Saturday’s LidovÃ© noviny had an excellent feature by Nora GrundovÃ¡ that I’m just going to translate without comment:
PRAGUE, July 10, 2004 – More and more foreign women are getting married to Czechs, and sometimes these women are in shock from their new partners. A Mexican, Jemeni, Syrian, Georgian, Canadian and a Brit told stories about what surprised them most – good and bad – about Czech men.
When my girlfriend Chin-hua, who is from Hong Kong, began to talk about her new Czech boyfriend, I was of course interested to find out how he was different from other men she had known. She laughed.
“You see, when a Brit, Chinese or Indian holds you, he tells you: ‘You’re beautiful and I love you.’ When a Czech man holds me, he says, ‘You’re beautiful, I love you, but you’ve got to do something about those love handles.'”
They come from various cultures with various expectations. (In 2002, the freshest statistics available, 1,722 foreign women married Czechs). Those living here longer have very interesting opinions about Czech men. Many of these women don’t need Czech men to stay here: they have their own passports and their own supports they can return to. They know their counterparts and friends very well, and because they’re frequently travelers, they can compare.
Their points of view change depending on the countries they come from: Things a Canadian finds romantic about a Czech man, a woman from Georgia takes for granted, and vice versa.
Syrian men don’t use bad language in front of women
She studied Islamic law in Damascus and Persian in Iran, and after her return to Syria she met Ondřej from HodonÃn and the Czech Republic became her fate. The satisfied couple have lived in Prague two years and are waiting for their first child. Shaimaa teaches Arabic in Prague, sometimes lectures on Islamic law, and with her husband, runs a cultural-business office.
A Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman, but a woman should choose only a Muslim man. Did you have problems with that?
It’s true, and works like that in Syria. A woman where I come from should only marry a Muslim. Or they can have only have a civic marriage. Civic law is one thing, but a marriage and family affairs is something else. Ondřej had to convert, because we wanted to be together. We respect the borders of each other’s faiths. I wish nobody would have to change their religion because of their partner, but we knew that it was necessary under Syrian law and society, so we did it.
What did your family say?
The fact that I was marrying a non-Muslim wasn’t a great tragedy for my family. But the situation with the neighbors was more complicated, what others would say… We all had to get used to differing cultures, especially Ondřej and I.
And your husband’s family?
They’re open too. Ondřej’s mother loves exotic things (laughs). They expected this from their son, maybe because he traveled so much.
Which faith will your child be brought up in?
My husband and I recognize all religions: Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism. The important thing for me is to foster a feeling of God in the child. Because the inner support is pleasant for myself too. I not going to go out and discriminate. My family is Muslim, but very well-read and open to discussion.
Certainly you’ve compared Syrian and Czech men?
Generally Syrian men are much more emotional and certainly temperamental – maybe thanks to the weather. On a Syrian street you hear nice compliments from men. Here nobody says anything like that. Among Czech people there are many more barriers. In Syria there are of course fixed borders between men and women. A man cannot touch a woman, so he calls her. Syrian men take a lot of care of their surroundings, their family and friends. This society leaves people more freedom. It’s mainly freedom, but it can also hide tolerance. Syrian society is built on family and relations with neighbors; on what another person thinks. In Syria there are obstacles to communication as well, so you cultivate the ability to overcome them. It might appear to you that Syrians are more active, more urgent, more cunning.
How do you handle black humor, another characteristic of men here?
I don’t understand word play. I don’t understand words, but I laugh at situations. Black humor about death, sex … Sometimes I don’t like it when Czechs frequently use foul language. When I translate it for myself into Arabic, I can’t imagine how a Syrian would speak in such a foul way in front of women. It shocked me that it was so common here. But nobody fights in the streets; they say two words and it’s done. Syrian men fight in the street.
More Macho Than Gentleman
We talked about The Czech Man at home and in cafes with Lissy, from Mexico, Ashvak from Yemen, Shaima from Syria, Kajoko from Japan, Madina from Georgia, Petra from Canada, and Lucy and Carol from Britain. Some of them came to the Czech Republic from societies we might consider conservative. Our stereotypical imaginations tell us that their men, be they Arab, Japanese or Latin American, don’t care much about their women’s personalities.
Of course, according to Ashvak from Yemen, who has lived in the Czech Republic for fourteen years now, studied journalism and political science here and sings with a Prague ethnic group, men in Arab states treat women with much more honor than in the Czech Republic. Czech men don’t pamper their partners enough. “Not with gifts, but with kind words,” she explains. “I used to think that men in Europe treated their women better than Arabs. But now I think that men are alike all over the world. Arabs just have a different way of expressing it, but the approach is the same.” The young Yemeni is convinced Czech men need to feel that they clearly dominate the relationship.
