Why is it that things that are meant to be substitutes for the real stuff are considered “the default” in the Czech Republic?
I’m at a party and the hostess comes out of the kitchen to take orders for coffee. The question each guest is faced with is “normální, nebo zrnkovou?” where normální refers to instant coffee from a plastic jar and zrnková means coffee made from ground coffee beans. Everyone asks for normální and I feel strange.
When it’s my turn to be the hostess, I buy fresh Brazilian coffee beans and make sure there’s enough cream and sugar for everybody. When the time comes to serve coffee and the guests find out there’s no instant coffee in the house, one of them opts for tea instead. (As a side note, I was visiting with friends once and was served normální coffee creamer, which came in the form of a white powder.)
I was in a grocery store with a couple of Czech friends. They wanted to help get stuff, so they asked what all I needed. I said I needed butter.
“You mean margarine?”
A minute later they noticed me looking around helplessly, so they inquired what I was looking for. I said I was looking for milk.
“Why, it’s right here!” and they pointed to the boxes of trvanlivé mléko, a nearly non-perishable, strangely tasting white liquid with an expiration date several months in the future. I specified that I was looking for normal milk. They didn’t understand and I quickly realized my mistake. The perception of what is normal can be very subjective. So I explained that I was looking for fresh milk. There was none to be found in the store and again, I felt strange.
I have been called a beer snob by my American friends who drink nothing but Bud Light. I have been called a coffee snob after I fell in love with Hawaiian Kona coffee and wouldn’t want to drink any other kind for a year. I must be perceived as a tea snob since I buy specialty loose teas, store them in airtight tin cans and brew them through a cotton filter. Now I can safely add two more categories to the list. I’m also a butter snob and a milk snob.
Great story and a bit depressing. How does one acclimate to these types of normality in CZ? I found the same when I found out a friend in Plzen did not know about peanut butter. I mailed she and her family some, along with Sqeezable jelly and marshmellow fluff. They loved the fluff and jelly, and thought I was strange for liking the peanut butter. Always enjoy your posts/stories. – Scott
It is not ‘substitutes for the real stuff’ that are the Czech ‘default’; rather, I would say that the ‘normalni’ tag serves as a substitute for ‘the Czech way’ or ‘things or behaviors that are generally accepted here’ …in other words, bad beer would not be considered ‘normalni’, and would be rejected by the market. Indeed, Czech beer is about as real as stuff ever gets on this planet. cheers ~ Kevin
You are strange for liking peanut butter Scott!!!
Thanks for explaining the instant coffee thing in The Czech Republic. Before this story I never understood it. I think it is very interesting part of their culture. I think this story shows how cool The Czech Republic really is.
Wissy, Why? Over here, we get weaned onto Peanut butter(just kidding) but our first real food is Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. LOL It must be the texture that you may not like, am I correct, or is it the taste? Cheers – Scott
Scott – nothing personal but urghhhh!!! I hate peanut butter, The taste, the texture, the look, even the thought of it!! Don’t know why. Must be a psychological problem,something that happened during my childhood…..
So did you ever find decent milk? I’m moving to Prague in a few months with my young kids and don’t know how we will adjust. I lived in Spain for several years and they had the same kind of milk. I didn’t drink milk the entire time I was there. They did have refrigerated milk as well, but it was not drinkable in my view either. Ugh!
Oh yes, we have fresh milk here! Including organic (called bio mléko). It’s just that some people prefer the boxed kind, probably because it’s cheaper and lasts forever. And some of the smaller stores (so far I’ve seen only two) don’t carry fresh milk. For them it’s more convenient to just carry the indestructible kind that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, so they can stack it wherever they want and it doesn’t go bad.
can you explain the whole Turkish coffee thing. Our family in Moravia drink, by preference, Turkish coffee. Is this a long-standing legacy of the Ottomans? If so why don’t the Austrians drink much Turkish coffee?
Enjoy your site – just came across it today
PS: “Sqeezable jelly and marshmallow fluff”? And I thought British food was supposed to be the world’s worst ….
I wish I could explain. But I’m not familiar with the history of Turkish coffee and don’t know why it is so popular here. It’s not the only way to drink coffee anymore though thanks to the arrival of espresso machines and the resulting popularity of presso (not to be confused with the real Italian espresso). You may want to post your question in the Food & Drink forum on our message boards. I’d be curious to find out myself.
Glad you like the site!