Happy St. Patrick's Day everybody! Except I'm in the Czech Republic and around here, nobody gives a crap. So what better way to introduce a post about bizarre Czech traditions?
It was my 'name day' on Wednesday. I knew that Catholic or formerly Catholic countries had special days devoted to first names in some way, but I didn't know the significance. So I was just baffled when my co-workers were congratulating me good-naturedly and staring at me like they were possibly expecting something. That was when my team leader (who's Welsh) explained that the name-day person in question is normally expected to bring in food of some sort to share with everybody. My Austrian colleague, Robert, added that in some places, the name day is held in higher esteem and importance than birthdays.
This week I collected my food vouchers for the first time. My first instinctual reaction was to glare at them like they were oil stains. You see, under Czech law, 40kč (Czech crowns) is taken from your daily wage when you work that full day, then your employer matches that contribution, reimbursed by the government, so from 1 working day you get a voucher worth 80kč. These vouchers can then be spent in supermarkets and certain eating outlets, but you must buy more than their value because you won't get any change returned from them. I knew about this, but I was hoping I could opt-out, as I just use...well...money to buy my food. Then the payments towards these vouchers could then be spent on...my pension perhaps? Gym membership? But no, no such possibility exists under Czech law. Hence my annoyance.
Good old Robert, who has worked in Brno previously, told me what his former HR manager told him there: the reason these vouchers even exist is because much of the Czech population has a serious gambling problem. Frankly, it's obvious. Among the local shops like the pub, the supermarket, the homeware shop, the bank, the bike shop and beauty parlour, you also find betting shops and small casinos. That's right, in plural. Now instead of trying to tackle the gambling problem (I can only assume these places generate guaranteed government income) these vouchers were introduced, as they have no worth in a casino. So people are now allowed to gamble away all their cash to their hearts' content and use these vouchers to get their basic food. No wonder they vehemently protested when the government considered scrapping the vouchers.
I cheered up that evening when I found my own personal use for these vouchers: Lindt Golden Bunnies cost 90kč around here...
I also want to add this little tidbit as it makes me happy. Earlier today I met my new flatmate's father. I understood him well enough to know he regarded my minute amount of Czech as being splendidly pronounced. :D