7 Ways to Spot a Bohemian “Baby Boomer”

What's unique about Czechs born during the 1970s?

Born during the “normalization” years after the Prague Spring in 1968, Bohemian baby boomers spent their childhood attending Young Pioneers meetings, coveting hard-to-come-by Levi jeans, leather boots and listening to rock ‘n roll. Depending on their families’ political affiliations, they may have participated in the Velvet Revolution. After the revolution, they came of age during a time when rules were broken and possibilities seemed limitless. They might have traveled or lived abroad. Later, many returned to their homeland to raise their own families, richer from seeing life from different perspectives. 

Now that the Bohemian baby boomer of the 1970s is approximately 40 years old, is there anything that distinguishes this generation of Czechs? 

Due to a mixture of fate, good luck and the urge to follow my heart, I have spent most of my adult life (thus far) living in the Czech Republic married to a Czech. The characteristics of Bohemian baby boomers that follow are those I've observed from watching my similarly-aged Czech contemporaries – friends, colleagues and neighbors – as they live out their daily lives. While my list won't apply to every baby boomer (I'm sure my own husband would argue with point #1), I hope it might help non-Czechs like myself better understand our Czech contemporaries and how, in many ways, the experiences and life choices made by the baby boomers have influenced the shape of modern Czech society.

You might be a Bohemian Baby Boomer if …

You’ve got dancing feet – You can do the waltz, polka, foxtrot and cha chi as well any “Star Dance” guest, but after midnight on the dance room floor, you prefer rock ‘n roll. You probably won’t make your sons or daughters go for the same Friday night ballroom dancing lessons you attended at the local sokol (community center) because it seems old-fashioned. Then again, you might – just because it’s retro.

When I attended my first (and only) formal ball in Prague, I was surprised when the band changed from a ballroom quartet to a rock ‘n roll cover band at midnight. Watching Czechs who’d waltzed so gracefully break down and boogie in their gowns and tuxedos was seeing two different worlds collide. Whether the younger generation will keep the ballroom dancing tradition, only time will tell. 

Your mother tongue is “Czechoslovak”
– When your Slovak neighbor says, “Čo robíš?” (What are you doing?), you answer back in Czech, “Nic” (nothing). Your Czech son looks puzzled even though his best friend is Slovak. You speak with your son’s friend’s parents in Czech and they answer in Slovak, but your kids speak only Czech together.

Until the Velvet Divorce of 1993, Czechs and Slovaks grew up sharing more than just a border. Television and radio were broadcast in both languages; the nations shared a currency and a cultural history. It’s a different story for children growing up today. Although the largest “minority” population living in the Czech Republic is Slovak, Czech school age kids don’t understand much Slovak because they don’t hear it in daily life. Slovak children have more exposure to Czech since some Czech programs are still played on Slovak TV. Most Slovaks living here speak Czech (at least with other Czechs). Although many Czechs and Slovaks now agree the split was good for both sides, baby boomers remember the days when half of a hockey match was commentated in Czech and the second half in Slovak.

You grew up in a collective but you want your children to think for themselves – You were born during the “normalization” era when conformity was prized above individuality. You grew up using coloring books with an example page already colored in. You didn’t color your trees purple or your flowers black. Even if you didn’t love all your elementary school classmates, by the time you’d spent four years with the same kids and the same teacher, you had learned what it meant to be loyal. You attended your 20-year elementary school reunion just to see how everyone looked.

When your own children go to school, however, you seek ways for them to express their individuality. You buy blank craft paper instead of coloring books, enroll them in Montessori preschool programs where they learn to work at their own pace. You may have changed your permanent address (or considered changing it) so that your child could attend a state school outside your district because you wanted a choice (i.e. more foreign languages, different methodology, progressive approach, informal learning environment where students call teachers by their first names).

You believe language paves the way – You learned Russian or German in school, but you expect your children to have excellent English. You care about the quality of the foreign language instruction at your child’s elementary school, particularly the English program, and you are willing to pay for extra English lessons at an early age. You might not speak English (or be too shy to try), but you are determined that your children will never face the same challenge.

You like to travel, even if it’s just a weekend trip to your chata – I have long been impressed by the ability of my Czech contemporaries to pack up their children and all their gear (strollers, potty chairs, skis, sleds, bicycles, camping equipment, baskets for gathering mushrooms) and head off to the Czech countryside. While weekends at the cottage are time-honored traditions, baby boomers are leading the nation as world-travelers. Czechs increasingly travel by plane on their holidays. Popular destinations for family trips are Turkey, Egypt, Italy, Spain and Croatia (summer) and Austria, Italy and Slovakia (winter). Baby boomers have visited Thailand, traveled in other parts of Asia or lived abroad in the UK, Australia or the US during their youth.

You waited to have children and you may have postponed getting married (indefinitely) – During Communism, married couples and married families with children received benefits from the state (namely a flat or a larger flat) that single parents or childless couples did not. These incentives prompted couples to marry sooner and to start their families straightaway. However, after 1989, the wealth of opportunities available for both women and men began to change the model of the Czech family. With the chance to prioritize their education or their career, women delayed starting families until they reached their 30s. Couples also increasingly chose to co-habitat instead of marrying young. If and when they did marry, they often did it (at least partly) at the request of their children who were by then old enough to participate in the ceremony.

You may be in a multicultural relationship (or have friends from multicultural families) – When I arrived, Prague was still being “discovered” by the outside world and foreigners were regarded as being “the other.” Now, when I look at my children’s Czech elementary school, their schoolmates include students with Czech, Russian, Ukrainian, American, Australian, Korean, Italian, Greek and Slovak heritages. While the Czech population may still be largely homogenous (particularly outside of its capital city), blended marriages and multicultural families are continuing to introduce diversity into the nation's population.

In seeking to better understand the country where I’ve chosen to call home, it’s been important for me to try to understand this generation of Czechs who grew up with a foot in both worlds.

Thank you, bohemian baby boomers.

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