Understanding a new culture takes time and research. The basics might be obvious (to some) but there are layers of behavior that may be forgivable in your first week, but definitely not after your first year. We asked a team of cultural experts, plus a few local friends, for their input on how to avoid making an accidental ass of yourself.
1. Take Off Your Shoes. This was the first, most adamant, and most repeated piece of advice I heard. Slippers in the home are a must.
2. Watch Your Backpack. Footwear isn’t the only irritating attire. The best place for your bag on public transport is off your back and on the ground.
3. Please Exit the Train. Passengers near the doors of a crowded bus, tram or metro should always step outside to let passengers out. Trust us, they won’t leave without you and the crowd waiting to get in.
4. Respect the Seat Hierarchy. The order for giving up your seat is elderly people > women (especially pregnant or with small children) > men. Sorry guys.
5. Share the Sidewalk. Another pet peeve of those I talked to was a group of people walking slowly, side by side, down a narrow street (although Czechs are also guilty of this one, too!).
6. Keep Your Voice Down. This was another widely popular refrain. Everyone I spoke with advised against noisiness in general, in restaurants, public transport or on the street. When in doubt, just don’t shout.
7. Don’t call it Eastern Europe (or Czechoslovakia). You would think that more than two decades of independence would be long enough for tourists, relatives, and news networks to get it right. Unfortunately, the mental Iron Curtain is still a struggle, especially for older generations.
8. Don’t Forget to Say “Dobrou chuť”. Many Czechs are taken aback when foreigners not only fail to wish each other a good meal, but begin eating before everyone has their food.
9. Stick to a Traditional Menu. It is always a good idea to ask your waiter for the appropriate side dish to accompany your meal to avoid sideways glances for ordering ”gulaš and salad?!”
10. Don’t Touch Your Dumplings. We all know that even if there is ”bread” in the name, a knife and fork are required to follow Czech dining etiquette.
11. Follow the Local Cutlery Customs. Particularly in formal dining situations, the American style of switching hands after cutting your meat can be considered barbaric by some Czech people.
12. Use Your Eyes. If you need a server’s attention in a restaurant, don’t raise your hands or snap our fingers. Eye contact is best. If that doesn’t work, stand up and walk to the bar to ask for what you need.
13. Learn the Language… Don’t expect everyone to speak English. (Need more reasons to learn Czech? See our article here.)
14. …But Know Your Limits. On the other hand, there are some situations where English is preferable. Asking in English is better than really bad Czech. Add some basic Czech to show that you are interested in the language.
15. Adjust Your English. To make it easier on those doing you a favor, the locals request that you speak slowly, clearly, and just loud enough, avoid slang and stick to simple international English.
16. Be Careful About Criticism. Czechs are one of the few countries comfortable with openly criticizing themselves, but don’t recommend that you join in. Try to imagine how you would feel about the same behavior from a foreigner in your country.
17. Remember That You Are a Guest. Don’t expect everybody to adjust to tourists and their needs (especially in Prague), and don’t expect that local ways of doing things have to adjust to “how we do it.” As outsiders, the onus is on expats to adapt.
The author thanks the following for their contributions to this article: František Cihlář from the Association of Integration and Migration, Birger Husted, a Czech Business Relations Advisor at Husted, S.R.O, Roman Maca, Radka Vilimová, Zuzana Pernicová, Anna Fedchenko from Foreigners.cz, and Mirka Charlotte Kostelková from Eating Prague Tours.