The holidays are here which means you may be presented with the opportunity to meet your Czech sweetheart’s loved ones in a festive setting. It’s an important step in the future of your relationship so what to expect and how to avoid awkward moments? The truth is, you can’t. There will blood. But you can bone up (har, har) on Czech holiday traditions and general etiquette with these survival pointers:
1. Don’t Bring Food
Czechs can be a bit particular about side dishes and don’t tend to eat potluck style, so it’s best not to pit your granny’s green bean casserole against your future MIL’s řízky, potato salad, and carp. Flowers or a bottle of wine are a much better choice (and, oh yeah, there’s protocol for gift-giving, too—read here for more).
2. Put Your Best Hand Forward & Turn the Other Cheek
Handshaking is typically the norm when meeting new Czech people and there is an order of offering that goes older to younger and woman to man. If the visit was a particular success—and we hope for your sake that it is—you may end the meeting by kissing lightly on both cheeks.
3. Don’t Offer to Help Clean Up or Serve
Clearing and washing the dishes or serving food is something that is best left to your hosts—no matter how much you want to make a good impression or feel useful, in Czech culture, it’s important that guests enjoy themselves. But don’t take our word for it: a 2016 IKEA survey found that hosts in the 59+ age bracket were “generally appalled by visitors who served themselves or got into the refrigerator.”
4. Do Yourself a Favor and Learn this ONE Czech Word
If your Czech is limited we suggest that, aside from the obvious “please” (prosím), “thank you” (děkuji) and “nice to meet you” (těším mě), you learn “enough” (stačí or dost) or be subjected to multiple heaps of food and servings of beer. That said, finishing what’s on your plate and asking for seconds will earn you big points so “more” (ještě) could also come in handy.
On a side note, don’t be shy about trying out your Czech—hasn’t every minute of Czech class been leading up to this? This is quite possibly the one real-life situation where you will use the language most. Mind your tykání vs vykání and know that every phrase you communicate in Czech will endear you to your partner’s family…as soon as they are finished laughing at you.
5. Forget about Making Dinner Conversation
Czechs have a saying: Dobré chutnání a bez povídání (roughly, “Enjoy your meal without chatting”). While table talk may be common in your culture, here discussing sports and politics is generally done over a Becherovka digestif. If you are, however, planning to announce your romantic intentions, the table is the traditional place to do it: once a man has proposed, he is expected to tell the woman’s parents at dinner.
6. Expect the Czech Inquisition
Long before Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller faced off at the polygraph machine, one of the most famous meet-the-parents scenes was filmed by a Czech director. Miloš Forman called his first American film Taking Off (1971) his last true Czech film particularly for its depiction of a conservative suburban father interrogating his daughter’s hippie boyfriend.
7. Wear Clean Socks with No Holes
If you’ve already visited a Czech home you are likely familiar with the sensible Czech habit of wearing house slippers. Take the slippers, please take them! And just in case you should be subjected to the open-toed variety, make sure your socks are clean and matching with no holes; your future MIL will definitely notice and probably offer to mend them on the spot.
8. Know Your Czech Holiday Traditions
Czech holiday traditions are plentiful and complex and some of the older generation take them quite seriously. Coming to the celebration with a good understanding of Christmas rituals is important especially the ones that revolve around love: one curious custom sees the unmarried women of the group throw a shoe behind their back. If it lands pointing to the door she will get engaged within a year! See more Czech Christmas traditions here and here.
9. You Presence Is a Really Big Deal. Get Used to It.
If you’re visiting a small Czech village, chances are everyone there already knows about your arrival well in advance. We won’t promise you’ll be paraded around the neighborhood, but having a foreigner in their midst is a big deal and always will be. If you’re nervous know that so is your Czech mate’s family!
Bonus tip (#10): Be nice to your significant other (e.g. translator) whose head will hurt not only from the Christmas punch but all the back and forth. Bringing family photos and asking his or her family to share theirs is an activity that offers cultural exchange and a fairly language-barrier-free icebreaker.
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