Monday, March 01, 2010

Nations have a habit of presenting their most unappealing character traits when abroad. Though Americans, particularly during the Bush years, have become the nation that everybody loves to hate and we're all familiar with the hackneyed gripe about the Germans leaving their beach towels out on deck chairs by the pool, and even despite the utter cuntishness of the fucking Swiss, the most obvious example of a delinquent nation abroad must be the British. So obvious that it would be a waste of time to go into any detailed description of Brit loutishness certainly, suffice to say that the British have made themselves unpopular and unwelcome in a variety of holiday destinations, with Prague, Mecca of the stag weekend, being a prime example.

Compared to the British, the Czechs get off pretty lightly. Whilst many of them are bizarrely scathing about themselves as a nation, most foreigners have no such reservations about them, since they're generally a relatively well-behaved and modest bunch. However, complaints about the Czechs abroad have surfaced in some quarters, and they're not entirely unjustified. This morning I came upon an article (in Czech, but for all its flaws Google Translate will give you a rough idea of its content) about Croats disgruntled at the sheer bloody cheek of the hordes of Czech tourists who go there every summer. Croatia has for a long time been the number 1 holiday destination for Czechs, and so it's inevitable that they've built up something of a reputation for themselves there over the years. It has the nearest Mediterranean coastline to this landlocked country, considered within driving distance, which gives rise to one grievance I've heard, not mentioned in the article: it's commonplace for Czechs to drive down to the Croatian coast through the night, with the result that a disproportionate amount of them fall asleep at the wheel and cause traffic accidents.

The main issue however relates to money, and the Czechs' unwillingness to spend it. I've mentioned before the Czech inferiority complex and rather misplaced conviction that they're impoverished, combined with a frantic desire to distance themselves from genuinely impoverished nations such as Romania or Albania. When it comes to holidays, this conviction gives way to all kinds of irrational behaviour. Whilst Czech holidaymakers are keen to enjoy the pleasures of the sun and sea, many recoil in horror at the thought of the local prices, of which they are largely ignorant. The solution to this predicament is for many of them to drive down to the Med in their modern, air-conditioned cars, with the boot full of potatoes and packets of instant soup. I even heard of one case of a Czech driving in his Mercedes to Croatia, where excellent home made wine can be bought cheaply on market stalls everywhere, his car stocked up with several litres of rancid wine of the type sold in cartons. When the Croats grumble that the cost of cleaning up after the Czechs comes to more than they actually spend down there, or that one Russian with his grandmother is worth more than a hundred Czechs, they may not be exaggerating too much.

This is a phenomenon I've experienced first hand, not only in Croatia but also in Venice, where I went for a weekend several years ago with a Czech travel agency. To be fair, I was being a bit of a cheapskate myself by going on one of these fairly gruelling overnight bus excursions, but once there I saw no reason to take the money-saving approach to extremes. Most of my fellow travellers didn't see it that way, however. I had the impression that for them a holiday is a kind of game to see how much value you can get for the money you've spent on the trip and how little you can spend when you're there, and I seriously wonder if some of them changed any of their Czech crowns at all. As far as I'm aware our small group, consisting of two Americans and myself, was the only party out of two busloads of travellers to eat out in a restaurant, in a country famed for its gastro culture. On our third and final day in Venice we had a “free” day in which we weren't constantly being ordered around by our tour guide, and so decided to have a picnic, raiding the local supermarket for typically Italian products like salami, gorgonzola, wine etc. We found a place to sit in a park, close to some Czechs from our excursion, and couldn't help noticing that they were eating stale sandwiches they'd clearly made at home and brought with them.

One evening a Czech friend of ours who was also on the trip noted, rather enviously, that we'd been out for a meal, with the comment “you foreigners can afford it”. This despite the fact that we had all been on Czech wages for several years, and coming from a man who drives a nice swish car, whereas none of us have a car at all. Is it a question of priorities (petrol over food) that prevented him from coming with us to the restaurant, or just a firmly entrenched habit and prejudice? If it's the latter, I wonder how long it will take for this part of Czech culture to change. With the economic crisis biting here, I fear Czechs will continue to be seen as pariahs in Croatia for a fair few years to come.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The general rule of tourism is simple.

If there are only a very few of them, they are exotic and welcome guests.

Once their numbers increase they become an uninteresting commonplace mass.

When their numbers really pick up they become an irritating unwelcome horde.

The process also works in reverse:

When there are only a few of you in a country, you need to be polite and attentive in order to ascertain how and where to buy essentials.

When more of you start to turn up, shops and services start to be provided for you, so you need to be less attentive and respectful to the natives.

When hordes of you are there, you can find shops and bars run by your own countrymen/women, so the natives just become an irritating obstacle who you don't speak your language.

11:03 AM  

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