10 Ways I’m More Czech Than American

10 Ways I’m More Czech Than American

Hoarding plastic bags, keeping a cool distance—stick a vidlička in me, I’m Czech.

10 Ways I’m More Czech Than American

10 Ways I’m More Czech Than American

Hoarding plastic bags, keeping a cool distance—stick a vidlička in me, I’m Czech.

Published 18.04.2013
Last updated 18.04.2013

Like the would-be expat who dreams of running off to the Czech Republic to find herself, I’d been in Europe so long that I dreamt of running off to America. To find exactly what I couldn’t say. Better deals on goods and services? Smilier waiters? As a new mom with no real support network in Prague, free babysitting seemed to be the most logical answer.

But I was looking for something else, too. I had recently reached the seven-year mark, that tell-tale moment in one’s expatriation when your affinity for the host country and its people is supposed to make you feel, no matter what the bureaucrats have to say about it, like a long-term resident, one for whom returning home might pose a challenge. Would this prove true for me?

This past autumn, our Czech-American family began a 90-day stay in my Michigan hometown, reconnecting with family and friends, introducing our daughter to the U.S., and discovering that the answer to this question is a resounding, ano. Seven years later, and here are some of the ways I have begun to feel more Czech than American:

10. My English is nic moc.
Years spent over-enunciating for the benefit of non-native English speakers, making intentional spoken grammatical errors (much easier than giving an impromptu lesson), and struggling to recall little-used English vocabulary—all of these things have left me with a peculiar expat brogue. But speaking Czechlish has its merits: I now add Czech diminutives to my nieces’ and nephews’ American names as English somehow falls short for expressing my love. Aww.

9. I frequently fret that my daughter will catch cold.
Long before I became a mom, I worked at a Czech nursery school. The parents continually nagged the staff, no matter what the season, to tuck the kids’ shirts into their pants and pull the pants high, as if a thin scrap of denim could shield vital organs. Cut to a well-heated living room in the U.S. last fall as my baby niece braves the elements barefoot with a slice of back exposed, while my own child plays alongside her in punčochy, the thickest Czech tights money can buy...hiked beyond her navel, naturally!

8. Long lines don’t really bother me.
I have developed this Zen-like, or rather Czech-like, patience when it comes to standing in intolerable lines. No more getting antsy or threatening mutiny or wondering “What the hell the hold up is” like a good American would. Perhaps all those harrowing hours spent waiting at the foreign police have actually served a purpose beyond the obvious ones of exposing me to influenza and preventing deportation. The State of Michigan DMV? A cake walk.

7. My sweet tooth has gone upmarket.
While I’d looked forward to a Halloween binge on Orange Hostess Cupcakes, Brach’s Candy Corn, and marshmallowy confections like Peeps and Rice Krispie Treats, the chemically-bolstered sweets of my youth tasted, upon recent sampling, entirely too sweet. Czech baked goods—notable for their restrained sweetness—and Euro-chocolate seem to have given me a choosier palate. (P.S. America, your bread pales in comparison to the lovely loaves of the Czech lands. Yogurt, too).

6. I hoard shopping bags.
Though once mortified by my husband’s mass swiping of rohlík baggies from the supermarket for later home use, I must confess that the cavalier American attitude toward perfectly good shopping bags upset me while we were Stateside. Why recycle plastic bags immediately or, worse, throw them away in pristine condition, when they can be used again (and again) for diaper disposal, food storage and, in the case of the really nice ones, luggage?

5. God is great, his fridge is even better.
Most Czech households, including ours, come equipped with a refrigerator roughly the size of my high-school locker. This often necessitates storing food in alternative spaces including—but not limited—to the balcony, a window ledge, or back stoop, a practice that raises a few eyebrows in suburban America not to mention attracts a few raccoons. (Just ask my husband about the bramborový salát mishap of Christmas 2012.)

4. I’m a cooler—i.e. more cowardly—customer.
I’ve grown so accepting of the abuse doled out by foul-tempered Albert cashiers, who often return change with a scorn that borders on Biblical, that whenever I’m on the receiving end of politeness in retail or restaurant settings I feel grateful (or suspicious) rather than entitled as most Americans do. Also: I cannot enter or exit a public space without the urge to shout “Dobrý den!” or “Na shledanou!” to anybody within earshot.

3. But not so cool that I want to befriend the waiter.
Americans have no problem first-naming complete strangers like waiters, while Czechs keep it formal—using “Mr.” or “Ms.” and a last name, unless the person is actually a friend. The trademark breezy American informality felt a bit jarring, not to mention superficial, to me this time around, especially after my husband pointed out that tomorrow we’ll probably forget that Jeff the waiter exists.

2. I’ve given up the grind.
When I told my American friends that I planned to stop working full-time after I had the baby, they were taken aback. When I told my Czech friends that I planned to work part-time after I had the baby, they were taken aback. Herein lies a telling cultural difference, I think, one that says we Americans often feel defined by our career successes and failures. And while I’d never suggest that Czechs don’t have a strong work ethic, living here has made some of that pressure dissipate.

