Thursday, 1 July 2010

POHODA (roughly translated as 'laid-back bliss')

I was moaning to another British ex-pat the other day (as I do at least to myself every day) about the desperate chasm between the Czech and British working morale and culture. And my British ex-pat friend said 'don't worry, with the crisis they'll soon learn to appreciate their jobs and their professional reputation. They'll realize they can't get away with not turning up, not delivering, never finishing, with their general lack of quality and enthusiasm, and still expect the client to pay on time, hire them again, and even recommend them to others'.

I thought about this hard – having another long morning on my hands when I didn't dare to go about my own business as I was waiting for a workman to turn up. Needless to say, when a Czech working man says 'I'll be there in the morning' it could mean several things: he'll turn up at 6 expecting you to be up and ready with a cup of coffee and a radiant smile, or he'll turn up at a quarter to eleven only to leave for lunch again at eleven sharp, or he won't turn up at all, without letting you have at least a courtesy phone call, let alone an apology. And no, it makes no difference if a precise time had been arranged beforehand.

I know that one finds the odd laid-back workmen in Britain too. But here it is endemic. With some (see my entry on 'Jesus the carpenter' below) you just put up with it because in the end they might have something special to offer that no-one else could produce for you. But when this attitude stretches to a majority of the workforce it becomes truly hard for a Brit-trained mind to plan anything in advance, or not to end up permanently stressed.

So I think my answer to my British ex-pat friend would be 'the crisis won't make any difference. They'll just moan more, get into debt, blame everything and everybody else, but not mind it really at all. As long as they can retreat to the nearest pub'.

Certainly there is, in a large proportion of the Czech working-male population, no trace of the British protestant morale here, or pride in work, or of an ambition to make a success of oneself – at least not in an honest way. The Czech ambition is to achieve POHODA, the state where nothing matters, and life is a laid back kind of bliss. So their prevalent modus vivendi is 'work the least you must in order to get by', and therefore life's priorities are beer, leisurely chats (mostly generally agreeing about the politicians being bastards punctuated by football news maybe), their hut or allotment, and their family. In that order. Success, reputation or long-term financial security simply don't figure: why should they?

Looking at it from a kindly angle, perhaps it's a kind of Zen. Perhaps they have it right. Perhaps the British working morale doesn't leave enough room for things that truly matter, like 3-day weekends at huts in the woods, or flexible work hours that are endured with the least effort possible, leaving plenty of time for beer and political philosophy. Certainly the Czechs generally accept that this should be so, including the wives of working men who also seem to only live for the long weekends ahead, and whose main ambition in life is a clean house and well behaved, untroubling children. That includes their well-behaved, i.e. untroubling man: a wife is happy when he is off at the pub because at least he doesn't mess up the kitchen floor. And when he comes back sozzled, she thinks his state is rather endearing, as he is kind of helpless. She happily gives him his soup or goulash, but no way would she want him to share the housework, he's only allowed to mend the car and tinker with the hut or garden shed. By the way these men - even the young, as yet childless men, often call their spouses 'mum'.

So here I come to my mini-conclusion: the Czech men, on the whole, seem to basically be just big fluffy boys with all that it implies, including their time-keeping and general unreliability. I can perhaps stretch this up a social class or two all the way to the politicians -if they squabble, these are mostly startlingly infantile squabbles. And I think that this comes from the way that Czech little boys are coddled by their mums who wait on them, while their sisters are brought up to serve and patronise the boys, knowing from tender age that this is the way to keep them docile while the real family power will always stay with the females.

And the 'family power' is the true ambition of these wives and future wives – for if you as a Brit might think that you might get better service from a Czech female worker or official, you'd be mistaken. Their working hours are mainly there to sort out the various little life's necessary tasks like paying family bills, shopping ('back in 5 minutes'), long telephone calls with female friends, and preparing for the long weekend ahead.

So where does this leave me? Should I continue being frustrated by expecting efficiency and reliability, or should I try to adjust myself to the slow, unpredictable pace of life, re-arrange my priorities and go with the flow?After all, no-one here seems stressed about workmen not turning up or unduly worried about anything, life just happens with plans and schedules being infinitely flexible. So should I become a disciple of Pohoda Zen? Am I capable of that??? Maybe worth trying as going against the flow doesn't produce any results anyway – living in a never ending building site is a true test of that. Only I am not sure if I could ever become a Master.


paroshep said...

Are you SURE you are in the Czech Republic and not in Greece? I could not have written it any differently! By the way, I am your American "cousin" living on the laid back island of Paros, one of the Cyclades. I also, have had to adapt my punctuality and expectations to the Greek way of life. It was very hard and I still have fits..but am getting into this "Zen" way of that when I go to the States I wonder what everyone is so uptight for!!!! They don't seem to have time to "smell the flowers" and chat away the day. Which is the best? Both, but only if you are Greek and live in Greece, or an American living in the States.

Been here 10 years now, so something is keeping me here...maybe it is the beautiful blue sea, the sunshine and taverna life? Maybe....

By the way, my husband and I spent 3 months in Prague this past winter and loved every moment. We plan another 6 month trip next year. I think you are lucky to live THERE!

Karin on Paros

potok said...

Spot on. It is the norm here, so much so that if you get someone who turns up on time or even just delivers what they promise you comment on it.

What annoys me about it and here I am being very British is that it is so rude! As if we don't have lives too - we would like to go into the woods and pick strawberries like them, instead we end up waiting around for them to turn up when they feel like it. So their zen ruins ours.