Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's 2013

Happy New Year Everyone!!  I can't believe that another year has come and gone.  I swear that as I get older the time passes faster and faster.  I hope that everyone has a safe and happy new year.

I did quite a bit of traveling this year so here's a "Happy New Year!" in each of the languages used in places I visited in 2012.

Happy New Year! - English
Šťastný Nový Rok! - Czech & Slovak 
Glückliches neues Jahr! - German
Godt Nytår! - Danish
Un An Nou fericit! - Romanian & Moldovan
Gott Nytt År! - Swedish 
Ευτυχισμένο το Νέο Έτος! - Greek
¡Feliz Año Nuevo! - Spanish
Sretna Nova godina! - Croatian
Szczęśliwego nowego roku! - Polish
Srečno novo leto! - Slovenian
Sena l-ġdida kuntenti! - Maltese
Bonne Année! - French
C Новым Годом! - Russian
Buon anno! - Italian
Boldog Új Évet! - Hungarian

I wonder which languages will be on next year's list...


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas Everybody

Merry Christmas Everybody!  As someone who has always been fascinated with foreign languages, I am very fortunate to work in such an international environment.

I probably have one of the most linguistically diverse teams at work.  So here's a "Merry Christmas" to everyone on my team this year in all of their languages.

Merry Christmas - English
Veselé Vánoce - Czech
Veselé Vianoce - Slovak
Crăciun fericit - Romanian & Moldovan
Buon Natale - Italian
Весела Коледа - Bulgarian
Feliz Navidad - Spanish
Feliz Natal - Portuguese
عيد ميلاد سعيد - Arabic
Gëzuar Krishtlindjet - Albanian
Joyeux Noël - French
Fröhliche Weihnachten - German
Wesołych Świąt - Polish
Среќен Божиќ - Macedonian
З Різдвом - Ukrainian
С Рождеством - Russian 
Linksmų Kalėdų - Lithuanian
Boldog karácsonyt - Hungarian
Geseënde Kersfees - Afrikaans
Срећан Божић - Serbian

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Time in Brno

PF 2013
It's starting to feel a lot like Christmas around here.  I have yet to see a white Christmas in Brno.  Luckily, it started snowing again today.  Typically all of the snow melts a couple of days before Christmas and doesn't come back until after New Year's.  

You can tell that it's Christmas time because the vendors are out selling the bathtub fish for dinner on the 24th.

Still not my favorite Czech tradition but who am I to judge?

 
One tradition I love is going to the Christmas market at Zelný trh for my favorite  Vánoční punč (Christmas punch).  I wait all year to be able to get one.  It is made from black tea, orange juice, lemon, cinnamon, honey and orange liqueur, topped with whipped cream.  It is so yummy!!
 

 









Veselé Vánoce a šťastný nový rok! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Cookies

Christmas cookies, vánoční cukroví, are a big part of the Christmas time tradition over here.


Czechs go crazy for them!  They are normally given out as Christmas gifts.  There are dozens and dozens of different kinds of cookies.  Czechs pride themselves on the number of different cookies they make.  I wonder just how competitive it gets.  I've been told that no self-respecting Czech housewife would make less than 10 different types.   It seems like an awful lot of work to me but they taste so good.

Friday, December 21, 2012

CZ Expat Blog Results

Yeah!!  I won the 2012 Expat Blog Award for Czech Republic.  I must thank everyone who voted for me.  Winning this award is even better than the award last year for a few different reasons.

First of all, this award was just for ČR which made it more personal.  Most of the other bloggers were all from Prague, and whilst I like Prague, it is not the only city in this country.  So I kind of feel that Brno won too. 

I liked that this contest required people to actually give feedback.  The quantity of feedback wasn't supposed to be the only deciding factor but I haven't seen any winners for other countries who also didn't happen to have the most number of votes.  Some of the feedback was very touching to read.  And while I personally know many of the people who voted, it was really neat to read the feedback from total strangers.  This blog really has taken on a life of its own.

In the award announcement, the organizers randomly choose one comment as a testimonial. 