1. I mythologize America.
Whether it’s the fondness for the fictional “Apache” hero Winnetou, or the envisioning of an America that includes roadside motels, diners, and Route 66, the Czech tendency to picture a dreamy, iconic U.S. is similar to the way Americans revere Europe as glamorous cradle of high culture. Though the America of Kerouac novels no longer exists, if indeed it ever did, sharing that same romantic vision of my home country makes it easier to love it—and leave it.

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Comment from: Eric.Marsh Published: 03:11:00 03.01.2015
This is so ironic. I'm an American who's mythologizing the Czech Republic.
Comment from: Published: 08:23:36 28.05.2013
Thank you for your comment 'MissingCZ Guest'. Having lived in 3 countries, can relate to every single sentence you wrote, even though my circumstances are diffrent. (I am Czech who moved back to Prague after 12 years abroad, 6 months here and still cannot get used to the ways of the Czech Republic :( ... I guess the way for me to get through is: do not have expectations and don't compare..
Josie(Guest) Published: 07:19:27 27.05.2013
Relate to so much of what you wrote. Having recently left Czech Republic after 5 years of calling it my expat home, it is refreshing to remember those sentiments again. Appreciate the honesty, as it is not easy to write of cultural differences knowing people will always have their own interpretation and take a shot at the writer for not being aware enough, or whatever it is that they feel themselves to be. Nice list!!
Comment from: Published: 06:58:28 23.05.2013
"State of Michigan DMV?" Don't you mean, "Secretaryah State?"
MissingCZ(Guest) Published: 06:43:07 23.05.2013
What a great way to describe that moment when you no longer feel at home in your hometown/land. Thanks for reminding me that this feeling I constantly struggle with, being back in Canada for a few years now, is not a figment of my imagination and shared by others. Each time I lived in a new country, I thought I had gotten the hang of moving around, but each time turns out to be quite the journey filled with surprises! Never underestimate how much living abroad changes you. People who haven't done it just can't understand. And yes, dganung, I miss Prague every day.
Comment from: Published: 06:27:24 23.05.2013
I read this article for I moved to the US after 14 1/2 years in Prague. I was interested in what she had to say. I smiled at many of her thoughts in a knowing way. What she didn't mention but it was in the article throughout is how much Prague is missed. Those who went through her article thought by thought are just showing off their knowledge. This woman wrote some things down and meant to be humorous, that's all. I'm a merchant seaman who IS international and could tear into those who tore into her, but "who cares". That's what I learned from the Czech Republic, not to care so much about the inconsequential and be quick to discover what is truly outside of the context of what's happening and shun it. I miss Prague every day whether or not I would still want to live there (varies). It's a connection that won't disappear either. I'll be visiting again and again. It's a beautiful country. And yes good bread can be found in the US. Good cheese, good lord everything can be found here. But somehow it's not the same. And to all the critics who tear everything apart, well you know what I want to say to them!
Comment from: Published: 03:22:06 20.05.2013
Nina what a typical STUPID American statement. LAND OF THE FREE my Arse!!! It was in the times of people living in Panalak's in Czechoslovakia that you (might) have been able to say that
nina (Guest) Published: 05:22:12 17.05.2013
yeah ok. it's a personal opinion/feeling of this individual. in my opinion it is just a bunch of anti-American bullshit. probably a democrat. born American ? shame on her.... America will always be a land of the free. IF she was born under communism in Czechoslovakia and lived in Panelak for 20years maybe she would not even want to liver here at all.
Comment from: Published: 02:16:57 28.04.2013
I think you are brave simply admitting you are American ;) I liked it think a lot of people can relate and it seemed more real than some of the made up crap on this site. nice. :)
Katka(Guest) Published: 08:55:46 26.04.2013
Great article, I really like it and I agree with almost all the 10 ways, my husband made me read it (Im czech, he is from US) and it is very true !!
demars(Guest) Published: 10:11:37 22.04.2013
How do you know "Jeff" is sucking up? Maybe he's just trying really hard -maybe sometimes too hard- to satisfy his customers because he knows his tips depend on a satisfied customer. Is this so bad?
Comment from: animaleyes76 Published: 03:55:04 22.04.2013
"Jeff" just wants a massive tip for sucking up, that's why. If "Jeff" was polite in a less overbearing way, "Jeff" might find he gets a bigger tip... Just saying.......
Comment from: Published: 03:12:05 22.04.2013
This is an interesting piece and touches on something that everyone who's lived abroad has thought about at some point or when they return home. Still, I think that some of these are pretty weak. For example: Yes, mass market American supermarket bread is generally bad (but those two-day old housky and rohliky at Albert/Tesco are just the BEST!), but it isn't 1985 anymore, and any U.S. city of any size has at least one bakery where you can get at worst decent bread. Also, it's good to know that there's yet another expat who apparently can't help but overanalyze American friendliness. It's just a social norm – why do so many Czechs and expats feel the need to turn this into a big deal? Who cares if you remember "Jeff" or if "Jeff" remembers you? "Jeff" won't take it personally if you don't remember that he exists, and you and your husband shouldn't be offended that "Jeff" doesn't remember you. Do I really feel like saying "hello" to every person I get on an elevator with in the Czech Republic? Of course not, but I do it because it is a social norm and I don't think that makes me (or every Czech) completely superficial.
