This is a strange but true segment of Chasing Italy. Outside of the obvioius fact that our first two stops are in Costa Rica (CR) and the Czech Republic (CZ because CR was already taken), there are some crazy similarities between the two countries we’ve decided to explore. Climate is vastly different both in temperature and in the social arena. Costa Rica is laid back, we’ll get there when we get there attitude. Pura Vida. The Czech Republic, at least in Prague, is as efficient as it can be and a rising star in the world of business. Since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and the separation of Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1992 business from Europe and North America are coming into Prague. Costa Rica is full of expats and retirees. When you walk in Costa Rica, you stroll. When you walk in Czech Republic, you stride. Quickly. Making sure to catch the next metro or tram. It’s go, go, go.
Here’s a short list of similarities:
1. No dryers. Okay there are dryers but the majority of households don’t have them. Why? Cost. Energy is expensive. In Costa Rica everyone uses a laundry line on their porch or close by their house. It’s 32 degrees and above year round in most areas of Costa Rica. Why spend money when nature is willing to do the work for free.
In Czech Republic you use drying racks or lines inside or outside, depending on the weather. Some people have lines on their balconies. Some even use a rack that attaches outside their window several stories up. I’m not comfortable having my unmentionables hanging out a window but people do it. Czechs are very efficient and don’t think dryers are a necessity. You get used to it. And you plan accordingly because laundry for four takes time.
2. Mildew. Mildew is bad in CR during the wet or rainy season. It’s no fun to hang out your clothes in the morning and at the end of the day they’re still damp. Damp and warm are mildew best friends. You have to be careful with damp clothes. Don’t leave them on the floor overnight they’ll get nasty fast. Hang it up. Air it out.
I never knew mildew would be an issue in CZ. Some of the older building (and Prague has tons of older buildings) have lousy insulation and air circulation. I’m specifically talking about the blocks of flats. Huge monstrosities built in mid twentieth century to house the masses. It’s a constant fight in the bathrooms and around the windows. Moisture, moisture, moisture. And since it’s been a warm wet winter and we have an exterior wall we must keep dry and free of mildew. Chlorinated spray is my best friend nowadays. It sucks but it works and it works fast.
3. Dogs. CR has dogs. Lots of them. Generally they are strays and not fixed and randomly reproduce like dogs do. The best dogs we found were in Samara. Very laid back happy dogs for the most part. They roamed relatively freely and yet knew to not enter homes, restaurants, and most stores. Our neighbors dog liked to follow us and even did some body surfing with us at the beach. (There are free roaming horses as well but that’s a different post). Other dogs in other places in CR were not as well behaved. We often heard stories about people getting attacked and some people taking revenge on the dogs. It’s sad. A lot of expats try and help by adopting dogs and caring for strays with medical care and spaying or neutering. That is awesome of them. Though most Ticos think Americans are crazy for it.
In CZ, there are dogs a plenty. Big ones, little ones. Ones with just collars but well groomed and ones with sweaters which are adorable. I haven’t seen strays though. I’m sure there are some out there. Most dogs are cherished and very obedient. People walk their dogs off leash a lot of the time. Dogs though not overly friendly but are very well behaved. Not straying too far from their people and returning when called. People are seen playing fetch and walking them daily. It makes me happy to see happy dogs and the people who love them.
4. Beer. Yes, beer. Beer in CR is cheap and plentiful. Two national beers and under 80 cents a bottle when you turn in your bottles. Yep, you pay extra for bottles but when you bring them in you pay less. They use them over and over. So remember to bring in your bottles and you’ll get a better price.
The micro brewery phenomenon is just getting started in CR. Expats are starting up microbrewery companies and it’s becoming more lucrative to be in the microbrewery business. Since CR is in tourism business it’s good to give them what they want and what they’ll pay for. They have a saying there though “CR where they make easy hard”. Hopefully human ingenuity wins over human greed.
The Czech Republic is largest consumer of beer in the world. Beer is cheaper than soda or water in most restaurants. You still need to turn in your old bottles to get the best price but beer is sold in half liters and for about 65 cents a bottle. Not bad when you like beer. (They have wine too. Don’t dispair.) Most beer consumed is about 4%. People drink a beer with lunch. A beer at lunch is not unheard of and totally normal. People don’t drink to get drunk they just have a beer and go on. It’s just a cultural norm.
5. Discoteques. Both countries have discoteques. For dancing. If you want to go dancing then you must go to a discoteque not a nightclub like in the U.S. Nightclubs are for drinking and meeting/picking up people. So if you need to get your groove on go to a discoteque in Costa Rica or the Czech Republic.
6. Orchids. Costa Rica is a tropical paradise full of exotic birds, lizards, flowers, etc. I’m told that you can go into the jungle and find orchids. Then sell them for profit. I’m not certain about this but it sounds reasonable.
