Since the 1989 Velvet Revolution the Czech Republic has become a highly popular destination to visit and to work. Tens of thousands of foreigners have settled here, enjoying the country’s combination of high standard of living and low costs. Although in most respects life in the Czech Republic has rapidly approached Western standards of living, the cost of living remains substantially below than in Western Europe. Prague and many cities in the Czech Republic are famous for their architectural heritage, their museums, theatres, cinemas, galleries, historic gardens and cafes. An overwhelming choice of cultural events is on offer, embracing all types of music and an outstanding theatrical tradition. A number of foreign culture centers also offer a wide range of events and services. See links to useful resources at the end of this page.
By Patricia Stack
A popular novel was written by Arthur Phillips a few years ago entitled Prague, although its characters were all firmly ensconced in Budapest. It’s just that these young American expats all wished they lived in Prague instead. Such is the legendary pull of Golden Prague.
Prague was indeed a magical setting for my husband and me to spend more than seven years. Jack’s mission was to help transform the direction – and fortunes – of the largest Czech retail bank, headquartered in Prague. He arrived in the spring of 2000 and I followed him a few months later, when my teaching contract was completed. When the opportunity to live in Prague first presented itself, we were a bit taken aback but nonetheless excited to have the chance to experience this legendary city firsthand.
The very first thing we did, of course, was to check out the location of the Czech Republic on the map. Definitely smack in the middle of Europe, Prague seemed ideally located for quick trips to Vienna, Budapest and Berlin. We learned then, and came to understand in more depth later, that the Czech Republic is most assuredly in Central, not Eastern, Europe. A good Czech friend once told me: “You Americans developed a kind of amnesia about the countries behind the Iron Curtain, thinking of them all as lost in some frozen tundra, without distinguishing characteristics, a big, amorphous blob called Eastern Europe.” She was right. Friends back home in New York continually referred to our sojourn as taking place in Eastern Europe and they further annoyed us by calling the country “Czechoslovakia.” We not so patiently explained that it was now called the Czech Republic, Slovakia having established its independence in 1993 during the so-called Velvet Divorce, and that the country was definitely in CENTRAL Europe. Our friends thought we had become a bit overly sensitive on the topic, but we plugged away on geopolitical accuracy.
What was so magical about Prague? Before we could speak a word of Czech, we were seduced by the physical beauty of the place. One can never grow weary of standing on the banks of the Vltava on the Old Town side at sunset and watching the Castle light up. The architecture is simply stunning, and guides rightly point out that since Prague was never bombed in World War II (except for an errant American pilot who thought he was over Dresden), the city remains a vibrant museum of architectural history. Living amidst such beauty does something good to the human spirit because art and architecture connect us to the soul. The music of Prague might even surpass its physical arts. This was Mozart’s favorite city for very good reasons. The quality of musicianship is extraordinarily high and you cannot pass a corner in this city without encountering music, either from a street performer who might one day play with the Philharmonic or from an open window where someone practiced his piano. We were fortunate enough to live very close to the legendary Academy of Music. We were greeted by student performances of extremely high quality through our open windows almost every day.
The parks were another happy surprise. Prague is hilly and interlaced with several large verdant parks, always available for a tranquil stroll. Urban planners could do far worse than to study the overall design of Prague, with its mixture of brilliant architecture and beautiful green spaces, to discover an environment that works so well to nurture its inhabitants.
We found the Czechs themselves to be intelligent, highly educated, very cultured and extremely funny! I still miss daily exposure to the Czech sense of humor, which is often self-deprecating. The Czechs value modesty and disdain blowhards. I’m afraid that my own native city, New York, is rather overflowing with blowhards, so Prague was a nice change of pace.
One story that Jack and I found to be most revealing of Czech modesty was related to us by a woman who had been recruited to work in a large American bank shortly after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. She was an ideal candidate for this position, with a strong background in finance and complete fluency in English. Around ten minutes into the initial meeting, her interviewer asked her why she thought she would be the best person for the job. She was highly insulted – this was simply not the way Czechs ever referred to themselves. “Best?” she replied. “I would never say I was the best person for this job. Of course I’m not the best. I thought this was a serious interview. Perhaps I should leave now.” Her interviewer panicked. He wanted to hire her badly. “I’m sorry. No, I understand you’re not the best. I’m not the best either. I’m just adequate. Maybe I’m not even that. Please don’t leave!” He hired her, she learned the speech patterns of American businessmen, and the story had a happy ending. Never claim to be the best in the Czech Republic!
Our years in this enchanting country proved to be one of the most meaningful and enjoyable periods in our lives. We came home with deep love and respect for the Czech nation, its people and its culture. We weren’t Czech by blood but we became Czech by affinity.
An agreement effective January 1, 2009, between the United States and the Czech Republic improves Social Security protection for people who work or have worked in both countries. It helps many people who, without the agreement, would not be eligible for monthly retirement, disability or survivors benefits under the Social Security system of one or both countries. It also helps people who would otherwise have to pay Social Security taxes to both countries on the same earnings.
The agreement covers Social Security taxes (including the U.S. Medicare portion) and Social Security retirement, disability and survivors insurance benefits. It does not cover benefits under the U.S. Medicare program or the Supplemental Security Income program.
This document covers highlights of the agreement and explains how it may help you while you work and when you apply for benefits.