Expats

Mr. Nicholas' discourse on expatriates

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 26.01.2006 20:21:58 (updated on 26.01.2006) Reading time: 34 minutes

Written by Sinclair Nicholas
Re-published with permission

I must be honest and admit that I enjoyed being the unique American when I first came to Czechoslovakia. Maybe I deserve to feel like I will never be accepted by Czech society since it offered me so many privelages and advantages (for simply being American) in the first years of living here. Or perhaps it is not a matter of deserving or not deserving, but rather understanding the situation: Before the revolution there was a handful of Americans living here, most of whom were a little too sympathetic towards Communism for my tastes, but most Czechs never met these few Americans, and only in Prague (or perhaps Brno) could a Czech even expect to meet an American. Thus, immediately after the revolution there was great enthusiasm among most Czechs towards Americans because they had never met one, so for a Czech it was a bit like meeting a Martian. If I were to meet a Martian, I would extend the maximum of hospitality so that the Martian would have a positive impression of the human race and also of my nation, plus I would naturally feel it a unique opportunity to have a cup of coffee or a shot of rum with a Martian.

However, if I started seeing and hearing Martians quite frequently on the street, as well as Mercurians and Jupiterians and Plutonians, I would begin to get used to them, then they would no longer seem so special. I might even start to resent their presence and feel like aliens were invading my country, especially if I had never experienced such waves of immigrants flooding in, which was the case for Czechs (this is not America where waves of immigrants built the entire nation in the first place). It is like a pendulum that is at first too far swung to the right, then it has to balance out by swinging too far to the left, so perhaps this unique and special welcome towards me (the pendulum, with its momentum, was at its maximum right) gradually turned into far less friendliness than a Czech might offer towards another Czech (the pendulum has now swung the furthest left with its momentum- at least I hope to the furthest left). If I could be picked out for special treatment, then I could also be picked out for discriminatory treatment. But at first I did not consider this, and of course enjoyed all the preferential treatment of those early years.

I was the only American in my small Czech town, and everybody wanted to meet me, I felt special and enjoyed that feeling. Perhaps I was suffering from the Dean Reed syndrome (that American who went to East Germany and became the Elvis of the East), Dean Reed was the Communist Party´s token American and he lived like a king. Back in America, he probably would have been a teacher or perhaps a factory worker, but in Eastern Europe he was able to cash in solely on his being an American. So Americans, before the revolution and in the years shortly after the revolution, often experienced special treatment from doctors, company directors or other Czechs who held positions of influence. A nationally known politician and his wife picked me up from the airport, although at the time I did not know he was a well-known politician. It was the same several other times when I met famous Czechs, they were unknown to me at the time; but I have met quite a few famous Czechs, whereas in America I would not meet any of America´s luminaries.

I remember once I was at a small party of a few Czech friends in an apartment right on the Vltava river, and I looked across the balcony and there was Havel standing there watching us have our little party. I was too shy to say hello, and maybe he just wanted to smoke his cigarette peacefully on his balcony and not be bothered. He wasn´t surrounded with security back then, the way Presidents usually are, it was all still quite informal and everyone was still feeling a bit like undergrounders who could finally walk freely on the street; the famous folks sat in the pubs like the rest of us normal citizens, and I found that pleasant and unique. I am kind of sad that this mentality has ended, and that now every TV personality or known artist goes only to these exclusive parties where everyone is concerned with how they are dressed and a photographer takes everyone´s pictures. The photos end up in one of several Czech celebrity magazines that give the latest gossip about all the big Czech stars. But, I have a different perspective on this: a big Czech star like Helena Vondračkova could walk down any street in America and would look like some old lady who has had her wrinkles surgically removed, and who looks as though she is trying too hard to look young by wearing youthfully fashionable clothes. The biggest Czech singer, Karel Gott, would look like some cheesy rich grandpa who also has had his wrinkles surgically removed (which is even worse since he is a man). Fame, money, and materialism is shallow in the right light. The great vanity of the human race shall keep marching with us to the grave. This thought always gives me a sense of reality about fame and fortune, even for big Hollywood stars. Many of these stars are quite cognizant of their normality, they recognize that they are like the rest of us “normal” people, but the rest of society has a tendency to forget this, and thus a star is born. We make them stars by considering them as better or above us, and they often end up in their own star-sized problems as a result of this.

