Czech Republic

Taxi driversNegotiate the price before you use taxi or use a reputable company e.g. in Prague AAA taxi, Profi Taxi, City Taxi. Prague taxi drivers are known for taking you the longest possible way to earn more money or to use so-called “turbos” which speeds the meter up the control is usually hidden under the gear stick gaiter. Prague City Council has introduced new regulations which will see all legitimate taxis painted yellow. Public transportation is also very cheap, fast and reliable. In Prague, the metro runs up to midnight, and night trams run throughout the night, all of them converging at a central tram stop Lazarská.

PickpocketsWatch your pockets, especially if there is a crowd sights, subway, trams, in particular numbers 9, 10 and 22 Watch out for large groups of people jostling you. Beware of a particular pickpocket gangs operating in Prague: they are mainly male, although sometimes there are women too; all are extremely overweight and rely on their sheer size and number to disorientate tourists. They tend to operate on the 9, 10 and 22 trams as well as the central metro stations, usually just as people are getting on and off, or on the escalators. Don't pull out your tickets unless you are specifically asked to do so. And keep your wallet and money securely locked and separate from each other at all timee. Don't challenge them as they can become aggressive but keep your eyes open. Prosecutions for pickpocketing are rare as the police usually have to catch the pickpocket in the middle of a crime, otherwise the gang members just blame each other and it is impossible to prove who did it.

ProstitutionProstitution is not a legal business but is not illegal either. This means prostitutes do not pay taxes and prostitution is not regulated by the state. Therefore the health risk may be very high, especially in cheap brothels or on the street. There also have been cases of prostitutes offering a drink with sleeping pills to their customers and stealing everything from them. Pay attention to the age of the prostitute, paying a person under 18 years for sex is a criminal offense otherwise the age of consent is 15.

MarijuanaMarijuana is illegal in the Czech Republic but it is quite popular, especially among young people. In case the police catches you smoking or possessing marijuana, be very polite with them. The reason is that by the current law, punishable is only possession of a “larger than small” amount of marijuana defined as 15 g but if you are rude, they may detain and interrogate you asking for your source.

Other than that, the Czech Republic is a very safe country.

Grocery stores do not sell what Americans consider over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin. You will need to go to a pharmacy lékárna, which is usually open between 8AM and 7PM, Mondays to Fridays. There are 24-hour pharmacies in the bigger cities, and you should find an address for the closest one to you listed in the window of the nearest pharmacy to you. If you are in Prague, the most central 24-hour one is in Prague 2 - on the corner of Belgická and Rumunská streets - they dispense both prescription and non-prescription drugs from a small window on Rumunská out of hours - ring the bell if there is no-one there.

Tap water is good, especially in Prague although in small towns, the chlorine can be quite strong.

A reputable hospital in Prague is Nemocnice na Homolce, Address: Roentgenova 37/2, Prague 5 tel 257 272 350. There is a foreigners' clinic Cizinecké oddělení there with English-speaking receptionists who can make appointments for you. Most doctors speak some English, and the level of care is of a very high standard.

Central Europe and parts of the Czech Republic have ticks Ixodes ricinus which can carry Encephalitis or Lyme Borreliosis. Ticks hide in grass and bushes, so try to stay on trails and inspect exposed areas of skin after a hike. Vaccination against Encephalitis is available and recommended. If you want to bushwhack, make sure you have the vaccination and wear long trousers. A good insect repellent which contains DEET, might be helpful, too.Ticks like to cling to any soft, warm, well-perfused areas of your body undersides of knees and elbows, skin around ankles, groins, neck area, behind your ears etc. and if not removed, they'll suck your blood until they grow about 1 cm big. Never try to scratch a tick off or pull it out, because damaging it can cause you a serious infection. The sooner the tick is removed, the smaller the chance of infection. Either ask a physician to remove a tick for you, or try to remove it by yourself: lubricate your finger with any greasy lotion and gently wag a tick from side to side until it wobbles free. Then flush it down the drain - never crush or burn it to avoid infection. Watch the affected spot: if you see a growing red spot developing there anytime during next several months, immediately visit your physician and tell him about that - you might have contracted Borreliosis. It is dangerous, but it can be easily treated with antibiotics during early stage. Be wary that American vaccination against Borreliosis most probably won't work against European strains B. afzelii and B. garini. Note that ticks are sometimes present even in city parks, including Prague.

moravia

The vast majority of Moravians will take no offence to being called Czechs, and consider themselves to be both. If you are attempting to speak Czech, beware of the complexities and slight differences between the terms Čechy Bohemia and Česko Czechia. Much like a Welshman would raise an eyebrow over his country being called England, using the term Čechy Bohemia to refer to the entire Czech Republic may not be appreciated by a Moravian. Since there are no mainstream separatist movements in Moravia, and there is definitely no ethnic conflict, it is infinitely more likely you'll be showered with kisses and plied with alcohol for simply making an attempt to speak Czech.

contact

There are three main mobile phone operators using the GSM standard; their coverage is very good except in some remote, mostly uninhabited areas. If you find using roaming with your own operator too expensive or you want to have a Czech phone number, you can buy an anonymous prepaid card from any of the three main operators. However, the pricing schemes are usually quite complicated and some investigation may be necessary to find the ideal solution even with the prepaid cards, operators offer various schemes including various additional 'packages'. GPRS and EDGE is widely supported, 3G networks support is in every bigger city provided by O2, Vodafone and T-mobile. The fourth operator U:fon uses some custom standards and you have to buy special hardware from them. Also there are lots of virtual providers Mobil.cz, Blesk Mobile, Kaktus, Tesco supermarket

There are still some telephone boxes available, but they are gradually vanishing since the advent of mobile phones. Some still accept coins, but most of them require special prepaid telephone card.

