Take some time to learn Czech

Discussion in 'Travel Tips & Advice' started by rbl, Oct 24, 2005.

  1. rbl

    rbl Member

    I hope I'm not posting in the wrong forum but I've just arrived from my trip to Prague and this is the most important thing I can advise to anyone traveling to the CR: take some time to learn czech before you leave.

    I started to learn Czech a couple of months before the trip but never got very far into the course because I was struggling with pronunciation.
    Two weeks before the trip I thought my knowledge of czech was already basic enough and that I would be ok with the help of a good phrasebook. I was also relying on the Czech's ability to speak english in case my czech was lousy than I thought =)

    As soon as I arrived to Prague I learned lesson #1: you can start a conversation in czech but that doesn't mean you can follow it. Asking the most simple questions can lead to several answers, most of them meaning the same thing but sounding so different due to declinations and verbal time. So it became very clear to me that without understanding and mastering declinations, speaking czech wasn't going to be of much help.

    I stayed in Prague all the time (8 days) and let me tell you, I was astonished by the number of people that didn't understand the most basic english. This is the most touristic city of the country and probably the most touristic city of all surrounding countries.
    I'm not stating that people should speak english just on that account but last year I've been to Morocco and every shopkeeper in the Marrakech medina spoke very well a handful of languages at least (the ones where they get most tourists from) and although they couldn't discuss 17th century Russian literature in all of them =) , they knew more than enough to explain their trade and to have a fierce price debating discussion.

    In Prague's "tourist places" (museums, shops, etc), I found that people spoke a few english phrases related to their work but most of the times seems they are just "playing the english tape" and they really don't understand it. I had the most strange discussions asking if a single 30ck fee was enough for 2 people taking photographs at Prague Castle and at a restaurant asking if the duck would go better with fries or boiled potatoes, pointing to the menu and doing my best to be understood by a waiter that said she spoke english.

    So if you want more than the basic shopping around experience or you plan to visit anything outside Prague, do yourself a favor and learn all the Czech you can because you will need it if you want to communicate with the people.
    I'm starting my course again =)
  2. magan

    magan Well-Known Member

    Don't forget that CR was really open for tourism only since 1990. Before that time English was practically no no (except for small %)....and especially talking to anyone from West. People from West have that "bad" habbit of asking too many questions about everything and all the time and under communism it looked like we are all spies. It was not "in" to talk to foreigner and there were not that many tourists coming eiher. Travelling abroad (West) was also very limited. Therefore people in general didn't need to learn English. Since 1990 situation changed drastically and Czechs are now eager to learn, but more time is needed.

    From what I see around me in Prague the next generation will be practially bi-lingual (Cz/Eng). Children of ALL people I know here are learning English and those who are advanced have the opportunities to REALLY use it.

    But back to your advice for visitors to learn some Czech. I would recommend it for one simple reason. They would not be depending on tourist areas for their meals and would be able to go where locals go. If you want to find expensive restaurant look for one which has Menu in English/German/Italian etc. You will pay for your convenience of waiter speaking English and dishes adjusted to your taste....and miss so much of the local flavour. Just an example: I was walking from lunch we had with Czech friend in local pub and we looked at the Menu of the restaurant by Charles Bridge. Exactly same dish (Svickova and dumplings) was 460 Kc. I just paid 69 Kc. How is that for insentive to learn at least some Czech :0)
  3. rbl

    rbl Member

    Hi Magan!
    Just to clarify, my initial post did not intend to be in any way a critic to Czechs (or Prague people to be more precise) for their lack of english knowledge. I was just posting my experience and leaving some advice.
    I can understand that for geographical and cultural reasons, russian and german are much more likely to be used by czechs and we have resorted to german when the language barrier was to getting too "thick" =)

    I don't know much people like myself that (try to) learn the language spoken in their holiday destination country but even for those Prague (or the CR for that matter) can be a real challenge, hence my post!

    As a side note, we managed to eat everyday for less than 150Kc (roughly 5 euros) per person per meal and most times we could eat for half of it right in the heart of the tourist areas. We just followed the natives or asked them where they went to eat =)
    In the last few days we found and began "advertising" a self-service restaurant near the Stavovské Divadlo, somewhere between Havelska and Tirska where we ate very well and very cheap.
  4. magan

    magan Well-Known Member

    Restaurant is called Ceska Koruna and I am glad that you found it. I was not taken your post "in wrong way" and I am certainly sorry if I sounded like I did. I agre with you and I just tried to explain reason for difference between CR and some other countries. I am friendly person :))
  5. Ladis

    Ladis Well-Known Member

    Simply ask people in the age of students since the most of students here learn English.
  6. rbl

    rbl Member

    Sorry Magan, I should have explained myself better. I didn't take your post in the wrong away, you were perfectly clear but after reading it, I re-read my initial post and saw there was some room for misinterpretation. Sorry about the confusion =)

    Ladis, students are like police, there isn't one around when you need them ;)
  7. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    This is a classic whatever the language studied.