Back then, because of one of the early books I wrote, I was interviewed on national television, as have been other Americans for one accomplishment or another; a few are on Czech TV or in Czech magazines today. This is mainly because they are Americans who have found some comfortable niche in Czech society- most often in music, television or theater. I see nothing wrong in that, if being American helps them to get work that they enjoy, or helps them get their talent recognized, then they are fortunate. It is not different than Arnold Schwarzenegger finding his niche in Hollywood (but damn, does fame as an actor have to translate into political victories?). Arnold was an interesting looking foreigner, Mr. Universe, who eventually cashed in on his foreignness. So have many other Hollywood actors who came from England, France, Italy, Russia, Cz, etc.

But that was not the reason why I came to Czechoslovakia, even if I did feel a slight (silly and, also at times, uncomfortable) sense of stardom or fame once I got here; that was just an unexpected situation. I would never have come if I had not felt excitement over Czechs overthrowing a totalitarian regime. I missed that feeling of “power to the people” in America since I was an infant in the late sixties, but suddenly in 1989 I saw a movement that very much reminded me of the feeling that must have existed in America for a short time in the late sixties. All those individual members of society were bravely and happily standing together, not organized by institutions or governments, but organized quite naturally as brothers and sisters of humankind. I have no doubt that back in 1989 Czechs had a pleasant and impowering feeling that individuals could come together and truly effect change. It also seemed to me that the Czechs´ new democracy would be closer to my sense of democratic ideals, that citizens would actively participate for many years to insure that their democracy remained healthy. They would have caring politicians, like Havel, who were conscientious in their civic duties towards their fellow citizens, it would be a real “people´s government,” that is what I imagined as I watched those crowds protesting and chanting with their dissident playwright leader literally being carried on their shoulders.

Their euphoric feeling rubbed off on me. I wanted to live in a society that was not lethargic or manipulated by the government or the media, a society that was controlling its government rather than its government controlling it.

I have never been an anarchist; even as a teenager I recognized the impossibility of a society being stable and existing peacefully without a government, but I have always believed very fervently in the United States constitution, I mean in the way that people like Thomas Jefferson envisioned it, which meant citizens´ voices should be heard the way their voices were heard in America in the 1960´s. I am sure that many African Americans felt euphoria as they participated in the Civil Rights movement and forced a change for the better. But such movements had long passed, and America had long been in a different social phase. The American people had once again allowed their government to do whatever it desired as long as its actions did not bother Americans too much. Political apathy set in. In America, I only saw scoundrels coming out of scandals smelling like roses, and this very deeply frustrated me, yet how could I make millions of Americans demand the resignation of those liars and scoundrels if most Americans had been duped into believing these same criminals were national heroes. I tell you plainly they were not. The National Security Council never did what it did for Jeffersonian reasons, the members were in reality working for “The Company” which had its own selfish and greedy interests to serve, which were not in the interest of the American people (except for maybe a few extremely rich stockholders). The ignorance and gullibility of the average American deeply disappointed me, and the American government disgusted me. I suppose I was not patient enough and did not believe things would change for the better. But when I look at America today, I see that it has not improved, another Bush lying for the oil, another war. I still have no reason to believe that honest, good guys will ever win. It is the way of the world.

I was this young idealist who was sickened to see the way Americans took for granted their own democracy, I was heartsick and angry to see how very little influence the average American had over his or her own government, and worse, how little they actually cared to have any influence. Or perhaps they thought being a patriot and loving America was enough. What upset me the most was seeing those White House criminals get away with Iran-Contra: weapons to Iran, money for other weapons in Nicaragua, cocaine flown back to Florida, an atrocious triangle of drugs, guns and money operating right out of the White House in collaboration with the CIA. It did not even matter to me any longer whether they were fighting “Communism” or not, the fact of the matter was that they broke U.S. law, they felt above the law and consistently lied to Americans or else behaved as though Americans did not need to know anything. Elitist Federalists. I felt sure that the U.S. government did not care about its own people and was nothing more than a big business oligarchy that controlled the biggest army in the world and seemed to frequently exploit weaker nations around the world (particularly throughout South America); history does, and will increasingly, document that that is much closer to historical reality than the lies about “fighting Communism” that the U.S. government always fed American citizens.

