American in Brno: Czech Update

Time flies. I have been in Brno for eight weeks now and it feels like just yesterday I was sitting in that auditorium at Cinema Scala on the first day of orientation being welcomed to the city. I knew absolutely nothing about this place. If the person sitting in that auditorium then could see herself now, she'd be impressed.

Third time’s the charm. I am Kaleah Mcilwain an exchange student from Philadelphia, USA. This is the third installment of my bi-weekly blog series on my experiences in Brno.

‘Tis the season

The time to celebrate is upon us. Halloween just past and I have to say, I expected more from Brno in this. During the beginning of my stay here I remember someone mentioning that Halloween is celebrated here. Now I personally do not celebrate the holiday because I feel it is more for children. However, there is a certain expectation when you say that you celebrate a holiday.

When I think of Halloween I think of houses being decorated, candy, and children dressing up to go trick-or-treating. Imagine my surprise when I realized that is not how Halloween is celebrated here. Then I was told that Halloween is a new thing here so it is not exactly up to speed with how it is popularly celebrated.

But no worries, you do not want to celebrate Halloween the way it is popularly celebrated. Especially not like America because the day before is mystery night and that just means bad little kids go outside and do bad things. Stick to the way you guys do it.

Although I was bummed about the lack of candy.

It is now November which where I am from is when we celebrate Thanksgiving. Which is one of the best holidays around because it is all about the food. You guys really should invest in celebrating that one.

I will have to get creative to celebrate it here given the fact that I live in a dorm with a mini fridge and a hot plate.

Team Spirit

I am not much of a sports person but I was told that the Hockey game was a must attend event. I was also assigned to cover it for my internship at Masaryk University Press Office so I had no choice, but that’s besides the fact.

Prior to going to that match I had never been to a hockey game before, although I have been to sporting events back home. So I was curious to see how a sporting event in the Czech Republic was going to be. It was a university game so I was expecting something similar to how my home university, Pennsylvania State University, is for our games. Let me tell you what was similar.

At Penn State we tailgate before games. Or I should say they because remember I am not a sports person so I do not partake in sporting events. But tailgating is when people camp out before the game and they are all dressed in their team paraphernalia and they grill food, play games, and drink. Now when I mentioned this to a Czech person they had no idea what I was talking about but you guys do have your own version of tailgating.

Before the hockey game there was a parade in the city center where people were all dressed up with their Masaryk University gear on and their faces painted and they were drinking! Looked like tailgating to me.

Once the game started in the arena the excitement was amazing, I even got excited for the game.

And here is where the similarities end. Then things got weird. There was girls kissing girls, and people blowing up condoms like balloons. I had never been to a hockey game before but I am sure that don't happen at them.

Despite the strange entertainment provided during the game. I did try a Czech hotdog, párek v rohlíku, and it was very good. I did not venture into trying the beer but I was told it was not the best in Brno so next time, next time.

Never fails

Of course I could not survive the weeks without having at least one disastrous encounter. I think the universe knows I write these blogs and feels the need to give me something interesting to talk about, how nice.

And at our favorite place none the least, Tesco!

So I was doing some grocery shopping and I decided to go to self checkout to get out of the store quicker. I scan my items and go to pay for them. After I pay with my card the machine is saying sign the receipt, but it’s self checkout so who am I signing the receipt for? So the lady who is working that section comes over and she starts speaking Czech. I explain to her, well try, that I do not speak Czech. I ask does she speak English, she says no. Well we have reached a problem haven’t we.

I just wanted to know if the transaction went through so I could go. But the lady did not think I paid for the items so she was not trying to let me leave. So I tell her, in English so it was completely useless, that I am going to pay with a different card. I did that and the same thing happened, the lady still was looking at me like I was trying to steal from them.

Then the problem was each time I inserted my card a partial receipt was printed but not the full receipt. So I then had two partial receipts that I was supposed to sign but the lady did not understand that I guess. Now I needed to prove to the lady that I paid for the stuff. So I check my accounts on my phone and guess what, I not only paid for the items, I paid twice.

So then I tried to tell her, again in English which was again useless, that I paid twice. She gestures for me to go talk to someone else. I went to a cashier who luckily spoke English and tell her what happened and she was helpful and told me that the information desk would be able to refund me my money. I go to the information desk and guess what, the lady there did not speak English.

I gave up.

Take aways from that lovely experience? I now completely understand why Czech people continue to talk in Czech even though I say I do not speak it. The only options are to either be quiet or talk in your language, so we just all out here talking even though people don’t understand us.

I’m practically Czech now

I know so much more about the traditions, history, and culture of the Czech Republic then I did when I first arrived. Most of this is from research that I do for the stories I write but some of it I was just curious to know.

Like how November 2 was All Souls’ Day which is a day to celebrate those that have passed. This is a time for people to visit the graves of their family members to light candles and lay flowers.

While Thanksgiving is not celebrated in the Czech Republic, they do celebrate the European equivalent to it, St. Martin’s Day. It falls on November 11 a time to celebrate the earth's bounty and involves lots of food. There may not be any turkey but they have roast goose!

I also did some research about November 17 which is International Students Day to celebrate the Velvet Revolution. Also I can now go home and indepthly explain to everyone who asked me was I going to Czechoslovakia why it is not called that anymore and the history that goes with it.

Things to look forward to

Since it is the end of the year now my second favorite holiday (first being my birthday) is approaching, Christmas! I am really excited to see these Christmas markets that everyone speaks so highly of. I have been told that I must visit Vienna during this time specifically for their Christmas markets, so I do plan to go back. I was there about a week ago and they were already building theirs.

The weather in Brno is changing for the colder. I am excited about the prospect of snow. I love the winter time and I was told Brno gets its fair share of snow so hopefully snow falls before I leave.

That's all for my czech update. I do not have much time left in Brno but so much I want to do! It is both exciting and overwhelming. Till next time.

Masaryk university