Showing posts from October, 2010

The stare and the comment

When I was a kid, Jack Benny (a Jewish comedian) was still on TV. He had two standard ways of responding to questions he thought were stupid or insulting, or that he didn't want to answer:

1. The stare.
2. The one-word comment, "we.e.e..llllllll!!!!" drawn out and said in a haughty way, as in "well, you worm,.."
I now realize that American Jewish comedians of the 50's were the remnants of the vaudeville era, and were mostly of Central European origin. How did I realize this?
Because every day I cope with "the stare" here in Prague. Older Czechs seem to have no prohibitions about staring at people in public places, like a restaurant or the tram. Last week when I went to the foreign police, a woman sitting opposite me on the tram stared at me with her mouth slightly ajar for the entire 10-minute ride. I ignored her; I stared back--neither tactic worked. She simply stared at me.
In restaurants, people stare so openly that I sometimes smile at them, j…

The far right in the Czech Republic

In the USA, you can be an obnoxious neo-Nazi and no one can stop you, as long as you don't commit an unlawful act. Here it's unlawful simply to be a neo-Nazi:

Eight people tried in Prague 1 for neo-Nazism

October 25, 2020-Eight people have gone on trial in Prague 1 accused of neo-Nazi activities, ČTK reported Oct. 25. A Prague District Court heard that the eight were being accused of helping put up neo-Nazi National Resistance movement stickers and organizing a demonstration in memory of fallen German SS members, among other charges. If convicted, the accused could face up to eight years in prison.

In the US, they could have all the demonstrations they want, as long as they had a permit. Here, they cannot. It's still against the law to sell Hitler's "magnum opus" Mein Kampf in the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany and many other non-European countries.
As a student of the First Amendment to the US constitution, in principle I consider it almost counter-productive …

crime in CR

One reason I love living here is that the crime rate is nothing at all like in the US. The incidence of murder and rape here is much lower. On the other hand, there is a great problem with human trafficking (which is not in Prague, it's in the border towns, and is usually preying on young women from the Ukraine) and white collar crime (tunneling the money out of companies, defrauding the government,etc.).

Here's an example of a huge crime, by Czech standards:

October 31, 2010--Customs officials uncover millions of illegal cigarettes

Customs officers have uncovered almost 1.5 million illegally imported cigarettes in a west Bohemia raid, ČTK reported Oct. 25. Three suspects were held in custody as part of the operation, while four others were briefly detained and later released. The cigarettes are believed to have come from Ukraine via Hungary and Slovakia. If sold, the tobacco would have cost the Czech taxpayer 4 million Kč in unpaid duties, customs officials said.
I don't me…


I speak just a tiny bit of Czech, but the car I saw yesterday needed very little translation. Festooned with pictures of stars and moons, it proclaimed a product called Somniva. From Latin I know "somn" has to do with sleep: somnolent, insomnia, somnabulation, Somnus (the Latin God of sleep).

I just looked up insomnia at I found a joke:

Can an insomniac be fined for resisting a rest? -Graffiti

and an interesting fact:

"A person will die from total lack of sleep sooner than from starvation. Death will occur after about ten days without sleep; starvation takes a few weeks. A no-sleep death is no gradual fade away affair—it is preceded by insanity." ~Neil McAleer in The Body Almanac

So it's no joke if you can't sleep. Somniva is, I found out, an herbal concoction that promotes sleep. This car made me think about the fact that I can sleep now quite easily. When I was a teenager, I had persistent insomnia. Then as a young mother, I never got eno…

They love me!

So today I went to the Foreign Police. They had called Jarda last week to say that I was "approved" for my foreigner's permit to live here. BUT--I know that nothing's done till it's done, so I was saving my joy for the moment I could actually hold my permit in my hand.

We took public transportation instead of an expensive taxi--tram 22 to bus 136 to Ciganova ulice, the home of the foreign police. In we went--to take a number and wait (about 45 minutes). Then we were admitted to the "holy of holies," where a young woman took my passport and told us to go back out to the waiting room until she called us back.

This was agony. I understood just a bit how it feels to be helpless in the face of a bureaucracy that can decide your fate. Naturally I was full of bravado--"I can always go back to the USA"--but the truth is I want to stay here. I like it.

Finally we were allowed back in. A much nicer woman gave me my--


First no, then yes

The Czech habit of speaking is like this: when asked a question, first say no, then, after some persuasion and reflection, say yes. If you ask a Czech if he wants a cup of coffee, for example, he may say, "No, jo, ne, ano" which means something like, "no, yes, no, yes" (No is English for no, jo is from German Ja for yes, ne is Czech for no, ano is Czech for yes).

