Friday, July 27, 2007

Why do the inscriptions on some statues and columns have certain letters in caps and others in lower case?

This is what is known as a chronogram. Notice that the letters in caps are C, D, I, L, M, V, and X – all Roman numerals. If you add up the number value of all of these letters, you get the date when the statue was erected. For example, AMore MatVrItas is deciphered as MMVI or 2006. There are also more complicated types – in a pure chronogram each word has a number and in a natural chronogram the numbers are in the correct order – but most Czech cases take the more basic form which is hard enough to write (try it yourself).

Monday, July 09, 2007

What does the phrase “smluvní ceny” at the bottom of my restaurant menu mean?

Translated literally, it means “agreed” or “contracted” price. Does that imply that you can bargain or haggle over the price of your meal? Not really. In fact, it simply refers to the fact that the prices indicated in the menu are not regulated by the state. Since almost no prices are regulated by the state, why do businesses use the phrase? It is probably in remembrance of the long years of communism when virtually all prices – from those of beer and bread on up to cars and refrigerators – were regulated and usually at very low levels.

The same goes for the phrase “cenová skupina” (or price category). The reference here is to a law passed in 1956 that designated restaurants, hotels, and bars into one of four categories of quality – first was the highest and fourth the lowest or dustbin category. The idea here was to provide a sort of good housekeeping seal of approval. Establishments in each of the categories (except for the lowest) were expected to meet certain minimal norms on such matters as tablecloths, variety of meal selections, sanitary facilities, and room service. The law establishing these categories was actually rescinded in 1982, but even today many restaurants and hotels still carry designations like 1. cenová skupina even though they are no longer legally meaningful. Many in the country’s artistic and bohemian crowd still, however, seek out the fourth category for its louché charm.