Thursday, September 23, 2010

Zlín Baton Wedding

So while walking around Zlín's main square we noticed that it looked like a wedding party was getting ready to exit the city hall building. What caught my attention was that there were five baton twirling majorettes out in front. Uh huh. Well that's kind of different.

I guess the bride was a hardcore majorette herself because then she had a wedding baton and was out in front twirling away. I can honestly say that I've never seen this before. But I guess to each their own.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Zlín, Czech Republic

This past weekend Rob and I went to visit his parents in Malenovice, which is near Zlín. It is 80 km (50 miles) from Brno, in southeastern Moravia, and takes over 1.5 hours to get there by train. With 85,000 people it is the 12th largest city in the ČR.

Zlín is the greenest city in the country with lots of parks and it is very clean.
I only knew it as the city where Ivana Trump was born. But the city is best known as the home of the Baťa shoe company.
In 1894, Tomáš, Antonín and Anna Baťa, two brothers and their sister, changed the city when they opened a shoemaking firm.
During WWI, the factories were supplying millions of shoes for the Austro-Hungarian army. During the post-war recession, Tomáš Baťa cut the price of his shoes by 50% and became the shoe king of Czechoslovakia. Dozens of modern buildings and facilities were built from after WWI until when the Nazis invaded before WWII. During the war the Germans used the factories for war supplies. Most of Zlín's factories were destroyed by U.S. air raids in 1944 and the city was liberated by Soviet and Romanian soldiers on May 2, 1945.
Baťa's factories in Zlín and in other parts of Czechoslovakia were nationalized in October 1945 so the company headquarters were moved to Canada. In 1949, the communists changed the name of the city to Gottwaldov in honor of president Klement Gottwald, who took power during the 1948 coup. The former Baťa plants were changed to the Svit national enterprise.
After the communist regime fell in November 1989 people wanted the name of the city changed. So on 1 January 1990, Gottwaldov officially became Zlín again.
Zlín's most famous building is the skyscraper which used to be the Baťa administration building. All of the factory buildings were numbered and this was No. 21. It was one of the first high-rise buildings in Europe and when it was built it was awarded the title "Building of the Century". Today, the top of the building is open to the public, free of charge, which is a nice way to get a view of the city.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Czech Cases

I posted before a little bit about how complicated Czech grammar is. But the thing that really makes it difficult is that Czech has 7 different cases. The ending of a Czech word changes depending on how that word functions in a sentence. It ends one way if it is the subject, but it ends a different way if the word is the direct object, and another way if it is the indirect object, etc. When you learn a preposition in Czech you also have to learn which case it requires. We sort of have this in English. I changes to me. She changes to her. Who changes to whom. But this is nothing compared to Czech! You have to learn the endings of each case. But the endings are different depending on if the word is masculine animate, masculine inanimate, feminine or neuter. The endings are also different if the word is singular or plural. And of course there are always lots of exceptions to the rules. Ježíš Maria!!
Case 1 (nominative) is the subject of a sentence
Case 2 (genitive) shows possession
Case 3 (dative) is the indirect object of a sentence 
Case 4 (accusative) is the direct object of a sentence 
Case 5 (vocative) shows the addressee; used when "calling out" to someone 
Case 6 (locative) shows location 
Case 7 (instrumental) shows the instrument of doing something

Here are some simple examples using two common Czech names - Petr and Hana. 
Case #1 - Petr je tady. Hana je tady. Peter is here. Hana is here. 
Case #2 - Bratr Petra. Bratr Hany. Peter's brother. Hana's brother. 
Case #3 - Dám Petrovi pivo. Dám Haně pivo. I will give Peter/Hana beer. 
Case #4 - Znám Petra. Znám Hanu. I know Peter/Hana. 
Case #5 - AhojPetře! Ahoj, Hano! Hi Peter. Hi Hana. 
Case #6 - Píšu o Petrovi. Píšu o Haně. I write about Peter/Hana. 
Case #7 - Jdu s Petrem. Jdu s Hanou. I go with Peter/Hana. 

