Archive for the ‘Life’ Category


Smokers stink, say vandals by their slogans

In Health,Law,Life on September 5, 2011 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: ,

They are all around the city of Brno. Spray-painted slogans that say “Hey, smoker, you stink”. Some of them link to a website of the same name. This one. Authors of this website claim their activities are sort of campaign against smoking, because, in their opinion, all previous campaigns have so far failed.

“Talking about cancer with eight year-old kids makes no sense. This topic is like World War I for them,” says the website administrator. “But many of them actually try their first cigarette at the age of eight to twelve,” he adds in one post on the website, which actually looks like a WordPress blog.

The spray-painted sign can be found near bus stops, on walls near crowded places, or even on an electrical installation one meter (!) from the fence of the premises of the Czech counterintelligence agency (under two surveillance cameras). “We never spray-paint new facade, historical buildings or public transportation vehicles,” the guidelines for wannabe vandals say, if they want to take part in the campaign.

“Not a bad idea as such. But the way it is realized is not acceptable, as it includes damage to other people’s or public property,” an advertising copywriter told me when I interviewed him for an article. “One has to admit that kids will spot writing on a wall rather than a poster,” he added. If arrested or tried in court, the campaign authors insist that their judge be a non-smoker.


Spring and the cottage nation

In Czechs,Life,Nature on April 27, 2011 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , , , ,

During the dark times of communism Czechs had only a few genuine “free time” activities. They included gardening and spending weekends (and sometimes the whole summer months) at cottages. These two activities have survived. And since it is spring, most cottages have been “woken up”.

Basically, there are two basic types of said real estate property. One, a little garden: it is a piece of land usually surrounded by many many similarly sized pieces of land. On this piece of land stands a tool shed or maybe a small hut that offers the most basic features. People grow their own produce, mostly for their own consumption. Especially pensioners like to spend free time there, making nice flower beds and vegetable patches. These small gardens are usually located in the same town as the owner’s permanent residence address.

Cottages, on the other hand, are weekend getaway houses many Czechs head to on Fridays. Friday afternoon traffic jams are largely caused or created by weekend drivers (people who do not use their cars on weekdays). There are many levels of luxury when it comes to Czech cottages. Many of them do not even have permanent water supply and heating (they are not used in winter, as mentioned above – see photo), while some look like regular houses that people live in all year long. In fact, many people, having retired, move to their cottages (if they offer wintertime comfort) and leave their regulated-rent apartments in cities to their adult children (some cities have recently adopted regulations forbidding this practice).

People who live permanently in small villages often dislike their weekend neighbors. Mostly due to the fact that while they want to rest after a long week at work, the cottage-goers like to spend a day mowing their lawns or burning grass or leaves. They also excessively use the local infrastructure for which they do not pay (as they are not permanent residents). This is why a regulation exists that became known as the “lawnmower regulation” – it forbids the use of motor-operated mowers, saws and other machinery on Saturdays and Sundays.


Easter: girls’ tasks forced upon boys

In Culture,Life,Religion on April 22, 2011 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , ,

It is Easter! Michal Kasparek of went to a famous square in Brno to drink green beer along with thousands of people. And many Czech elementary school boys learn how to dye eggs. Ironically, it makes perfect sense to get wasted from drinking way too much green beer. However, it does not make sense to teach boys dye Easter eggs. That is women’s job.

I think I wrote about it last year. In case you are not familiar with Easter traditions in the Czech Republic, Easter eggs are a one-way thing: they are collected by men from women. Men are allowed to bear arms on this particular day: ponytail-like whip made from willow branches and decorated with some ribbons. Men travel door-to-door, visiting family members, friends or neighbors, sometimes even total strangers in the neighborhood. Each woman, when visited by men, must patiently stand or (if she wants to play along) run and scream, while being whipped. Said whipping is accompanied by traditional Easter chants or “poems” – more or less childish.