    Japanese lady: Où est le Louvre? "Where is the Louvre?"
    Parisian gentleman : Eh bien, vous voyez ma p'tite dame, c'est juste derrière ce pâté de maisons. C'est pas plus difficile que ça. "Well, you see, Ma'am, it's just behind this block. It's as simple as that."
    Japanese lady [puzzled]: Comment puis-je me rendre au Louvre? "How can I go to Le Louvre?"
    Parisian gentleman: J'viens d'vous 'l dire! "I've just told ya!"

    Yes, it always takes a lot of training in a foreign language to understand what a local will answer to your question.
  8. gementricxs

    gementricxs Well-Known Member

    Yeah, you can expect that the native would answer you simply, in most basic words. Unless you tell him that you are learning Czech and you want really most simple answer. If you would met me and told me it, I would try to speak simply and comprehensibly to you. The way how would Czech answered you is different fromit what you will learn in book. (accent, colloquial words and so on.)

    Ex: Q: Where is....?
    Answer(in textbook): Jdi rovně, na konci ulice zahni doprava, pak to uvidíš.
    Answer(colloquial): Nó, tak to běž rovně a pak tam tom rohu, tam na konci týdle ulice zahni doprava, no, a pak to už uvidíš, to je takovej vóóbří barák, to nemineš.
  9. Irish_student

    Irish_student Active Member

    I don't think you need to speak Czech so well to go over...

    I was living in Czech Republic for 5 months last year. I went over there not even knowing how to say yes or no. Even now, I only speak a very few sentences. Yet I never had a problem, about one in four czechs speak english or german (by my calculations), and it is usually possible to communicate somehow or other. The only people I met over there who could not communicate in any language and did not want to communicate through body language were skinheads. Would you really want to talk to them?

    It really is not that bad. Although it would be an idea to learn some basic phrases before you go...e.g. kolik je hodin, kolik je stoji..etc
  10. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    Yet, you did talk to them! :lol:

    Not only skinheads, but all sorts of decent people who, feeling unable to help, prefer to abstain. I noticed a certain degree of shyness among the Czechs when they deal with foreigners.
  11. Irish_student

    Irish_student Active Member

    I didn't know they were neo-nazis until they started pulling up the sleeves of their shirts to show me the swastikas tattooed onto them...

    Most decent people who couldn't communicate linguistically made some effort to help...one guy wasn't able to tell me where a computer shop was in english, so he brought me there in his car.
  12. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    Yes, Irish_student, I have a similar story with a nice old lady who accompanied me on the tram to the stop where I had to take another tram - quite out of her way. God bless her.
    But, generally, people, the young in particular, give up very quickly, and I think this is true in many countries.
  13. KJP

    KJP Well-Known Member

    English is compulsory from basic school on, therefore your calculations are off...

    As far as the resturant issue, try sitting down, ordering something to drink (in Czech) reading the menu, then having your English only girlfiend sit down...and the waiter heard her....he came over to us, took the menu and came back with another one with triple prices....needless to say we paid for our drinks and left.

    It is a law that Czech restaurants can charge more to foreigners, not all do, and personally I think the law should be changed and is non conducive to tourism...

    I find it interesting that those Czechs that wont try to speak English have mastered the staple response of (must be said in a monotone): NO, I do not speak English!
  14. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    KJP, this may exist, but I wonder if it not more of a legend than a reality. I compared the menus in several restaurants, both in Czech and English. I don't understand Czech, but as the menus are parallel, the comparison is easy. The prices were the same.

    Besides, you may have noticed that menus are posted outside restaurants, so you can take down the prices of the dishes you plan to order, and see if they differ from the menu you are handed.

    Now, if restaurants are so dishonest as to practice higher prices for tourists, we ought to expose them in this forum by mentioning their names and addresses.
  15. Irish_student

    Irish_student Active Member

    Actually, I have heard that there was legislation created that allowed pubs and restaurants in Prague charge more to tourists than Czechs. Thats why I always ordered in Czech. But the problem is not so great in other parts, especially in Moravia.

    But if we're exposing places in Czech Republic and Slovakia which rip off tourists, then may I suggest the nightclub Levarna in Bratislava: If you were a tourist, the barmen did not give you change. Even if you paid for a pint of Zlaty Bazant with a 1000SKc note. If you asked for it, the bouncers threatend you. Absolutely disgraceful.