Madina from Suchumi [Georgia] misses the compliments Georgians compose. “You know, to tell you you have beautiful eyes, hair, a person doesn’t hear that here,” says the learned linguist, who left Georgia 15 years ago for her Czech husband and now works in a Prague law office. Something similar is missed by Lissy from Mexico, who planned a career as an acress, but in the end married a Czech stuntman. “Why can’t they tell you, ‘It was nice to be with you,’ and so on,” complains Lissy, between taking care of her four-year-old son.
According to Lissy, it’s not just about words. Mexican men with a certain income are far more eager to get help around the house – hiring a housekeeper or nanny – than Czech men. (The Yemeni and Syrians add that back home, men regularly do the ironing, and in Georgia men do the shopping).
The seemingly-emancipated Mexican continues analysing the stereotype of the devoted Mexican woman, who listens to every word her macho man says. “It surprised me that some Czech women are even humbler than Mexican women, and put their own needs in second place. A lot of my husband’s friends act that way toward their wives.”
She is from Suchumi in Georgia. In Moscow she studied foreign languages and worked as a journalist. She met her husband in summer 1987 on the ship Ivan Franco on the Black Sea. He proposed to her an hour after meeting her. He went to Moscow to be with Madina, and then she came to Prague for him, and in the end there was a wedding in Georgia. In Prague, Madina first taught English and worked at the South African embassy. Now she and her husband run a law office. She is raising their two sons, Givinar and Teodor.
Did you have an opinion about Czech men before you came?
I heard that Czech men are more passive than women, that they’re cold. But my husband is very temperamental. In Georgia, the custom is that men are the active ones, and the woman should stay in the background. My husband was used to Czech active women. I waited for his initiative, but he laid down the fact that I must solve things the same way he did. It wasn’t easy; I was alone with the child, a foreigner, with the language barrier. In the summer I went off to Georgia and thought about how I could live in the Czech Republic.
Is the character of a Czech man different from a Georgian?
Georgians are raised completely differently. It’s the man who dominates his family and I think that’s correct. In the end, it’s easier for the woman. The man takes care of everything, solves everything, and the woman is the lady. He comes home from work and has all the shopping done, because in Georgia, the guys do the shopping. Problems in the family, sickness, reconstructing the house, the woman doesn’t solve any of this. She cooks, cleans, takes care of the kids.
Does the man help around the house?
A lot! When a visitor comes over, the man cooks everything. And when the guests come, he sits down, takes care of the guests and is served only by women. He doesn’t put anything on the table. From outside, it looks like the guy just sits there and the poor women are running around. But they don’t know that the guy prepared everything and did all the shopping. In Georgia the custom is that several kinds of warm food are served at the table. I’ve seen such families myself.
Are you bothered by Czech men?
Czech men should be more aware. When a women gives birth or gets sick in Georgia, [the man] gets the doctor. Which is why I’m pleased that my man loves his family. A man who loves his mother can love his wife the same way. It’s a mistake to think that when a man loves his mother that that can hurt the relationship. It occurs to me that Czech men are afraid of women. They’re afraid to praise them. A Georgian will praise you even without wanting to pick up on you.
I put on makeup because of my mother-in-law
Washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning, mending, scrubbing, giving birth and still looking like the Little Mermaid. That is how – in the opinions of the foreigner women – the typical Czech man envisions his better half. When foreign women tell their partners that that is a utopian ideal, they hear that their mothers managed everything effortlessly. Ruth from Minnesota, who teaches English in Prague, laughs: “I started to wear makeup because of my mother-in-law!” On a Sunday visit she saw that her husband’s mother, in a clean-to-the-point-of-sterility apartment, pulled a duck out of the oven, sorted radishes, and mended the zipper on his pants while serving coffee cake – all the while looking like she went to school with Ruth.
Lissy had a similar experience: “I admire my husband’s mother. She cooks, cleans and works too. I’m not like that. I don’t want to work and sacrifice everything for my man. In Czech marriages I see men sitting in front of the TV while their wives flutter around and is surprised that she doesn’t put his slippers on for him. She admiringly adds: “And those women manage to even look good! They paint the house and are beautiful!”
“Czech men? It’s better if you didn’t ask,” laughs Cindy from Taiwan. Her husband worked in Taiwan for a multinational corporation. “In Taiwan he was funny and he needed my help, so I gave him advice. Now in Prague he knows everything best and we have divided our refrigerator in half; his half has Czech food and I have Chinese in mine.” According to Cindy, Czech men are looking for spectators and listeners. “A Czech man I know in Taiwan invited a Japanese woman on a date. He spoke English, they went to the beach together, and he had a great time. And then he was surprised to find out that Yuki didn’t know a word of English.
