The issue comes up frequently in our Facebook groups: From banks to taxis, doctor’s offices and restaurants, foreign customers are often charged a fee for English-speaking service.
For instance, this post from Crowdsauce in which a confused expat described an experience at a Prague hospital: “Is charging for speaking English a norm in Czech hospitals? I had to go for an emergency eye appointment yesterday and they charged me for speaking English to me despite me being fully insured.”
According to a recent Deník article, the practice may actually be on the rise.
“In recent years, according to foreigners in the metropolis, the number of surgeries of doctors and healthcare facilities introducing surcharges for examinations and searches conducted in a foreign language is increasing, even though patients have Czech health insurance.”
The article goes on to argue that foreigners living in Czech capital see the all-too-common experience of receiving surcharges numbering in the thousands of crowns as a manifestation of the stereotype that foreigners are rich and clueless when it comes to local pricing conditions.
But while the practice may be prevalent is it permissible by law?
Jiří Fröhlich a spokesperson for the Czech Trade Inspection Authority (CTIA), a consumer advocacy group, told the publication:
“If no special service is associated with a higher price (such as a foreign language tour), the price increase cannot be considered as legitimate. In order to provide a special service associated with a higher price to meet the requirement of good moral conduct, it is necessary that the additional service is provided in a certain quality. For example, communicating with a customer in a foreign language only at the basic level on the border of understanding cannot be considered as an above-standard service.”
In 2017, the Czech Trade Inspection Authority (CTIA) published the results of an investigation into Prague dining establishments where English-speakers were charged substantially more than Czech-speaking customers, confirming multiple cases of discrimination against foreigners.
Fröhlich: “Different behavior towards one group of consumers is usually considered discriminative in the area of the sale of goods and provision of service.”
So what to can you do when faced with a similar situation, i.e. being ripped off?
The English-friendly CTIA site is a good place to start. You can read more on the scope of their authority and lodge a complaint here.
With regards to doctors visits, in 2016 the Czech Ministry of Health developed a set of “communication cards” in a variety of languages designed to help medical professionals communicate with foreign patients and vice versa.
We’ll be keeping an eye on the issue as well — please vote in the poll and leave your comments on our Facebook page for inclusion in a future article.