Juwana Jenkins shares her unique perspective on the Czech Republic, old-school chivalry and the Czech language and culture. This time for lidovky.cz, an on-line version of the prestigious newspaper.
What was the biggest surprise for you when you first visited the Czech Republic?
The sheer beauty. The architecture on the way from the airport, Prague Castle, breathtaking view of Mala Strana when driving down Chotkovy Sady all made a huge impression on me after having just spent a month traveling across Russia on the Trans-Siberian after 4 years of exploring Asia while working in Seoul.
Even after 15 years here I still fall in love over and over again with the countryside and the charming little villages, I pass on the way to concerts across the country.
When did you decide to move here for a longer period? What led you to this decision?
I came on a one year contract 15 years ago and as I just said it was basically love at first sight and after 2 months, this looked and felt enough like home that I decided to build a life here.
What bothers you most about the Czech people?
(Laughter) That people focus on what bothers people instead of what delights, excites and inspires them!
The determination to focus on the negative bothers me the most: when it’s cold, people complain about the cold (Jezkovy oci je to zima), but when it’s warm, people complain about the heat (Ach, to je vedro); the people who complain that the sun hurts their eyes are the same people who were complaining when it was grey and overcast.
Did you ever date a Czech person? How would you characterise them?
I’ve actually done a little bit more than just date a Czech, but even still it’s really not fair to characterise half a nation based on 1 ex-husband and 2 lovers, is it?
Did you spot any differences, when you compare to your home country, in the way the Czechs behave towards each other, towards old people and towards children? Are the Czech people polite?
No, I haven’t spotted any differences in behavior when I compare.
However, I must note that in comparison with men in America, Czech men are still free to be charmingly gallant and chivalrous, warmly offering to open doors, to compliment a lady and to assist with a helping hand, courteous smile and easy sense of humor that all simply make the day–and me, for that matter– much more pleasant.
What do you think about the Czech humor? Do you like it? Is it very different to the one you were used to?
I think Czech humor is quite different from American humor. The difference in cultural values makes some of the humor “lost in translation”. For example, here Chuck Norris has surprisingly become the pin-up for the stereotypical American cowboy a la Jara Cimrman.
Are you interested in Czech history? Is there any specific historical event that interests you most about it?
Yes, I am interested in Czech history and I adore the stories of Cech and Lech, Libuse, Karel IV and Rudolph II and the First Republic. I very much relate to the spirit of self-sufficiency and cultural pride that are the foundation of the National Museum and National Theatre. In fact, the Czech National Revival is the reason why I had the courage to learn Czech: I felt comforted by the knowledge that there was a time when everyone, not in the countryside, also had to learn how to become fluent in the language to communicate as educated adults.
Are you a beer-drinker? How do you enjoy the Czech cuisine?
Yes, I am a beer drinker. I started drinking beer here because it just tastes so good. Except for some microbrews, the Monty Python joke about American beer and a canoe is still true.
And Czech beer goes best with Czech food which I heartily enjoy, especially svickova, game and fruit dumplings.
Do you think you will stay in the Czech Republic permanently?
I have no plans to leave. Since it’s the Heart of Europe, it’s quick and easy to travel abroad to reach festivals and concerts for work or sunshine and a change of scenery for pleasure.
Do you have an interest in Czech politics? What is your opinion about it?
Aside from the major news, I don’t have an in-depth interest in Czech politics. I think it’s like politics all over the world. I don’t think it is any different here. I think politics is no better or worse than the character of the people in it.
Are you learning Czech? Is it necessary to speak Czech in order to live comfortable in the Czech Republic?
I’m not formally learning Czech. I already dream, make jokes and conduct business in Czech and sometimes need to be reminded of what a word is in my native language when I can only think of the Czech expression in Czech, but like everyone else I pick up new words and phrases from new experiences.
However, when it comes to writing something important or out of the ordinary, I still check my grammar or just have someone translate for me when I’m writing something long.
I think it is absolutely essential to learn Czech to live comfortably in the Czech Republic. People who don’t know the language unnecessarily take personal offense at situations and then wholeheartedly condemn an entire culture, when if they just knew Czech then they’d understand that the person is just “bothered” by the weather or something else completely unrelated.
To avoid misunderstandings and open doors, understanding a culture, including the language, is key.
What do you miss the most in the Czech Republic? Is there anything specific in your country that you cannot get here?
There’s always something missing somewhere. The key is to appreciate what you have in front of you. If “there” were better than here then I would be there.
I don’t miss anything. If I miss something I simply get on a plane and go to wherever it is in the world: I’m not limited to the Czech Republic or to the US.
There’s simply no reason to complain. If I don’t like something then I’m free to leave. It is a free country.
You can also read the original article (in Czech)