Wednesday, February 26, 2020


When I first moved here I used to joke around that the metric system was just a fad and that it wouldn't last.  Obviously just a joke but it was my way of coping with having to learn an entirely new system of measurement.  I have to finally admit that I am fully a metric guy now.

The British brought the imperial system of measurement to the American colonies and we kept them even after the British left.  Today only three countries in the world don't use the metric system - the USA, Liberia, and Myanmar.  And Even Liberia has finally pledged to move to the metric system. 

In 1975 the USA passed the Metric Conversion Act which was meant to transition the country to the metric system.  The problem was that the law was voluntary and so it never took off.  

I don't think that the USA will ever fully switch to metric for three reasons.

1.  Money.  It will cost a ka-jillion dollars to switch.  The USA is huge and all of the road signs would need to be changed which would be expensive.  Plus speed limit signs, gas pumps would need to be relabelled for litres instead of gallons, car odometers would need to count kilometres instead of miles, household ovens and cookbooks would need to be in Celsius instead of in Fahrenheit, etc.  

2.  Time.  It would take a long time to switch and Americans have a short attention span.  The longer something takes the less interest we have in it.  

3.  Arrogance.  Americans in general are a stubborn group.  Even if we see the benefits of switching to the system that the rest of the world uses, we still cling to our ways because the rest of the world should be the ones to change.

Getting used to Celsius for temperature was probably the one that I struggled with the longest.  I knew that 0℃ was freezing and 40℃ was really hot.  My reference point was that 28℃=82℉ (you just switch the numbers).  

Celsius does make much more sense.  Water freezes at 0℃ and boils at 100℃.  Way more user friendly than freezing at 32℉ and boiling at 212℉.

Normal human body temperature is 37℃ but in the USA we know it as 98.6℉.

To convert ℃ to ℉: Divide by 5, then multiply by 9, then add 32.

To convert ℉ to ℃: Subtract 32, then multiply by 5, then divide by 9.

For weather, I never convert.  I just think in Celsius.  Every week my mom tells me what the weather is in Arizona.  I give the Brno update but then we have to figure out what it is in Fahrenheit.  

The only time that I convert is for Thanksgiving because all of my recipes are in Fahrenheit and my oven only understands Celsius.  

Weight was probably the easiest thing to get used to.  1 kg = 2.2 lb.  Heck, I'm skinnier in kilos.

I've had lots of friends over here who have had babies and birth weight was the difficult part for me to wrap my head around.  I understand that the average birth weight is 7.5 lb which is 3,5 kg.  But the numbers just threw me for a while.

Volume was pretty easy as well.  I think that's mainly because in the USA soda does come in 2 litre bottles.  

Czech beer is usually served in 500 ml mugs which is ½ litre.  So four beers equal a 2 litre bottle (and a big night at the pub).

Length had a few challenges for me in the beginning.  I had to think a bit differently about height.  

For distance, my reference for conversion was that 5 km = 3.2 miles.  Long distances took a while to get used to.  I think the biggest quandary was that meters are bigger than feet but a kilometre is smaller than a mile.

To remember how many feet are in a mile you have to think of "5 tomatoes" because five to-m8-oes sounds like 5-2-8-0 so there are 5,280 feet in a mile.

There's no need to remember how many metres are in a kilometre because the entire system is based on 10's so a kilometre is 1000 metres.  This is because apparently the imperial measurement was based on a drunk mathematician rolling dice.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Lost in Translation

Ztraceno v překladu is "lost in translation" and that's how I feel at times trying to learn Czech. 

It's not like there is a 100% perfect translation for every word between English and Czech.  I'm not even talking about nejneobhospodařovávatelnějšímu

Here are a few words that take bit of explaining.

Czech use ty and vy as the familiar and formal forms of "you".  So tykat is the verb meaning "to use the informal form of address" while vykat means "to use the polite form of address".

ráčkovat - this is a verb that means "to pronounce one's R's incorrectly at the back of one's mouth"

umilovat se - another Czech verb.  This one means to wearo yourself out having sex

nedovtipa - this is a noun for "somene who can't take a hint"

vybafnout - this verb means to jump out and say boo!  I can't believe that there's a verb for this.  