Praguers love their orchids. They do very well here even with lower temperatures and less light, this far north and in the winter. Must be the moisture. My landlady left one and it’s growing like crazy. About to bloom any day now. Maybe on New Years.
7. Wrap arounds or Sarongs/Scarves. If you live near the beach in Costa Rica and you’re a woman, you will collect sarongs and you will have coordinating bathing suits, flip flops and sarongs. A rainbow of colors and designs await you. They make awesome cover ups, tablecloths, towels, or picnic blankets. If I’d stayed any longer I would have bought more but alas I left for greener pastures.
Those greener pastures are in the center of Europe. Scarves are a necessity is central Europe in the autumn and winter. I have seen the same ability to coordinate scarves, leggings. Prague women love a good scarf. And scarves are awesome. They keep you cosy from wind that comes barreling down metro tunnels or off the river while waiting for your tram . Women collect them to go with outfits and seasons and just cause they’re pretty.
It’s not much of a stretch but women in both countries love their colorful wrap around bits of cloth.
I plan on starting my collection soon. I’ve heard of a shop that’ll give you a great deal of you buy more than one.
8. Music From The 80s And 90s. Costa Rica loves late twentieth century American/British rock and roll. They also love late twentieth century action flicks. And I mean LOVE. On the radio everywhere. Things I haven’t heard for 20 years. It was like reliving my youth but where the roads were questionable and the weather unbearably hot. A bit like August in Nelson county Virginia circa 1990. They also love reggae but that’s a different story.
We’d thought we’d escaped the trip down musical memory lane when we came to Europe. In fact, we’d stepped into a different kind of time warp. Not only do we get to listen late twentieth century rock and roll but additionally get to listen newer uncensored lyrical musings from newer artists. I was flabbergasted when shopping at the market and heard Eminem spouting awesome yet graphic rhymes overhead. Dropping the F bombs left and right. Yet I get to relive my youth with the non sensical musical arrangements of Czech radio. Everything from Four Non Blondes and Michael Jackson to Eminem and Taylor Swift.
9. Chau and Čao. Greetings. One of the first things you learn to say is hello in the local language. When we went to CR we learned and practiced saying Buenos (short for Buenos Dias) or Buena (Buena noches). This is the common greeting in the land of Pura Vida. Once you get to know someone you can use the more familiar and say chau. It’s like the Italian version ciao. There are a lot of Italians on the Pacific side of Costa Rica and this is where chau is used. Coincidence, I think not.
In CZ, specifically Prague (so far that’s all we know of CZ), people greet each all the time. In the hall, the elevator, and in restaurants, bars, and stores. The proper greeting is dobry den. It means good day literally. The same as in Spanish and many other languages. Once you become more familiar or friendly with your new Czech friend you can greet one of two ways. Ahoj or čao. Both are familiar and utilized equally. It’s preference of the speaker. Čao (like its Italian counterpart) be used as in greetings or farewells. Often it’s used as čao čao when saying bye. The first time someone used this with me I felt like I’d been accepted into the in crowd but that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration. There are a lot of Italian influences in Prague from food to coffee. Is the use of čao a coincidence? Hmmm. You decide.
10. Beautiful women. Okay every country has beautiful women. The women of CR and CZ aren’t afraid to own it. Ticas (Costa Rican women) like to wear revealing outfits. After all, it is the beach and swimsuits are revealing but when the go out to discoteques or dinner, also like to wear figure flattering clothes. Sometimes too figure flattering. Low cut tops, short shorts, skin tight jeans, and high heels. Men love this and I appreciate their ability to dress so freely but a little modesty wouldn’t hurt either.
We moved to Prague just as the weather changed to cooler temperatures. This has not stopped the women of Prague from wearing the shortest skirts I have ever seen. In fact, at times I think they seem to be wearing long shirts and not skirts. My least favorite female fashion statement is the winter coat that is longer than the super short skirt. To me it looks like they’re wearing boots, hosiery, and just a coat. (My least favorite male fashion statement is skinny jeans but that’s another post.)
I hear that when warmer temperatures of the spring and summer come, the more cleavage will be shown. I’m sure men can’t wait but personally I can. Not to be a prude but a little modesty goes a long way. Wait, I think I already said that.
11. Shoes off at the door. It’s a necessity in Costa Rica to take off your flip flops before entering your home. Otherwise you will track in sand. Then you will have to deal with the woman of the house. I have threatened dismemberment over tracked in sand so I completely understand.
It’s the cultural norm to remove your shoes when entering a household in the Czech Republic. In fact it is highly frowned upon to leave your shoes. Czechs think it quite rude. I believe that Czechs take pride in their homes whether it’s a flat in a block of flats or something more eclectic. Often you might be offered slippers for walking about the house. Take them or not but please remove your shoes.
So there you have it. The similarities between Costa Rica and the Czech Republic. Strange but true.