My grandmother was Czech. She always said that in the days of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy the Czechs adopted many German qualities.
For example punctuality and the ability to farm economically. What they have not learned is how to keep things in order. The Czech Bohemian nature, she said, is easily attracted to new ideas, but also easily distracted.
My mother was half Czech, half Russian. She combined the best qualities of the Slavic soul: honesty, responsiveness, ability to sympathize and she would share, literally, the last piece of bread. Perhaps this was passed on to me. However, because I grew up and studied in Poland, the ability to keep my head high and to not bend under pressure has become my second nature. It helped me, as well as my family, to confidently come through a difficult period in history.
From the first grade of primary school, I was taught English as a
foreign language. Polish and Russian languages were native, and Czech
was optional. I loved the ‘’optional’’classes with my Czech grandmother.
For example, we read ‘’Staré pověsti české’’ by Alois Jirásek and other
Czech books that were always on granny’s desk.
Now, my international work environment is truly a dream come true. I
talk with the Americans and the Indians, Cubans and Japanese, the
Chinese and the Arabs and many other nationalities. My journalism work
erases cultural differences, because our global obligations are the
same. The editorial offices in Moscow, Prague or Washington are the
same. At briefing and planning meetings, we declare hot topics, look for
ways to find the most valuable exclusive comments, and dig deeper to
find exclusive speakers and sources.
For sure, in different media companies there are different financial
possibilities, giving you wonderful opportunities to travel and get
reports from all over the world, but the principle is the same: speed of
search, reliability, and the verification of facts. We must all take
personal responsibility for everything that we write and say. And I do
not feel any cultural differences working in Prague versus Moscow or
I have been working with Radio Free Europe since July 2014.
Particularly because I write about medicine, I personally verify the
facts, not trusting online sources one hundred percent. Our website
readers and listeners are objective. On the Internet you can see how
many people clicked at the article or program and liked published story
on Facebook. Then it makes me feel proud to read some comments were
written by our readers. This immediate feed back is something really
lively! The digital era has brought us a communication revolution by
easy access. Perhaps we couldn’t even imagine it a dozen years ago.
I have been living in Prague for five years and have noticed that
Czech society is less hierarchical than, let’s say, the Russian society.
In the Czech Republic, a group of company employees can go for a beer
together, and have a brain storming session in order to solve
professional issues. Senior managers communicate with subordinate
employees quite easily. In Russia, it is impossible to imagine because
they have a more rigid hierarchy. On the other hand, my American friends
can be surprised that Czech employees are afraid of their bosses. Their
company relations are more familial, and the hierarchy is less
As for my friendship with Czechs, there are some nuances. Many
cultures enjoy ‘drop in visits’ at home. However, in the Czech culture,
it is very important to call and ask if it’s convenient to visit. It’s
considered a sign of respect. In Russia it’s almost opposite. My house
is my castle is not about the Russians. Usually they are glad to see you
any time, even at 1am! In Moscow life doesn’t stop at night (there are
24 hours shopping malls, supermarkets, fitness centers, pharmacies etc).
So you may wonder, when the Muscovites sleep? They always have time for a good chat or a discussion about the latest ballet premiere sitting at
the kitchen table.
It is said that to make friends with the Czechs is sometimes tricky. I
don’t think so. We should learn to understand the nature and character
of my artistic Bohemian friends. It’s good to drink five beers with
them, or to go to the good Czech Evergreen Rock in JazzDock, a night
club on the river Vltava. They also appreciate offers to help with lawn
care, gardening, or even to look after their dog when they’re away. They
truly appreciate it when others are helpful.
Another story is the Czech, Russian or Polish Proverbs. Divine mill
grinds slowly – illustrates the Czechs skeptical attitude toward to the
higher powers. Don’t count on them! A blessing in disguise (Не было бы счастья, да несчастье помогло) – philosophical approach the Russians to life troubles. Soon the story told, but not so soon deal has done (Скоро сказка сказывается, да не скоро дело делается). When Poles don’t understand something, they say ‘’To jest czeske kino’’(That is the Czech movie), because to follow a plot in the Czech film is sometimes tricky).
In Czech fairy tales a beautiful princess in a castle is always saved
from the dragon by a brave knight. He fights and wins, like in a
present day ice hockey battle. In Russian fairy tales, Ivan the Fool
marries a beautiful princess and has a brilliant career in the King’s
palazzo, because he has figured out how to enchant and amuse the forever sad beauty. Another variation is that Ivan is sitting on the stove (a
Russian style stove means a warm and comfortable place to spend the six month long winter). Then he is smart enough to come up with some trick, and to avoid a direct confrontation. The Russians say, such a fool, but smart. As the Czech Svejk, brilliantly described by Jaroslav Hasek in
his book The Good Soldier Svejk, shows his great resistance to the
stupid rules in the army. I guess, Svejk and Ivan the Fool has something
in common. They both try to wait for the best moment in their life and
get something of it.
Whatever is going on, my Slavic friends are able to deal with any
interruption and to concentrate on writing a wonderful new song or play,
book or movie as an antidote to boredom and day by day routine.
I think, we all have more in common that unites us rather than what
separates us. As we all are aware, when communication becomes simple and hearty, the barriers will crumble. And that is just wonderful! I hope
that our company LOS Language Online Services is doing its best
in breaking down the barriers.
Sofia Zigmund, LOS Consultant
Rette Tyrrel, Editor