Comment from: Published: 01:45:36 22.04.2013
10. This happens every time you're put in a situation where you don't use a certain language for large periods of time. 9. People worry about their child catching a cold here because a lot of Czechs have no immune system due to the practice of popping anti-biotics like skittles. 8. Long lines should bother you as they are starting to bother more and more Czechs. Complaining about processes that don't work is how progress is made. 7. The bread in the US does not suck. The "white square bread" you're comparing to czech bread isn't actually bread. That's like comparing canned tuna from one country to sashimi grade tuna in another. Apples and oranges. I've had plenty of quality bread while at home in the states. 6. I really admire the ability of the grocery stores here to generate profit from something that should be an operational cost. 5. Unfortunate side effect due to the fact that most kitchens here are quite small and cannot fit a proper fridge. 4. I've left things at the counter and walked out of Alberts because of rude cashiers. This is a leftover mentality of communism that shouldn't be tolerated. Again it's the idea of progress. Allowing crap service to continue is like saying "we never used deodorant before, so why would we use it now?". 3. A lot of that mentality is just due to the differences between the languages. In Norway it's quite common as well to address everyone by first name. I wouldn't say that either way is better or worse. 2. Most people tend to lean away from an emphasis on careers here because they still view jobs as something you "just have to get through". Again, it's a leftover from communism. 1. The grass is always greener on the other side.
JC(Guest) Published: 12:16:49 22.04.2013
Funny how English speakers' minds work...
Comment from: Published: 11:56:23 20.04.2013
Very nice article! (BTW, I noticed you didn't write "catch a cold"...)
Comment from: Published: 10:02:45 19.04.2013
After 8 years I talk too slow now.. When I meet up with my parents or friends they wonder why It takes me so long to spit out a sentence. I need to concentrate on talking faster and think about using more robust vocab.
Comment from: Luckydog Published: 10:45:21 19.04.2013
I always enjoy reading articles like this because they serve to remind me of the differences that I'm increasingly forgetting as I spend less and less time in the US. I've been here 20 years, and I haven't been back to the US in over 3 years. I agree that there are relatively significant cultural differences between CZ and USA, but even they can be variable to some degree as they can be influenced by the friends you keep and where you live. Our personal perspectives on the differences are often just that - personal, as is also clear from the comments to the article. We characterize the differences in various ways, and they can be perceived as weak or fleeting as our world changes and becomes more globalized. Ad to that the romantic or fictionalized visions of popular culture and the picture gets even more cloudy. But some fundamental and important differences remain. My view is that there are good and bad cultural and social traditions in both countries and their real merits can be tested only during key historical events such as in wars, and during economic or political turmoil. They are best judged retrospectively. Let us pray. (this last remark is directed at the US as much as the Czech Republic).
Comment from: Published: 09:05:11 19.04.2013
Admitting that you are losing your ability eloquently manipulate the subtleties of the English language is quite a bold statement considering you are a writer of articles in English, change it quick before the editor wakes up! But I digress, I think a fair few of the points you assert here to be "Czechisms" are possibly just "Europeanisms" as 9, 8, 7 6, 5 and 3 were all clearly apparent in my upbringing in the UK.
Comment from: Published: 11:51:29 18.04.2013
I just moved back to the USA after 12 years in Prague- bohozel, nemaji bechorovku! I don't honk my horn when people cut me off or take my parking space. I forget to ask for free drink refills. I alsways pack some food when I go on a road trip and never seem to be in much of a hurry. The biggest shock is when people say thank you or excuse me when it isn't even their fault!
Ashley(Guest) Published: 10:58:40 18.04.2013
I like it and totally agree. And now I feel like neither american neither czech. But I'm not the only confused one, am I? p.s. I always and still love Jack Kerouac!!
Comment from: Published: 09:15:56 18.04.2013
Great article :) Can relate to most of the points there..
ThatsMyCoffee.com(Guest) Published: 06:13:29 18.04.2013
Yes, the bread in the USA *IS* that bad. One might argue it's not even bread. White bread is disgusting, as is anything made 'square'. Polish and Czech breads (when bought fresh from the market) are amazing...
Comment from: io_sweetie Published: 12:09:26 18.04.2013
is bread in the US really that bad? i find Czech bread horrible.