The Czechs in a Nutshell
By: Terje B. Englund
Editions: 2004, 2009
2004 edition, ISBN: 80-7340-051-0, published by Baset.
2009 edition, ISBN: 978-80-7252-266-8, published by Práh.
This book is written by a Norwegian journalist and translator with a background in Slavonic studies who has been based in Prague for many years.
I first read this book just after arriving in the Czech Republic in 2004. Some of the information detailed in the book was easy enough to see in daily life while other aspects were quite difficult to see and did not become any easier to see the longer I stayed here.
Many expats who had been in the country much longer than myself told me at the time that much of the information in the book was outdated and often too coloured by the author’s opinion of what he was writing about at the expense of putting it in proper context.
I can say, reflecting on more than a decade of living in the country, I can certainly understand and agree with the more experienced expats’ points of view. There are a number of details mentioned in the book that I have never seen or have seen things that contradict them.
For example, the book details the relationship between Czechs and Austrians as one of mutual dislike and open contempt. I personally have never seen any overt dislike between the two groups, on either side of the border between them, in the time I’ve been here. Occaisionally, small groups of Austrians have crossed the border to protest one of the Czech Republic’s two nuclear power generating facilities; however, those times are rare and typically peaceful from what I’ve seen.
A comparison of the 2004 edition to the 2009 edition shows that, beyond a slightly better choice of paper stock and a different publisher, little to nothing has changed in the book’s content.
This is unfortunate becuase the country and society have changed in notable ways since 2009, let alone 2004. There are many places, both in the main body of the book and the appendices where statistical information is presented, none of this was updated between the 2004 and 2009 editions. As such, it was not particularly accurate for 2009 and beyond.
That is not to say this book should be avoided. It is entertaining, humorously written and not challenging to read. As long as one does not take it as gospel for dealing with Czechs and Czech culture and keeps in mind that there is a lot of opinion mixed in with facts, it is worth a look from a general interest perspective.