Anyway, elementary school children learn how to dye eggs when Easter is about one or two weeks away. Boys are included, even though it is totally inappropriate. It is like forcing boys to play with dolls in kindergartens. True, many boys learn how to make the aforementioned whips. I spoke to several mothers whose kids go to elementary schools, and only one of them said that her son did actually try to make a whip. The explanation seems to be simple – teachers are not manually skilled enough to be able to teach and show to kids something they cannot do themselves.


Dangerous game: kids on bikes pulled by a tram

In Brno,Cars,Life on April 20, 2011 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: ,

Boys will be boys, but this is an accident waiting to happen. Once in a while you can see boys who live near the center of the city riding their bikes in the pedestrian zone. They like to grab onto rear bumpers of streetcars and be pulled at high speeds down the streets, usually along two blocks. There is practically no way they can be caught.

People in the street cannot see them. And if they do, the streetcar is already behind them and there is no way to alert the driver. And people riding the tram cannot just press the emergency brake because it would activate the magnetic brakes and unsuspecting passengers could get seriously hurt. Chances are, the two boys will enjoy their two-block ride and pedal away…

(c) Petr Bokuvka

Of course they always make sure there are no cops on patrol in the street before they perform their stunts. And as patrols on foot are seen well ahead (due to their hi-viz jackets), the bikers are safe from hefty fines…


Family movies and the Santa Claus existence dilemma

In Culture,History,Life,Religion,Winter on December 25, 2010 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , , ,

Christmas on network TV stations in the Czech Republic (i.e. non-cable stations like Czech Television, TV Nova and TV Prima) is represented by two separate avalanches of movie production: one, an avalanche of Christmas-themed “family movies” about separated families getting together, about children meeting Santa Claus whose existence they questioned, or about men being with wrong women and finally meeting and falling for the right women.  And two, an avalanche of classic Czech non-cartoon fairytales from the 1970’s and 1980’s – with kingdoms and princes and ordinary peasant girls they fall for… etc.

The programming schemes are often very odd in terms of the whole Christmas message 🙂 For example, at 8:30 a.m. there was a family movie about a father who spends hours searching for the perfect gift he knows his son wants. Ergo, the movie says there is no Santa Claus and that presents are purchased by parents. The entire movie almost ignores the figure of Santa… And two hours later the same TV station offers the typical Santa movie.

Kids who spent all day watching TV and who are still convinced that there is no Santa Claus must be really confused. Naturally, it is not the role of TV programs to tell them the truth.

Moreover, practically all American family movies feature families living in houses with huge bay windows and chimneys/fireplaces, which of course confuses Czech kids even more… Most Czechs live in apartment buildings with central heating…

Photo downloaded from


PF: a unique Czech version of Happy New Year

In Culture,Life,Winter on December 3, 2010 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , , , ,

It is almost time to start sending out Christmas cards. In Czech, the phrase “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” is often abbreviated as PF 2011. The abbreviation is French and stands for “pour féliciter” – which is a phrase that is not used anywhere else. Not even in France…

at least according to Wiktionary. The origin of this phrase in the Czech language is disputed. One theory says that it was first used centuries ago when noblemen spoke French (it was a part their “higher education”) and it somehow survived.

However, the problem often arises when companies send out their corporate greeting cards to their foreign partners – and they leave the “PF 2011” in the foreign-language version, along with the proper “Merry Christmas…” wish. Foreigners have no idea what the initialism means…


Google Translate goofs: happy Czech is a gay Indian

In Law,Life on November 30, 2010 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , , , , ,

Google Translate is a useful tool if you have absolutely no idea what a certain foreign-language text is about. When it comes to synonymy, it crashes and burns. And it often offers ridiculous results that cannot be based on the analysis of texts made by people, as the “About” page suggests. “Miluju Cesko” is translated as “I love India”.

Trying the same text twice with different punctuation is also very interesting, as you can see above. The third sentence is supposed to mean “Are you happy?”. Unfortunately, Google Translate creators somehow included a very archaic version of the word (I have never heard anyone use the word “gay” in place of  “happy” due to contemporary connotations, of course).


