They’re gruff, grumpy and often shockingly rude. Some of them have terrible personal hygiene. They’re not the most xenophobic nation in Europe but neither are they the most accepting.
In the previous parts of this series, we’ve looked at issues that expats seem to have with Czechs. It’s now time to look at things from the opposite perspective.
Is this antagonism somehow – at least in part – our own fault? Whatever the truth of the matter, some locals certainly see it this way. Just look at the comment made by Praguer (who we can safely assume is Czech) in response to the last article in this series: “Every time I am in Prague center I can see loads of arrogant foreigners who behave like some kind of superior race. Maybe they consider us to be primitive tribe. And then they wonder that we are hostile.”
Has Praguer merely identified a small minority of loud, big-headed expats who behave as though they own the Golden City just because they get a fat salary from their corporate employer? You don’t have to be Czech to find such types obnoxious. That said, are the rest of us truly willing to learn from our hosts or are we too eager to bitch about the natives with our new buddies? Do too many of us isolate ourselves in an expat bubble while simultaneously attacking a culture with which we have only superficial familiarity?
Put simply, couldn’t we all do a bit more to fit in?
According to a survey by CVVM agency conducted last March, most Czechs believe newcomers should make maximum efforts to assimilate. What step did 95% of those polled expect foreigners to take?
Learn the local language.
Many native English-speakers don’t make that crucial effort. This seems hypocritical when most of us would consider it deeply wrong for immigrants to our own countries to remain in their own communities getting by only with Turkish, Urdu or Polish. Indeed, a recent Guardian article highlights how Brits living in Spain who can’t manage much more than Hola still think that migrants to the United Kingdom should speak the Queen’s English.
So is the struggle with those infamous four genders and seven cases really worth it –especially when it seems every other waiter in Prague is hell-bent on showing the world he’s a polyglot?
A recent thread concerning the language proficiency test those applying for permanent residency must now pass turned into another episode of the “why bother to learn Czech?” debate. A British man spelled out his reasons for not taking the trouble:
“I go out […] with English speakers be they English or Czech. Yes I go to the shops […] I am capable of putting things in a basket.” The British football fan saves the best until last though: “If I need a plumber the wife will call them.”
Not all our readers subscribe to the do-nothing approach: “Another close minded expat that has to get the wife to organize everything for him, got it.” This user is clear on his motivations for making the effort: “It’s up to you if you learn it or not but you are missing half the experience of living here if you have no idea what is going on around you. Unless of course you always have a Czech friend/wife to babysit and explain.”
It seems reasonable to expect those planning to stay in the Czech Republic for good to master the language.
However, what about so-called transit expats: TEFL teachers working their way around the globe or corporate executives doing a stint in the Prague branch of a multinational company?
If you fall into this category, isn’t it all too likely that you’ll end up focusing your limited time and energy into setting up home, dealing with bureaucracy and making friends rather than language lessons?
I’ve even heard one long-term British expat resident claim that his reason for not learning Czech and fully integrating was that to do so would somehow mean compromising his own culture and mindset – a view I do not subscribe to.
It’s true that you can survive in the Czech Republic – or certainly in Prague – without mastering the lingo. The problem is, even if your work and home environments are English-speaking, you never know when you’ll wind up in a situation in which your mother tongue alone won’t suffice. Last year I spent almost a month in hospital following an emergency operation. None of the nurses spoke English – and indeed why should they? Having a decent level of Czech made the whole unpleasant experience more bearable. I also picked up handy new vocabulary like vozík – wheelchair – and mísa – bedpan.
That expat bubble is certainly cosy. However, even if you’re not going to bother with Czech, that doesn’t mean you have to cut yourself from the culture completely. Go and see a Czech film instead of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Read a Czech novel: Miloš Urban‘s Gothic detective story The Seven Churches is set in Prague, as is Emil Hakl’s rambling pub crawl Of Kids and Parents. Explore the country beyond the city where you live: there are thousands of castles to visit, miles of mountains to hike up or ski down and acres of gorgeous countryside to roam around. Take a tiny sidestep outside your comfort zone and you’ll be rewarded. After all, shouldn’t living abroad mean revelling in new experiences?
Total integration might not be achievable or even desirable – after all, not everyone wants to eat pork, cabbage and dumplings, wear slippers at work or become a die-hard atheist – but the fact that too many expats leave the Czech Republic having sampled little of the host culture beyond the beer seems a crying shame.
Read also: Do Czechs Hate Foreigners? Part 1 – First impressions from new expats in the Czech Republic
Read also: Do Czechs Hate Foreigners? Part 2 – Is xenophobia more widespread in the Czech Republic?