    On that note, Slovakia really is a place where you need to speak some Czech or Slovak to get by, as very few people I met spoke any level of English, especially in the east of the country.
  16. KJP

    KJP Well-Known Member

    It is reality, as the post aboves concurs, it is on the books. Resturants that post a menu outside are for tourists, therefore, there is only one price=expensive! I didnt say that they changed the menu from the one posted outdoors, they actually took the one off the table that was in front of us! My days of taking a girl to Rejkavic in the old town are over, with dinner for two at around 6,000 kc (240 usd) :cry:

    This has been publically displayed in the newspapers and local news and rationalized as" they make more than us, overlook it". While I like this site, I don't think it has the political pressure required to change laws :lol:

    Czechs in NYC pay the same as us Americans, in fact I know of no other country in the world that allows such policy...
  17. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    No, it's not a matter of political pressure; it is for us to have the names and addresses of dishonest restaurants so that we can avoid them.

    P.S. Well, I must have been lucky and only patronized honest venues because I fared quite well, and only had to pay reasonable sums for my meals this summer. I keep the bills so here are some examples.

    RESTAURACE CESKY RAJ, Jungmanovo Nam. 3, Praha 1
    1 staroc. cibulacka : 28.00
    1 shazeny kapr : 135.00
    1 varene brambory : 22.00
    1 palacinka, ovoce 56.00
    1 pivo 0,5 : 32.00
    Mezisoucet : 273.00
    DPH 19% : 43.59
    HOTOVOST : 273.00
    DEKU.JEME NASHLEDANOU Tips is not included
    [Tip: change up to 300.00Kc]


    Hybernska 1033:7, Praha 1
    DPH 19% : 20.60
    1 M-Kureci kapsa camembert : 99.00 [a large dish]
    1 Pilsner Urquell 0,5 : 30.00
    Celkem : 129.00
    Service is not included
    [Tip: change up to 150.00K]

    HAVELSKA KORUNA, Havelská 23, Praha 1
    Drstkova : 26.00
    Kure pecene : 53.00
    Brambory : 18.00
    Rajska omacka : 28.00
    Gambrin. 0,3 : 11.00
    Muller vin 0,3 : 20.00
    Z dane 19% : 131.09
    DPH 19% 24.91
    CELKEM 156.00
    [No tip: it's a self-service]

    Vive la cuisine tchèque! :lol:
  18. fabik317

    fabik317 Well-Known Member

  19. magan

    magan Well-Known Member

    Qcumber: You just gave me indigestion.

    Menus were ALWAYS posted on the building beside entrance to all restaurants. Even under communists and it was not for tourists (not many tourists came those times). Restaurants used to be rated by government as I.skupina (first class), II. skupina, III skupina and IV skupina(tavern). I. skupina had usually Western style/grilled meats dishe/french fries. II. had Czech meals, III. was greasy spoon, IV. mostly beer and something to go with it, frequented (starting at 10 morn.) by blue collar workers for beer, smoke and great tripe soup ande garlic rye bread etc.

    There were only few restaurants in Prague where I noticed they didn't have menu posted. I would not go there - hate surprises. Some places in "tourists" areas have really astronomical prices, which would be ridiculous anwhere in the world. To know that you can have exactly same dish for fraction of the price and seeing place packed with tourists makes me wonder. But as far as they have menu posted, it is these people have a choice to go or not to go.
  20. Viktor

    Viktor Well-Known Member

    Even if you know Czech, it does not change anything. Matter of fact it only aggrevates you to hear and understand that the fellow ahead of you was charged only 200Kc for the same room, right next to yours, with the same view of the historic town square and you are being charged 1,250Kc - even his breakfast was only 36Kc and mine was 75Kc for the same "houska a sir" -- coffee is extra at 40Kc for one cup for the tourist. Where the native gets his tea or coffee included...

    Anyhow, as I mentioned in the past, it will be 30 years before I retun for a visit to CZ to celebrate my 105th bithday. Since my return, I've met several Americans who "tried" the Czech experience once, and all are of the same opinion; yea the beer is good and chep -- but how much beer do you have to drik, to justify the cost? The expereince does not justify a return trip the Czech Republic., and many did feel like they are expereincing a typical rip off border town at the Mexican border, with street huslers and waiters who "forget" to bring you back the change...

    Many shared the same experince, and mentioned:, one trip to the Czech Republic is a good expereince and serves for two trips, ( that is a deal) --the first and the last!

    I'm yet to encounter one, who is so delighted that he/she can't wait to return to CZ or Europe in general. The Carabian , South America or even Asia seems to be a preffered destination for learned US travelers. The service is great, the prices are right, and everyone pays the same posted prices for food or accomodations.The NEW Czech Republic has a lot to learn about the free market -- tourism is based on service and realtive cost -- Last time i was in CZ, was in 1970, and truthfully, I did enjoy the trip more, even if it was under communism and all it's travel restrictions of the time. Plus, now we can purchase Czech beer here in the US, but I personnaly prefer the Mexican XX (Dos Equis) anytime over a Pilsner!

    Seems the Czech tourism industry is more geared for the European sex-tourism rather than cultural and historic sighseeing. Good Luck, and only time will tell...


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