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EXPATS
December 16, 2023

The Expat’s Guide to Life in the Czech Republic: Tips for Fitting In, Making Friends & Cultural Insights

Scenic green countryside near Prague, Czech Republic, showcasing the serene natural beauty and tranquil landscapes characteristic of the region.
Aya Rechenburg
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EXPATS

In this article you find out:

  • The rich cultural tapestry of the Czech Republic, exploring its unique social norms and etiquettes.
  • Insights into local customs for greetings, home visits, and dining to enhance your cultural understanding.
  • How to navigate daily challenges with ease, covering aspects of public behavior, transportation, and shopping habits.
  • Practical advice for a smoother transition and a more enriching experience in the Czech landscape.

Welcome to the Czech Republic: a country that seamlessly intertwines its rich historical heritage with a progressive outlook, making it an appealing destination for expatriates across the globe. If you're reading this, perhaps you're considering joining their ranks or have already made the leap. As you explore this guide, you might find reflections of your own journey here…

A Land of Past and Future

The Czech Republic has skillfully navigated the delicate balance between conservation and innovation. Central to this equilibrium is Prague, a city where ancient spires and winding cobblestone streets coexist with a pulsating energy and contemporary dynamism. More than a visual feast, Prague is a city with depth and soul, offering a unique experience to its inhabitants and visitors alike.

Venturing into the countryside unveils a stark contrast, with rural areas exuding a timeless charm and a devotion to longstanding traditions. Here, the pace of life decelerates, and the influence of past decades, particularly the communist era, is palpable.

The Cosmopolitan vs. Traditional Dichotomy

Prague, the enchanting capital of the Czech Republic, serves as the perfect embodiment of the country’s juxtaposition between the old and the new. Here, age-old traditions coexist harmoniously with the vibrancy of a modern European metropolis. However, this duality can sometimes lead to misconceptions, especially among expats who are new to the city.

Captivating view of Prague's historical center, where centuries-old architecture and cobblestone streets tell the story of the city's rich history and cultural heritage.

Modern Metropolis

On one hand, Prague presents itself as a contemporary city, boasting an impressive array of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Its tech industry is booming, drawing professionals from around the world.

Guardian of Traditions

On the other hand, the city is a fervent guardian of its history and traditions. From the preserved medieval architecture to the regular celebrations of historic festivals, the past is very much alive in Prague.

10 Common Misconceptions Among Expats

  1. Language Barrier: Many assume that given Prague’s cosmopolitan nature, English will be widely spoken. However, this is not always the case, especially outside tourist areas.
  2. Reserved Locals: The locals’ initial reservedness is often mistaken for unfriendliness, but in reality, it’s just a part of the Czech nature.
  3. Weather Woes: Some expats might expect a milder climate, only to be surprised by the city’s harsh winters and hot summers.
  4. Bureaucracy: The Czech Republic’s bureaucratic processes can be unexpectedly complex and time-consuming.
  5. Work Culture: The work environment might seem rigid to those coming from more relaxed professional cultures.
  6. Public Transport: While efficient, Prague’s public transport system can be confusing for newcomers.
  7. Czech Timekeeping: Punctuality is crucial in Czech culture, a standard that might catch some expats off guard.
  8. Love for Beer: The Czechs’ love for beer is well-known, but the sheer variety and availability might still surprise.
  9. Quiet Sundays: Many shops and services close on Sundays, a day traditionally reserved for rest.
  10. Affordability: While cheaper than many Western European cities, some parts of Prague can be expensive, especially for housing.

Czech Culture: A Challenging Adventure

While Prague's charm is undeniable, diving deep into the Czech culture and truly understanding its nuances presents a challenge, especially for expats.

Language

  • Intricate Grammar: The Czech language is known for its complex grammar and multitude of accents, making it a formidable challenge for many expats. The language's declension system, along with numerous exceptions, requires time and dedication to master.
  • Limited English Proficiency: While English is widely taught in schools, proficiency levels vary, particularly among the older generations and in rural areas, potentially leading to communication barriers.

Locals

  • Straightforward and Witty: Czechs are known for their straightforwardness and sharp wit. This can sometimes come across as blunt or reserved, especially to those from cultures where indirect communication is the norm.
  • Initial Reserve: Building trust and friendship with locals may take time, as Czechs often open up to new acquaintances gradually.

Czech Grumpiness

  • Stereotypical Views: The Czechs have a stereotype of being grumpy, especially in customer service roles. However, it’s important to note that this demeanor is not necessarily a reflection of their personal feelings towards you.
  • A Cultural Trait: What might be perceived as grumpiness is, in many cases, a cultural trait rooted in history and the national character, shaped by centuries of turbulence and resilience.

