1. Own guns! (much)
I was shocked recently to see this sign at the entrance of a community center in a nearby village. Maybe I shouldn’t have been? Tell me, Czech readers. But considering that gun violence is a huge thing and often unregulated in the States and absolutely not here (CZ gun deaths 2014: 191, US gun deaths 2014: 33,599 and 4819 so far in 2017), I didn’t expect to encounter it. There are an estimated 800,000 gun owners in CZ as compared to 55 million in USA.
2. Allow themselves to be interrupted
It’s not difficult to guess that men interrupt women more than the other way around, but women are much more likely to interrupt other women than to interrupt men as well. This is a really casual, not scientific observation of mine, but I have noticed that Czech people do not allow themselves to be interrupted. When I try to interrupt (that sounds weird, but I mean just in the normal course of conversation), I am usually unable to as the person (men AND women) will simply keep on talking. This definitely discourages interruption. But it makes me wonder if I just talk too much and there’s a huge Czech conspiracy to stop me from talking more…
3. Say “excuse me”
Czechs know how to say sorry when they are wrong, but many Americans would be surprised at how common it is to get bumped, pushed, or plain knocked over by people walking by without them so much as glancing back. Though we make fun of Canadians for apologizing too much, Americans really say sorry quite often when it comes to accidentally pushing people – it’s socially required. I’ve seen this phenomenon most often while shopping in the supermarket. If you’re wondering, yes, I spend a lot of time staring at abusers of my American custom with mouth wide open long after they’ve walked away. See the gif.
4. Accept repeated thank you’s or apologies
American custom says that when a person goes out of their way to help or be nice to you, you should thank them a minimum of three times (I’m estimating; it’s often thirty times). Politeness also puts pressure on us to apologize more than once for things which have nothing to do with us (“I’m so sorry to hear you had a bad day”) or even minor mistakes.
Example from my first year: I broke some kind of dishware, a plate or glass. I apologized a few times while helping to collect the broken pieces. Later, I said, “Again, I just want to say I’m so sorry…” and I was finally told, “Really, it doesn’t matter at all. Breaking things is actually considered good luck.”
That’s a convenient tradition if I’ve ever heard one! Just wish I’d known it before I spent 15 minutes crying on the inside.
Czechs tend not to understand it when I thank them or apologize repeatedly. Once is enough, if it’s even considered necessary at all. Why should you thank me? – it was no problem. OR, Why should you be sorry for something you didn’t cause?
In fact, despite the levels of cultural and linguistic formality, Czechs can often be very direct. When you are apologizing/thanking them too much or they think you want something from them (but not when they want something from you), they prefer to cut to the chase. Americans tend towards a “could you please, whenever you get the chance” / “kindasorta busy right now, maybe later, if I have the chance” sort of diplomacy.
5. Introduce others, or say hello to strangers
I try to get as involved in Czech society as I can, so I meet a lot of new people all the time, most of whom want to ask me why I’m (still) here. However, it’s very common that – before anyone knows I’m not Czech – when I’m standing in a group with a friend, my stranger-ness will be completely ignored. And often, my friend will not make a move to introduce me. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe because Czech people are naturally shy or less open to people they don’t know. Maybe because, unlike Americans, Czechs don’t think it’s important to enthusiastically say hello to literally every new person they meet, especially if they guess that their conversation may only last a minute or two. It seems to me that Czechs typically feel more comfortable sticking with whom they know.
6. Arrive late
Czechs are quite punctual people and expect you to be as well, though bureaucrats will often keep you waiting if you interrupt them on their coffee break. On the other hand, Americans arrive just on time or a few minutes late – we have a phrase, “fashionably late” for social events – without social penalty. Unfortunately, this hasn’t had much effect on me – I have to set my clocks and watch 10 minutes ahead if I want to be even on time to anything at all.
7. Think in extremes
For Americans, most things are THE BEST or THE WORST. Czechs leave their stronger adjectives for the times which really call for them, which I have to accept even though I don’t like it 😦
But it is entertaining to watch people’s faces anytime I say that anything is better than good. (I am usually talking about cake.)
Example: “That was the best lunch I ever had!”
Do you agree with these “don’t”s?
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Btw, I remembered another one super peculiar thing I’ve seen Americans do when I was in Oregon that Czechs never ever do. We never write on gifts (unless maybe we send them by mail) from whom they are. Even when you’re adult, christmas gifts come from Jezisek, end of discussion.
I KNOW!! haha! and when it’s not written, we’re very quick to say whom it’s from. we also like to write personal Christmas cards but the first year I was here, I was told that that’s very unusual.
Nice. As a Czech person, I have few comments:
1) Not introducing others is simply lack of manners. It’s something we are supposed to do, but some people forget it way too often.
2) Not talking to strangers on the other hand is very much deliberate and I believe it to be a heritage of the Communist regime when talking to the wrong person could easily get you unpleasant talk with the secret police. To this day, we don’t talk to strangers and to a degree, we immediately suspect any stranger that approaches us.
I thought of the connection to Communism too, but do you think even young people have that suspicious feeling? I know it’s part of Czech heritage but they probably couldn’t identify it consciously – what do you think?
I think they just take it up from their parents. People may not consciously connect it to the previous regime, but they are doing consciously. It’s almost part of the etiquette. You don’t talk to strangers unless you have a reason. Saying “whats up, man” to a stranger on a street is almost seen (and sometimes used) as a form of aggression.
It doesn’t help the matter that most people that do approach you in public in a big (big, haha, I know) city are:
1) Insurance salesmen.
2) People reeking of beer who just need X Kc for bus, where X happens to be the price of the cheapest bottled beer in the nearest watering hole.
3) All kinds of charity drive people guilt tripping people who are just trying to get to work/school.
So, mostly people who want your money.