Europe tried to put the military dictator, General Pinochet (Chile), on trial for crimes against humanity, but did Americans know how he got into power? No they did not, but the facts are there to read if Americans cared enough to do so. The CIA and the U.S. government had once again viciously interfered in the democratic affairs of a legitimate democracy, in this instance Chile. I suppose you could call me a young radical, but if that is what a person is named for wanting to know the truth, then so be it, because if all Americans knew the truth, and were concerned about what their government is up to, then it wouldn´t be called “radicalism,” but rather “political activism,” or even “patriotism.” This is why I disagree with the popular American mentality that political activists are generally “radicals.” Rather, I think of political activists as the best Americans, the ones who make the effort to do their patriotic duty as U.S. citizens, and it doesn´t even matter to me if I disagree with their particular opinions or agenda, I still respect them for bothering to perform their civic duty. I suppose Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr. were also “radicals.” Our nation was created by such “radicals,” and now the society seeks to conform, to salute the flag and let the government do as it wishes, as though it is not of, for and by us?

Also, at that time I had experienced firsthand the fascist treatment one could expect for exercising one´s basic American constitutional rights when arrested (evidently they thought I did not have the right to remain silent, though I maintain until this moment I did and always will possess that inalienable right). I experienced a police state mentality on American soil (with money usually keeping those good citizens out of contact with it), and violent acts of suppression often initiated by the U.S. government in those weaker countries outside American soil. I have a tendency to live by my ideals, which I do not consider a bad quality. My ideals and beliefs about democracy are real and worthy, they are identical to the U.S. constitution. I suppose back in the late eighties, as a young idealistic student, I was a bit angry and disillusioned that the political and humanist ideals of the U.S. constitution were not the reality of how America operated. Where was that 1960´s philosophy of power to the people? It had disappeared, mass political activism in America no longer existed. It still does not exist. The only place I saw people, individual citizens gathering together with a strong sense of solidarity and a positive common purpose, was in Prague with Havel leading a people´s revolution. I was excited by the idea of going to a country where the people had stood together and forced their government to change.

Many years later I am just as disillusioned with Czech society and government as I was with American society and government; but, I suspect that a lot of the early expats came to Czechoslovakia for reasons like mine. They felt disillusioned with American society, they thought coming here would help them overcome their disillusionment, and it actually has helped me overcome my own disillusion. Now that I understand the inherent problems of all democracies, I have also come to realize that, even if I am only one man, my job in a democracy is to try and at least make a small difference for the better, regardless of whether I am living in America or in the Czech Republic. It is no longer my concern whether other Americans or Czechs feel apathetic or lethargic towards their civic duties, I am now only concerned with my own personal responsibilities in making these countries better places to live for all the individuals living within them. But, to make my point, idealistic sociopolitical euphoria was one of the biggest reasons I came to Czechoslovakia.

Another reason that expats are attracted to a place like Prague is that a certain type of American is more interested in adventure and new experiences than money. They feel a yearning to see the world and learn about other countries and cultures. They are frequently students who have an inherent instinct to leave America so that they can come to understand their own country better. Life is short and some Americans want to gain the richest experience that they can while they are living their small alotment of years on earth. They can see the big picture. They do not care about getting rich as much as they care about getting rich experience. These are my favorite Americans because they seem more awake and interested in life, they are nearly always quite intelligent, and they are wise enough to know they will be happier riding on an old Prague streetcar than driving a brand new Ford to a job which they do not like. The idea of living a normal American life seems boring to them; far more interesting is to go to some land where nothing is known, which is like exploring a new planet. My guess is that the largest portion of expats in the Czech Republic are exactly these kinds of adventurers. They know that to step outside their own culture and enter into an entirely different culture gives them a lot of opportunities for self discovery, and it gives them more insight into the society from which they came. As long as I lived in America, I could not see into America from an outside, more objective point of view. I knew leaving America was the only feasible way to get it under a microsope. I also knew this feeling would haunt me as long as I lived as a normal American who had never lived elsewhere in the world. I could feel my ignorance and blindness, even if I did not completely understand it. That´s called having an inkling, and this inkling led me abroad.

