Czech culture

Czech Easter Tradition of Pomlázka Explained

Czech Easter Tradition of Pomlázka Explained

The Easter holidays are just behind the corner, so it's about time we talk about the sheer wonder and awkwardness of the Czech Easter holidays and arguably their most shocking aspect to foreign visitors: the famous "pomlázka".

Let’s be honest here: Pomlázka is a godsend if you run food tours in Prague (or any tours) like us. Just saw the waiter drop your entire order on the floor so you know you have 20 minutes to kill? Want to invigorate the group? Want to give a piece of information about the Czechs your guests will DEFINITELY remember? You whip out the good ole’ pomlázka. Works every time. Trust me.

Before I get to explain this old Czech Easter tradition, just bear in mind two things. (1) Tradition. Just like the Fiddler on the friggin’ Roof, you usually don’t mess with it. Until you do. So don’t judge, okay? Most Czechs have just grown up with it and never give it a second though, and only realize how strange and awkward that tradition is when they try to explain it to a non-native. And (2) the Dutch have the Black Peter, and that’s even worse. Yes, we’ll take a low bar if we can comfortably overcome it, and yes, we’re not strangers to diverting people’s attention to somebody else’s dirty laundry.

[Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.]


Prague souvenir tips: Lemonade Joe

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"Alcohol - when served in small doses - does not do harm in any quantity." - Hogo Fogo

If you are a regular visitor of our Prague blog, you may have noticed that we sometimes suggest an unorthodox souvenir from Prague. Something you may not have through of buying but something that says more about the Czechs than the Russian dolls and other tchotchke sold on the streets in the tourist centre. Something fun, something memorable. Today's suggestion is a classic Czech movie that most Czechs can quote line by line. That's also why it is included in the Czech DVD collection in our rental apartment. The movie is called "Lemonade Joe", and it's a Czech country and western comedy.

Yes, a Czech country and western movie. You see, the Czechs (just like the Germans, to some extent) have a strange, romantic fascination with the Wild Wild West. Starting from the Winnetou series by Karl May to modern-day Czech country and western music, the idea of riding a horse through the open range seems to be very, very appealing to many Czechs. Country Radio is one of the most popular radio stations in Prague and the Central Bohemian Region (which is a telling sign of the "high standards" Czech radio stations aspire to in general). And this is a fact that has not changed under the Communist Era, either, although clearly it was a bit suppressed. Still, the "tramping" movement was very popular, giving rise, in many respects, to the environmentalist "Brontosaurus" movement of the 1980s. 

Today's pick from our rental apartment's Czech DVD collection would be, in our opinion, the perfect "weird" gift that would lighten up any theme party at home wherever you may come from: the 1964 Comedy from the genius Czech comedy director, Ondrej Lipsky, "Lemonade Joe", is a true gem. You see, Mr Lipsky was spoofing western movies before it was cool and before anyone has ever heard of the Blazing Saddles.

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Shot is very stark sepia colors to add the feeling of an old movie, Lemonade Joe is essentially the story of good and evil: the teatotalling Joe, as the sharpest shooter in Stetson City, persuades the regulars at the Trigger Whiskey Bar that alcohol is not the way. However, the owner of of the bar, and his evil brother, the villain Hogo Fogo, plot revenge. Add romance, heartbreak, never-ending gags and action... and have we mentioned this film is a musical? Yes, the movie has everything. Without trying to give away any spoilers, let's just say the movie ends with a Wayne's World-type of mega-super-happy-ending that even the most cynical of Hollywood producers would find tacky. Yes, this movie makes fun of everything and just does not care.

However, it does include an all-star cast from the 1960s, including sultry actresses Olinka Schroberova (former Miss Czechoslovakia who later escaped the country and married John Calley, the producer of the Superman movies) as the wife-to-be of Lemonade Joe, or Kveta Fialova, one of the most famous Czech actresses of the second half of the 20th Century, as Tornado Lou, the fallen woman and the star of the Trigger Whiskey Bar who is looking for a "champion of her heart" who would "make her better". 

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What makes this movie a classic and why is it so loved by the Czechs? The film makes fun of everything: drunkards, dogmatic prohibition types, salesmen, villains, blondes, sharpshooters and femme fatales. Every cliche from your standard country and western movie is exaggerated to the point of parody. Money rules Stetson City. When Mrs Goodman realizes that Lemonade Joe is nothing but a salesperson for Kola Loka soda, she first expresses her never-ending love for Joe but then swiftly demands a cut from his proceeds (in a really cute way, though).

Then there are the songs: "Jo whiskey, to je moje gusto" (which roughly translates as "Whiskey, that's my cup of tea") is a staple song of any party of youngsters, including the high school prom (the legal age is eighteen here, you seniors can and do drink at their prom). The main villain, Hogo Fogo (which is the Czech equivalent of "Fancy Schmancy") is a great source of very funny and smart one-liners, too. But what wins every viewer's heart is the absurd but smart humor and a sense of funny carelessness. The Czechs adore this movie, and so will you. Trust us!

You can but the DVD ("Limonádovy Joe" in Czech) with English subtitles in any bigger music store. We would try Bontonland Megastore at the bottom of the Wenceslas Square or Musicland in the Palladium mall. Have fun!


Lendl : Mucha

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This post will be dedicated to two Czech greats that have been attracting lots of spotlight in the past months and weeks here in Prague. We are talking about Ivan Lendl and Alfons Mucha.

Ivan Lendl was one of the best tennis players of all time. Born in 1960 in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, he began to dominate the world of tennis at the turn of the 1970s and 1980s, helping Czechoslovakia win the 1980 Davis Cup. A great video showing his early years can be found here. After some disagreements with the Communist government (Lendl applied for the type of Czechosloval passport that would allow him to reside permanently in the USA to train all year but did not get it), he escaped to the US in 1986, becoming a US citizen six years later. We can still remember this (Jan used to play lots of tennis when he was young).