Unfaithful like Klaus
“Latin American men cheat a lot, and that’s better here,” says a satisfied Lissy. Ashvak from Yemen shakes her head in disagreement. “It’s not better. Czech men are better at hiding it.” On the issue of infidelity, she only raises her eyebrows. She remembers how a Czech friend described what a great relationship he had, and still wanted to get closer to Ashvak. Lissy after a while remembers that photos of President Klaus appeared in the newspapers accompanied by his mistress, and didn’t even hide her from the media.
According to Lissy, Czech girls are the frequent culprits, because they aren’t choosy. “They live with someone since their youth, have kids with them, and at the end they get married. In Mexico we wait, preferring to live with our parents and in choosing the right one we’re a lot more careful,” Lissy states.
Canadians go for dates on bikes
Petra’s family came to Canada from Germany and Austria, so Petra, a Calgary girl, decided to get to know Europe. With a diploma in art history, she lived in the Czech Republic with her husband-to-be Robert. In 2000 they got married on a farm in Pardubice and now they live in Prague. Petra works for a food company.
How did you envision Czech men originally?
Before I visited the Czech Republic, I imagined a typical Czech man as one who likes to go to the pub, drinks beer with his friends, not much bothering him. Then I came here and found out that men really like to go to the pub, where they sit and talk with their friends.
When you compare Canadian and Czech men, how does it end up?
Europeans and therefore Czech men are more aware of the world, more open. A Canadian is careful. He looks at you, but is afraid to address you. On the other hand, Czech men seem to me to be lazier, without a desire to achieve something. Canadian men like to play sports, and so they’ll invite you on a date to ride bikes or go rock climbing.
Are Czech men gallant?
They are. For example, opening the doors for women is something I like. You don’t have that in Canada. Maybe because they emphasize equality so much there.
They urinate on the sidewalk
The women frequently attacked the fact that Prague streets are full of so much excrement. And it didn’t stay just with dog excrement. Lissy put her hand on her hip. “Men here pee in the street. I’m not talking about homeless men either. Normal people do it and at high noon! They simply unzip their pants and a person has to watch out for the puddle stretching across the sidewalk.” The other women nodded their heads and told stories about how they saw men with t heir backs turned on the streets. They said there ought to be a law against this bad habit. “It bothers me that society accepts this. I can take it that older men and women go naked on a beach, but not pissing on the street,” Lissy says angrily.
Lucy, a Brit originally from New Zealand and currently a lecturer in English, took the education of her Czech boyfriend seriously. “I love him, but if he wants me, he has to shower twice a day and sit on the toilet even to pee.” Lucy meant what she said, adding that public urination seemed to be a trend across western Europe. Her British friend Carol got Lucy to admit that her boyfriend put on perfume every time he went out in public.
A frequent topic of conversation was about the unattractive odors one encounters on public transport. Lissy asked me why Czech men didn’t use deodorant. “When a person gets on a tram here, it’s totally agressive! Maybe they think that there’s something harmful in deodorant. Tell me: when you’re in a workout studio and someone smells, can I tell them?” I answer that the exerciser would probably consider that harassment. “But if I have to breathe that odor, it’s harassing me!” Lissy angrily gesticulates.
According to all the women I talked to, Czech men have started in recent years to dress better. Visitors from abroad aren’t in shock at the strange clothing combinations – luckily those disappeared in the ’90s. Ashvak, with her 14 years of experience nodded. “Czech men travel more, and see new things.”
In the kitchen in their underwear
Lissy noticed another unique trait of Czech men – they like to walk around the house in their underwear. “When a person moves to another culture, it’s clear that they have to open themselves to it. You’re not hear on a visit. All of a sudden local customs affect you. So you get into situations where people around you walk around their house in their underwear. And you have to get used to it, even if it’s on the border of what you can take. You can’t run away.”
Shaimaa laughs: “It’s true. I told my mom, that when she comes here, she’d see people in their underwear often. Is it a Czech habit, or does all of Europe do it?” Lissy turns her head: “I think it’s only here.” Ashvak has a different opinion: “I don’t like it. It’s terribly dishonorable.”
Till Beer Do Us Part
And what about the good things about Czech men? This time the women think a bit longer. Lissy again speaks. “They’re educated. And some young men are well-raised. When they talk with a woman, there’s a bit of knighthood in them, which I like.” “Until they get drunk,” Ashvak adds. Maybe because she’s been here longer and has more experience.
Chin-hua from Hong Kong appreciates her husband’s knowledge of cooking, because Chinese like to eat. Lucy the Brit’s boyfriend, just like her previous one, likes to watch football and drink beer. “With him it’s a lot more fun than my previous boyfriend. Until he gets laid out by the beer.”