One fan says: Christopher's Expat adventure is by far my favorite blog. I look forward to each new post. The variety of Chris' content: travel, history, holidays, architecture, professional and personal experiences, among others, always keep the blog new and exciting. Chris is so talented in taking a cultural difference and explaining it in a way that makes the reader understand that the cultural difference is not good or bad but just different. He has a true gift of showing the common humanity and humor that transcends various cultures. I am excited to read about Chris’ future adventures and to feel as if I am there with him as I read his blog. Thank you for all your post. Keep up the great work.

I love that they chose Steven's comment for this.  

There are a some really well-written expat blogs which I regularly follow and I was up against two of them for the title.  Girl in Czechland and Ricky Yates - an Anglican in Prague are both great blogs.  I've followed them for sometime now so in the spirit of good sportsmanship I did vote for each of their blogs.  I would have been proud to have finished up behind them but it does feel really good to have actually won.

The other cool thing about this contest is that now I've got a number of new blogs to follow in other countries which will be helpful as I plan future adventures.  Thanks again to everyone who voted, congrats to my fellow bloggers, and a big thank you to Expats Blog for putting this contest together.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Where Should I Go in 2013?

So far since moving to Europe in July 2009, I've been to 34 different countries.  Not a bad run if I do say so myself.  Now the question is what new places do I visit in 2013?  There are just so many places that I want to go to...Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Montenegro, Norway, Finland, UkraineHeck, somehow I still haven't even managed to make it to London yet.  Decisions, decisions.  That's where I've decided to let my readers have some input.

Originally, I thought about letting people choose where I would visit.  The only problem with that one is that I would get a whole lot of votes to go back to Atlanta and I was just there.  So instead, I've come up with five different places.  All of these places are ones that I would eventually like to get to.  Some will be easier than others.  I may do more than one of these in 2013.  Who knows?  However, I will for sure go to whichever one receives the most votes.  

Here's a little background on each in order to help you choose where to send me.

Iceland is located in the mid-Atlantic and it is the USA's closest European neighbor.  For someone who isn't the biggest fan of cold weather this one must sound a bit odd.  Glaciers and volcanoes just sound so cool.  While the best weather is in summer time, I would most likely go in March or April so that I can catch the Aurora Borealis.  The biggest drawback to Iceland, aside from the cold, is that it is even for Scandinavia, it is very expensive.

Georgia is a country between Eastern Europe and Western Asia.  Once part of the Soviet Union, it declared independence in 1991.  Georgia is home to the break away republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Both of the areas have been occupied by Russian soldiers since the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.  I don't plan on going anywhere near the break away republics but how cool would it be to go from Atlanta, Georgia to Tbilisi, Georgia?  

The United Arab Emirates is on the Persian Gulf between Oman and Saudi Arabia.  It is a federation of seven emirates.  I know many people who have gone there and everyone has enjoyed it.  Dubai is home to the Burj Khalifa which is the world's tallest building.  One of reasons for considering the UAE now is because I would really like to visit Israel.  The problem is that if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport then the UAE, and about 20 other nations, won't let you enter the country.  Therefore I have to visit the UAE first.  On the drawback side, the UAE isn't exactly gay friendly.  Homosexuality is illegal and the punishments range from jail time, fines, deportation and the death penalty.

The Baltics consist of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  At the start of WWI, all three countries gained independence from the Russian Empire.  However, all three were later annexed by the Soviet Union.  In 1991, they declared independence.  The three countries are now liberal democracies and in 2004 they joined the EU and NATO.  If I go to the Baltics then I may try fit in either Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Lithuania and Poland, or Belarus.      

The "Stans" are five countries in Central Asia which all used to be Soviet Republics.  Today, they are the independent republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.  Not quite sure which one (or maybe two) countries I would visit.  Uzbekistan has been on my list of places to visit since I was 16 years old.  I remember reading a magazine article about the Soviet Union and it talked about how Uzbekistan was home to camels and pineapples.  It just sounded like such an exotic part of the U.S.S.R.  Kyrgyzstan doesn't require a tourist visa which is a plus.  The other four all charge between $160 to $180 per visa and each visa will require a trip to the appropriate embassy in Prague or Vienna.