Tennis in the 1980s had a huge following here in Communist Czechoslovakia, also because it allowed you to travel to the West on a regular basis. Unfortunately, Czechoslovak TV did not cover any of the major tournaments mostly because the coverage would alway include two renegades, two famous athletes that fled from Czechoslovakia to the West: Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl. And when a celebrity fled to the West, it would never be heard of again; therefore, no coverage of major tennis tournaments in Czechoslovakia, with only bare results shown on the back pages of the sports section in the newspaper.

The lack of information on one hand and apparent stardom on the other lead to the creation of many myths: myths about Lendl's alleged lack of talent, which obviously was untrue - you can't be the World No. 1 for five years without talent - although Lendl himself did confess that he did not possess the talent of Boris Becker or John McEnroe and had to work that much harder. His "hitting hot" style ushered in the era of power tennis we see on the circuits today. Currently, he is coaching the Scot Andy Murray, World no. 3 player at the moment.

In 1982, Lendl met Jiri Mucha, the journalist and writer son of the famous Czech illustrator and painter, Alfons Mucha. Inspired by this encounter, Lendl, assisted by the help of Jack Rennert, the US expert on Belle Epoque posters and the author of a book about Mucha, began to collect Mucha's posters and panels. He achieved to collect 116 out of the 119 posters on record (the two remaining ones form parts of collections held by national museums, and one apparently does not exist anymore in print), thus becoming the largest and best collector of Mucha in the world. Lendl apparently took all the passion he dedicated to tennis and put it in the effort to collect the comprehensive works of Mucha.

Why are we writing about this? Because Lendl's collection will now be shown, for the first time ever, to the public in its complete form! Starting from 10 April, you can see the exhibition in the Municipal House in Prague (the most appropriate place for this, as Alfons Mucha did participate in the decoration of the Art Nuveau building). We think this is a great opportunity to see the complete poster works of one of the most famous Czech artists in the world.

For more details, please see the website of the exhibition here. The entry costs CZK 180 (EUR 7, USD 9) and the exhibition will close on 31 July 2013. See you there!

Source of the featured image


Czech Oscar Winners

With this year's Oscar ceremony behind us, the time is ripe to do two things: first, to congratulate the winners (we loved Argo, and we thoroughly enjoyed Ms Lawrence's Mr Waltz's performances in Silver Linings Playbook and Django Unchained (we have not seen Lincoln and Les Miserables), and, second, to recollect the Czech and Czechoslovak movies who that won the Best Foreign Language Film category in the past. The Czech cinematography has a very long tradition, booming especially in the 1960s with the filmmakers of the "New Wave" (when the Poles want to say that something is confusing, they say "it's like a Czech movie"). All in all, despite the Iron Curtain and all, three Czech(oslovak) movies managed to win the Oscar Best Foreign Language Film award. All these films can be bought on DVDs here in Prague, with English subtitles.


Tipping in Czech restaurants

When you travel abroad, getting the local customs right can get tricky at times. This includes the rules of tipping in restaurants - every country and every culture has its own rules, and you want to get them right (or at least I do). Recently, Zuzi and I visited France and, more specifically, the Basque Country, and I must say we found the tipping rules quite confusing: you have to look in the menu or at the bill to see whether the tip has been already included, and then the recommended amount of the tip is not always clear - we were told it was 15% in a Michelin-star restaurant (the very lovely Briketenia, highly recommended both for the views and the food, although we found the delicious desserts to have slightly overpowered the courses that preceded them), but someone else suggested that a lower tip was more common. So what should you do to tip like a pro in the Czech Republic?

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To your luck, the tipping rules in the Czech Republic are pretty straight-forward. Here are the main rules and some additional tips:

  • The bill that you get for your meal does not include tip, which is paid extra. Tipping is not mandatory but is very common. You should refuse to give a tip only if you've been truly dissatisfied with the service - when you don't tip at all, always tell the staff why.
  • The usual tip amounts to about 10% of the bill, but you can give more if you're truly happy with the service, or less, for instance if you're happy with the food, but not some much with the service. When I talk about 10% of the price, I mean the price of the food ordered. If you order a EUR 100 bottle of wine, you don't have to give a EUR 10 tip for the waiter opening it.
  • If you pay with a credit card and use the payment terminal, ask whether you can include the tip after you confirm the amount of the bill. Some terminals let you confirm the bill and THEN ask you for a tip, but other terminals lack that option, which will leave the staff without a tip if you have no cash on your hands.
  • A "pro" tip: When the Czechs pay their bill, they give the money to the waiter and inform them of the total amount of the bill they wish to pay, including the tip (e.g., when your bill is CZK 800 and you want to give a CZK 100 tip, you hand out a CZK 1000 note to the waiter and say, with confidence, "nine hundred"). The waiter will take the money, and give CZK 100 back, i.e. withhold the tip right away. If you're not comfortable with this, the usual procedure can be used, too - just let the waiter give you the exact change and then leave the tip on the table.
  • Beware of tourist traps! Some restaurants in touristy locations may include the tip in the bill, and then solicit another tip. However, these cases are extremely rare.

Personally, I tend to be very generous with my tips (to the extent that Zuzi may at times express some protests against the amount) - I used to wait tables in a very popular bar/restaurant when I was a student, and I can appreciate how difficult the job is. But the final tip is really up to you. If you're satisfied, 10% is fine; if you're not satisfied, give less or nothing (and contact us for tips on where to go for your next meal).