Czech Sense of Humor

  • Dark and Ironic: The Czech sense of humor is known for being quite dry and sarcastic, and it might take some time for expats to fully grasp and appreciate it.
  • Self-Deprecating: Often, this humor can be self-deprecating, reflecting the nation’s ability to laugh at itself and find humor even in difficult situations.

Social Norms and Traditions

  • Deeply Embedded: The Czech Republic has a rich tapestry of traditions and social norms. For newcomers, understanding the subtleties of these traditions can be as challenging as navigating a labyrinth.
  • Respect for Tradition: There is a strong sense of respect for traditions and the country's historical legacy, reflected in the way holidays are celebrated, as well as in daily customs and societal expectations.
  • Formality in Social Interactions: Social interactions often adhere to a level of formality, with titles and surnames used in professional and sometimes even in casual settings.

The iconic Prague Astronomical Clock, or Orloj, stands as a testament to Czech precision and the cultural importance placed on punctuality, reminding us that in the Czech Republic, time is indeed of the essence.

Czech Punctuality

  • Time is of the Essence: Punctuality holds significant importance in Czech culture, where being late is commonly interpreted as a lack of respect or seriousness. In most professional and social settings, arriving on time is expected.
  • Academic Quarter Hour Exception: However, it is interesting to note the cultural peculiarity known as “Academic Quarter” (Akademická čtvrthodina) in educational settings, particularly at universities. This tradition incorporates a 15-minute grace period, allowing students (and in some cases) professors to arrive up to 15 minutes past the scheduled start time without penalty. While this approach is quite accepted within the academic realm, it’s important to emphasize that such leniency is typically not found in other aspects of Czech life, where punctuality is paramount and highly valued.
  • Planning is Key: Expats will quickly learn that planning ahead and being on time are crucial, whether it’s for a social gathering or a business meeting.

Love for Outdoor Activities

The Czech Republic stands out in its love and dedication to outdoor activities, with its well-marked trails and comprehensive network of hiking paths. The system of tourist signage for hiking in the Czech Republic is considered one of the most reliable and well-developed not just in Europe, but across the world. In fact, the country boasts the densest network of tourist signage among European Union nations.

  • A National Pastime: Hiking, camping, and spending time in nature are beloved activities, with the country's beautiful landscapes serving as a playground for outdoor enthusiasts.
  • Exquisite Trail Network: With its exceptional system of well-maintained and clearly marked trails, the Czech Republic ensures that lovers of the outdoors can safely and easily navigate through its breathtaking landscapes. This comprehensive network stands as a testament to the nation's commitment to preserving and promoting outdoor activities.
  • Social Opportunities: Engaging in these activities can also serve as a great opportunity for expats to bond with locals and immerse themselves in Czech culture.

A woman immersed in the serene beauty of Czech nature, embodying the local passion for outdoor activities.

Czech Cottage Culture

The Czech Republic is renowned for its distinctive cottage culture, which stands out as a phenomenon unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Cottages, often referred to as "chata" or "chalupa" in Czech, are small houses located in rural areas, and they play a significant role in the lives of many Czech families.

  • A National Tradition: Owning or visiting a cottage is a tradition that spans generations, with these humble abodes serving as a home away from home. For many Czechs, especially from Prague, weekends and vacations are synonymous with heading to the cottage, escaping the hustle and bustle of city life.
  • A Connection to Nature: These cottages are typically situated amidst nature, providing a perfect backdrop for the aforementioned love of outdoor activities. They offer a tranquil retreat, allowing individuals and families to reconnect with nature, engage in gardening, hiking, or simply relax in the serene surroundings.
  • Social and Family Bonds: The cottage culture also plays a crucial role in strengthening social and family bonds. Families often gather at their cottages during holidays and weekends, creating lasting memories and fostering a sense of unity. It’s a time for storytelling, sharing meals, and enjoying each other’s company away from the distractions of modern life.
  • Preservation of Traditions: The cottage culture contributes significantly to the preservation of Czech traditions and way of life. Many cottages are passed down through generations, and with them, stories, recipes, and customs are preserved and shared, ensuring that the rich tapestry of Czech culture continues to thrive.
  • A Source of National Pride: The widespread practice of retreating to cottages is a source of national pride, embodying the Czech spirit of valuing simplicity, family, and a deep connection to nature. It reflects a lifestyle that balances work and leisure, modernity and tradition.

Understanding these aspects of Czech culture will equip you with the knowledge you need to navigate the new environment, build meaningful connections, and fully enjoy the unique experience of living in the Czech Republic.

