Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Taxes

March 31st is the last day to file personal income taxes in the ČR. With so many foreigners working at IBM, we had help filling out all of the required paperwork. Basically I just had to apply for tax clearance for 2009 and “register” for 2010.

I still have to pay income tax in the U.S. for 2009. However, I get to file an exemption for 2010 as long as I don’t make over a certain income level and reside primarily outside of the U.S. for at least 330 days. I can visit the U.S., but can’t live there, in order to qualify. Very tricky stuff!!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Multiple Negatives

The Czech language, like other Slavic languages, has this multiple negation thing that sounds crazy to native English speakers. It's a bit like reading Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer where you hear sentences such as I ain't got no...

The whole two negatives making a positive doesn't exist over here. For example...

Nic nedělám. "I don't do nothing" in Czech means "I don't do anything" or "I'm not doing anything" in English.

Nikdy nic nedělám. "I never don't do nothing" would be understood to mean "I never do anything."

Nikdy nikde nic nedělám. "I never don't do nothing nowhere" is how one conveys "I never do anything anywhere."

Nikdo nikdy nikde nic nedělá. "Nobody never doesn't do nothing nowhere" is best translated as "No one ever does anything anywhere."

It's going to take a lot of homework before I have this bit mastered...

EDIT: Here's the big daddy of negative phrases...
Nikdo nikdy nikde nic nikomu ničím nijak nedělá - No one ever does anything anywhere to anyone in no way with nothing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Visa Extension Application

Well today I went to the Foreign Police office and submitted all of my paperwork to request an extension on my long-term visa. Again, since I'm not an EU citizen I have a lot more hoops to jump through.

My original work permit is good through April 28, 2011. So I have permission to work in the country until then. However, my original long-term visa, which allows me to live in the country, expires at the end of next month. Go figure...so here's what I had to submit.
  1. A copy of my original lease.
  2. An notarized amendment to my lease extending it from August until April 28, 2011.
  3. Since my building is a co-op (Družstvo) I needed a notarized document showing that my landlord was allowed to rent the apartment to me.
  4. Land registry statement
  5. Business registry statement for the družstvo - 140 Kč (~$7.40)
  6. Copy of my original work permit
  7. Copy of my passport
  8. Copy of my original visa
  9. A new passport photo
  10. Copy of my health insurance card
  11. 4-page application form with a 1000 Kč (~$53) stamp that IBM provided
There are two foreign police offices in town. Fortunately, citizens of the EU, Americans, Canadians and Croatians get to use the smaller office at Cejl. Everyone else has to use the main office. I've been there before and it is crazy busy. I was told to come back in a couple of weeks to check on my application. I'm not expecting any problems so I should have my new visa by mid-April.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Land Registry Office

I can't believe that I've been in Brno for almost 9 months. It seems like I just got on the plane for Europe a few weeks ago. But clearly it's been almost a year because it's time to apply for a visa extension.

Since I'm not an EU citizen I have more hoops to jump through over here. One of the things I had to do last week was visit the Katastrální úřad (Land Registry Office) at Moravské náměstí. I needed to pick up a land register statement - výpis z katastru nemovitostí.

Of course the office only has limited hours. On Mondays & Wednesdays it is open from 8 AM - 5 PM, and on Fridays from 8 AM until noon.

It was quite easy once I found the office and where I needed to be. There is a number machine where you press the second button from the top. It's labeled "informace z katastru nemovitostí (výpis z katastru nemovitostí, kopie katastrálních map apod.”

It gives you an number and you wait until your number is displayed over one of the doors.

I had to provide my address, the city district I live in, and my landlord's name. And since the building I live in is a co-op I also had to provide an agreement from the housing association.

Once I received the paper I had to take it to the cashier where they put a stamp on it. All for the low cost of 100 Kč (~$5.25).