You can call emergency numbers from any phone for free even without any card. The universal emergency number 112 is functional and you can use it, however you will reach only a telephone operator who will need to contact the real emergency service for you. To save precious time, it is best to call directly the service you need: 150 for firefighters, 155 for medical emergency, and 158 for state police.

Wi-Fi is available in many restaurants and most cafés, especially in larger cities. In particular, all branches of Starbucks, McDonald's, KFC, Gloria Jeans Coffee and Costa Coffee offer free access. You may need to ask a waiter for the passphrase. There are also some hotspots available on the streets and some city quarters for example in Prague offer free Wi-Fi coverage for everyone. However such coverage is usually very slow and unreliable and you may need to create an account using a web browser and the page it is automatically redirected to to be able to use it. In most larger cities, there are also several internet cafés available.

talk

The main language spoken is, not surprisingly, Czech. The Slovak language can also be heard, especially in big cities, as there is a sizable Slovak minority and both languages are mutually intelligible. Czech people are very proud of their language, and thus, even in Prague you will not find many signs written in English outside of the main tourist areas. Many older people, especially outside the large cities, are also unable to converse in English, so it's good to learn some Czech before your arrival. However, most young people speak at least some English, as it has been taught in most schools since 1990.

Most Czechs speak a second and often a third language. English is the most widely known, especially among younger people. German is probably the most widely spoken second language among older people. Russian was taught very extensively under communist rule, so most people born before c. 1975 speak at least some Russian and often pretty well. However the connection with the communist era and the Soviet led invasion in 1968 as well as today's Russian-speaking criminal gangs has given this language some negative connotations. It is also not very useful with younger people, as it is not, despite the common misconception, mutually intelligible with Czech beyond some similar words and simple sentences. Other languages, like French or Spanish, are also taught in some schools, but you should not count on it. People may also understand some basic words or simple sentences in other Slavic languages Polish, Serbian, Croatian, etc.

The Czech language can be difficult for English-speakers to grasp, as it's not easy language to learn and take time and practice to master, especially if you're not really familiar with the other Slavic languages. However, if you can learn the alphabet and the corresponding letters with accents, then pronunciation is easy as it is always the same - Czechs pronounce every letter of a word, with the stress falling on the first syllable. The combination of consonants in some words may seem mind-bogglingly hard, but it is worth the effort! Czech people also generally apreciate foreigners who learn Czech or at least try to, even if it is only a few phrases.

The Czech language has many local dialects, especially in Moravia. Some dialects are so different that they can be sometimes misunderstood even by a native Czech speaker from a different region. However all Czech people understand the standard Czech as spoken in TV, written in newspapers and taught in schools and should be able to speak it but some are too proud to stop using their local dialect. Some of them are even unable to speak standard Czech but write it correctly.

Compared to Slovak language Czech has different writing style, and the Slovak language is softer. The vocabulary is similar, with occasional words, which are completely different or the same but with different meanings. The young people born after the dissolvent of Czechoslovakia are growing apart and sometimes have problems to understand each other.

See also: Czech phrasebook

respect

The Czech Republic, along with its neighbours Slovakia, Austria, Poland and Germany, is part of Central Europe. Often in Western Europe and North America it is incorrectly referred to as an "Eastern-European" country, and most Czechs are very sensitive about this- many will even pre-empt the ignorance of some foreigners by asking "What part of Europe would you say the Czech Republic is in?" Get on their good side by answering "Central Europe", not Eastern!

Czechs don't appreciate when foreigners incorrectly assume that their country was part of the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire – both definitely false – although it was part of the Soviet Bloc and, until 1918, an Austro-Hungarian territory. Commenting about how "everything is quite cheap here" comes across as condescending about the country's economic status.

If you are knowledgable about the Czechoslovakian communist regime following the second world war, bear in mind that this is still a sensitive issue for many and that it is easy to upset people in discussions on the subject.

Czechs are one of the most atheist people in the world. This is true especially in large Bohemian cities. Don't assume that anyone you do not know believes in God or has a passion for Christianity. Respect that and your religion will also be respected.

Always say hello Dobrý den and goodbye Na shledanou, half-formally Nashle when you enter and leave a small shop, restaurant or pub as it is polite.

While dining at a restaurant with a host's family it is customary for THEM to pick up the bill, the opposite of most Western standards. However don't assume they will - but also don't be surprised if they do.

When entering a Czech household, always remove your shoes unless said otherwise. Czechs usually wear slippers or sandals when inside a house and never their outdoor shoes. Depending on how traditional the host family are, they may insist you change immediately into house shoes as a hygiene precaution, though this is rare. At the very least they will offer you some to keep your feet warm.

Never mention the Czech towns and places with their former German names, when asking for directions e.g. referring to Karlsbad instead of Karlovy Vary etc. or while chatting with the locals. Czechs will be offended and they will regard it as ignorance and a lack of respect towards themselves. Many older Czechs are quite sensitive about the latter while the younger usually don't know that name. As a rule of thumb, try preferring the Czech names. You should avoid using the word "Sudeten" or "Sudetenland", especially in the former Sudeten themselves around German borders.