A meticulously preserved 18th-century Czech cottage, standing as a testament to the country’s rich architectural heritage and the enduring importance of cottage culture in Czech society.

The Czech Identity

Understanding the Czech Republic requires delving into its rich history and exploring how it has shaped contemporary customs, attitudes, and the values that govern daily life.

The Czech Republic has undergone significant transformations throughout its history, transitioning from a communist regime to a democratic state. This journey has left an indelible mark on the country’s cultural fabric.

  • Communist Legacy

The remnants of the communist era are still visible in some of the older generations’ attitudes and beliefs.

  • Atheism

With the Czech Republic being one of the most atheistic countries in the world, this has influenced a general skepticism towards authority and institutions.

Values and Beliefs Shaping Daily Life

The Czech way of life is underpinned by a set of values and beliefs that manifest in daily interactions and societal norms.

*Honesty and Directness

Czechs value straightforward communication, which can sometimes come across as brusque to outsiders.

*Privacy

There is a strong emphasis on personal privacy, and it may take time for locals to open up to newcomers.

*Community and Family

Despite the reserved nature, there is a strong sense of community and family, with close-knit circles playing a significant role in people’s lives.

*Love for Nature

A deep appreciation for the outdoors is ingrained in the Czech culture, with hiking and camping being extremely popular activities.

*Cultural Pride

There is an evident and strong sense of pride in Czech history, culture, and locally produced goods and services. This is visible not just in the preservation of traditions and celebrations of national holidays, but also in the popular preference for local brands.

  • Seznam.cz: Often referred to as the Czech Google, Seznam.cz is a testament to the country’s innovation and preference for home-grown solutions.
  • Alza.cz: Known as the Czech Amazon, Alza’s success story is a source of national pride, showcasing the Czech Republic’s ability to create and sustain local enterprises that can compete with global giants.
  • Kofola: A Czech Coca-Cola. Kofola is cherished not just for its unique taste, but also as a symbol of Czech ingenuity and tradition.

By familiarizing yourself with these core values and beliefs, you’ll find it easier to navigate the Czech cultural landscape, gaining a deeper understanding of what makes this society so unique and captivating.

How to Navigate Social Norms as an Expat in Czech Republic

Understanding the social fabric of the Czech Republic is crucial for a harmonious expat experience. Czechs have their unique set of etiquettes and social norms, which might come across as peculiar but are deeply rooted in their culture.

6 Challenges in Day-to-Day Living

Everyday life in a new country comes with its own set of challenges. The Czech Republic is no exception, and understanding the local customs and etiquettes can make the transition smoother.

1. Greetings

A firm handshake with direct eye contact is a common greeting in the Czech Republic, regardless of gender. Friends and close acquaintances might greet each other with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

2. Visiting Someone’s Home

If you are invited to a Czech home, it’s customary to bring a small gift, such as flowers, chocolates, or a bottle of wine. Make sure to remove your shoes at the door, as this is a common practice in Czech households. During the meal, wait for the host to initiate the eating before you start.

A pair of slippers at the doorstep, highlighting the Czech tradition of removing shoes indoors to keep the home clean and comfortable.

3. Dining Customs

When dining out, it is polite to say "Dobrou chut'" (Enjoy your meal) before starting your meal. Czechs take their time while eating, appreciating both the food and the company, so don’t rush through the meal. When it comes to paying the bill, it’s typical to pay separately, especially in informal settings.

4. Public Behavior

Czechs value quiet and orderly public spaces. Loud conversations and public displays of affection are generally frowned upon. It’s important to respect personal space and maintain a polite demeanor.

5. Transportation Etiquettes

On public transportation, it’s customary to give up your seat to the elderly, pregnant women, or those with disabilities. Wait for passengers to exit trams, buses, or trains before boarding, and always validate your ticket to avoid fines.

6. Shopping Habits

Small shops and local markets might close earlier than you’re used to, so plan your shopping accordingly. When queuing, Czechs expect everyone to wait their turn patiently, and cutting in line is considered very rude.

No matter if you are just setting foot in this unique country or have been here a while, navigating the Czech culture can always bring about new adventures and learning experiences. Remember, you're not alone in this journey, and adapting to a new culture takes time and patience. I sincerely wish you all the best in finding your rhythm and joy in the Czech Republic. If at any point you find yourself in need of some psychological support or just someone to talk to, please know that my doors are always open. You can reach out to me here to find out how I can help you to work through the challenges of your life.

Enjoy your journey of cultural adaptation to the fullest and enrich your expat experience in this unique and captivating country.

Aya Rechenburg guides people to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual growth. Welcome to a space dedicated to your self-discovery and transformation.
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