I understand why many people cannot locate the Czech Republic on a world map. It’s a small country with a small population. Germany has the big economy. France and Italy are the cultural highlights of the continent. Austria has a more international history.
I can also understand how people confuse the name. The CZ combination looks strange in English. Chechnya sounds similar. Now it actually has two names.
I can even understand how people conflate it and Yugoslavia.
In fact, I would bet that a lot of expats who live here now didn’t know much about this country before they moved here.
In any case, in my experience as an American, this general ignorance about the Czech Republic manifests in strange ways.
“Mansplaining” is when a man takes it upon himself to explain something, which is probably obvious, to a woman. It is terribly condescending and patronizing. Frankly, I think mansplaining is similar to having acquaintances explain America to me. The Urban Dictionary calls it: culture-splaining.
I’ve lived in Brno and the Czech Republic for 14 years, but I still consider myself a proud American. I stay informed about my homeland. I read the New York Times and the Washington Post constantly throughout every day. The New Yorker magazine is how I relax at night. If I watch television, I watch CNN. Frankly, I know more about day-to-day news and trends in America than most Americans.
Yet, I am constantly being told about how things work and how things are by Americans who cannot pronounce “Brno” correctly. I believe that they do it with the best intentions. Nevertheless…
Though I have regularly listened to dozens of podcasts for years, I recently had an American friend explain the concept to me: “Have you ever heard of a podcast? They are really popular here. It’s kind of like a radio program that you can listen to whenever you want. They have series, too.”
I’ve also had American politics explained to me, with basic facts that I had to correct and an assertion that I denounced with the historic voting records of individual senators. I’ve had my grammar incorrectly doubted a surprising amount of times. I’ve had people unnecessarily explain the rules of sports. I’ve even had people ask me if I’ve ever heard of Borat Sagdiyev — Yes! We have movies here!
Apparently, I live among the savages.
This really hits home with my own mother. She left Czechoslovakia as a teenager just before the borders were sealed by the Communists in 1969. She ended up in Chicago, where I was born, and she’s lived in the United States ever since. Her bleak memories of the old country do not compare well to her comfortable middle-class existence in America. She questioned the fact that I wanted to move to the Czech Republic. She resents that her grandkids are so far away and that I do not have a passionate desire to take them to Disneyworld.
She has her own version of culture-splaining.
– It’s nice that your kids have free preschool. But are they real teachers who prepare the kids for elementary school? (Yes, they are qualified professionals within an overall educational system that I think rivals any.)
– Doctors cannot be good there. I’m sure you have to wait in lines. (No, actually, I make appointments, my doctor figured out the source of a painful ailment better than three New York doctors, and I get text-message prescriptions that I can fill inexpensively at any pharmacy and test results emailed to me.)
– It’s nice that your company is selling software in the United States. The programmers are Americans, right? (No, actually, the research and development is here in Brno and the Czech programmers are just as clever as the Russians who just hacked into most of the US government and the teenagers in Macedonia who made thousands of dollars with fake Facebook pages that, literally, upended the 2016 US presidential.)
And, of course, the different responses to the coronavirus pandemic have brought on more comparisons.
I love America and miss many things about it. I’m not homesick, but there are times that I would really like to relive a memory. I want to sit in a diner and eat a greasy breakfast while reading the morning newspapers and drinking constantly refilled cups of coffee. I want to go hiking around Mount Rainier in Washington State. I want to sit in the stands of a baseball game, keeping score and drinking beer on a hot summer night.
Those are all great things. But if globalization and the existence of expats tells us anything, it is that there are many perfectly comfortable places to live in the world.
And Brno is at the top of the list, whether others know about it or not.
Do you have friends and family who questioned your desire to leave your home country and live as an expat? Have you experienced culture-splaining?