You can only vote once per computer.  I should have only allowed people to make a single choice but I didn't.  Oh well, something to remember for the next time.  So feel free to submit your vote on where I should go visit in 2013. The poll will remain open until New Year's Eve.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Nutcracker Time

Sunday night was Louskáček time at the Janáček Theater.  This has turned in to a regular Christmas tradition here in Brno with my friends.  Claudia and I went in 2009, and then joined others in 2010.  I missed last year because I was off traveling some place so I wanted to make sure that I didn't miss this year's performance.

The show was quite good but the 2009 performance was still the best. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

2012 CANZA Charity Ball

On Saturday, Natalie and I caught a train to Prague so that we could attend the annual CANZA Charity Ball.

CANZA is the Czech Australian New Zealand Association.  It's a social group in Prague that, since 2005, gives expats a chance to promote the cultures of Australia and New Zealand.  They host regular sporting, dining and charity events. 


This year's event was held at the Prague Congress Center.  There was an auction and a raffle to support Chance 4 Children which was this year's charity.  Chance 4 Children helps disabled children, as well as, those who are socially disadvantaged, institutionalized or terminally ill. 

It was a really nice evening and the food was excellent.  I've got to say that it was kind of fun being an honorary Kiwi for the night.  Nat even coached me on some Kiwi vocabulary so that I could fit in.  


We bought 2000 Kč ($100) worth of raffle tickets and ended up winning playing cards and some hand warmers.  Not exactly a bargain but it really doesn't matter since it was all for charity.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Mikuláš Office Visit

Mikuláš, an angel and a devil, walk the streets every December 5th.  Candies are given to the good children and the bad ones are taken away.




Well today, Mikuláš made a visit to the office.

I think that the biggest surprise for people was seeing me as the angel.  For some reason, people figured I would be the devilGo figure...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

2012 Thanksgiving

This is my 650th blog post since I started this little adventure.  I wonder how long until I hit 1,000.

Saturday was my 4th annual Brno Thanksgiving celebration.

This year, it was a week later than normal but, since it isn't a holiday over here, it's not like anyone noticed.


I was a bit worried with only having a 7 kg (14.5 lb) turkey for 25 people but, with the ham, it worked out fine.  Not as many leftovers but on the good side, I didn't have to get up quite so early to put the bird in the oven.


With all of the farewell parties this year we had a few new people this year.  As always, it's lots of fun introducing Thanksgiving to my Europeeps.  People really seem to get a kick out of all of the typical American dishes.

One of my favorite parts of the day is when everyone goes around and says what they are most thankful for.  With three sets of newlyweds and others expecting their first children, there was obviously lots to be thankful for.

This year's Thanksgiving was a little more mellow than in past years.  Probably because about half of the people were up late last night at the Hippie Christmas party.

Special thanks goes out to Gízá who was our designated photographer.  And of course an extra big thanks to my parents and Steven & Michael for the care packages which made the day possible.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Hippie Christmas Party

On Friday night, we had our annual unit Christmas party.  This year's theme was a "Hippie Christmas" and it was a real blast.  I was impressed with how so many people went all out with the theme.
I took my final vacation day of the year on Friday in order to get ready for Thanksgiving.  And knowing that I had to get up Saturday morning to cook the turkey, I made sure not to over do it on Friday night.

About ½ of my current team
I did have a "three-peat".  I won the award for the best boss again.  It was very nice but it's really an easy thing to do when you've got such a great team of people to work with.  The award really should be for the luckiest boss because my team is awesome.

The party was held at the same bar as last year.  I was extra careful about my camera this year.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thanksgiving Prep

Thanksgiving is already here again.  Well, it was actually last week in the USA but I'm celebrating it tomorrow.  Since Thanksgiving isn't a Czech holiday I normally host a Thanksgiving party on the Saturday after.  However, this year, for several reasons, it worked out better to wait a week.  Plus, it's not really like people here have noticed it's a week later than normal.

