Showing posts from March, 2011

Roma, but not in Rome

The question of the Roma in the Czech Republic is sensitive. Roma people are a distinct ethnic group in Europe, often called gypsies. The verb "gyp", to cheat, is related, as is the word "Egypt," where some people thought gypsies came from. Using the word "gypsy" is now politically incorrect, as it's an insulting term, but it's still widely used.

As far as most scholars agree, the Roma came from India many centuries ago. They traveled across Europe, all the way to Ireland, where they are called "travelers." Wherever they live, most Roma keep their culture intact and were an irritant to the people around them--and still are.

Roma culture is, above all, family-centered. Each child is a member of his or her extended family, and is expected to put the family's values, goals and lifestyles first. It's not an individualistic culture, like the US or Western Europe, where children are encouraged to develop their own gifts and find their o…

Being an expat

I was determined, when we moved to Prague, not to be an expat (expatriate). Expats are boring people who drone on and on about how things were back home and how much they miss their peanut butter or Yorkshire pudding. I would be Czech.

But it hasn't happened that way. I am not Czech, and anyone who talks to me for more than two minutes can hear that. So, by default, I'm an expat.

We tried going to a Czech church, but they didn't know what to do with us. So now we go to an expat, English-speaking church full of people from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. We have friends from all around the world--so they are expats, too.

Being an expat has caused me to make three dramatic changes in my thinking:

1. I see opportunism as a positive quality. In a static society, being opportunistic (entrepreneurial, seizing the day) is frowned upon. In my own culture, there was a well-defined place for me, and people expected me to stay in it. Here, I make my own place. And I find that I…

around Josefov (the Jewish quarter)

Prague was one of the major cities for Central European Jews for many centuries. Jewish traders came to Prague in the 10th century; by the reign of Rudolf II in the 16th century, they were intricately involved in the city's vital activities. The Jewish quarter was once a true ghetto, walled and sealed off; in 1850, Emperor Josef II removed these restrictions and the quarter was named in his honor.

The old ghetto, with its tiny streets and wooden buildings, was demolished between 1893-1913, as part of an urban renewal plan using Paris as a model. However, six synagogues, the old Jewish cemetery and the Community Center were preserved for their beauty and historical significance.

Josefov is a curious blend of the old and the new, with the stylish shopping street, Pařížská ulice, next to ancient synagogues, modest apartment buildings, gaudy luxury stores and neighborhood pubs. I love to walk through Josefov.

Happy St Paddy's Day! (tomorrow!)

Here I am in the middle of Europe, wishing you a Happy St Patrick's Day. You may not think the Czechs and the Irish have much in common, but let me tell you 6 ways they are alike.
1. They both are small countries that have suffered colonization and political repression (the Irish by the Norwegian and the English, and the Czechs by Austrians, Germans and Russians).
2. They have both been badly harmed by fighting between Catholics and Protestants, with many deaths and much destruction.
3. In the 1990's and early 2000's, many Czechs emigrated to Ireland to find work; now the flow has reversed.
4. Both countries have traditionally produced artistic, sensitive, peace-loving people.
5. Both the Irish and the Czechs love beer.
6. The movie "Once" shows how the Irish and the Czechs can even fall in love with each other.

Dublin, quiet and tidy, with no disgusting litterers

I'm in Dublin, on my way back to Prague after 10 days in the US. As I'm taking the bus into downtown Dublin from the airport, I see this sign
My German mother would have loved it! These were her constant instructions to me as I was growing up.
Another sign was about littering. This one sounds more like something my Irish father might have said.