Vybafnuju = I jump out and say boo!  

otužilec - this noun is "a hardy person, someone who doesn't feel the cold"

otrnout - is a verb meaning "to be naughty again after having already been told off"

ukýchat se - the verb for "to sneeze one's self to death"

lítost was coined by Czech writer Milan Kundera and it is "a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one's own misery.

I'm sure that as I keep working on my Czech that I'll come across more.  However, one of my favourite Czech words is the verb proznovnit.

proznovni - the verb means "to initiate a phone call, let it ring once and hang up so that the recipient knows to call you back so that you don't have to pay for the call" 

In the USA, if you use your mobile phone then it eats in to your phone credit.  It doesn't matter who calls whom.  Over in Euroland, you don't use phone credit when someone calls you.  You only use credit when you are the caller.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Reunion Night

My old IBM team, the old behind all of the pranks, at one point had over 70 people.  I left just over a year ago and now that team is only about a dozen people.  I still miss that team a lot.

Well tonight was a little get together and over 30 people showed up.  Most everyone has either moved on to other roles at IBM or gone on to other companies.  But it was so good to catch up with everyone, some of which I haven't seen in at least three years.  Not a bad turnout given it was a cold, rainy night.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Quiet Hours

In Germany they have Ruhezeit which is "quiet time".  Germans love their rules but they go a bit crazy with their quiet hours.  The specific hours can vary depending on the municipality or even the building but in general quiet time is Monday to Saturday, 8 pm to 7 am.  Definitely from 10 pm to 6 am.  

All Sundays, and public holidays, are designated as quiet time too.  This means that during quiet time, you can't do anything that could infringe on your neighbour's peace and quiet.  So no loud music or parties.  No loud DIY projects which means that all hammering or drilling is forbidden.  To me, weekends seem like the logical time to get caught up with home projects but it's a no no.

I had no idea that Switzerland is even crazier than Germany when it comes to quiet hours.  Natalie's apartment building in Geneva has some rules which sound absolutely mental to me but are actually normal across the country.

Geneva prohibits excessive noise during quiet hours.  During quiet hours you can't do housework meaning no vacuuming.  No moving furniture around.  No playing music that can be heard through the walls.  No taking baths or showers because your neighbours will hear the water going through the pipes.  There's an urban myth that you're not even allowed to flush the toilet during quiet hours but this one isn't true.  

Not that anyone would the lawn during the night but people aren't allowed to mow their lawns on Sundays or public holidays.  Some people will risk it hoping that they will finish mowing the lawn before the police show up responding to whatever neighbour reported the violation.

Most city apartments have communal washing machines.  Usage of the machines is regulated as each tenant has a specific time slot for when they can use the laundry room.  I believe Natalie gets to use the washing machine during a four-hour time slot once every two weeks.  I absolutely don't understand this.  Oh and to comply with the quiet hours the machines won't work at all on Sundays and they automatically cut off at 10 pm.  Nat pushed her luck once by running a load of laundry.  The cycle had 2 or 3 minutes left to finish but at 10 pm the machine stopped.  Her clothes were locked in the machine and she had to get them the next day.  I'm glad that I don't live in a Swiss flat.

Violating noise ordinances in Switzerland will result in fines ranging from CHF 100 to CHF 10.000 ($110 - $11,000).

In Czechland we have noční klid which is "night quiet".  This is pretty much from 10 pm to 6 am.  I've been lucky that my neighbours are all pretty quiet.  I'm probably the noisy one just because of having so many people in my flat for Thanksgiving.  But hey, it's only once a year and no one has ever said anything.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Weekend in Geneva, Switzerland

After our day trip to Ferney-Voltaire we spent the rest of the weekend wandering around Geneva

Tünde wanted to ride the water taxi so we did a couple of laps across Lake Geneva. 

We also stopped by to see the Marronnier de la Treille which is the world's longest bench.  It was built in 1767 the 180 wooden boards measure 120 meters (413 feet) in length.

Of course we had to have fondue for dinner and Natalie knew a great place at Bains des Pâquis.  Fondue is always fun and this was so good.

On Sunday morning we visited Bois de la Bâtie which is city's largest zoo and Tünde enjoyed seeing all of the animals.

