A few weeks ago I needed to buy some sandals - my old ones were rubbing. I went to my favourite Czech shoe shop - Bata - but I have wide feet and obviously Czech women don't. With a concert that evening, which merited dressing up (that for me means wearing a skirt rather than jeans), I needed to buy new sandals there and then. And so it was that I found myself in one of Cesky Krumlov's Vietnamese shops.
Everywhere in the Czech Republic you will find Vietnamese shops selling all sorts of cheap goods. If you want cheap clothes, shoes, pashminas, sunglasses, or handbags, these shops are where to go. Don't expect what you buy to be long-lasting. But these shops can be a god-send, when you are on holiday in the Czech Republic and you realise you left your raincoat in the overhead locker. The shops' owners are inclined to be over-zealous (to my British sensibilities) trying to sell you something, anything in the shop in fact. They call out to you if you walk too close in the street and if you do go in, be prepared to say "Ne, ne," very firmly.
The Czech Vietnamese community is the equivalent of Indian shopkeepers in the UK. They work long hours in family businesses and provide a useful service. They are very enterprising, which is surprising. Why? Because they first came to the country when it was communist, from their homeland of communist North Vietnam. The Iron Curtain fell and these North Vietnamese immigrants stayed and embraced capitalism bigtime. Undoubtedly their link to the East gives them some advantages - cheap Chinese imports for example. My observation is that the Vietnamese are not well integrated into the wider Czech community; they keep themselves to themselves and probably do not have time for anything but work and family. Conversations with Czechs reveal some resentment towards them, probably partly due to jealousy but also to the communist past.
I managed to find some sandals that fitted my feet and matched my clothes. But I had to endure the shopkeeper shoving pair after pair of sandals in to my hands. "Gut, gut, sehr billig," he said, on the basis that as he couldn't speak English, German would do. Normally this behaviour would have me running for the door, but I was desperate. Looking at them now, I am glad I didn't run: the shoes cost me about £8.50 and are remarkably comfortable.