16.7.11

What is CZECH?

The first impression a foreigner gets when arriving to the Czech Republic is probably that Czechs are unsmiling, distant or even rude people. This impression is reinforced by generally horrible service provided in restaurants and shops. The respondents see several possible causes: a relic of the communist era, an unfavourable system of wages and management, or the tendency to separate work and private life, behaving differently in each of them. While Czechs might be unhelpful in shops and restaurants, a foreigner might be pleasantly surprised by their helpfulness in the streets. In business contact, however, they do not seem to be quite reliable.

Almost all the respondents have mentioned another feature: there are two sides of Czechs. When they do not know you, they are closed and reserved, but once you gain their friendship, you can rely on their help, they are sincere and loyal, and they invite you to their families. The respondents appreciated this feature especially in comparison with the "easy love” of Latin cultures, such as French, Spanish, Italian, or South American, where you get accepted immediately, but these ‘friendships’ can be fake and short-lived.

Many participants also pointed out that the ties and mutual support within families seem to be stronger in the Czech Republic. However, some counter-opinions also appeared, e.g. from Italy, or India. Language was a very important factor, as well as cultural background and differences, especially with respondents from Asia. Some participants have observed that gender distinctions and gender roles were stronger in the Czech Republic than for example in the USA, or in Denmark. Czech parents also seemed to be stricter to their children.

Another significant feature all respondents agreed on was the unwillingness of Czech people to interfere. Some thought it was associated with the formal and polite behaviour in public. While it was regarded positively in certain areas by some, it was generally disapproved, because it entailed lack of mutual interest and help in situations of distress, and lack of assertiveness and defending one’s rights.

Prague was prevailingly appreciated for general safety in the streets. However, the feeling of security was mostly not caused or helped by the presence of the police, whose attitude and behaviour was strongly criticized by the respondents: for pettiness, unhelpfulness and susceptiveness to bribery. Bribery was also mentioned in connection with the politicians and bureaucracy. On the other hand, some participants appreciated the flexibility of Czechs, compared with rigid following of rules for example in Britain, and their ability to come up with creative solutions to problems.

Some participants believed that there was greater freedom and tolerance of different appearance in the Czech Republic. While some of them praised that, some felt there should be more decency and social control in this respect. Unfortunately, some of the respondents with darker skin or Asian appearance have experienced encounters with skinheads and unacknowledged general racism. Respondents felt foreigners were in general not quite accepted in the Czech Republic, for language reasons or simply their ‘outside’ origin. In addition, one participant noted an enduring negative perception of the Russians. Nevertheless, another participant pointed out that the situation might change as the Czech Republic hosts more foreigners and Czech children get used to mixed collectives from a very young age. Thus, not only knowledge, but also practical experience with intercultural communication will improve.

A few participants noticed that Czechs show great appreciation for education and their culture. Some have also considered the level of general knowledge as higher than in their home countries. Other observations regarded Czechs’ love of sales and things given for free, or their generally relaxed approach to life.

All in all, despite not feeling quite included or integrated in the Czech society, most of the respondents managed to adapt. Those who felt their cultural background, personality or lifestyle were irreconcilable with the Czech reality might have actually already left the country (such as the Indian, Australian, or one of the Americans). As the Indian respondent complained, foreigners in the Czech Republic are required to adjust, but what about the Czechs? "If they would have at least tried to understand that this is a person from a different culture, that they have different thinking of certain things and try to adjust...”

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