Saturday, January 21, 2006

Why do all government offices have such strange opening hours?

You have encountered the phenomenon that Czechs call úřední hodiny (hours open to the public). Government offices like the foreigners’ police, the unemployment office, the tax office, and many others are open to citizens only on Monday, Wednesday, and if you are lucky half a day on Friday, minus of course an hour long lunch break. What bureaucrats do during the remainder of the week is anybody’s guess. The roots of this system are in the mighty Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy which held all in its grip. The communist system was no slouch when it came to bureaucracy either and maintained a large bureaucracy who felt that citizens were there to serve their whims rather than the other way around. Many thought the situation would change with the coming of democracy, but úřední hodiny have remained exactly as they were before 1989. The unwillingness of Czech bureaucrats to deal honestly and efficiently with even simple requests means that tempers often flare in government offices. The government thus recently passed a law establishing large fines for harassing bureaucrats, though in reality the penalties should have been reversed.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The students in my English class often draw a diamond-shaped figure on the board with a short vertical line in the middle. What is this supposed to mean?

Much beloved by students and a staple of Czech graffiti, this is the kosočtverec (rhombus) and is supposed to symbolize the female genitalia. It is sometimes dressed up with lines emanating out in all directions, standing for you know what. Students are also fond of drawing stick-figured pigs preceded by the name of a teacher or schoolmate.