The Window Nook

Adventures in living abroad

Czech Bureaucracy

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It’s been an eventful weekend here in Prague. I had a run-in with Czech bureaucracy and the local supermarket ran out of our favorite brand of beer.  I’m not surprised though. Any weekend which begins with me giving Shakespearean advice to our cat is bound to turn out to be an odd weekend in the end. For the record, she didn’t seem inclined to heed the advice, but then, she is a cat. More than that, a cat prone to avidly chasing her own tail. So, I’m not holding my breath. Regarding the beer, I think we will be able to subsist on another brand for a day or two. Andrew decided to cope with this phenomenon by trying out Kofola, the Czech version of Coca-Cola. Let’s just say this was a failed experiment. Those who say Dr. Pepper tastes mildly like a mixture of Coke and cough syrup have never tried the concoction known as Kofola. I will call it an acquired taste. In the meantime, I am making a trip downtown to stock up on our chosen brand of beer. I have found that a bottle of Czech beer is the perfect way to relax after a long day of teaching or dealing with bureaucracy (frequently my days include both). In my first weeks here, I frequently heard the phrase ‘Czech bureaucracy’, usually uttered just before a tortuously long story involving the many steps necessary to fulfill a relatively simple matter such as renewing an Opencard transportation pass. I assigned these stories to my ‘urban myth’ category, little knowing that I would eventually build my own repertoire of these crazy stories. These legends? There are not myths. If anything, I had heard the abridged versions of them. Take the standard maxim of customer service in the US, namely The Customer Is Always Right. In Prague, in the private sector, this maxim is usually changed to The Customer is Usually Misguided and/or a Nuisance. This can vary a bit based on whether the clerk or waiter happens to be having a good day, whether you can speak or at least attempt to speak Czech, and simply the luck of the draw. I have received glares and a lugubrious sigh when entering a small shop, as if I had disturbed the quiet of the store by barging in. Then again, I should add that I have received great recipes for the vegetables I buy at the local corner store,  so there is obviously a wide range of what constitutes customer service. In the government sector, this maxim becomes The Customer is Always Wrong, and It Is Our Duty to Educate Them. Each office has their own rule, regulations, and traditions. These regulations are viewed with the same hallowed reverence as one might attach to a the traditions of the English monarchy.  As such, it is the job of each agency to take bewildered expats and indoctrinate them in the ways of bureaucracy. Ask an agency to do something that is not tradition, and they will be instantly put-out and offended at the mere mention of such a thing. This usually necessitates either a long lecture in Czech to your accompanying translator (which is then translated as ‘they can’t do it that way’) or, to an unaccompanied expat, a sigh and a short lecture involving written dates, a website with a translation, or waving of hands toward another official. Act flexible and slightly less-than-bright, and they will enthusiastically take you under their wing, introducing you with zeal and fervor to The Way Things Are Done Here. This approach can net you all sorts of freebies in the private sector as well, from waived bank fees to extra helpful information that will save you time. I have to say that my experiences here have made me long with misty-eyed nostalgia for those long waits at the local DMV in the US. Yes, they are grouchy there too. But they have potted plants. And chairs. Lots of chairs. On second thought, I should get a few extra bottles of beer. Just in case. I might need them the next time I have to renew my Opencard.


Author: annekemae

Enjoys writing, photography, reading mystery, historical fiction, and travelogues, chocolate in any form, and tulips.

One thought on “Czech Bureaucracy

  1. this reminds me of some of lewis’ writings. like excerpts from that hideous strength, and parts of the screwtape letters. the Czech bureaucrats probably have a different goal in mind.

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