The Trouble with Czechia

czechiaOne night, eleven years ago, I was bartending in Pittsburgh. It was after I had decided to move to Prague. Three guys came into my bar, friendly, dialect and fashion choices suggested they were local and rural. After a passing comment from a waitress about my imminent departure, the guys inquired as to where I was moving.



I added: “In the Czech Republic.”

Head nods.

The first said, “Dude, are you crazy? There’s some serious shit going on over in China these days.” While I was trying to piece together how Chinese unrest would affect the Czech Republic, the second chimed in. “Prague ain’t in China, moron. It’s in Russia.”

The third, the thinker, rolled his eyes at his tank-topped companions and informed them that Prague, or “Pray-ge” was in fact a colony in Northern Germany.

I started drinking early that night.

Yes, we Americans are superbly bad at knowing where the rest of the world is, what those places are called, and what language its inhabitants speak. This is true.

Also, just about everything throws us off. We get used to, say, a place called “the Soviet Union,” and then all of a sudden we have to remember “Russia” not to mention 15 other post-Soviet states. How is that fair?

Even educated Americans can prove astoundingly bad at geographical adaptation. I have been a resident of the Czech Republic for eleven years, since about two months after my chat with the three Magellans. And when I visit home, some friends still ask how life is in “Czechoslovakia.”

I have stopped with the jokes. I’d have to go back in time to tell you that. What, is it 1986? I have come to terms with the fact that for 70% of their lives, the Czech Republic was “Czechoslovakia.” And then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. And why would they remember? They probably think about the place twice a year.

And yet things are still changing, which throws us Americans off. Britain might leave the European Union, um, today. While most of us don’t really grasp the ins and outs of that scenario, we do realize that a Brexit will somehow require us to learn new geographical information. And we don’t like it.

In my adoptive country as well, there is a campaign to use the name “Czechia” instead of “the Czech Republic.” There are people for and there are people against. Some don’t really seem to mind one way or the other. And to be sure, many Czechs shorten “the Czech Republic” when describing their home country, by saying “Czech.”

It doesn’t matter to me if we all call the place I live “Czechia” on an informal basis. However, I must admit that the looming threat of the Czech Republic officially changing its name to “Czechia” has me a little worried.

In the first place, I will absolutely become one of the “Czechoslovakia” people. I have been saying “the Czech Republic” a thousand times a month for the last eleven years, and now I just have to switch my 41-year-old brain to  “Czechia.” Oh man. This simple change will nudge me one step closer to being that befuddled old dude in the corner of a party mumbling about “his day” and telling stories that drone on for hours while bees swarm a sizeable chunk of cake on his tie. Czechia is going to make me out of touch.

And then there’s what the Czechs themselves can do with a thing like this. I love my adoptive country, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a country with a better talent for 1. changing something when people’ve just gotten used to how it was being done, and 2. adding painful bureaucracy to that thing.

The Czech Republic, sorry, Czechia, has such a peculiar talent for this that every time a person says the word “visa” an entire table of expats gets stomach cramps. Application processes. Insurance policies. ID cards. Travel passes. Banking issues.

I can just see it. Nothing will change. We promise, nothing will change. Nothing. At all. Except that each permanent resident must get their new Czchia visa by January 1st or they will revert back to newcomer status.

Ministry visits. Notarizations. Taking numbers. Sitting. Waiting. Hating. Stamps.

My God, how I hate stamps.

I can see the future. I am in a bleak ministry hallway with several other miserable expats, it’s hot, I’m holding a ticket with a number that is nowhere near the number on a screen above me. I obsessively check my 1000Kc stamp(s), I look at my watch. I can’t read. The woman next to me sparks up a conversation about this bureaucratic hell. I tell her about how much better it used to be, back in the days when it was still the Czech Republic.

There are bees flying around my tie.

  1. #1 by myname on June 23, 2016 - 1:09 pm

    Czechoslovak (Socialist) Republic was it official political name, short Czechoslovakia.
    Slovak Republic officially, short Slovakia.
    Czech Republic officially, short Czechia.
    No need for visa change or whatever, just new informal “nickname”.

    • #2 by Damien Galeone on June 24, 2016 - 5:55 am

      Yes, I am very aware that Czechia is an unofficial nickname, so much so that I wrote pretty much exactly that in the post. My joking hypothesis is what would happen if all of a sudden it was official.

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