My flight back to Vienna was in the afternoon so I left the ladies at the train station and made my way to the airport.  I had a window seat and had a great view of the French Alps.  

At least I think these are the French Alps.  Maybe it's Switzerland but I'm pretty sure it's France.  

Either way, it was great spending time with the Chicas.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Ferney-Voltaire, France

During Christmas we all planned to up in Switzerland to visit Natalie.  On Friday night I caught a flight to Geneva.  On Saturday morning Claudia and Tünde arrived and we spent the weekend together.  Yeah for more whānau adventures! 

After picking them up at the airport and breakfast at the hotel we went to France.  Geneva is on the French border and we caught a 10 minute bus to Ferney-Voltaire.

Ferney-Voltaire is in Southeastern France between the Jura Mountains and the Swiss border.  

Back in the 14th century is was Fernex and over the years the name changed to Fernay, Fernaj, and Fernai.  The city is home to around 9.800 people.

The French writer and philosopher François Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, lived in Geneva for almost two years.  At the time Geneva was a Calvinist city and theatre was forbidden so he moved to Ferney in 1759 where he ended up becoming the city's patriarch.  He lived here from 1759 to 1778 before returning to Paris shortly before his death.  Voltaire built the local church, a theatre, set up potteries and a watchmaking industry which helped increase the city's population to over 1000 people.  In honour of Voltiare's patronage the city changed it's name to Ferney-Voltaire in 1791.

The Church of Our Lady is the largest neoclassical religious building in the region.  It was consecrated in 1826.

The Fountain of Voltaire dates back to 1628.  In 1988 it became a registered historic monument.

The city hall and WWI monument.

WWI Memorial

It's a cute little town and well worth a short day trip.

On Saturdays there is an open market and we spent lots of time walking around and sampling lots of goodies.  

So much incredible cheese, produce, and wine.  Tünde loved the pomegranates we picked up.  

The town cemetery is less than a 10 minute walk from the centre of town.  

The town's main attraction is Voltaire's house.  The château was built from 1758 to 1766 and it is open to visitors from May to September. 

The house is interesting and well worth checking out.  

There's also a garden to stroll around.  I'm sure that it looks better in Spring and Summer.  But you can't go wrong with the view of the Alps. 

We enjoyed our short day trip to France.  After lunch at an Indian restaurant we walked across the border and caught a bus back to Geneva to continue our city break.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Don't Torrent In Germany

A few years ago I wrote about torrents which is a file sharing technology and Bittorrent is the most popular p2p/file-sharing technology in Europe.  


Torrents aren't illegal but it is illegal to share copyrighted files via Bittorrent.  Germany is very strict about this and there is even an industry there of private law firms enforcing this by sending out an Abmahnung - basically a cease and desist letter.

It's almost an expat right of passage in Germany to be issued an Abmahnung, and the hefty fine, during their first year.  Downloading a single song or movie can cost €300 - €1000.  Each year there are around 500.000 fines issued.  It's a big business for legal firms.

In Germany, ISPs are required to record information about customer's online activity and keep it for at least 10 weeks which these private law firms then use the chase down who's downloading what.  The copyright holders of the actual songs or movies are good with this because it keeps people from just downloading their stuff for free.

Torrents work in a way that you actually download and upload at the same time.  Be sure to use a VPN to to mask your IP address so that you can download anonymously and most importantly...make sure that your VPN is turned on.

So here's what happened.  While in Berlin for Christmas, I opened my laptop to look something up and didn't realise that my VPN wasn't turned on.  My shared torrent data while I was online.  I din't even think anything about it.

Well Claudia's dad received a 13-page Abmahnung showing that a copyrighted TV episode was downloaded from his IP address from 14:20:50 to 14:21:02.  12 miliseconds.  Not even a full second.

So her dad had to contact a lawyer and send a letter basically stating that it wasn't him and that he'll make sure that it doesn't happen again, blah blah blah.  There was also a fine for €570 which I paid.  An expensive lesson for sure.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Bank Symbols

Czech banks have these things called symbols over here.  There are variabilní, konstantní, and specifický, variable, constant, and specific, symbols.  It must have been a Czechoslovakia thing because these symbols only exist here in Czechland and Slovakia.    

