In this winter season, we tend to spend a lot more time inside drinking coffee, tea and hot chocolate; cuddling up in our jammies and blankets; and having germ-collecting contests. The early evenings are made better at least when we can see the winter wonderland accumulating outside.
Moar snow! Give me all the snow!
And spending more time inside, I started to notice something. Czech houses in the countryside have got a lot in common – more, I think, than American houses. Czechs, being very practical people, have perfected their cozy way of life and for an outsider, it’s got some tell-tale signs.
11. Sadlo and škvarky
As I wrote in my post about Czech food, before I came to CZ, I could never imagine eating animal fat – as a spread on bread, as oil to fry things… Lard has got some nasty connotations in our healthy lifestyle-obsessed food culture. But here it’s made in families or by a local butcher – natural and possibly even a better alternative to butter or margarine. Meanwhile, škvarky is very adaptable. I’ve seen it in bread (or on bread, eaten as a topinka [toast] for dinner) and in savory pastries. Some people salt it and eat it alone. They’re like little savory snack cubes (as long as you’re not vegetarian). I’m lucky that I have a Czech family to keep me in business 🙂
10. A frozen or preserved stockpile of food
If the apocalypse comes, no country I know would be better-prepared than Czech Republic. You could live for months off the meat, home-grown fruits and veggies they keep in standalone freezers, or the pickled goods they keep in the pantry. Pickles, cabbage, beetroot, tomatoes, onions, all kinds of fruit jams, utopenec (a kind of pub food, pickled sausage served with onions) – Czechs can ’em all and keep ’em in stock.
9. Actual tools… which the man and even women of the house actually use
If American men have got a toolbox or a toolshed, I’m pretty sure the only reason why they power up the drill is to seem manly. I’ve been shocked by the practical capacity of Czechs to design and build their own houses, fix what’s wrong in or around them, and actively continue to make improvements over a long time.
Czechs who have large front or back gardens seem to always have a never-ending list of projects. Planting, harvesting, decorating, cutting wood, caring for a water well, building a lake, I don’t know what. Invariably there’s a shed bursting with deadly-looking tools which actually look used (AMERICAN GASP!). One’s house is a huge source of pride and Czechs take it very seriously.
People with larger gardens might have personal greenhouses, chickens, rabbits, or fields of potatoes to take care of! I’m pretty sure most village youngsters have operated a tractor.
If you want to impress Czechs, learn the (funny) name of one tool you’ll see in village fields all over: bagr, pronounced bugger, which is an excavator.
Czech Republic may not have the sea, but it has got lots of mountains and is much less expensive than the Alps. Its citizens take advantage of this by going on many winter ski trips, and most students, starting at age 12-13, go on ski trips through their schools (another thing I could never imagine happening in many parts of the States – you’d get sued if anything went wrong!).
Many kids start learning from the age of 3, and it is so cute to see these tiny people populating the bunny slopes. Since I had never skied before coming here, I don’t know if that’s common. But nearly everyone has skis in reserve for the major season.
Observe my prowess on the slopes:
Everything I’m wearing in this picture was borrowed from Czech friends.
Cough cough that was two years ago cough I’m way better now cough.
7. A front room (předsíň) with a closed door
Czechs are obsessed with draughts (průvan). They are absolutely sure they will get sick if even a small breeze blows across them. To prevent this (it’s actually pretty smart), there’s a front room to take off all your shoes and winter clothes, and to put on papuče (see below) before entering the main house. It’s super warm inside, but a shock when you go out in the morning and are smacked all over by the frost in the front room.
6. These doorknobs
I don’t know why, but these three-option open knobs are somewhere in EVERY house. They are even on my windows and screen door in the first picture but it was too dark to see them.
5. A separate bathroom and toilet “room”
Czechs learn British English. Which puts Americans at a distinct disadvantage when they are doing the wee wee dance.
I can’t even count on my fingers the amount of times this happens:
- I ask someone to show me their bathroom,
- I close the door,
- I turn on the light,
- I find I am in a room with a bath/shower, sink, and laundry machine.
- I wonder briefly if I will ever learn to communicate effectively.
- I pine briefly for other Americans who understand me.
- I wonder briefly if I should pee in the sink to avoid embarrassment.
- I decide that will embarrass me more.
- I go to find the “toilet,” a small narrow room with just a toilet and sink.
Of course, it’s not always easy to find without the host’s help since every room has the same door and doorknob and they are usually all closed to keep out the draught.
10. I smile and proceed to do the exact same thing the next week.
However, I do acknowledge how brilliant this is, that when someone is hogging the toilet you can actually brush your teeth somewhere else than the kitchen sink.
4. A dual-flush toilet… and a bidet
These dual-flush toilets are economical, environmentally friendly, and all over Europe (and Israel) but Americans are late to the party.
Sometimes I still panic and think there are too many options.
I believe in what it stands for but I still can’t bring myself to use it.
3. This kind of Czech-made ceramic cup
As you can see, I’m working up quite a collection myself.
2. A working fireplace, and a woodpile in the backyard
Those cozy days of my childhood are now just a memory, when my family would designate a Saturday evening as game night, pull all our Scrabbles and Mancalas and cards and cushions and blankets into the living room, light the fire, make some cocoa, and spend the evening.
No, at one point my parents got tired of cleaning it and of the inefficiency of our chimney, which was very old, and the fires were replaced by a bunch of ceramic cats and frogs to disguise what was once a fireplace 😛
Czechs have very modern, innovative fireplaces, and thus, their fires are going strong, with the chimneys puffing all over and looking exactly like the picture-perfect stereotype of quaint European towns and villages. Cat-approved.
1. An impressive collection of papuče / pantofle in every possible size
This needs a bit of explaining. Many Czech houses don’t have carpeting, so in their front room, after taking off your shoes, you will be required to put on slippers (papuče).
You got it right. Required.
If you resist, you will be told that the floor is cold (in all seasons except summer, and maybe even then) and you’ll get sick
and die if you don’t wear them. You will get many disapproving looks. Socks are not an excuse.
It’s tradition, and is strange to refuse.
From one perspective, I understand it, because my mom also had a “no-shoe rule” to keep out dirt – another reason why no Czechs walk with shoes in their house.
If you want to go outside but not put on shoes, there is another collection of pantofle, which are outdoor shoes or “slippers” like Crocs, which students wear in school (yep – while teachers are allowed to wear shoes, students are not, and must change in the “locker room” before entering).
Czechs, do you agree? Did I miss anything in your house?