Grace: Czech the Flip
The header of this featured blog already tells you what you are in for: "Musings of a Filipino mom about life in the Czech Republic". Of course, Czech the Flip is all that, and more: part Grace's diary, part intercultural manual, part adventure log. But definitely worth a read!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to the Czech Republic, etc.
I was born and raised in the Southern part of the Philippines. Several years ago, I moved to the US for a job opportunity. During my time there, I met my husband, got married and had a son. In June 2011, we moved to the Czech Republic, my husband’s home country. Right now, I am staying home taking care of my 19-month-old son.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging about my experiences in CZ right after we got here. I wanted to keep in touch with all my friends and family from all over the world and instead of writing individual e-mails, I figured that blogging was the best way to do it.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Tell us about the ways your new life in the Czech Republic differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
There are several ways where my new life in the Czech Republic is different from that back home.
First off, the language is very different from everything I ever knew. I have to carry a phrase book or a dictionary with me when going to key places like the grocery or the doctor. Almost 9 months after we landed, I still couldn’t speak Czech fluently. They have words without vowels. This alone is a challenge.
Secondly, they have unique cultural practices that are very different from mine. For instance, they don’t believe in Santa Claus. During Christmas Eve, the devout Catholics fast before having dinner. The main course for dinner is fish, to emulate Christ’s life. In the Philippines, Christmas time is the time for a feast. Food will be served all day and on Christmas Eve, the main course for dinner is roasted pig.
Lastly, I am not used to bagging my own groceries or bringing a grocery bag whenever I go shopping. In the Philippines, a bagger is a special position in a grocery store. Out here, you have to pack your own goods. This is good for the environment though, and I am glad that I am now practicing this.
I found all these things pretty unique in the beginning. However, getting used to it wasn’t that difficult because I understood and accepted the principles behind it and that made it easier. I did experience a little bit of culture shock but not as bad as I would have imagined.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in the Czech Republic? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
No, I wouldn’t say I was fully prepared for life in the Czech Republic. Looking back, I would have learned the language before coming here.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Most of my funny experiences are results of Czech language mishaps. One time while talking to my in-laws, I mistakenly referred to a famous fairytale Popelka (Cinderella) as Popelnice (garbage). I also sometimes confuse Stavebniny (building) with Svatebny (bridal).
I'm glad that my worst mistake in the Czech language happened in a private conversation with my husband. In an effort to help me learn Czech, he would oftentimes speak to me only in Czech. One day after coming home from a trip, he asked: "Honey, mame jidlo?" (Honey, do we have food?) I cooked lentil soup that day so I replied "Ano, my mame kočka." (Yes, we have cat). My husband's expression was beyond explanation. The Czech word for lentil is "čočka", and because of the similarities in pronunciation, I said cat instead of lentil. When we discussed it later on, he jokingly told me: "I knew what you were talking about but I wanted to make sure. You told me that in the Philippines, you guys eat dogs. So I wasn't sure what else you eat." I guess he does have a point.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in the Czech Republic?
- Learn the language, or at least the basic phrases. It will definitely make your stay in CZ worthwhile, as it will give you a boost of self-confidence in getting into places not described in tourist books.
- Be prepared to accept “cold” treatment. Czechs are not the friendliest kind. Do not expect to be greeted with a smile on the streets or a simple “hi” and “hello” greeting. But the good thing is, they offer lasting friendships. Once you earn their trust and become their friend, you are friends for life.
- Expect long waits. In grocery stores, people could be standing in a grocery counter for quite some time and no one would complain about opening another cash register. Or you could wait several minutes in a restaurant to get your food or pay your bill. I think this is accepted as a norm… and if you are unfamiliar with the language, it will be difficult to complain, right?
How is the expat community in the Czech Republic? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
It was challenging in the beginning since I don’t live in Prague where most of the expats are. But the blogging world has become a venue for me to meet other expats in CZ. Through it I met a lady who invited me to join the International Women’s Association of Prague, which increased my contacts and improved my social life.
Aside from that, a newly formed association from my ethnic group called Filipino Czech Association also helps me keep in touch with my own culture.
Now with InterNations, I think finding fellow expats will never be hard at all.
How would you summarize your expat life in the Czech Republic in a single, catchy sentence?
After “Czeching” out the Czech Republic, I am starting to “Phil” it.