Wednesday, April 23, 2008

This nation's saving grace?

The Czech Republic is a small nation in the middle of Europe, with a history of being pushed around and occupied by bigger, more powerful nations in the region. As well as that wages, but also living costs are still, despite the strong Czech crown, considerably lower than in Western Europe, which naturally results in Western tourists coming here and suddenly feeling very rich, and frequently behaving with corresponding arrogance. Nothing you didn’t already know so far then. But these are two of the reasons often given for the huge inferiority complex many Czechs seem to suffer from. Way, way too many times I’ve been asked “why on earth did you come to live in this hole?” by the locals, which puts me in the absurd position of defending the Czech Republic to the Czechs themselves. This place may have its faults, but during my years here I’ve generally found it to be a pleasant and civilised place to live, in addition to which it’s far from poor, something most people here don’t seem to appreciate. For example, whilst most British home owners are paying off their mortgages right up until, or even after they start drawing their pensions, a great many people here own their homes outright, and in some cases also own a (usually more modest) country cottage.

In addition to all this, as well as being convinced that they’re impoverished and downtrodden, the Czechs are equally adamant that they are a miserable, unfriendly and untrustworthy bunch, consumed by spite and envy, sometimes adding stupid for good measure. Let me make it clear that I don’t hold this view, and in fact for me one of the most exasperating traits manifested by people here is their constant self-flagellation. The counterpart to all this is an immense urge to prove or make claims for themselves, for example you might be told how ignorant the Czechs are and in the next sentence that they have “golden hands” and invented the soft contact lens. Their apparent lack of national pride can even paradoxically but perhaps inevitably result in a kind of resentful xenophobia, brought on by an imaginary notion that the entire world looks down on them.

I was reminded of all this last night when watching football of all things. What could a European cup tie between Liverpool and Chelsea have to do with the Czech inferiority complex? The answer is Petr Čech, Chelsea goalkeeper, who in all fairness has a reasonable claim to be the best goalkeeper in the world, and who had a pretty good game last night. Nevertheless, this hardly justified the almost surreal, fawning commentary on Czech TV - whenever Čech was mentioned, or as was often the case, awkwardly shoe-horned into a sentence it was invariably as “Czech international Petr Čech”, or “magnificent Petr Čech”, “superb performance by Petr Čech” ad nauseam. By the end of the game it had descended into a farce, with half the pub joining in to guess which superlative would be hurled next.

I don’t want to sound patronising here, but to all you Czechs – lighten up! You’re not Americans. You might have a dickhead for a president but in general people like you and your country. And come the European championships, a lot of people whose country won’t be represented there will be supporting you.


Blogger TONA said...

Ah, this was nicely written, makes me wanna be a Czech too! But i live in THIS hole. Almost...hole.

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Jan Minárik said...

Very nice post. As a Czech I know exactly what you mean. It's strange, from time to time, I find myself forgeting that there are idiots everywhere, not only in the hole of mine... Maybe we Czechs should look around more carefuly, judiciously. Thanks again for the clever post.

1:41 AM  

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