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EU > Czech Republic > Usti nad Labem

Meet and greet

Usti nad Labem, CZ (View on map)

Some countries on this planet have made smiling a moral obligation. No matter whether the smile is authentic or not, paste one onto your face and you will make it through the day. The opposite is true for many people in the Czech Republic. Their `by default face` seems to programmed to display active disinterest, with distress and dislike as optionally added flavours. Czechs need to know each other before they open up, and below article sums up a couple of unwritten rules which should be observed in attempts to find out what hides behind the first impression.

Zuzana (26):

`I don`t start talking to people if they don`t look like they are open to it`
The best way to get to know Czech people is to be introduced to them by a common friend. Kisses are almost forbidden during such introductions. Czechs share a quick handshake, followed by both parties mentioning their name and `nice to meet you` which translates into Czech as: Tě?? mě.

At introduction
Good topics of conversation, according to Milan (21) include football, ice hockey and movies. `As a foreigner, you may be asked how things work in your country, which will start a discussion about cultural differences. The discussion will then turn to whether or not Czech and the language of the foreigner have similar words, after which football or music will be interesting.`

`A Czech person is quite likely to ask your opinion about Czech beer, and anything that makes him believe that you don`t find it superiour to other types of beer will cool the conversation to a minimum. `Go drink your own warm beer` or `you know nothing about it` are some examples of reactions you may expect`, Milan explains. `Other subjects to be avoided: politics - unless you are sure that your conversation partner shares your political preferences, money - especially the salary you earn. Cheesy and unspecific compliments will not make a good impression.`

Anybody over 18 who is not already a friend is to be addressed with Dobr? den, combined with You-formal. In older days, the formal form used to be the third person singular ? `Would Sir want some coffee` - whereas the current formal form is the same as You-plural.

Czechs seem to be sensitive to their social position and that of others. Katerina (29) estimates that the differences in social levels is one of the main reasons why so many shopkeepers are so unfriendly to strangers: `They see themselves as inferior to their client, which makes them find the client an arrogant rich person who doesn`t need their sympathy. They will only get less grumpy once they start to recognise you as somebody who has the same amount of trouble they have.`

?aneta (26) has another explanation for the unfriendly shop personnel. `Since the change to capitalism, people are now much more in a hurry than ever. They rush from one place to another, very much aware that losing time implies losing money. Also young people are forgetting the basics of how to behave towards other people. More so than wishing each other a pleasant day, such hurrying people will use S dovolen?m as a widely accepted excuse to push other people away. The words literally mean `With request`, but they usually coincide with somebody pushing you to the side because you are in their way. The literal translation of `please`, Dovolit may also work, but don`t expect anybody to react to the Czech version of `I`m sorry`, Prominte which is only used to apologise for something you did wrong.`

Zuzana (26, photo) is originally from Slovakia but has been living in Czech Republic for eight years. She likes to talk to people in shops, but only if they seem to be open to conversation. `If they are not, I will say Dobr? den and nothing more than that. I don`t want to feel like an intruder. Among friends, I am more talkative and social. When I meet Slovak friends, we usually kiss each other on the cheek twice, while it`s more common for Czechs to only kiss once.`

Czech friends will greet each other by a quick ahoj and possibly a handshake. Hugs are for lovers, kisses for good friends only. Barbara (19) thinks of maybe 10 friends that she would kiss when greeting. `Men between each other use handshakes, the girls may grant each other one kiss on the cheek when we meet individually or in a small group. If you haven`t seen each other for some time, you would ask friends about how they are doing, especially if you known that they are not doing to well. You are expected to pay attention to the reply, which in turn is supposed to include the reason why a person is or is not feeling alright.`

If there are more people than a handful, the newly arrived will just shout a quick hello to everybody and that`s it. Ahoj may be replaced by Čau or Nazdar which all mean the same. When the group disintegrates, there are no more real greeting rituals to be performed. A quick `goodbye` or `see you` will do. No kisses and handshakes are needed.`

When walking in the street, Barbara doesn`t greet people she doesn`t know: `I usually look away when our paths cross. Only when a person behaves strange or suspect, I will keep an eye on him or her passing.`

After a first meeting with somebody, the best way to say goodbye is by confirming that the meeting was pleasant. On the phone, people will say `until we hear again`. In real life, they will say `until we meet again`. Informal goodbyes like `Čau`, `Ahoj`, `Zatim`, `Budu se te?it`, `Mět se`, `Čus` or even `Čert tě vem!` are issued to friends. The best way to say goodbye to a fanatic traveler is `?ťastnou Cestu` which means ?Have a good journey`.

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