. “Hey. How are you? How’s it going? What are you up to? How have you been?”

This is not an exaggeration. And the Czechs love poking fun at it.

If you are an expat looking for a little cannon fodder of your own, note how long it takes a Czech person to get off the phone. Czechs say goodbye about 5 different times in about 5 different ways to close the same conversation.

“Zatím ahoj, díky, čau čau, pa pa, mějte se!”

I only used three, but the goodbyes are written on the wall.

I will leave you with this list, so for the time being – Čau čau, ahoj, mějte se!”

Fellow expats – how have you assimilated?

  1. #1 by BN on October 1, 2015 - 3:31 pm

    I have never realized that we use so many goodbyes at the end of our conversation! But yes, you are right! That’s terrible! Anyway, I love how you are becoming ours 🙂

  2. #2 by Krista Rudegeair on October 15, 2015 - 8:59 pm

    Dame, your writings are always enlightening and entertaining.

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