EVERY CULTURE has special elements which the rest of the world might learn from. Here’s what The Czech Republic can teach us.
1. Baby-talk for everyone
Like all Slavic languages, because there are diminutives for most words, the Czech language has many opportunities for sounding cute. In English, we settle for just a few diminutives, such as doggy, kitty, cutie. In Czech, the scope is much wider. For example, you can figure out exactly how much someone likes you by which version of your name they use. Katerina becomes — in increasing order of friendless — Katka, Káča, Kačenka. This linguistic practice also works with surnames — Senlac becomes Sedláček, Novák becomes Nováček.
It may not be obvious to a foreigner how having a cute word for apple (Jablíčko, rather than Jablko) is culturally important, but it becomes clear when you’ve lived in the country long enough. In practice, “cute” is a source of humor, warmth, and creativity, which gives grown Czech’s the chance to be children again — if only for a few seconds.
2. No shoes inside. Ever.
Czechs believe shoes are for outside. The outside is dirty, the inside is clean. As you stand outside a door, you’ll see a few (or many) shoes on the stoop. It is also rude to go barefoot, but your host will rescue you with a pair of sandals. It’s so sensible that I really wonder why anyone ever walked into a house with their shoes on —
what could possibly be gained by a dirty interior? And you can easily locate the biggest party in town — look for the house with the biggest pile of shoes outside the door.
3. Uvidíme and można
These words, literally “We will see,” and “Maybe,” both mean no. If asked to go somewhere you don’t want to go, by switching to the first-person plural (and in the future, no less) relieves you of responsibility for showing up. If you really don’t want to do something, put together a string of the terms: “no, uvidime, uvidime, no, mozna, mozna.” (“No” here means yes). This amps up the possibility that you aren’t going to come — but you can’t be blamed.
4. Chatař and chlalupář
The ‘ř’ in both these words signifies something not possible to pronounce (described as like saying ‘r’, and ‘zh’ — simultaneously), but the prospect of being a chatař or chalupář isn’t so threatening. A chatař is a person who has a chata; a chalupář has a chalupa. A chata is a small wooden cottage; a chapu is a little bigger, usually made of a stone-wood combo. Multitudes of both exist, since under communism, ‘staycations’ — unlike travel abroad — didn’t come with a prison sentence attached.
The best thing is, you don’t need to buy either dwelling — you probably already have one. They’re typically passed down the generations and shared among siblings and relations. Your chata/chalupa is where you go to escape from the city, not just for summer, but every weekend.
5. Na houby (mushroom-picking)
Only in The Czech Republic is mushroom-picking considered a national sport. Czech wisdom has it that, while all mushrooms are edible, some are only edible once. I believe that you have to succeed at mushroom-picking. I walked through a forest for five hours and I found one mushroom. A Czech expert is able to find enough mushrooms on a single day’s jaunt to be dried to last the year. You know that you’re in a Czech house when there are big glass jars, one for each mushroom type, dominating the kitchen shelves.
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