I was contacted the other day by a writer for a Czech magazine called SRdce. She writes an article for each issue called, ‘How Do They Live?’ comparing the lives of ex-pats living in the Czech Republic. Here is what she asked me and my response.
- How long have you been living here? Were did you live before?
We moved to the Czech Republic In the fall of 2003 so that is eight years ago. We were living in USA before we came here. I lived in Italy for 14 years as well.
Did you know anything about the Czech Republic before you came here?
Yes, I had visited the Czechoslovakia in 1998. The Czech Republic is a lot different today then when I first came here.
What did you find positive or fine on living in the CR?
The beautiful architecture and nature. The Czech Republic is an unspoiled land.
What did you find not nice, negative on living in the CR?
The most difficult thing is the language. I am really disappointed that I have not been able to lean how to speak Czech. Fortunately, there are many Czechs who speak English so I haven’t felt isolated.
What do you think about Czech life style, habits, and culture?
I think the Czech life style, habits and culture are very similar to living in the USA. Sometimes I forget where I am. I live in a village so the life around me is quite simple. I have enjoyed learning about folk culture. You have some strange ways of celebrating, such as Easter. I really appreciate the crafts and artisans. Oh yes, and also the food. Czech food is delicious even though it is very heavy. It reminds me of many dishes my mother and grandmother prepared at home.
What do you think about our mentality, and behaviour?
On the whole I admire the Czech people but there are a couple of things that I don’t understand. I think driving in the Czech Republic is dangerous. I don’t understand why people take so many risk while they are behind the wheel of a car. Secondly, I don’t understand why some Czechs drink so much at celebrations. Of course these are commune questions that you have asked yourself.
What do you think about our language? Can you speak Czech?
Like I said before, it is the most frustrating part of living here. After eight years I have reconciled myself that I will never be able to speak Czech well. Actually I don’t have the opportunity to speak Czech much. Everyday I speak English with my students. My husband, who has had to use Czech for business has been much more successful at learning the language. If it was necessary for me to learn, I would have tried harder.
Do you like Czech cuisine? What meal yes, and what no?
Oh, yes, although I have gained 5 kilos since we moved here. Czech food is very rich. Cooking and eating are two of my passions. I have enjoyed learning to cook Czech food. I think one of the greatest pleasures of visiting a new country is trying the local cooking. I think Czech food used to be better than it is today. Many of the old cooks have retired and the new cooks are interested in doing something different. It is getting harder and harder to find authentic Czech cuisine in restaurants so I am learning to cook Czech food myself. I’ve learned to cook Domácí králik, Pečena Kachna, zelí and knedlík, and buchty. I can think of only two things that I am not so fond of, bramboračka and česneková polévka. I like garlic but too much is too much.
What do you miss here?
When we first arrived, there were less stock in stores. If you saw something you thought you might need you had to buy it because that one was the only one in the store. There were only the necessities, nothing special in those days. However today there is everything one could want. I can’t think of anything that is lacking except maybe hot peppers. Sometimes it is difficult to find hot peppers.
Is there anything you would like to tell Czech people?
I have lived a sheltered life compared to many Czech people. They have lived through hard times which I can’t even imagine. Their history is much more complex and longer than mine. Their culture richer. The Czech Republic is a beautiful country, the people are kind and generous, All I can say is that I appreciate the fact that I can live here and learn from them.
Would you like to live there all your life?
Yes, I hope I will be able to do just that. We are quite happy here.
How important is learning languages in your life?
I am an English language teacher so it is very important to me. This is why it is so frustrating to have failed at learning Czech. Learning a new language allows you not only to communicate but to understand a culture and people better. I am very happy that there is a new push for Europeans to learn English. It gives more opportunity to speak with people from all over Europe. Thirty years ago, when I first came to Europe, hardly anyone spoke English. It was really very difficult traveling from one country to another. Today it’s a piece of cake. No matter where you go today somebody speaks English. We can share our ideas and experiences and learn from each other.
How easy is raising a child as bilingual?
It is not a problem to raise a child to be bilingual. If an infant hears both languages in his home he will speak both languages as well as his parents within 2 years. The biggest problem with a bi-national family is that the children are always considered foreigners in their own countries. For example my son is Italian-American, while we were living in Italy everyone referred to him as ‘the American’. When we moved to America he was referred to as ‘the Italian’. The children grow up not having a place where they can really fit in. They can become outsiders.