This year's boxes from Steven and Mom
Yeah for my annual Thanksgiving care packages!!  I normally get packages from Mom & Dad, in Prescott, and from Steven & Michal, in Atlanta, on my birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Which is great and they are so much fun to get.  But my favorite care packages are the ones I get at Thanksgiving because the ingredients are necessary in order to pull off a traditional turkey day fest here in Brno.

My German care package
This year, I even received a Thanksgiving/Christmas pack from Claudia's mom in Berlin.  It even came with a little Krteček advent calendar which is for my nephew in California.

Getting ready for this year's Thanksgiving has been a bit more stressful than the previous three years.  The biggest issue has been the turkey.  Last year's turkey was 14 kg (31 lb) was way too big.  So rather than deal with the halal shop again I decided to go back to our normal place in Židlochovice.  So two weeks ago I placed an order for a 10 kg (22 lb) bird.  They told me no problem and they took down my mobile number when I called them.

For some reason, I just knew that I should reconfirm everything with them again.  So yesterday, a friend called to check and they said everything was fine and they had my 7 kg (14.5 lb) turkey ready.  We reminded them that the order was for a 10 kg bird and their response was "yes, but we received small turkeys so it is 7 kg".  When asked why they didn't call to let me know about the problem their response was "what good would calling have done, the turkey is still only going to be 7 kg".  Uuuggghhh!!!!  I swear that at times Czech (nonexistent) customer service just makes me want to stick a fork in my eye.

This year's tiny turkey
At least I found out about the size issue yesterday so I had time to come up with Plan B.  Had I gotten this surprise when we went to pick it up today I'm sure my head would have spun around three times.  Although today they had a possible solution.  I could either have my 7 kg turkey or take a 15 kg (33 lb) turkey.  I elected to go with the 7 kg bird and thanks to "Plan B" we are also going to have a 5 kg  (11 lb) ham as well.  I'm sure that there will be plenty of food for the 28 people coming to my flat for turkey day tomorrow.  And the good news is that 7 kg won't take as long to cook so I don't have to get up at 5:30 AM to put it in the oven.  Which is good news because tonight I'm off to attend our department's Christmas party.  Let's hope that it isn't too late of a night because I still have lots more cooking to do tomorrow.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Body Percussion #2

The body percussion session that the Alps team came up was such a hit that one of my other teams decided to do it too.  We had a few more people than last time which made it even better. 

We had the same instructor as before but he did different things so it wasn't just a repeat of last time.  Given that we all laughed so much tonight shows that this can be a ton of fun even for uncoordinated people.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Warranties

There are a few perks about living in an EU country.  One of them is that consumer goods come with a mandatory two-year warranty period.  I don't mean an extended warranty.  I mean that the minimum coverage, by law, is a full two years.  Retailers and manufacturers can still offer extended warranties beyond the two year minimum.

In the USA, you almost always have to have the receipt in order to take something back to a store.  Depending on the store policy, you can either exchange the item for another one or you can get your money refunded.  Some stores don't even require a receipt.

My repair invoice with a stamp & initials
Over here, it is a bit different.  When you purchase a consumer good, the sales clerk will rubber stamp your receipt and then initial it.  Other places, like government offices, also do the stamp and initial thing.  The receipt isn't valid without the stamp and clerk's initials.

A few months ago I purchased a cover, with a wireless keyboard, for my iPad.  Suddenly, the Z, X, C and V keys stopped working.  So I grabbed my receipt and took it to the store where I purchased it.  All I wanted was a new one.  Here's how it works...

The retailer has 30 days to fix the defective item.  If, after 30 days, they can't fix it then they have to give you a new one or refund your money.  I was told that the retailer gets to determine if the product is faulty or not.  No problem for me because the keys didn't work for the clerk either.  So I was given a repair invoice, with another stamp and initials, and told that the store would send it out for service.  It really would have been easier, if they had just given me a new case on the spot but that's not how things work here.

