Now that I have been in the Czech Republic for 3 full weeks, there are many cultural differences that have been brought to my attention. Czech people behave much differently than Americans, enjoy different foods, and have different beliefs from most people in Nebraska.
One of the first things I noticed when I walked onto a tram for the first time was how reserved most Czech people are. We are by far the loudest people around, even when we’re just having casual conversations with one another. I was also told that Americans have a much wider smile than Europeans overall. It makes me a little homesick when I realize how friendly and open people are back in Nebraska. The Czech Republic isn’t a place where you go cruising down the road and give the passing car the “one-fingered wave.” However, I have found that once you strike up a conversation with a Czech person, most of the time they are very nice and friendly.
One factor that may contribute to this feeling of detachment from others could be the recent liberation from the communist regime in 1989. In one of our history classes, we learned how most people in the Czech Republic feel easily victimized because of their rough history with both Nazi and communist control. I can understand where it would be difficult to trust others when the place you call “home” used to be so unstable. This may explain why the majority of Czech people do not support today’s refugee crisis.
As I have been learning more about the Czech culture through my surroundings, it was interesting to hear about what life was like during the communist regime. One of our professors talked about his experience as a student during this time. He explained how hard it was to purchase a simple used car or take a vacation to a nearby country. He also mentioned how much propaganda was present in the school system, and most students were easily manipulated. Despite this hardship, you could tell how passionate and proud he was when he talked about the student protests that eventually led to the liberation from the Soviet Union. To this day, he still celebrates the day when the last of the Soviet soldiers left Olomouc. Fortunately, the Czech Republic is starting to improve as an established democracy. This is reflected in the way the younger generations behave, in which they are much less reserved than the older generations.
As for the beliefs in the Czech Republic, most people report themselves as agnostic, which is much different from our heavy Christian population in Nebraska. The decline of Christianity can be linked back to the beginning of World War I, in addition to the occupation of Nazi and Soviet forces later in the 20th century. Again, it is interesting to see how so much of their recent history has impacted their culture. Although the census reports such a low percentage of Christians, one of our Czech professors said this may be underreported because people like to keep their beliefs to themselves. We have visited many Catholic churches from the 13th and 14th centuries that are still in use and I have also seen crucifixes in multiple restaurants and shops.
Another cultural characteristic that is quite different from the United States is their type of food and drink. While Olomouc seems to have a little bit of everything, from Italian pasta to Mexican food, you can still find traditional Czech food almost anywhere. They eat a lot more chicken, pork, and duck, which is usually paired with dumplings. They offer hamburgers in some places, but I must say I’m already excited for a high-quality Nebraska burger when I get home! While in Prague, we discovered a delicious pastry filled with ice-cream called a trdelník. You can top it with Nutella, strawberries, and whipped cream. And then 20 minutes later, you can get your daily dose of gelato. (I may have to hit the gym when I get home after all of this!).
In addition to the yummy food, the Czechs LOVE their pivo (meaning “beer” in Czech). It is, after all, much cheaper than still water (as opposed to sparkling, which is gross by the way). It is common to order a pivo with a meal and then again in the evening with friends as a social outing. Even Erasmus, the foreign exchange program, arranges many events that involve pivo. It is much different from our culture where the legal drinking age is 21 and alcohol is highly discouraged. But no need to worry about my liver, my actual drink of choice is káva (meaning coffee). Since there is no Starbucks in sight, I am getting used to the simple lattes and cappuccinos that are made in the local cafes. They are much less sugary and most places don’t offer additional flavorings like caramel or vanilla. You also pay for more foam than liquid, but you get a pretty design on top so I can’t complain too much.
Despite these differences, Czech people and Americans share a similar taste in music. It’s almost funny to me that only a small portion of the population can speak English, but yet almost everywhere you go, people are playing our music from back home! I noticed this even when I was in Ireland that Europeans still really like American music from the late 90s and early 2000s.
The fashion here is also very similar to how we dress in America. It’s mostly casual, with jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. I was prepared to dress way nicer since I was told that Americans always look like slobs. But I actually feel like I fit in here! However, I might have to prepare myself to dress a little nicer when we visit Vienna and Venice next week.
Sorry, this may have been a longer post than intended, but I applaud you for making it this far. There is just so much that goes into Czech culture and I have enjoyed linking it back to what we have learned in our history classes. Until next time, that is all! Enjoy these pictures from my lovely weekend in Znojmo, Czech Republic!