by Samantha 'Sam' Jones
My son had a connection for several years with the Czech Republic, since first coming here with his wife in the early '90s to teach English. Years later, after the break-up of his marriage, he continued his friendships with some former students. It was during one of these business/friendship trips to CZ that he met and ultimately married his present wife and eventually settled here. In 2010, I came here to visit my son....and I loved it !
As I was nearing retirement in 2012 and would therefore be living on a substantially lower budget, my son and I began discussing my future plans. We came to the conclusion that retiring to the Czech Republic offered many advantages – two of which were that my pension would go much further and I would have family here. We set the plan in motion (visas, legalities etc.) and – 'voila' – here I am! (Though, not quite the proverbial "voila" as it took a LOT of “back and forths” with the government).
My son and daughter-in-law found me a nice apartment within walking distance of the local grocery stores; and the bus stop, for major shopping, was right outside my door! Also, and most important to me, my son was just a minute’s walk away. (Perhaps too close from my son’s perspective!)
Living in the Czech Republic also presented the opportunity of visiting other European Countries....just a train ride away. And no visas required - thank you European Union!!
Since living here, I have become best friends with a retired doctor and she and I have toured all over CZ, visiting castles, museums, art galleries, and exhibitions of all types. Our cultural expeditions include operas, symphonies, ballets, and films. Seniors tickets are very pensioner friendly here.
Unfortunately, I have a hearing disability which prevents me from learning to speak the Czech language; however, I have not experienced huge problems with communicating as I find that there is often someone around who speaks some English and who seems most happy to demonstrate their skills. Mind you, I have had some 'interesting' confrontations with grocery store clerks.
Included on the plus side of residing here.....I feel safe! CZ has very little violent crime ...unlike North America. Added to that...I have all the comforts of English TV!
Also, I love the fact that from where I live, it is just a five minute drive to the peacefulness of the countryside. Where I come from in North America, it is a two-and-a-half-hour drive, in any direction, to leave the city with all its fumes, noise and commotion. Rush hour traffic here would be considered a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive in my home city.
The one negative that I have found living here is the almost complete lack of customer service in retail establishments. For example, staff look at you as if they suspect you of stealing. The line-ups are ridiculous! Many cashiers are rude and abrupt. I was recently scolded for taking a divider from a closed check out because there didn't seem to be one available at my check out. I didn't have to understand Czech to know that I was being severely chastised. Phew! How embarrassing!
Stocking shelves is another problem. Rather than making it easy for customers, they block any access to the shelves and God help you if you attempt to move their pallets. I blame management!
Lastly, upon realizing that I have very few Czech language skills, grocery store cashiers and behind the counter servers (e.g. at the meat counter) either ignore me while huffing and puffing at my ignorance… or worse, start conversing with the person next in line, gesturing in frustration and leaving me in total embarrassment. Humiliating! It seems that customers are a necessary inconvenience to grocery staff here and I absolutely blame management!! Staff in North American and many other European stores have been trained to understand that customers rule and that it is their 'custom ' that provides a paycheck. It is the staff’s duty to make their customers as happy as possible and thus keep returning to spend money in their stores ...not the competition’s. Again, I blame management! I have also come to understand that a lot of this behavior comes from years of communist rule. But managers must get with the times and know that it is a competitive world out there and that it is their staff who are on the front line when it comes to KEEPING or LOSING their customers to more customer-friendly establishments…
To help fill in time, I have enjoyed engaging in Conversational English lessons with private students. The students are anxious to learn and improve their English skills and I feel privileged to be in a position of assistance.
Depending on the individual, we discuss many topics including politics, current events, films, books and whatever is going on in their lives. For homework, I give them 5 to 10 words a week, the meanings of which they must look up in a dictionary and which they must be prepared to present in a sentence the following week. Students have stated that they find this helpful in expanding their vocabulary.
Some students have more of an accent than others. To assist them in sounding out the vowels and 'rounding out' the words, I have been giving them typical children's nursery rhymes to memorize and recite. I am happy to report that they have found this to be most helpful in improving their enunciation skills.
Another lovely thing that I have experienced in CZ is that people who speak some English seem always to be most happy and willing to demonstrate their skills. Whenever I have complimented someone on their good English, they take on an air of pride and accomplishment. I admire that.
One thing I have found rather peculiar upon meeting some people here is that I am often met with the question "why" when they find out that I have moved from North America to Czech. I find it disheartening that many citizens don't realize or appreciate that they live in a beautiful country with an amazing history.
As a people, the Czech's have endured two of the most demonic and oppressive systems of government EVER in existence....one after the other...and come through it still a proud nation with their culture and language intact.
Czechs have an abundance of world class athletes, actors, writers, film makers, musicians, painters, sculptors, poets, architects, illustrators, photographers, and artisans of all kinds, whose works I have come to know and appreciate. Not to mention two of the greatest political leaders: Tomáš Masaryk and Václav Havel.
It is my fervent hope that one day, when I am introduced to a Czech citizen and they hear that I moved here from North America, they will exclaim proudly, "welcome to my beautiful country!”
I am awed that it is not uncommon for many Czech's to speak two or three languages. One doesn't find THAT in North America. Now, more and more they are adding English to their repertoire. English has become the universal language connecting many nations around the world. I am happy and privileged as a native English speaker to be able to contribute to this process in some small way through conversational English lessons in the Czech Republic.