To me, the top of American culture is the university scene. There are interesting lectures and independent films and documentaries, a community of thinkers concentrated in one area, there are great underground type bands as well as Jazz greats who don´t have enough mass public support to play anywhere but college venues or big city clubs, there are all the students from other countries to meet and befriend, there is an environment of open-minded learning, and also the strongest feelings of political activism centers around universities in America. University life in America is a separate civilization from the rest of America, and I still greatly appreciate all those university towns; they are something like a compromise between the American and European ways of life. I can see that now, but halfway through my college years I decided to stop studying because I did not know why I was in school in the first place. I had been going to school since kindergarten and had never really stopped to consider why, and anyway I had no idea what I wished to major in, I only knew what I did not wish to major in, like not business and not mathematics, not sociology and not philosophy, not accounting or economics, so what did I wish to major in? It all seemed interesting, but not enough for me to dedicate my life to one particular, specialized area.

I quit my studies and moved with nothing but a backpack of clothes and a bicycle (this is also what I brought to Cz) to Florida since it seemed like an American semi-tropical paradise, and so it was, geographically, but once I had entered normal American society I slowly began to realize just how culturally bankrupt it actually was. It was an entirely different world than the world of academics, there was only work and nothing much besides, no community of enthusiastic thinkers, the real world was about making a living in whatever way necessary, and all of the people around me, even the young whom I met, did their daily job for money and then went home and watched TV, or perhaps went to a bar some evenings, but that community sense of education and culture was definitely absent in the larger American society outside those ivy walls of academia. Outside universities, America operates like mediocre, whitebread TV, which seemed boring. The best part about living in Florida was my frequent bike trips and swimming in the ocean, but I got to know Florida´s Eastern coast quite thoroughly, then the magic of being in a new landscape wore off and I realized I could be in any city of America and it would be very similar, so I finally went back to school. Was there anything more interesting beyond the somewhat artificial reality of an American university? If there was something, I had not yet found it.

All of those students would eventually get their diplomas and have to get jobs and leave the academic community, unless they stayed within academics all of their lives, but this also seemed like it would be living in an illusion, just a bunch of dissertations and theories that did not relate to the real world so much, either. So the choice seemed to be that I stay in that artificial world of American academics, where I really could not learn much more without becoming a clueless pundit and a specialized egghead, or enter what seemed the far less interesting world of normal American society which surrounds those small islands of culture and education. Then I saw one more choice: go see the big wide world that lay just past those American borders.

I saw the revolution happening all over Eastern Europe, and my interest was sparked. I obtained a contact address to a Czech school through one of my professors who had, for some reason, been in contact with the Czechoslovakian ministry of education, and I wrote a letter expressing interest in teaching in Czechoslovakia. They wrote back, in more or less understandable English, that they would pay me a monthly salary but I would have to pay the airfare (which was as much as the total year of pay from them). I calculated that I would be paid enough to barely survive; but, as I said, this was not about money, it was about not feeling bored with life. I felt excited that I would soon depart for this far away land of great mystery, a country with one of the longest names and strangest spellings in the English language. It sounded very eczotic to me, and that sounded promising.

It occurred to me that, even if some other country had the similar situation as what I experienced in Florida (where people basically worked and went home), the fact that it would be in a land where people spoke an entirely different language and thought in a lot of ways quite different than the American mind, and would be a place with a very long and mysterious history with a shockingly different culture, then I would feel quite stimulated by the challenge of learning that new language and learning about that utterly foreign culture. And this really was the case. For many years I felt the genuine enthusiasm that a tourist feels in an exotic land. Also, the country had so many rapid and exciting changes ocurring that it was almost like going back in time whenever I returned to visit America (change was much slower in comparison). The Czech Republic was a place of great interest for me; I may have been quite exotic to Czechs, but they were just as exotic to me, so I did not feel bored or as though life was about making money and watching TV. Life was about learning how to communicate, and about understanding the nation´s past, present and future. I was fascinated and preoccupied with understanding how this radically different, post-communist society operated.

*****

Another experience I hesitate to mention since it seems a little too fantastic, but will write about it since it is entirely the truth, was my feeling as the airplane first touched down at the Prague airport. The moment that plane touched the ground I felt this overwhelming sense of having come home, to a place that held my future, and somehow my past as well, as though this place described the whole of my life up to this point. It was an incredible feeling as I whispered to myself, “I am home.” I had no expectation or idea that I would experience such a feeling, but it really was so, although the feeling quite confused me since it seemed to make no sense, logically. It turned out to be true, since I have made this my home and do feel at home here, but of course I had no way of knowing that, so I still wonder about that feeling to this day.

