Colin Shea: An American In Prague

In Life on August 9, 2007 by Petr Bokuvka

Colin Shea is a marketing analyst living in Prague.

Colin Shea is a poor poor thing.

He is quoted in an article on news server where he talks about his experience with Czech Foreign Police in Prague. It is not civilization, he says about the institution.

Here we go again. Another American who blames Czechs and their institutions for not being to able to welcome people with their arms wide open. What he says is a typical representation od double standards and any U.S. citizen who has ever heard of DHS of INS better not talk about it…

Let’s quote him…

All information boards provide information in Czech only. How can they expect any foreigner who just came to the Czech Republic to speak the language from the very beginning?

Any foreigner who comes to the United States and faces an immigration officer without being able to say a word in English will go back home on the first flight. It is a sign of a civilized person to learn at least some basics of the language of the country I want to visit, let alone where I want to live/work. It does sound logical that foreign police officers should speak foreign language. But foreigners should not expect it so arogantly and so automatically…

I had to wait in line from 5:30 in the morning, some people were spending the night there. When they opened everybody rushed in, there was no system in the waiting-in-line process. Just pure chaos.

Waiting in line is a normal thing people experience when they go to a foreign country from which they expect more than just sightseeing. Ever heard of Ellis Island? Or camps in Germany in which people waiting to get to the United States had to, well, wait? In the 1990’s Czechs who only wanted to see New York had to wait for TWO DAYS in front of the U.S. embassy. There was pure chaos.

Colin Shea is a person working in a top management position. He should know that there are situations in life when you must bend your back and bite your lips to survive it. Americans know IRS book inspectors. They would love to tell them to go f*ck themselves but they must be polite and survive a few hours of yes-sir’s. Czech Foreign Police is the same as everywhere else. It is just the same thing as DHS, INS or the asshole at Kennedy who sends a normal tourist home just because he thinks that this is a potential immigrant…

Know the saying that even the pope goes to a restroom alone, or that we all have to go there [die]? It means that in some situations people are really equal. Colin Shea, an American in Prague, experienced chaos because he had to face Czech Foreign police along with hundreds of seasonal workers or low-profile-job people from Eastern Europe. Immigration policy is in itself chaotic. Anyone who invents a politically correct and people-friendly policy should get the Nobel Peace Prize…

::UPDATE:: Czech Department of State provides information in English on its website


11 Responses to “Colin Shea: An American In Prague”

  1. Hi Petr – indeed, I don’t have much sympathy for American whiners at the foreign police either. I had to wait there myself, though I tried to see it as an opportunity to learn about Czech bureaucracy and other people who wanted to live in the Czech Republic. (Talk about being an optimistic American…is that something silly to make into an opportunity? Well, anyway…)

    However, it’s true that the Czech foreign police makes almost no accomodations for its clients. In fact, there are not even clear directions posted in Czech and, particularly for Americans, the way the office works is often quite different than offices like this. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they provide at least clear, printed instructions in English.

    Just to share a story – I was at the Secretary of State just a few days ago in Michigan, which is an office slightly familiar to the foreign police, and I noticed that the clerks spoke Spanish and Arabic in addition to English.

    I don’t want to say that this guy should be excused for complaining about the lack of English. Yet, Czech is not exactly a large language and it seems there would be a lot higher percentage of people familiar with English applying to the U.S., and I am still shocked at the lack of linguistic diversity at foreign police offices in the CR. At least, in my experience.

    But to tell you the truth, I’m surprised that this guy was going to the foreign police at all. Usually that task is done by someone else for manager types; or at the very least they have a Czech-speaking assistant or agency to go through.

    Cheers, Jesse

  2. Petr, I’m not sure why you think it’s only Americans who “blame Czechs and their institutions for not being able to welcome people with their arms wide open.” And Jesse, I take issue with your label of “American whiners.” It was a Brit who first “whined” to me about what hell the foreign police can be in dealing with residency permits. Then I heard the same from my Kazak, Kyrgyz, and Russian friends. I believe their complaints are well justified. Why should anyone have to accept being treated like a dog?

    The day I had to submit my own residency application, I brought a Czech friend with me to translate. When it was our turn, the woman behind the desk threw- I mean literally THREW- my application back at us and snarled something in the meanest, wicked tone of voice I’ve ever heard. Then she turned to her colleague and continued chatting just as sweetly as could be. Apparently we had forgot to write a piece of information down, something which was not even requested on the application form itself. I asked my Czech friend why it was necessary for that woman to be so rude, especially to a fellow Czech. They are rude to everyone, my friend replied. They don’t like their jobs, and the only power they feel is in demeaning others.
    Frankly, there is no excuse for that kind of service.

    You stated, Petr- “Any foreigner who comes to the United States and faces an immigration officer without being able to say a word in English will go back home on the first flight.”
    This is absolutely not true. I am very familiar with the workings of the INS. I went through the whole thing with my foreign-born husband. It is a shit establishment as far as their policies and organization is concerned, they can keep you waiting forever, but at least they make an effort to communicate with the client. Most US immigration officers speak a foreign language, and it’s often Spanish. In fact, you need not speak a word of English to get permanent residency. Yes, the interview is in English but you may bring a translator. (For citizenship, you must pass an English test).

    You also said- “It means that in some situations people are really equal. Colin Shea, an American in Prague, experienced chaos because he had to face Czech Foreign police along with hundreds of seasonal workers or low-profile-job people from Eastern Europe.”
    I don’t think Colin Shea was complaining about having to be treated equally. The point is not about having to be treated equally, the point is about being treated like a human being. And not every foreign police is the same worldwide. When I went for my residency permit in Istanbul, the lines were long, but they were organized, there were crystal clear instructions posted on the wall both in Turkish AND English- and guess what??- the clerks were helpful and dare I say even kind (!) What a difference from the Czech foreign police- like night and day.

