The AmeriCzech Dream - Introduction

Introduction to Sinclair Nicholas' "The AmeriCzech Dream" Staff

Written by Staff Published on 26.01.2006 14:27:50 (updated on 26.01.2006) Reading time: 7 minutes

Written by Sinclair Nicholas
Re-published with permission

There are certain gestures that all people of a specific nation have in common. Strangely, sometimes two nations´ people can appear to say the same word and yet use opposite gestures. For example, an American says “No,” and shakes his head, whereas a Czech says, “No,” and nods his head (the Czech “no” is a shortened, colloquial form of “ano,” meaning “yes,” it is like an American saying “yeah”). It took me a very long time to get used to saying “No,” as I nodded my head.

It made me feel insane or schizophrenic for several months. I would say “No,” meaning the Czech “Yes,” and shake my head with an English gesture of “No,” then I would have to do it all over again and nod my head with an English “Yes” as I said what was identical to the English word for “No.” I had never in all my life said “No” with a nod of my head, so it did not come easy to me, especially since I had such a very strong association with shaking my head whenever I said that sound “No;” but, now I never get confused in this particular problem, and am completely comfortable with both gestures, depending upon which language I am speaking. I hope this example fundamentally indicates that a person who comes to speak two different languages, and understands the cultures affixed to these languages, can operate normally within either society once he gets accustomed to doing so.

Another example of nationally specific gestures is the way a Czech and an American each counts with his fingers. A Czech starts with the thumb to designate one, then uses his index finger for two, then the middle finger, then the ring finger, then the small finger he uses to symbolize the number five. An American starts with the index finger to designate one, then uses the middle finger for two, then the ring finger, then the small finger, then the thumb he uses to symbolize the number five. So the Czech uses the thumb for the first number and the American uses the thumb for the last number; that seems to me how far apart, sometimes, the American and Czech ways of thinking can be, and I hope to illustrate that in the following chapters.

Unlike the use of the counting fingers, many other hand and facial gestures within a nation carry an attitude, a way of reacting towards or thinking about any given situation. Gestures are like outward physical manifestations of national character- a certain Czech shrug of the shoulders, or hands extended palms upward to suggest futility, a certain sweep of the hand to indicate all that follows, or a great many other small, specific hand and facial gestures Czechs frequently use, but Americans rarely or never use. Americans have other gestures that suggest a different psychology or way of thinking. Language itself (as well as the association between words and meanings within the language, and the intonations of the language) also shapes the character and thinking of a people, as does also, of course, a nation´s history; all of these influences on a society cause a collective personality or what might be called, “national character.” Although the passionate Italian and the dry-humoured Brit are stereotypes, there is yet some truth in these stereotypes and, as long as we are not discriminatory towards these nations, then defining the details within a stereotype can help us to be more tolerant towards other nations. Of course not every American fits the national character of America and not every Czech fits the description of the Czech national character, but far more people do fit the description than those who do not. I believe there really does exist “national character,” I believe this because I can see that Czechs (in general) think and behave in a different way than Americans think and behave. Living each day for many years among Czechs, particularly learning the Czech language, has shaped a large part of my adult self; consequently, there is something Czech about my own personality and identity.

I know myself and can sense my Czech self sharing space with my American self. They seem to get along fine most of the time. This integration of an individual´s personality into a different national character gives the person a stronger sense of cultural relativity that I believe makes for a less ethnocentric person. When I can more clearly understand some of the typical American and Czech ways of thinking, I can prevent cultural conflicts from occurring; also, it seems easier to forgive other individuals when we understand them.

In a documentary on Czech television I once saw some Chinese college students speaking Czech; they had lived in Czechia since they were infants. When I listened to them and watched them speaking Czech, they seemed so obviously Czech that only a member of the far right would miss or ignore this truth. At first it seemed a little strange to see an Asian girl speak and act just like a Czech girl, but then I realized I am no different. Also, I realized I am quite used to seeing Asian people speak and act just like Americans (since that is exactly what these Asian Americans are). Those Asian Czechs used a body language and attitude, as they spoke, that made them seem completely Czech, it was a personality that came out of their effortless knowledge of Czech and their lifelong immersion in Czech culture. I feel Czech and so do they, we know we are part Czech, even if other Czechs oftentimes have trouble understanding that.

We are all actors at some time; a good actor becomes the role he is playing. When speaking Czech, I think and act like a Czech, it´s natural (the best English speaking Czechs I have met also seem to act like an American or a Brit, it is an integral part of their fluency). Becoming fluent in another language and culture makes a person change. He or she necessarily becomes someone else if living abroad and assimilating into a different culture. An immigrant respects and observes a completely different set of customs and traditions until it is habitual, subconscious, a part of who he or she is. Of course we never leave our old selves behind, but we change in a way that makes us either partly American or partly Czech, or neither completely American nor completely Czech, however you wish to look at it. Just as a Czech immigrant becomes Westernized from spending many years of his life in America, an American immigrant becomes Easternized by living in the Czech Republic for many years. If a person has not lived for many years in another culture, it makes it more difficult for that person to understand the ideas in this book, but I believe it is nevertheless possible and I have tried to give a lot of direct situations and examples from my experiences to help illustrate my ideas and opinions. I hope this will not only help the reader understand the cultural and social ideas herein, but will also make this book more interesting to read.

I know an American- I meant a Czech, but he is so American from living in America for twenty years that I accidentally said, “I know an American…,” but he is an American, has American citizenship and a personality that seems far more American to me than Czech. He does not like to hear that he acts like an American because he is proud of being Czech, but I think he has less in common with a Czech mentality than I do.

Americans meet him and consider him a happy, successful American, which one could argue is exactly what he is. I am no different than that Czech/American. I have become an American/Czech. After fourteen years of repeating my role, playing my Czech character, speaking that character´s language and idioms, counting with my thumb first and saying “No” with a nod, it has come to the point that it is no longer a role or a character, but has become a part of who I am. The rest herein is basically about what makes one a Czech or an American, it is an attempt to discover what is negative and what is positive about these two national characters within me by allowing them to describe each other and themselves simultaneously.

About the Author:
Sinclair Nicholas washed up on the right bank of the Vltava as part of that first and biggest expat wave that was driven by the Czechoslovakian Velvet Revolution. In "91 he began teaching Czech children to speak English at an elementary school. At that time, due to so many questions from some of his teenaged students (questions like, "How is different, Mr. Teacher, between "fuck off," "fuck up" and "fuck over?"") Sinclair began writing scurrilous phrasal verbs in a notebook, which evolved into his first and most infamous book, Wang Dang American Slang. The book was printed in 1992 with a first printing of 40,000 copies; He used the royalties from American Slang to start his publishing house, WD Publications, and spent the next decade writing and publishing many more of his own books ( has all titles as well as an online ordering system).

His latest book, The AmeriCzech Dream, is currently available only as a Czech translated version (you can get it at Luxor), but he will publish the original English manuscript sometime this year (likely this fall). However, we have some of his original, as-yet unpublished chapters available right here at– in fact, these original English chapters are not available anywhere else except at this website, so we hope you enjoy the unique reading opportunity.

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