Putting Your Best Hand Forward
Hand shaking is de rigeur in any formal occasion such as meeting new colleagues, interviews or official visits. There is an order of offering that goes: senior position to junior, older to younger and woman to man. The shake is quite firm with a couple of pumps. Interestingly, I’ve been told that you will be judged on how you shake. A ‘dead fish’ hand is a sign of poor character.
From my own observations, among my in-laws and their social circle, a handshake isn’t so common. However, a Czech colleague in his thirties said that he expected a hand shake whenever meeting someone, and would consider it strange if one were not offered. It goes without saying that whether formal or casual a good handshake means that you look the other person in the eye.
A Kiss Is Just a Kiss…Or is it?
The ‘social kiss’ comes with a lot of ‘depends´ – depends on age, depends on sex, depends on lifestyle, etc. A cursory survey of Prague suggests that the social kiss is pretty much standard among the young. My close friends proffer cheeks more often than not.
However, some women I spoke to said that they kissed only if their friend initiated it. One colleague said that she perceived the social kiss as something “not Czech” and mostly associated with people who have traveled or mix in international groups.
A slightly older colleague said, for her generation (i.e. people between fifty and sixty), the kiss was associated with Brezhnev (the former Soviet leader). For her and her peers, it was something a little ridiculous. However, she went on to say that views are softening because of the behavior of the young.
In short, you can kiss your Czech friend. It just doesn’t mean that he or she will enjoy it.
It could be that when you call a company or meet someone for the first time, they will introduce themselves with their surname. In my own experience, this has only happened with much older people.
When people in the Czech Republic introduce themselves to each other, it is the norm. My colleagues also answer the phone at work with their surname. I quizzed them on this, and they said this was pretty much the standard. It’s also the case if the caller is unknown.
Hello Mr. Professor Teacher Sir
This custom also depends on who is speaking. Among graduates in the Czech Republic, especially those of an older generation, using someone’s academic title is important, especially if you work in an academic context. With English speakers, they will probably be more relaxed, so that you might refer to your colleague by name while in the very same situation, say a meeting, a Czech staff member will use the person’s title.
Of course, using your colleague’s title is hardly going to cause offense. And even if they demur and insist on you using first names, they’ll glow a little with inner pride.