Avoiding Cultural Blunders
Quiet down, get used to removing your shoes, and say goodbye to everyone when you leave a restaurant – these are just a few of the seemingly endless rules of etiquette you´ll want to memorize during your stay. When in doubt, notice what the locals are doing and act accordingly; should you commit a faux pas (or two, or three, or four!) keeping your sense of humor about you is the first rule of thumb for foreigners living abroad. Learn it, live it!
- 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.
- Remove your shoes 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 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 chuť (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 for whom you stand up: 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 Theater
- Dressing up for the theater 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 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 the appropriate phrase.
- In the Czech Republic, people´s tituly (titles) are taken quite seriously, so don´t be surprised if someone addresses you as pan inženýr (Mr. Engineer) or paní doktorka (Mrs. Doctor). The the doctor title 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.
- You may be asked to pay to use a public toilet (usually 5 CZK), even in some restaurants.
- Public urination is not uncommon among men, but it is generally frowned upon. Children also sometimes urinate in public.
- 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.
Prague – A Clean City
News laws in effect from July, 2008 aim to make the city of Prague a cleaner, safer place. Consumption of alcohol in public is now banned in most of the city´s parks and within 100 meters of schools.
New laws now enable police officers to hand out on-the-spot fines of 1000 CZK to persons caught littering. The fines, which can also be up to 30,000 CZK for serious offenses or those brought to court, specifically target previously common infractions: disposing of cigarette butts, chewing gum, or spitting on city streets. That´s right, expect to be fined if a police officer witnesses you spitting out gum or tossing a cigarette butt on city streets.
The littering laws also target cleaning up after dogs, feeding pigeons, and washing away soap suds after cleaning your car.