The retailer/vendor must complete the repairs within 30 days but it is up to the consumer to check on the status.  Odd...but whatever.  After 30 days, I went back to the store with my invoice.  They still didn't have any word back from the service center but I had my invoice showing that it had been 30 days.  I was told that I could get my money back or use a credit towards something else.  The store ended up giving me the new, updated version of what I had originally purchased for the exact same amount.  I wasn't thrilled about not having a case for 30 days but now I'm happy again.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Juice

This morning I was invited over for breakfast with friends.  I was in charge of bringing over some juice.  When I went to the market, I decided against the usual flavors - orange, apple, grape, pineapple, or grapefruit juice.  I didn't even get multivitamin juice which is my favorite.  

As I was looking at the shelves I decided to mix things up a bit.  I went with apricot juice, strawberry juice, peach juice, pear juice and sour cherry juice.  I'm still reluctant to try the banana juice because I just can't imagine how exactly they juice a banana.

I've noticed that many Czechs mix juice with water.  Some have told me it is because the juice is too strong if you drink it without water.  I think it's really because they've always drunk it with water so they don't know what juice is really supposed to taste like.  Friends have told me that back in the days of communism, you had to make things last as long as possible which is why people put in just enough juice to flavor up the tap water.

Another popular thing over here is flavored syrup.  You mix a small bit with some water and you have a fruit flavored beverage.  The syrup isn't bad but given a choice I'll stick to real juice.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Czech Names

There are all sorts of rules when it comes to names in Czech Republic.  Each day of the year has a particular name assigned to it and people celebrate their svátek (name day).  It's almost like a second birthday.  On your name day, you normally receive flowers and you are supposed to give out sweets to your friends.

For example, my name day is September 18th so everyone in the country named Kryštof celebrates on this day.  Everyone seems to know when it is someone's name day.  Names are preprinted on almost every calendar here.  Plus, florists write on the shop windows the name of the day so you know if you need to pick up some flowers on your way in to the office.

The name day calendar goes back to the 18th century and it really doesn't get updated that much.  If your name isn't on the calendar then you don't get a name day.  This helps explain why there isn't a whole lot of diversity in Czech names.

Official Czech Baby Name Book
Here are some of the most common Czech names.  (By no way a complete list)

Boys:  Dalibor, Ivo, Jakub, Jan, Jíří, Luboš, Luděk, Lukáš, Martin, Michal, Ondřej, Pavel, Petr, Roman, Tomáš, Vojtěch

Girls:  Alžběta, Anna, Eva, Hana, Jana, Kateřina, Jitka, Lenka, Markéta, Martina, Petra, Pavla, Šárka, Zdeňka 

Then there are the short names.  In English, William is often called Will or Bill.  Depending on William's age and the level of intimacy, he could even be called Willy or Billy.  It's kind of like that over here but with way more shades of gray.

Jan can be called Honza, Honzík, Honzíček, Jenda, Jeník, Jeníček, Jeňa or Janek.  Anna can be called Anka, Aníčka, Andulka, Andula, Anča, Anínka, Anína or Anuška.

Under communism, parents had to receive special permission to give a child a name that wasn't already on the Czech calendar.  Not that much has changed.  Authorities make things difficult if the child's name isn't on the official list.  Since 1989, parents can name their child whatever they want as long as the name already exists somewhere in the world.  And it must be approved by a special office in Prague which charges a service fee.

Czechs don't have middle names.  On all of my official papers here, I have to use my first name and middle name as the Czech first name just so that my documents all match my passport.

Czechs have a given name and a family name.  However, the family name is different for women.  Because the Czech language is dang complicated, last names are treated as adjectives and therefore must follow gender rules.  A man can have Novotný as his last name and his son(s) will be called Novotný.  However, his wife and daughter(s) will have Novotná as their last name.

The most common difference is -ová.  Novák becomes Nováková.  Czechs add the -ová to the last names of foreigners too.  So in the Czech press, First Lady Michelle Obama is Michelle Obamová and Madeleine Albright is Madeleine Albrightová.  Even Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is J.K. Rowlingová over here.