  3. Suzanne —

    I must say I REALLY REALLY appreciate your comment. I do agree with you on a lot of points, like the one about being treated as a human being. I do admit that Czech officials are still convinced that they are paid to be burreaucrats, not humans.

    I was of course exaggerating on some points. Like about Czechs travelling to the States and being sent home. This argument was based on the fact that rule number one in the U.S. visa policy is “there are no rules”. Even if a Czech citizen fulfills ALL obligations required from him by the U.S. embassy, he or she STILL can not be sure he/she will be allowed to enter the U.S. soil. The embassy grants the visa but an immigration officer at JFK has the final word. THAT is what I criticize. All the visa requirements are LEGAL requirements, but the final decision is BURREAUCRACY.

    Re: BEING TREATED LIKE A HUMAN BEING. I think foreigners everywhere have to understand that certain things are done a certain way in a certain country. Example: as a journalist I wanted to have something done with officials in Spain and Greece around noon. Their answer? SIESTA, SENOR. In some countries an official says it will take two days, but in fact it takes him FOUR. Again, not a total excuse. All I could do is shrug my shoulders and think: C’est la vie…

  4. You should correct the statement about the language requirements at the foreign police in the US. They do speak more than two languages, and certainly speak Spanish. Many states also require that voting sheets also are providing in numerous languages as well as at hospitals. English is not the official language of the US although many would like it to be. There is this myth that Americans don’t speak any other languages than english, however 20 percent of American citizens aren’t native English speakers. Currently there are 20 million illegals living in the US, and most of the these don’t speak english at all.

    THe foreign police is not the same everywhere in the world, and there are steps made by czech officials to try and remedy the problem of the foreign police since the vast bureaucracy and attitude of the employees encourages people to stay illegal, thus avoiding taxes and official documentation. It is within a countries best interests to make people get legal as fast as they can in order to gain revenue from taxes. The foreign police is a remenant of communist bureaucracy and even czech politicians are saying it needs to go. It’s not just some “whiny americans”

  5. Please can you at least get the facts right.

    There are over 200,000 foreigners applying for work permits in this country. about 2% are from English speaking countries. The majority are, Polish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Russian, Slovaks, Moldavian, Mongolian, Bulgarian Romanian and German.

    Are you honestly serious to think they should address a minority representing 2.5% and then totally ignore the other 10 languages. US and UK foreigners combined barely register as an insignificant number.

  6. I’m not saying they should speak english. I was correcting the statement that the INS officials in the US didn’t speak another language. This is just blatantly false. I’ll stand by my previous statement, as I believe it would be in the best interests of a country to make the process as easy as possible. We all know that a huge amount of work in Czech is done in the black. And all those new teachers that come for a year, charging 300 kc an hour, well, yeah, they don’t pay any taxes at all. And the reason is that they don’t even attempt to become legal because the process is so difficult. I got legal here by using a lawyer, it cost me about 20,000kc and three months of paper work to get a zivno and a residency permit, and within a month the requirements had changed. I asked the lawyer if this was normal, and he said that the laws literally are changing all the time.

  7. I would just like to set a bit of the record straight about this since I seem to have touched a nerve.

    The first thing I said to the guy who interviewed me was “I have a lot of bad things to say about the foreign police here. However, I am absolutely sure that the experience of getting an equivalent permit in the United States would be just as bad, if not worse.” The guy decided not to print that since it didn’t mesh very well with his narrative. But I am fully aware of what it means to deal with the INS in the United States.

    My “civilization” comment was also made in the context of a comment that it is too bad that this is the impression this office makes on people when so many other elements of Czech society have advanced so far since 1989. My point was that the foreign police is (fortunately) the exception in this country rather than the rule.

    I would also point out that I was interviewed in Czech, which I speak fluently; there was no recording made; and that when I read the article I noted that none of the quotes he attributed to me are exactly what I said.

    Petr, I am not sure if you imagine yourself to be a journalist or simply enjoy insulting people publicly. If the former, may I recommend in the future you spend a bit of time tracking down the subjects of your attacks in order to ascertain what the facts are before you do so.

    I am not particularly interested in discussing the substance of your commentary. I would nevertheless dispute your insinuation that I have no right to expect a reasonable level of competence in the foreign police. I work and live here and pay my taxes like everyone else, and I am perfectly entitled to demand functioning public services in exchange. I would respect the right of any foreigner living and working in the United States (and even encourage them) to say the same thing about the INS if they had a similar experience as to what I have had in the Czech Republic.

  8. Is this “journalism”? lol

    “Here we go again. Another American. . .”

    People like you should stay on their small rural farm. You obviously haven’t learned much since leaving home. haha

    • We do not have “small rural farms” here. This “simple farm boy” concept is American, not Czech. The same with the “leaving home” thing. Call it what you want. It is not paid journalism, it is a blog and once in a while it might get a little personal.

  9. Hotel Papigo Royal Palace is situated in Papigo and overviews a fabulous view on the famous Astraka 2436m,and Gamila mountain 2497m,Zagoria,Greece.

  10. Colin and Petr: Obviously, there was a misunderstanding, and I think you two probably agree on more points than you disagree.

    Now, I’m just doing some inspections on getting a job in Prague and I don’t care if the Foreign Police are rude to me as long as they let me stay : )

    Colin – how about a job, mate? I’m an attorney in the USA but don’t need to be a lawyer; any mental labor will suffice. I don’t speak Czech, yet, but can learn quickly. I’ll even keep an eye on Petr to make sure he is being more diligent in the pursuit of truthful “reporting.”

    Finally, Petr, thanks for making a place for informative discussions re Prauge. It’s a nice looking blog, keep it up!


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