We all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.
In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:
A primer on how to avoid mistakes in Czech Republic
The Czech Republic, along with its neighbours Slovakia, Austria, Poland and Germany, is part of Central Europe. Often in Western Europe and North America it is incorrectly referred to as an “Eastern-European” country, and most Czechs are very sensitive about this- many will even pre-empt the ignorance of some foreigners by asking “What part of Europe would you say the Czech Republic is in?” Get on their good side by answering “Central Europe”, not Eastern! Czechs don’t appreciate when foreigners incorrectly assume that their country was part of the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire both definitely false although it was part of the Soviet Bloc and, until 1918, an Austro-Hungarian territory. Commenting about how “everything is quite cheap here” comes across as condescending about the country’s economic status.
If you are knowledgable about the Czechoslovakian communist regime following the second world war, bear in mind that this is still a sensitive issue for many and that it is easy to upset people in discussions on the subject. Czechs are one of the most atheist people in the world. This is true especially in large Bohemian cities. Don’t assume that anyone you do not know believes in God or has a passion for Christianity. Respect that and your religion will also be respected. Always say hello (Dobrý den) and goodbye (Na shledanou, half-formally Nashle) when you enter and leave a small shop, restaurant or pub as it is polite. While dining at a restaurant with a host’s family it is customary for THEM to pick up the bill, the opposite of most Western standards.
However don’t assume they will – but also don’t be surprised if they do. When entering a Czech household, always remove your shoes unless said otherwise. Czechs usually wear slippers or sandals when inside a house and never their outdoor shoes. Depending on how traditional the host family are, they may insist you change immediately into house shoes as a hygiene precaution, though this is rare. At the very least they will offer you some to keep your feet warm.
Whether it is acceptable to use German names for Czech towns and places when asking for directions or while chatting with the locals is usually very hard to predict for a foreigner and highly depends on the exact place you want to mention, eg. it is usually fine to use Carlsbad/Karlsbad for Karlovy Vary but it is not so fine to use Elbogen for nearby Loket (although both names are similarly old and both towns were mostly German until the end of WW2). Many older Czechs are quite sensitive about the latter while the younger usually don’t know that name. As a rule of thumb, try preferring the Czech names.
You should avoid using the word “Sudeten” or “Sudetenland”, especially in the former Sudeten themselves (around German borders). Moravia The vast majority of Moravians will take no offence to being called Czechs, and consider themselves to be both. If you are attempting to speak Czech, beware of the complexities and slight differences between the terms ?echy (Bohemia) and ?esko (Czechia). Much like a Welshman would raise an eyebrow over his country being called England, using the term ?echy (Bohemia) to refer to the entire Czech Republic may not be appreciated by a Moravian. Since there are no mainstream separatist movements in Moravia, and there is definitely no ethnic conflict, it is infinitely more likely you’ll be showered with kisses and plied with alcohol for simply making an attempt to speak Czech.
With this, you had the primer on key facts about Czech Republic, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on Czech Republic food and drinks:
Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Czech Republic? Please comment below.