There were other reasons, some of which I began writing about years back when I first arrived:


I stood on King Charles´ bridge one chilled spring day, a nipping breeze blew that made me feel so young and alive, I looked across the river at the majestic castle that overlooks the city, and felt wonder. I looked along the river and saw the opera houses and theaters (in one opera house I had gone to see Don Giovani in the very hall where the opera first premiered centuries ago, and as the orchestra played I closed my eyes and felt the spirit of Mozart dancing with the sound of divinity and perfection, like a symphonic voice that spoke for all of humanity, his genius seemed to echo through the centuries as though he were still standing there, wildly and joyfully waving his baton). I watched the swans in the river below, and a few old fishermen sitting motionless in their little boats as they slowly floated downstream, waiting on a fish to bite, or perhaps just pondering the light playing in the waves; the cold wind bit my cheeks just right as I felt the deep course of European history flowing through me like the Vltava River flows through the heart of Prague, and I suddenly knew why I had come, why I felt home, why I felt lost and overcome with a peculiar mix of deep sorrow and joy- sorrow for having lost my country and joy that I could feel united to humankind through such a grand city. The feeling cost me deeply, but I loved life in that moment. The feeling was pure. I had sought this out, discovered it, and it was mine.

If Prague were a woman she would be Helen of Troy, a woman some armies have fought to possess while other armies fought to defend; she is a majestic queen the likes of which cannot be found in the New World; one can spend many years and yet always discover something previously unknown, some small cobblestone alley that leads to some dead end of history that is yet worth stopping to ponder and appreciate. The feeling of seeing the deeper roots of human history is everywhere to be sensed in such a city as Prague. I have now been to many other European cities, Amsterdam or Barcelona or Venice or Vienna or Budapest, yet Prague still remains closest to my heart. I cannot exactly say why, perhaps it is just a feeling of admiration and adoration, who can say why one man thinks a woman most beautiful while another man does not recognize or see that beauty? My eye beheld her beauty, and still beholds it. Perhaps I have always had the feeling that European culture is strongest in this city, that Czechs are very serious about their culture, they are dedicated to their writing and painting and music and puppet shows and plays; Communism seems more like it was just a temporary interruption of this centuries-old habit of loving and patronizing Bohemian arts and sciences. And even during Communism, some of the best artists continued their work in the underground or outside their own country. Even the buildings survived all the senseless Socialist cement so that, in spite of having been forced down a few wrong historical turns, Prague nevertheless speaks clearly about its thousand year reign as a throne of civilization. Prague has deep mystery and romance. Maybe these Americans who end up staying in Prague for good are artists and romantics at heart, and in Prague they find visually what they seek their lives to be about.

The only problem that occurs after many of these expats have come to the Czech Republic is that they actually do not enter Czech society very much. They do the club scene and have a real good time, but if these expats wish to live here longterm, then this socializing and clubbing can be counterproductive. They end up being a part of the Prague expat scene. They make many young Czech friends, but have these Americans noticed they are usually speaking English with them? These Czech friends are entering your expat world (where their English improves until it becomes the best in the country), but you are far less entering their Czech world. You would be better off to force them to teach you Czech since you are living here. Many American expats do not earnestly try to learn the Czech language (it is such a difficult language that I understand the unwillingness to even begin) and they do not come to understand, more deeply, Czech society and its quite interesting history. More importantly, many of these expats never manage to really enter Czech society even at the ground level (where they will discover some unpleasant realities). They end up viewed by the Czech managers and students whom they teach English as “foreigners,” they remain in an isolated bubble that is the expat community, similar to the lost generation that was an expat community of Americans in Paris. The Paris lost generation never became half French in their souls or personalities, they became lost Americans, which is probably why they are known as the lost generation.

Most expats in the Czech Republic never really think about or perceive the world in a Czech way. Perhaps many have no desire to do so, they never get past their own ethnocentric view of Czech culture, but I began to earnestly search for and recognize my own ethnocentric thinking and always desired to learn more. I began to discover all those blind presumptions I make as an American, and I began to discover all the blind presumptions Czechs make as Czechs. It was an education I could not get from a university, but it seemed just as important to me. This is why I felt very fortunate to end up in a small town outside Prague. To this day I am not part of the expat scene of Prague, and that is probably why I can speak Czech and can understand much about Czech society. I entered it, struggled with it for many years, and can now write about life in this country with a point of view that understands Czechs (certainly not completely, but…).

