20 Things I wish I had known when I married a Czech (and moved to the Czech Republic)

A random list of personal adaptations to Czech culture from over a decade of life here

Like many expats when I arrived in Prague years ago, I never planned to stay. I was swept away by the history and the magic of the place – the cathedrals and the spires, Charles Bridge in the still of a winter night, red roofs and crumbling facades, pubs that served cheap Czech beer. I taught English and soaked up the experience of living abroad. It was an adventure. I didn’t think I’d be here long.

Then, I fell in love. My beau was Czech. We met at the Sparta ice-hockey arena, both having gotten tickets from a mutual English-teacher friend. Ours was a spring romance in a fairytale city. We ate strawberries on Kampa, rollerbladed in Stromovka and drank beer at the Riegrovy sady beer garden. My parents said it wouldn’t last. My friends said it was too fast. We moved into an apartment together in Nusle, then to another in Žižkov. Then we moved to America. We stayed there long enough for our first child to be born.

We’ve been back in the Czech Republic for ten years now. Some people, usually Czechs, ask me why we don’t live in America, or when we’re planning to go back. In response, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned in my time here. If, like me, you’ve lived here longer than you ever expected, perhaps my list will sound familiar. At the least, I hope it might inspire you to think about the ways you’ve made the Czech Republic your home (whether temporarily or long-term).

20 Things I wish I had known when I married a Czech and moved to the Czech Republic (in no particular order) …

  • That I, my husband, our children and all guests to our home would take their shoes off at the door without being asked, and I would keep extra pairs of IKEA slippers on hand for visitors.

  • That despite my attempts to cook my family’s favorite Czech meals my mother-in-law would always make the best svíčková, apple strudel and garlic soup.

  • That I would never dress my children warmly enough to ward off the unsolicited comments I’d receive from Czech babičky (grandmothers) on the streets of Prague.

  • That wearing tights in the winter months is considered normal for Czech preschool boys (think Superhero mentality for staying warm), but crying in public, even for young boys, is considered taboo.

  • That I would learn more Czech by visiting the doctor, shopping in the supermarket, talking to my children’s teachers and interacting with my neighbors than I would ever learn in Czech class.

  • That eating an ice-cream in the morning is okay as is drinking a beer before lunch, but eating ice cream when you have got a sore throat is off-limits, even if it’s during a summer heat wave. 

  • That according to Czech friends my children speak perfect Czech, but whenever we visit the US, my kids are told by their American friends that they have “European” accents.

  • That “Ještě jednou pivo, prosím,” (One more beer, please) would not be enough Czech for me to survive a decade here, despite my initial beliefs to the contrary.

  • That Czech restaurant culture would explode with international food options, but most Czechs would still prefer to eat comfort food like řízek (schnitzel), smažený sýr (fried cheese), vepřo-knedlo-zelo (pork, dumplings and cabbage) and svíčková (beef sirloin).

  • That my five-year old son would come home from Czech preschool one day with more “zprosty slova” (rude or dirty words) than I’d ever hear in a Czech pub.

  • That changing into “home” clothes when I came home from work and my children came from school would become a part of our family’s daily routine. 

  • That I’d be whipped with a pussy willow switch on Easter Monday and expected to serve my male neighbors a shot of Czech liquor, even when I argued that it wasn’t my holiday to celebrate.

  • That my family would greet spring each year by celebrating Witch-Burning Night on April 30 with a village party – an enormous bonfire, beer, sausages and witches dressed in pointed hats. 

  • That I’d have a live carp swimming in my bathtub for three days every Christmas holiday.

  • That I’d eventually learn how to travel by tram, metro and bus with a stroller and that every mother or father navigating a stroller on public transport was just as nervous about asking passersby for help as I was regardless of whether they were Czech or not.

  • That over time, I wouldn’t blink an eye watching children bathe in the nude at local pools and lakes. Despite getting over my prudishness, my own kids would insist on wearing bathing suits, even when I told them it was okay to go in the buff like their friends.

  • That after a decade of drinking Czech beer whenever I returned to the US for a visit, I would stock up on bottled Pilsner Urquell even though it didn’t taste as good as it does here. 

  • That all Czech citizens (even those with dual-citizenship) would be required by law to enter and leave the Schengen Area on a Czech passport. Being refused exit by Czech Foreign Police at the airport when my children had valid US passports but no Czech ones was a tough way to learn this lesson. 

  • That by not taking the traditional Czech “–ova” ending on my last name, I’d be forever addressed as Mister. 

  • That in spite of, or perhaps because of, all the particularities of my adopted homeland, when my family got a chance to relocate to another country, I’d be the one convincing my husband and kids to stay in the Czech Republic, this fairytale land I now call home.

Have you got a list of your own adaptations you’d like to share with Prague.TV?

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