Written by Laura Baranik
A Czech friend of mine recently told me about a faux pas she´d committed during a dinner party at an ambassador´s residence in Prague. Having arrived rather late, my friend was escorted by an attendant into the front hallway, where, seeing the plush Persian carpets inside, she promptly removed her shoes according to the local custom. In her stockinged feet, she rushed into the dining room. The other guests greeted her with looks of horror and barely-suppressed laughter. Everyone but my friend was wearing shoes.
Keeping your shoes on at another person´s house – especially during a dinner party – may, to a foreigner, seem like an obvious thing to do. But in the Czech Republic, it would normally be a gaffe not to remove your shoes. My friend was simply following the customs according to which she´d been raised.
To avoid any cultural blunders during your stay here, try to pay close attention to what the locals around you are doing and act accordingly. And, of course, you can take a look at the following Etiquette Guide.
As a guest
· When invited to dine at a Czech household, it is customary to bring flowers as a gift. If you like, you may bring a bottle of wine along with the flowers, but it isn´t a must.
· Flowers should be given in odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7 ), unless they are for a funeral: in that case the numbers should be even. Chrysanthemums are reserved for gravestones only. Red carnations tend to be viewed as a “Communist flower” and are thus inappropriate as a gift.
· Always remove any paper from the flowers before you hand them over.
· As mentioned above, you should take your shoes off any time you enter someone´s house, unless the host insists otherwise. He or she may offer you some slippers to wear instead.
· It is considered impolite to leave any food on your plate, so try to finish your meal. You will probably be offered seconds, but if you´re really full, you can politely refuse them.
In the restaurant
· In the Czech Republic, it is considered good manners for the man to enter a restaurant or bar before the woman does. This ostensibly keeps her from being eyeballed by the men inside, and allows the man to deal with clearing a path and finding a table.
· Service tends to be at the table, even in pubs.
· When waiting for a beer, put a coaster down in front of you so the server can place your mug there. In some pubs, setting down the coaster will automatically get you a beer.
· Never mix the dregs of a beer you´re about to finish with the fresh beer you´ve been brought.
· Toasting is very common. The local ritual is to look into the other person´s eyes, clink glasses and say “Na zdraví” (“To your health”). Never cross arms with someone else to reach a person on the other side of the table.
· Say “dobrou chut´” (bon appetit) before starting your meal.
· Tipping is 10%, though by Czech standards this rate is considered generous. Tipping in bars, restaurants, taxis, and beauty and massage parlors is customary.
· When leaving a tip, you can give the server the bill´s exact amount and say either “to je dobrý” or “v pořádku” (“that´s fine”). You may also leave the tip on the table.
On public transportation
· You will be expected to give up your seat on the tram or metro to elderly or pregnant women and to children. For gentlemanly reasons, older men, unless they are very frail, will not take a woman´s seat. But be careful of whom you stand up for: you risk insulting a woman if you offer her your seat before she feels she needs it.
· On escalators, always stand on the right side to let people pass on the left.
· Let people out of the tram or metro before you enter.
At the theatre
· Dressing up to the theatre is customary, but is no longer a strict rule. You should, however, refrain from wearing sneakers. When attending a classical concert or opera, on the other hand, you must be in formal dress.
· In the Czech Republic, whistling is not considered a positive form of applause; it´s more equivalent to booing.
Meeting and greeting
· When entering a shop of any kind, you should greet the salesperson by saying, “Dobrý den,” (“Good day”) if it is before the late afternoon. After six o´clock in the evening, it is customary to say “Dobrý večer” (“Good evening”) instead. When exiting the shop, always say “Na shledanou” (“Goodbye”). Many people will do the same when entering and leaving a doctor´s office, train compartment, or elevator.
· You should also greet your neighbors at your home or office with dobrý den and dobrý večer, as above.
· In the Czech Republic, people´s “tituly” (titles) are taken quite seriously, so don´t be surprised if someone addresses you as pán inženýr (Mr. Engineer) or pani doktora (Mrs. Doctor). The title “doctor” does not refer only to medical doctors; anybody who has a doctorate – particularly lawyers – are considered doctors.
· Greet someone you´ve just met with a handshake. On subsequent meetings, women will often kiss each other on both cheeks to say hello.
· As a note: foreigners have a tendency to use the informal greeting (ahoj) too quickly. Stick with dobrý den and dobrý večer until you are sure you´re on an informal (first-name) basis with the other person.
Toilets, nudity, and hygiene
· You may be asked to pay to use a public toilet (usually 5 Kč), even in some restaurants.
· Public urination is not uncommon among men, but it is generally frowned upon. Children also sometimes urinate in public.
· In the Czech Republic, washing one´s hands after using the toilet goes without saying. It should for you, too.
· Cleaning up after your dog is becoming the norm, but you can still expect to see some droppings on the street.
· You are likely to see nudity on beaches or by swimming pools, and some topless sunbathing in parks. Nude children are considered perfectly acceptable in pool or beach areas.
· Watch your volume: people in the Czech Republic tend to speak quietly in public areas, and can be annoyed by foreigners who talk loudly in trams or restaurants.
· Though some foreigners describe a lack of warmth or downright rudeness among locals, it is the custom here to maintain a certain amount of distance from people you don´t know very well. Once you´ve spent some time with a person, they are likely to be much more open and friendly. Just be nice, and you will be rewarded.