I didn't have any problem with this one and I handled everything in Czech. Yeah!! This made me feel a lot better because the day before I had to pick up a business registry document at another office and I thought my head was going to explode. I could not figure out where I needed to be and could not find anyone who was able to help. Eventually, I found someone that could speak German. This poor guy that worked there just wanted to go out for a smoke break but instead he walked me to the appropriate office, told the clerk what I needed, then he escorted me to the cashier's window and back to the office again. This guy was great! I could not thank him enough for going out of his way to help me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Claudia's 30th Birthday Party

Saturday night was Claudia's official 30th birthday party. Helena & Fero recommended having it at Železná růže (The Steel Rose) and it was really nice. We had a whole back room, right next to the bar, all to ourselves. They grilled meats and put out a really nice spread.

There were a few people who were not able to attend due to prior commitments but those of us who did make it had a great time. This was also a nice finale to her family's week in Brno. More pictures are already up on Flickr.

















Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mexican Food Night

Claudia's parents drove down from Berlin and have been staying at her flat this week. Claudia and her sister Conny have been staying at my flat with Rob and I. Her parents come over for breakfast in the morning and I go to the office. Rob has been a good sport about it and has definitely improved his German this week because her parents don't speak English.

Friday was Claudia's 30th birthday, but her party wasn't until Saturday night. Four of her friends made the drive down from Berlin so I had an open house and fixed Mexican food for everyone. Helana & Fero, and Tomáš, all came over and we had a great time. I just had to show these Europeans what real Mexican food is like.

I fixed guacamole from scratch, a 9-layer dip with refried beans and seasoned beef, Spanish rice, chicken enchiladas and albondigas (Mexican meatball soup). Plus the usual chips, salsa and cheese dip. It was a lot of work but worth it. The problem is that now people want my recipees and I'll have to convert them to metric. Dang it! Not that my food was particularly healthy to start with...but Claudia's mom wreaked all of our diets with her Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forrest Cherry cake). Yummy!!

Everyone seemed to have a good time and more pictures are up on Flickr. By Saturday morning my flat started to look like a German refugee camp. After breakfast, Claudia took everyone out sightseeing and I went right back to bed because we didn't get to sleep until after 3 AM. And I really needed some sleep for the big party on Saturday night.




Thursday, March 18, 2010

21st Century Ballet

Wednesday was another night to get dressed up and go out. Claudia’s parents and sister are down from Berlin, so I went out with them, plus Helena and Fero, to the ballet.

Janáčkovo divadlo put on a modern ballet called "Balet 21 Století". The performance was amazing!!

This ballet is in 3 acts with contemporary cheoreography set to the music of Antonín Dvořák, Bohuslav Martinů, and Leoš Janáček.

The ballet builds on the work of Polish artist Jack Barocco Przybylowicze to the music of Bach with solo cello performances. The evening ends with "Strawberry Mouth" by German choreographer Mario Schroeder.

After the ballet we went across the street for drinks and Rob joined us there. Thanks to Helena's many connections we even got to meet a few of the principle dancers. Pictures are already posted on Flickr.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

1st Dental Experience

On Monday morning I had my first experience with a Czech dentist...sort of. It was time for a cleaning and a check up. I heard that it takes a couple of months to get an appointment so I knew that I had to get a move on.

A Czech colleague recommended a dentist to Claudia. Since she didn't have any problems, I asked her to make me an appointment during her last visit, a couple of weeks ago.

I had a 9 AM appointment so I got there around 8:30. In the U.S., you always have to show up early in order to take care of insurance paperwork or new patient forms. Not here. The doctor's office is on the 1st floor (a U.S. 2nd floor) and the door was closed. Uh oh. After my doctor's visit, I figured it would be better to just wait in the hallway rather than open the door.

At 9, the door opened and the dental hygienist called me in. The office was tiny. The room is about as big as the common area in my flat. There was one dental chair, the office area, a couple of chairs, etc., all in one room.