Bus To Bohemia: witty observations by an Englishman in Prague

In Culture,Entertainment,Language,Life,Media,Prague,Travel on November 14, 2010 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , , , ,

I am a fan of witty books written by foreigners about a country they visit, or about their new (temporary or permanent) homelands. I liked Stephen Clarke’s Merde books and I enjoyed For the Love of Prague by Gene Deitch.

Bus To Bohemia by Posh Parker is another one of these works of art that are, in my opinion, written mainly for the author’s fellow citizens who are less fortunate and have not had the chance to visit a foreign country and dive into its everyday life by attending local bars and communicating with local people, instead of just eating at KFC and shopping like ordinary tourists. Of course, just like most authors of all genres (be it comedy or university textbooks) there are a few very minor cases of jumping to conclusions — but hey, we ALL do it.

Books like this one may also be of interest to Czechs who want to know how the nation is perceived by foreigners and who do not take things personally. Many Czechs do take things personally and any comments and remarks regarding aspects of everyday life result in their unspoken remarks “Go back to (insert country here)”.

Of course, one has to have in mind that books written by the author’s foreign experience are often written from one specific perspective. Had the author arrived as a first-class British Airways passenger and stayed at the Radisson and dined in the Alcron’s La Rotonde, it would be a different — and boring! — perspective. 

The author’s website is here. You can also buy his book.


Gated communities becoming more popular

In Brno,Economy,Life on November 12, 2010 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , , , ,

There are at least three unusual streets in the northern part of Brno. Although they are named like every other street, and they can be seen on regular maps, ordinary citizens never get the chance to see them. There are do-not-enter signs, gates and “private property” signs. Welcome to gated communities in the Czech Republic. A phenomenon whose popularity is increasing.

The street is quiet, calm and safe. We all know one another. And if, God forbid, something happens and an intruder alarm sounds, we know where it is coming from, says a local man in the middle of one of the streets. His refusal to tell me his name was polite, but firm. His words confirm that the main reason why people move into these unusual neighborhoods is “the feeling of safety”.

Sociologist from Masaryk University in Brno Barbora Vackova frequently conducts researchers in this area. When we ask people who live in these new neighborhoods. They say they appreciate the feeling that they know that when their kids play outside, they are not going to get hit by car, she says.

According to a 1998 study by Edward J. Blakely, approximately 2.5 million Americans lived in gated communities. However, the way some of the gated communities are built differs from the ways Czechs do it. Most Czech gated communities are in fact private streets within an otherwise regular neighborhood. The house owners gave up a part of their garden/plot to have an access street built on what is, in fact, their property from the very beginning.

The installation of gates must be approved by authorities and okayed by the police. But since the purpose of the gate is to protect legitimate interest of property owners, the approval is usually “automatic”.

However, Edward J. Blakely’s arguments apply to Czech gated communities as well. Blakely argues that crime rate is usually associated with a neighborhood, not a particular street. The aforementioned local man had an argument of his own. People who live in new apartment buildings have front entrance locked (or with camera-operated buzzers) and they have special locks on the door leading to the apartment, some even with a security system. This street basically has the same features.


Barack Obama’s Czech “friend” will serve six years in prison

In Law,Life,World on May 28, 2010 by Petr Bokuvka Tagged: , , ,

A woman from the Moravian-Silesian Region, Czech Republic, who only completed junior high tricked numerous college grads, including lawyers, into lending her huge amounts of money. The woman gained their trust by her good and regular “contacts with Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin”, the DENIK daily reports.

More than twenty people lost almost CZK 10 million. They were approached by the woman who claimed to have been in the process of settling a huge inheritance proceeding, the amount of which exceeded that of the state budget of the Czech Republic (!!! -ed.). She promised to pay back way more than she would borrow.

She faked telephone conversations with Barack Obama or Vladimir Putin in front of her victims. They bought that, even though she spoke Czech and on a pay phone. Some of the victims later testified that they thought that there was some kind of automatic interpreting technology.

The woman also claimed to have been controlled by a “puppet master”. On the other hand she decided to accept the verdict and she did not appeal against it.

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