Example account number and bank code

First a bit about account numbers.  When you want to make a postal, online, or mobile payment the first things you will need to know is the account number and bank code of where the money needs to go.  Most account numbers are ten digits long.  Then every bank has a four-digit number to identify it.  

In Czechland no one thinks twice about giving out their account number.  In the USA, people would freak the heck out if you asked them for their account number.  People would assume that it would be used for identity theft and that they would loose all of their money.  Over here, the only thing you can do with an account number is deposit money in to the account.  You can't take money out of someone else's account.  It did take me a while to get comfortable with this but now it's no deal at all.

A variable symbol is an optional ten-digit number.  This is used when the payee needs to differentiate the incoming payment.  If I buy something online and opt to pay with a bank transfer, then the company will tell you to put the invoice number as the variable symbol.  That way they can identify the money I transferred to them from the all of the transfers other people made.  

When I pay my yearly waste fees, the city authorities have you use your birth number, with the slash, to identify exactly who the payment is from.  If a friend picks something up for me at the store and I transfer money, then there's no need for any variable symbol.

However, if the sender doesn't put in a variable symbol when they were given one then the receiver may not be able to correctly assign the payment.  This caused me a problem when I first moved here.  It was time to pay my Czech credit card bill.  I paid it online with the bank's website.  I put in the bank's account number and bank code, and paid the amount in full.  Later I received a telephone call from the bank reminding me to pay my bill.  I said that I already paid it, they said thanks and that was the end of it.  The next month the same thing happened again.  I finally figured out that because I had not put in the variable number the bank could not match up my payment to my account.  I had no clue what a "variable number was".  When I asked I was told that a "variable number is a variable number".  Just because the bank's customer service agent and I both spoke English it didn't mean that we were speaking the same language.  Lesson learned.  But since this only exists in Czechland and Slovakia, I surely couldn't have been the only expat to make this mistake before.  Why didn't someone explain what it was?    

So a variable symbol is optional but in reality, you need to use it frequently.  Of the three symbols, the variable symbol is the most often used.

My mobile payment screen

A constant symbol is an optional four digit number that is also used for bank payments.  It used to be mandatory but was made optional when Czechia joined the EU.  It seems to be used more when paying taxes.  If it's provided then I use it, if not then no worries.

The specific symbol is also used to uniquely identify the payer and it is a maximum of ten digits.  Again, if it's provided then I use it, if not then no worries.

In addition to the variable, constant, and specific numbers, I can also add an optional text message for the recipient and one for me when I make a mobile payment.  With all of these fields there should be no question about about who the money came from and for what.  And yes my Czech mobile banking is in English.  

Friday, February 7, 2020

Åland Islands

At the end of the month I'm headed back to Scandinavia and this time I'll visit the Åland Islands.  I swear that I go to places that most people have never heard of.  

The Åland Islands lie halfway between Finland and Sweden.  It's an archipelago of almost 300 habitable islands.  Though only some 80 islands are inhabited.  There are also about 6200 skerries and rocks.  Just under 30.000 people live here with about 90% of the population all living on Fasta Åland.  The capital and largest city is Mariehamn.

Here's the story... 

From the late Middle Ages until 1809 Sweden and Finland were united.  Following the Treaty of Fredrikshamn of 1809, Finland and the Åland Islands were given to the Russian Empire.  After WWI when Finland gained independence, the islands wanted to become a part of Sweden but Finland wouldn't let them go.

In 1921, the League of Nations ruled that the islands would remain under Finland but as an autonomous territory.  The islands are neutral, people here can not be conscripted in to the Finish armed forces and no military troops or installations are allowed on the islands.  The islands have the right to maintain the Swedish language, their culture and local traditions.  Fun fact...this was the first international agreement that the League of Nations ever achieved.

In Finnish it's called Ahvenanmaan maakunta and in Swedish it's Landskapet Åland but Swedish is the only official language here.  So I'm going to a part of Finland where no one actually speaks Finnish.  They have their own parliament, flag, and police force.  The Åland Islands are even an associate member of the Nordic Council.  Since 1984 they've been issuing their own postage stamps so I'll be sure to send out some postcards while I'm there.