Academic titles are a big deal over here. Until 2003 dentists earned the MUDr, the same as a medical doctor. Since 2004, dentists now earn MDDr title.

So my appointment was with MUDr. Dalibor Badal. But he wasn't even there. The hygenist did everything. I gave her my VZP card and she did my cleaning. Between my Czech, her English, and universal sign language everything went fine. I'm still not sure if the office doesn't participate in the VZP plan or what, but it cost me 600 Kč (~$32.50). By the way, medical offices don't take credit or debit cards. Luckily I brought enough cash with me.

All in all, everything was fine. I'll make a follow up appointment for six months from now. I wonder if I'll meet the dentist next time.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Marcus' Farewell Party

Marcus has decided to move back home to Atlanta. So on Friday, Claudia, her sister, and I took the train to Bratislava for the farewell party.

He reserved tables at Aklub, the Akamemický klub. The party was fun and it was nice to visit with everyone. Some of the folks there I hadn’t seen since Thanksgiving.

Claudia and Connie spent the night at Janelle’s flat since she was in New York. I really needed to get some things done so I took the 6 AM train back to Brno. Yes, I did get some sleep on the train.
Marcus leaves Slovakia early this coming Sunday. But hopefully he’ll be able to come by Friday for Claudia’s pre-30th birthday party.

More pictures are already posted on Flickr.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Seznam

Seznam is the most common internet search engine used in the Czech Republic. Seznam means “list” in English.

For years, Seznam was the only search engine to use the Czech alphabet which helped it become the preferred search engine. Google may dominate the rest of the EU but it only has around 31% of the Czech market while Seznam has around 63%. Google has improved its Czech language support and now provides search capability similar what Seznam offers.

It’s very common here for people to have e-mail addresses with the @seznam.cz domain.

The company tag line is a rhyme…Seznam - najdu tam, co neznám which means "Seznam, I find there, what I don't know".

Monday, March 8, 2010

Kolja

I can't believe that I missed the Oscar's yesterday. I guess that's just one of the drawbacks about living overseas...some things just seem so far away. Oh well...missing the Oscar's and the Super Bowl is nothing when compared to all that I get to see and do over here in Europe.
But in honor of the Academy Awards I figured I'd post about one of my favorite movies, called Kolja (pronounced Kol-Ya). It's a Czech movie and it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 1997. Even though the movie is in Czech, with English subtitles, I've loved it ever since I first saw it in Atlanta in '97. Who would have thought that 12 years later I would end up living in the Czech Republic?
The film was directed by Jan Svěrák. His father, Zdeněk Svěrák, wrote the script and is the lead actor. The film begins in 1988 and the Soviet bloc has not yet collapsed. František Louka is a middle-aged man dedicated to bachelorhood and the pursuit of women. He is a concert cellist struggling to earn a living by playing funerals at the Prague crematorium because he lost his position with the philharmonic when the authorities blacklisted him as "politically unreliable". A friend offers him the chance to earn a lot of money by going through with a marriage of convenience to a Russian woman so she can stay in Czechoslovakia. However, the woman uses her new Czechoslovak citizenship to emigrate and join her boyfriend in West Germany.
The woman leaves her Russian-speaking 5-year-old son, Kolja, with her aunt. Unfortunately, the aunt dies and Louka has to take care of the boy as his next of kin. Plus it's not like he wants to alert the police as to what's going on. There is lots of confusion in the beginning because Louka only speaks Czech and the boy only speaks Russian. Over time a bond forms between the two. The secret police finally get wind of what's happened and threaten prison. Fortunately, the Velvet Revolution intervenes and Kolja is reunited with his mother. Needless to say it is bittersweet when Louka and Kolja say their goodbyes.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Madama Butterfly

Last night, Claudia and I went to the opera at Janáčkovo divadlo to see Madama Butterfly (Madame Butterfly). The quality of the theater here in Brno is just awesome, and totally affordable. There are always busses on theater nights for people coming up from Austria for performances. A ticket to the opera here is only 240 Kč (~$12). I would have to pay 3-5 times that amount for similar tickets in the USA.

Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini is one of the most popular operas in the world. It is supposedly based on a true story. The plot takes place in the early 20th century in Nagasaki, Japan .

U.S. Navy Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton becomes enchanted by Cio-Cio-San and takes the geisha as his wife. She gives up her ways and embrases his Christian faith. What she doesn't know is that he plans to one day "really" marry an American woman.
Pinkerton goes to sea for 3 years while Cio-Cio-San waits for him to return. She does not believe that he has deserted her. One day he will return and she will tell him that they have a son.

When he does return, with his new wife, Kate, Cio-Cio-San is devestated. She agrees to give up her child if his father will take him along. She then commits suicide so that she can die with honor rather than live in disgrace.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Coats of Arms

The Czech Republic has a lesser coat of arms and a greater coat of arms. I don't know when one is used over the other, but oh well.




The lesser coat of arms is the Bohemian white lion, with two tails, and a crown on a red shield.
The greater coat of arms is based on the Czech lands in the middle ages. The Bohemian lion is in the 1st and 4th quarters of the shield. The red and white checkerboard eagle with a gold crown on a blue field represents Moravia. Brno is the capital of Moravia. The black eagle with a crown on a golden field represents Silesia.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Czech Flag

The Czech Republic's flag is red, white and blue. These are traditional Bohemian colors that were taken from various coats of arms.

Before the Velvet Divorce, the Czechoslovakian government passed a resolution that the new states, Czech Republic and Slovakia, could not use any emblems of the former state.

Slovak flag
Slovakia adopted a new white, blue, and red flag with its coat of arms on it.

However, the Czech Republic went ahead and maintained the former Czechoslovakian flag that had been adopted on March 30, 1920. Slovakia was upset that the ČR violated the resolution to not use any of the former emblems. The rationale used was that the country which passed the resolution no longer existed so the Czechs kept the flag. Probably just one more thing that annoyed Slovakia.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Czech National Anthem

The Czech national anthem is the first verse of the song "Kde domov můj". It was written by František Škroup (words) & Josef Kajetán Tyl (music) for the opera "Fidlovačka" in 1834.

Back then, the Czechs were only an ethnic minority in the German-speaking Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, when an independent Czechoslovakia was established in 1918 the song was chosen as the first part of the new country's anthem. "Storm over the Tatras" is a Slovak song that made up the second part.

When Czechoslovakia split up in 1992, the Slovak part was dropped and "Kde domov můj" became the national anthem of the Czech Republic.

For those that didn't get to hear the Czech anthem play, when Martina Sáblíková won two Olympic gold medals in Vancouver, then here it is.

Kde domov můj, kde domov můj?
Voda hučí po lučinách,
bory šumí po skalinách,
v sadě skví se jara květ,
zemský ráj to na pohled!
A to je ta krásná země,
země česká domov můj,
země česká domov můj!

Where is my home, where is my home?
Water roars across the meadows,
Pinewoods rustle among crags,
The garden is glorious with spring blossom,
Paradise on earth it is to see.
And this is that beautiful land,
The Czech land, my home,
The Czech land, my home.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Vancouver Final Medal Count

The Olympics are over and the Czechs did pretty well in Vancouver. Their 6 Olympic medals are the most they have ever won in a single Winter Olympiad. Here are the medalists:

Speed Skating
Martina Sáblíková
Gold – 3,000 meters
Gold – 5,000 meters
Bronze – 1,500 meters

Cross-Country SkiingLukáš Bauer
Bronze – 15 km free

Men’s Relay Team
Bronze - 4x10 km

Alpine Skiing
Šárka ZáhrobskáBronze - Slalom
In terms of the overall medal count the Czech Republic placed 13th (tied with Poland). Slovakia placed 18th.