So Peter can be Petr, Petra, Petrovi, Petře or Petrem. And Hana can be Hana, Hany, Hanu, Haně, Hano or Hanou. Again, the endings would be different for plural nouns. When you decline (change the endings) you also have to decline the pronouns and adjectives so that everything is in sync. 

Even the question words "who" and "what" get declined in a sentence. Who? What? 
Case 1 - Kdo? Co? 
Case 2 - Koho? Čeho? 
Case 3 - Komu? Čemu? 
Case 4 - Koho? Co? 
Case 5 - There is no case 5 for this. 
Case 6 - O kom? O čem? 
Case 7 - Kým? Čím?

The thing that's confusing for a lot of beginners here is when you hear a word with a different ending you think that it is a different vocabulary word. Not necessarily a word that you already know. But after a while you get used to it. I'm doing a lot better with declination now but it's still enough to drive me crazy at times. When you speak Czech and don't decline properly it makes you sound like an idiot. Probably something like Tarzan trying to speak English.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ježíš Maria

Czechs are the most secular nation in Europe. The communists must have really beat religion out of them but Czechs have quite a few religious expressions that are used daily. Not a day goes by that you don't hear Ježíš Maria! (or Ježíš Marja). Often used as an expression of surprise. The equivalent English translation would be "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" If you surprise, excite or anger a Czech you can also hear Pane Bože!..."Lord God!" Or even pro Kristovy rány!. This one translates to "for Christ's wounds!" Ježíškovy oči means "Jesus' eyes". But most of the time, people say Ježkovy oči which means "hedgehog's eyes." When someone at work taught me "hedgehog's eyes" I thought they were crazy. As if I would ever need this for "survival Czech". But you actually hear it all of the time.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A4 Paper

I've been living in the ČR for almost 15 months now. In a lot of ways I feel like I'm getting used to things and at times I still feel like a fish out of water.

It helps to remind myself at times that I'm not in a foreign country. But rather I'm a foreigner in this country. A minor difference, I know, but one that helps me quite a bit when I feel overwhelmed.

There are lots of little things here that continue to remind me that I'm not in Atlanta anymore. Even paper is different over here. Not that this is a big deal at all. But it is just one of those little daily reminders that things are different.

In North America, the standard piece of paper is letter size, which is 8½ x 11 inches (or 216 x 279 mm). But in most of the world the standard piece of paper is A4, which is 8.27 x 11.7 inches (or 210 x 297 mm). So European paper is longer but not quite as wide as what we use back in the U.S.

My friend, Armelia, gave be a beautiful leather portfolio with my initials on it several years ago when I earned my bachelor's degree. I have letter size tablets sent over from the U.S. because the A4 paper doesn't quite fit.

The only other time that it can be an issue is when you need to reformat your work in order to print. A A4 document must be reformatted to print on letter size paper or information at the bottom of the longer A4 page could be lost. This also can cause page numbering and reference errors when dealing with word processing software.

A useful tip I learned was when photocopying letter size papes to A4 paper you need to reduce the pages to 97% in order for everything to fit the narrower page. When copying A4 to letter size then you need to reduce the page to 94% to fit the shorter paper.

And you only find 3 hole paper in the U.S. Here there are usually 4 holes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Academic Titles

Czechs love academic titles and will go out of their way to advertise them. It is even common to see a person's academic credential(s) next to their name on mailboxes and doorbells. Use of titles is often used in business and in all official correspondence.

This even occured during communism which is odd since the state preached equality and was frequently suspicious of intellectuals.

Here are the most common degrees.
Bc. or BcA. is Bachelor or Bachelor of Arts degree,

Mgr. or MgA. is a Master or Master of Arts degree.
Ing. is awarded for engineering, economics, agriculture, chemistry and military science.  It is a five-year degree and equivalent to a master's degree.

Ing.arch. is given for architecture.