All of the other writing I have read by expat Americans, with the exception of a few very interesting books by American expats who were here years before the revolution (and who have quite unique things to say about pre-revolution Czechoslovakia), seem like they are American writers who place their values and make their judgements from an obviously American point of view. They are here but they exist on the outermost fringe of Czech society and are isolated from the realities of Czech society. It is difficult to write about Czech society if you do not understand it. This is like a Czech writing about American society because he was on vacation there for a few weeks. Of course he will describe everything from a Czech point of view. A Czech must learn to think like an American in order to more accurately write about Americans. I was once at a party of expats and, after a few drinks, said to an acquaintance next to me, “These expats around us do not have any idea as to where they really are.” They could not see Czech society the way I suddenly saw it, or the way I saw those expats from my Czech point of view.

I had momentarily looked at them through my Czech eye, and I felt this sudden understanding that a great many expats actually knew very little about what Czech culture, language and society is; they seemed comfortable in their circle of acquaintances, but through my Czech eye I could see that this community was precariously connected to that larger society surrounding them. They were complete outsiders, and any cultural bridge was more from the Czech side crossing over to them than they actually crossing over to it. They weren´t really living with the Czechs, even if they lived among them. My Czech eye viewed them as weak and powerless, a vulnerable group of outsiders. That may seem cruel and heartless to an American, perhaps even unfriendly, but that is what my instinctive Czech eye saw, which indicates to me that this is how the average Czech would perceive this group of foreigners. This also reminded me of that Czech teacher who played the old vinyl record for me (the sound effects tour of America) and thought she knew America. Likewise, I could not hand these American expats my vision of what the Czech Republic is; it takes years and an earnest effort in order to see and understand the world from what I would describe as a Czech point of view, which is quite different than an American point of view. For one thing, there is usually much more complication and unpleasant detail in arriving at any opinion (which has a tendency to constantly shift ever so slightly- even the way Czechs write and speak has a tendency to be open-ended and prepared to alter if necessary), but such an inclination can be quite useful. At least Czechs don´t make the mistake of oversimplifying anything. The Czech mentality is also far from naďve.

During my first few years, I actually did not make much attempt to join Czech society (although I did immediately begin studying the language), and this aversion to becoming part of Czech society may be a feeling a lot of expats have at the beginning. I felt more freedom in being lost in between the two societies and all their institutions. I was not subject to American society, and I was not a part of Czech society, so I felt freer (a sense of having no obligations to anyone or anything), I did not much care what Czechs thought of me since I was an outsider. An interesting example of this was that, when I was in America playing guitar and singing I always felt somewhat fearful and never could completely let go of my social inhibitions so that I could really sing freely, but when I came to Czechoslovakia I found that I could let go and sing far more openly and freely, and I knew for certain it was because I was not attached to this society and I was not in American society. I stood alone and wasn´t worried about what societies or people thought about my behavior. This example I think points to what I am trying to explain about feeling more free by feeling that one is not a part of society. That is fine and good, except that if one wishes to live in a country indefinitely, then one eventually must make an effort to assimilate. It seems inevitable. I suppose nowadays I would be nervous once again if I were to play my guitar and sing (I haven´t actually done that for a long while). At least Czechs have a very strong tradition of playing their guitars and singing, especially at campfires. I think they have been referred to as a nation of musicians, which seems true. Perhaps this is better than the feeling one has as an American troubador. I now feel connected to Czech society, and I can think like a Czech (I even think or dream in the Czech language quite often).

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Thinking like a Czech cannot be arrived at by reading a few Kundera and Škvorecky books, nor can it be arrived at by reading this book, it is best arrived at by interacting in Czech society until one day, perhaps after several years, you realize you have changed, that you do not think completely like an American anymore, but you can´t quite describe all the little reasons why, it is hard to put one´s finger on and comes mysteriously. Much of it comes from wordless instincts, just like the American way of perceiving and thinking about the world. I hope I do not seem like some elitist know-it-all veteran expat in voicing the various opinions herein, I actually wish to cause expats to think about this issue and ask themselves whether they have been earnestly trying each day to assimilate into Czech culture. The first step is to start learning the language, one chair or table at a time. At some point you will probably feel angry, as I have felt, about being pushed out as a foreigner (this is especially unpleasant once you start feeling as though you belong), but that is a healthy sign, it means you are getting too close for the comfort of some Czechs; often (particularly in Prague), if you do a social transaction at a restaurant in English, you will meet the politeness reserved for tourists (though they might politely slide you an English menu with higher prices), but if you start speaking Czech, then you have become a different kind of foreigner for many Czechs, and you will receive less kindness because you are obviously one of the damned local foreigners (the kind who are taking good jobs or probably causing other problems for Czechs) but the more damned local foreigners there are the better, as far as I´m concerned. Eventually Czechs will start treating the local foreigners just as politely as they treat the foreign foreigners or, better yet, they will begin to treat them like their fellow Czechs; this occasional rejection is something I am sure we American immigrants will overcome- especially if you end up married to the entire situation, then you probably aren´t going anywhere very soon, so you´ll just have to resolve it one way or another, as I must. Maybe you can write a book about it to make yourself feel better (this seems to work, and I am sure you have many interesting experiences and ideas to write that I have not written, or maybe you can clear up some mistaken opinions or ideas I have written).