This can be confusing to the literal-minded, or to people like me who try very hard to say exactly what I mean. Many years of knowing my husband and hearing this kind of response has produced in me the tendency to ignore the first 4-5 words of any sentence, considering it to be the equivalent of clearing your throat or starting a lawn mower (urg, urg, urg, urg....hum). Usually the last word of a Czech speaker indicates the true nature of the communication.

an ill wind

There's a saying: "it's an ill wind that blows nobody good." I guess it means that even the worst circumstances may benefit someone. But this morning, it wasjust an ill wind.

Klaus and I were taking our morning constitutional in the park. As we were coming home, crossing Slovenska, a car horn honked sharply, immediately followed by another horn. Then shouting male voices erupted, followed by more honks. I could see a van stopped in the narrow street, and surmised that the van was blocking early-morning traffic.

Just then a woman crossed the street toward me, being towed by a large Golden Retriever on a leash. She was not controlling the dog, but hanging on for dear life. Goldens are very popular here, and usually are friendly. But this one was on a mission and didn't stop for anything. He ran right over Klaus and ended up landing on top of him; Klaus yelped and barked. The Golden kept on going,and so did the lady, who never looked at me or said a word of apology.

drivers who don't stop and suicidal dogs

In Prague, there are marked crosswalks on the street for people to use to cross the street where there's no traffic light. It's a simple concept--white paint on the pavement marks the crosswalk. In theory, the pedestrian in the crosswalk has the right-of-way over a vehicle.

But in reality, not every driver respects this right. Often vehicles are going top speed (the usual Prague driving speed), and the driver simply doesn't have time to react and stop. So the prudent pedestrian will pause and make eye contact with the driver before stepping out.

Not my dog, though. He is anything but prudent. Single-minded and fanatically stubborn are words that come to mind to describe Klaus (not unlike his presidential namesake). When he gets to the corner of any street, he immediately charges across, regardless of the oncoming traffic. If it weren't for his leash, he'd be long flattened out by passing vehicles.

So we are vigilant at all street crossings. This morning, as usual, I…

"Everyone wants to live in the USA"

A student, age 16, once said this to me in class: "Everyone wants to live in the USA". We were talking about the relative merits of different countries, when he made this statement in a tone of voice which conveyed both "everyone knows this!" and "please don't say it isn't so." He was sure that the USA was the best country in the world, but a little bit of doubt was beginning to creep into his pride and ethnocentricity. (I was glad to hear the doubt, as I believe it's a teacher's duty to encourage students to question everything).

Many Americans have this attitude. Since the USA is the richest country in the world (by gross national product standards, but not by per capita income standards--there Norway is usually #1), naturally everyone wants to live there! The news on TV about foreigners focuses on illegal immigrants, showing desperate people dying in the deserts of Arizona to enter the US. The news also shows the world's chronically…

South Bohemia rocks!

(Haha, the title is a pun, as "rocks" means "it's great!" and we went on our trip with a geologist.) We just got back from a wonderful weekend in the region of the Czech Republic known as South Bohemia. It's near the Austrian border and filled with castles, churches, chateaus, gardens, rivers, ponds,woods and deserted villages.
Deserted villages? For two reasons:
1. after WWII, the Czechoslovak government expelled the Sudeten Deutsch, who were people of German heritage living in the border regions of Czechoslovakia. To explain why would involve a short history of Hitler and WWII. IN any event, the villages near the border were emptied of people. 2. during communism, the Czechoslovak government feared that its citizens might want to leave their "Worker's Paradise" and closed the borders around 1950 or so. The rationale was to protect the citizens from Western Imperialists who wished to infiltrate the Worker's Paradise. The border region here…

Cold and rainy in Southern Bohemia

We ahd the most wonderful weekend in southern Bohemia with Villem and Jirina. The weather was windy and cold on Saturday; by Sunday it was almost sleeting. I loved it! All those years I lived in Florida, I missed this kind of raw, powerful weather. It's so snug to be warm when it's cold outside.

The public scolding

This morning when I walked Klaus in the park, there were people doing the Prague fast walk, people running to get to school on time, people strolling with their dogs while chatting to a friend--people moving in all directions.

Then ahead I see two people in a tableau, standing still. It's a man and a woman. He is scolding her energetically--not shouting, not threatening to hit her--just methodically taking her apart with words.
It was hard to say if they were a couple, or a father and child, as he was standing very close to her, waving his finger in her face, and I was behind him. But I could see her plainly--a nicely-dressed woman in her 20's, standing with head bowed like a child. She didn't meet his eye and didn't say a word.