MUDr. is for medicine. MDDr. is for dentistry and MVDr. is for veterinary medicine. PharmDr. is for pharmacy.

JUDr. is a law degree and ThDr. is a doctorate of theology.

PhDr. is a doctorate in the humanities, education or social sciences. RNDr. is a doctorate in natural sciences.

I haven't seen anyone display the title MBA around here. But that's probably because it is a fairly new degree in the ČR and currently it can only be earned at a private university.

Another difference is in the U.S., you would only list your highest level degree. Here it's common to list out multiple degrees.

I know several doctoral students here and they work really, really hard. Given the amount of effort they put in to earning their degrees I can kind of see why people are keen to display the accomplishment.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Herrenberg, Germany

Last week, a colleague and I attended a workshop held at IBM Germany HQ in Ehningen. It's about 25 km from Stuttgart. Our hotel was 10 km further south in Herrenberg.

The town came about after the merging of the villages or Reistingen and Mühlhausen in 1200. There are 31,2000 residents.

We stayed busy enough with work that we never had time to make it to Stuttgart. But our hotel was only a 5 minute walk from Herrenberg's historic old town.

The Marktplatz, town hall, half-timbered houses, and narrow alleys make it look like something out of Hansel and Gretel.

Above the town hall is the Collegiate Church which is the town's landmark. When completed it was the first Gothic hall church in Württemberg. In 1749, two Gothic towers were torn down and replaced with the Baroque onion tower.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Czech School System

September 1st was the start of the 2010-2011 school year for primary and basic school. The university students start at the end of the month.

Here's a high-level view of how the education system works here in the ČR. There are always exceptions for special programs such as conservatories or for children with special needs.

Children begin with preschool and continue on to elementary and secondary school. After that comes university and post-graduate education. The grading system here is on a scale from 1 (best) to 5 (worst). So a Czech “1” is the same as an American “A” and a Czech “5” is an American “F”.

Elementary school here takes 9 years to complete, usually from ages 6 to 15. Elementary school is divided up in to two stages. The primary stage is grades 1 – 5. The lower secondary stage is grades 6 – 9. Students leave elementary school with a Vysvědčení.

Then there are 3 types of secondary/basic school - either general, technical or vocational - and it normally lasts for four years (grades 10 – 13). Students leave secondary school with a vocational certificate or a Maturita (like a high school diploma).

Not many students go for the general option because in the 5th grade most students apply to study at a gymnasium which finishes with the 13th grade. A gymnasium is a “high school” that prepares students for university and professional study.

Across the street from my flat is the high school for technical engineering.

Czech students spend their entire academic career with the same 25-30 classmates all the way from elementary school through “high school”. That’s a big difference from how it works in the U.S.

In order to qualify for university study students have to complete final exams. There’s a Czech language test, several exams in the student’s area of specialization, and an exam on a topic of the student’s choice. These exams consist of two parts. There is a common state portion and portion that is specific to each school. If a student successfully passes these exams then they can apply to specific universities. But that means more tests because each university has its own entrance exam.
In general here's how university system works…

A bachelor’s degree normally takes three years. At the end of 3 years, students take a final exam which includes the defense of a bachelor’s thesis.

A master’s degree takes another 2 to 3 years after the bachelor’s degree. Again, there is a final exam and the defense of a master’s thesis.

For certain fields of study there is no bachelor’s degree…students just work all the way through until they complete a master’s degree. For medicine and veterinary medicine it takes 6 years. Dentistry, law, engineering or teacher training takes 5 years to complete.

It takes 2 – 3 more years to receive a Ph.D. degree. This requires research, final exams and another thesis.

Academic credentials are a big deal here. But more on that later.

There is a lot of competition to study at public universities because it is free as long as students pass the entrance exams. Private universities are becoming more popular here but they charge tuition.

At age 26, students are no longer eligible for student status from social services and lose their health insurance while they study. So everyone tries to finish school before they turn 26.