New Ministry of Labour booklet advises foreigners on how to behave in Czech society

04-02-2007

Any foreigner who has lived in the Czech Republic can tell you stories of how difficult it is to truly assimilate with the local population. No matter how well you learn the language or how many dumplings you can eat or beers you can drink, you will never be what Czechs call "nasinec" or "one of us."

I myself have been here for over a decade and yet I still find myself making the occasional faux pas. For example, I only found out recently that it's considered rude in the Czech Republic to shake someone's hand while wearing gloves. As this country normally has far colder winters than my homeland Ireland, I think I might have unwittingly irked many Czech acquaintances upon bumping into them on the street during the frosty months either side of Christmas.

As there are now an estimated 310,000 foreigners living and working in the Czech Republic (around two and a half percent of the population) it's a safe bet to say that there are plenty of Czechs who have been miffed at the uncouth behaviour of some of these blow-ins. Thankfully, the Czech Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has now come up with a booklet aimed at ensuring that foreigners can settle in here easily and not upset the natives. This 96-page tome contains lots of useful information for would-be immigrants, including plenty of helpful advice concerning the country's healthcare, education and social security services. The booklet also has some vital information on how foreigners should behave in polite society. If you are thinking of moving to the Czech Republic, here's a quick list of some of the government's official "dos" and "don'ts":

Don't enquire about the age of a woman in the course of a conversation. Do treat women as an equal partner in a conversation.

When shaking hands, allow a woman or an older person to offer their hand first. Always use the right hand for handshakes and don't cross arms when shaking hands in a group.

Make sure you establish brief eye contact when shaking hands. Don't speak with your hands in your pockets or while chewing gum or smoking a cigarette.

Keep a polite distance of around one metre during conversations and don't sit next to people on public transport unless it is absolutely necessary. Don't ask people about the value of their assets or how big their salary is. Instead stick to safe subjects like the weather, family or children. When eating dinner in the Czech Republic it is customary to use a knife and fork, as well as a spoon if you are eating soup.

Hold the knife in your right hand and the fork in your left.

Always remember not to belch or slurp your food.

Hopefully you'll have taken down this information and will be ready to make use of it if you ever come to this country. You can find more details of what counts as polite behaviour in the Czech Republic as well some genuinely useful information by going to www.cizinci.cz

04-02-2007