There are two types of Czech immigrants in America, one of which never becomes accomplished at thinking like an American. Eventually he or she gets tired of those silly, weird Americans and goes home to complain about them. This type of Czech immigrant is far less common than the other type who gradually is able to think like an American, and he or she comes to love the American way of life (though most of the Czechs who never immigrate think those emigrant Czechs went to America for the money, what else could it be?) That Americanized Czech will always miss something about Cz, at least some particular food that can´t be obtained in the U.S. (or good quality beer for cheap) though it could also be certain positive psychological tendencies of the Czech nation- maybe the Czech nation´s more relaxed attitude towards life. However, in practice I find myself sending my Czech/American brother-in-law good old slivovice. Apparently he has given it much thought and whittled it down to the absolute bare necessities of Czech existence. These immigrants integrate into American society and often never return to live permanently in the Czech Republic. They live out their lives like the rest of their fellow Americans; perhaps they plan to retire in Czechia, though just as often not.

The same can be said of Americans in the Czech Republic. There are those who slowly assimilate and those who are never able to leave their American selves behind for one moment. These Americans go home to complain about those silly, weird Czechs. In my first years here most Czechs, if they cared to know why I was living in their country, always asked me like I was making a big mistake, so that there was a tone in their question that seemed to be asking, “Why the hell would you want to settle here?” They were simply unable to see all the very good reasons that the Czech Republic is a truly interesting and pleasant country in which to live. No American asks a Czech immigrant that question, they assume a Czech comes to America because America is the greatest country in the world and the immigrant was lucky enough to get residency and eventually citizenship. They think the Czech immigrant has come from a country (it borders with Russia, doesn´t it?) where people stand in line all day to get a loaf of bread. But what if Americans are presuming something that is not true in all aspects (and certainly false as regards the bread line), and Czechs are also asking that same question negatively for reasons that are not true in all aspects? Maybe both countries are great places to live, and both countries are also bad places to live. Nowhere is paradise, that is how I see it, and how I have tried to describe my two beloved nations and societies. For the time being, it seems I prefer good beer and greasy food, both at a good price. But I am oversimplifying the case, the reasons I like this country can be found in other chapters.

Part of my attraction to the Czech Republic is also my awareness that, as a publisher of English language dictionaries and textbooks, I may indefinitely continue living my life as a very free individual (we Americans call it a “Bohemian” lifestyle). I can take off work on whatever nice day that I wish, or I can even take a few months off and vacation in America, while most people in both countries are too obligated to their employers to have that kind of freedom. Because I need as much personal freedom as possible in order to feel happy, I just might agree to living on the North Pole to avoid having a boss. That is partly how I ended up staying here. I was actually born and raised in a town called Independence, and so far in life I have lived up to that name; I am too old now to change my psychological habits, nor would I wish to change them since I am content with my life as it is (that is, as content as we malcontented humans are capable of being). Life will never be perfect since we do not live in fairy tales, but I have been very fortunate to love my work and make a living at it thus far; I deeply and dearly hope I keep getting by as a writer and publisher, one year after the next, until I am too old to care about what I am going to do when I grow up. Then I will happily continue making a living by doing what it seems I have always been doing— meaning you may expect to hear from me once again. In the meantime, as a free and happy man, and as a writer of books, I want to thank you for your ear. I have faith that you found my thoughts worth reading or you wouldn´t have reached this very last idea: I write for a reader exactly like you, a sympathetic friend whom I have never met.

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 (www.wdpub.cz 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 expats.cz– 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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