He suddenly drove off in his car, which was covered with an ad for some company. She stood there a moment. Then a large, friendly Irish setter ran past her into the open "dog-leash-free" part of the park. The setter immediately squatt…

The knee: to bend or not to bend?

Prague residents have a characteristic fast walk: head at a 45 degree angle, facing down; arms tightly at the sides; legs straight with knees not bent. They look like walking scissors. This is an efficient, no-nonsense walk that covers ground very quickly.

Indian summer days

Yesterday and today were gorgeous. The air was perfectly clear and crips--there was even frost on the grass this morning when I was climbing the hill to my new job. Yet by noon the air was very warm, even hot. I do love October!

Green, yellow, red and running

As Klaus and I were winding up our morning walk, we saw a young man running down th middle of the street. His pants were green, his shirt was yellow and his jacket was red. None of these items were running gear; they were just everyday clothes. He looked happy and full of life as he ran. What a cheerful sight! (when I looked this up on Google images, I realized these are rasta colors!)

Street fashion

Now this is a put-together look. Street fashion at its best--sophisticated, subtle and a bit sassy (the lime-green scarf!)

Prague at Christmas--I can't wait!


Mikulas, St. Nicholas' day, is on the 5th December and marks the start of Christmas for Czech people. For visitors to Prague wishing to experience the spectacle of Mikulas, head for the Old Town Square from late afternoon -

Late afternoon on the 5th December three figures move slowly around the Old Town Square: St. Nicholas, an Angel and the Devil. Surrounding them are a throng of small children, gazing in awe at the characters, as their parents look on with masked grins.Glance around you and there are many such groupings, spread throughout the square, around the Christmas markets stalls. For today is Mikulas.

Czech children, raised on stories of Mikulas, are over-awed by this spectacle, for they know what to expect. St. Nicholas will be asking each and everyone of them if they have been a good child during the past yea
Most children of course say yes and will be asked to sing a song or recite a short poem, after which they are rewarded with sweets and o…

"It's only 7 a.m. and I'm already #$@*&%!

In the morning when I'm out with Klaus, I see lots of people on the streets. Since there are two schools within a block or so, I see many moms, dads and grandmas walking their kids to school. I'd say about 75% of the parents have a look that says, "I just got up and I'm already pissed off."

I sometimes wish I could stop these people and tell them that they are so fortunate to have kids that are healthy, well-dressed and (no doubt) fed; that these years of child-raising are so precious, as they will fly right by; that having a positive attitude makes life so much easier and more surprisingly pleasant.
Maybe all city dwellers have this kind of armor on when they are on the street, and when they get home, they are as gentle and content as one could be. I hope so.
(btw, the other 25% are happy and relaxed. Those folks have got it right!)

Clicking heels, former oppression and just in a hurry

One thing that I've noticed here is the clicking heels on so many women's shoes. Here, I am, walking down the street in my quiet North Face walking shoes, minding my own business, when I hear "click-click-click" behind me. A jolt of alarm rushes through my body--who is following me so quickly and purposefully? I look back, fully expecting to see the ghost of a Nazi SS official, but instead see just a woman rushing up behind me.

I don't understand how people who lived under oppression (the 3 a.m. knock on the door from the StB; the Black Maria being filled with terrified political dissidents and Jews) can wear such aggressive-sounding heels. It seems to me that everyone here would be trying hard not to get attention on the street.

Most likely I'm completely misinterpreting this click-click thing, and the young people today have no memory of oppression to slow them down. People walk fast in Prague, so "click-click-click" is the right way to sound if y…

Red setter, red squirrel

On my walk with Klaus in Bezrucovy sady, we saw some nice red creatures. No, not returning communists, but a red Irish setter running free with huge delight and a red (really orange) squirrel cautiously climbing the front of an apartment building.

Parallel parking ironies

This morning Klaus woke us up early, whining and demanding to be walked. So I (reluctantly) took him out--it's a Sunday, and the streets are empty at that hour.

We cross Slovenska and I see a car's headlights aimed toward us--I stop, then see that someone is parking their car. We walk toward the car, which is old, painted a tired blue. Behind the wheel is a young woman with a tense face, struggling to parallel park.

She gets out of the car, which is now nicely parked, but about 2 feet from the curb (on a very narrow street). She doesn't say a word, but simply stands, looking defeated. Her boyfriend gets out of the passenger seat and walks around to the driver seat, gets into the car and proceeds to park it correctly. In all this activity, not one word is exchanged, nor do they look at each other, but the tension is palpable.

They open the car's hatchback and unload about ten bags and boxes of stuff, which they are obviously going to carry into their flat. They look we…