I would think that this different last name thing would cause problems.  For example, if a single mother was traveling internationally with her male child, then the last names wouldn't match up in their passports.

Until 2004, every woman in ČR was required to adopt the feminine version of her husband's last name, unless he was a foreigner whose name ended in a vowel.  I guess foreign names ending in vowels were OK.  Since 2004, the law allows anyone who marries a foreign man to take her husband's exact last name and thus avoid the whole -ová thing.  However, there is a fee for this.

Note:  I also found out that Czechs don't do the junior or senior thing.  If Martin Veselý names his first born son Martin then they are both called Martin Veselý.  There is no Jr., or II, to differentiate between them. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Architecture Lecture

On Monday night, a few of us went to a lecture at Vila Tugendhat.  Fortunately, the lecturer was visiting from the University of Texas at Austin so everything was in English.

Dr. Christopher Long is professor of architectural and design history at UT Austin.  His presentation was "Thoughts on the Ground Plan: Spatial Ideas in Mies, Loos, Strnad, Frank and Scharoun".  Basically how each of these Central European architects contributed to modern conceptions of space-making.

I know very little about architecture and even less about modern architecture.  I was a bit worried at first that with since the majority of the 70 person crowd were architecture students that the material would go right over my head.  However, the presenter was excellent and I even learned a few things.  Not bad for only 100 Kč ($5). 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dr. Fish

With all of the walking that we did in Athens, we decided to go for another "first".  Our first fish foot therapy session at Dr. Fish.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  But, hey, why not?  I'm all for new adventures.

We first had to wash our feet and then we put our feet in to the fish tanks.  Garra Rufa fish then gently remove dead skin and make your feet feel soft.  It was a very odd feeling at first.  It felt like your feet were on a mild jacuzzi jet. 

The fish don't have any teeth so it is painless.  They have this suction-cup mouth which they use to eat dry, dead skin.

Garra Rufa are also called nibble fish.  Actually, they are a form of carp.  The experience was fine and my feet felt great afterwards.  But I'm not so sure that I would do it again.  It definitely does not put me in a mood for Christmas carp.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Greek November 17th Protest

AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris
Greece and Czech Republic both had holidays on November 17th.  In ČR, it is Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day.  On Saturday, Greeks commemorated a student upraising against the former military dictatorship.

In 1973, there were student uprisings, against the government, that began on November 14th.  There were several violent clashes with police on the 16th and in the early morning hours on the 17th, Greek army tanks stormed the National Technical University in Athens.  Twelve people died, more than 1,000 were injured and hundreds of people were arrested.  Greek law now forbids police and the army from entering any university campus. 

The student protests weren't enough to overthrow the government.  However, on November 25th, army hardliners overthrew dictator George Pasdopoulos.  A civilian government took over in July 1974.  Every year, tens of thousands of people march from the university to the front of the U.S. Embassy in Athens where they normally burn an American flag.  Many Greeks blame U.S. Cold War politics for backing the dictatorship from 1967 to 1974.  A similar march also takes place in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece which culminates with protests at the U.S. Consulate there.
©PressTV


I received a warning from the U.S. Embassy to stay clear of the protest area.  Early in the afternoon we saw that the streets at Syntagma Square were closed off, hotels had covered up their windows and the riot police were taking position. 

We spoke with a police office who assured us that the march has nothing to do with the latest round of austerity measures.  He made it a point to let us know that nothing ever happens during this march because everyone knows that the there are over 6,000 police officers deployed.  Even still we made it a point to stay clear and find something else to entertain ourselves with.

I'm not sure what the police officer was talking about because back at the hotel I found lots of footage on YouTube from previous years and it didn't look quite as easy going as he tried to tell us.  This year, there were about 20,000 protestors in Athens and the police detained 70 people.

Here's some footage I found on YouTube of this year's protests.

 

While not directly related to the November 17th memorial, I'm sure that the current austerity measures still have an impact.  This video gives you a glimpse of just how bad the financial situation is in Greece.


©Al Jazeera