Thursday, 7 June 2007

When yes means no

A month ago I tried to organise the removal of several piles of rusty metal, including old bedsteads, guttering, weird pressed metal kitchen units from the communist times (probably the 1960s), broken cast iron stoves and so forth. They were taking up a lot of space in the yard and making it look awful. The Horice Na Sumave Town Council has a waste metal collection, but by the time the lorry gets to our part of the district it is already full and frankly our delightful assortment of Czech iron would make up at least half a load.

Eventually my friend found a friend who had a friend who would take it. This being the way things tend to work in the Czech Republic. The man arrived and we went round the yard and into the old barn and as I pointed out the rusting piles, he nodded and smiled. Friday, he would come on Friday morning, he said; we shook hands on it and off he went in his car. Friday came, nothing happened. No lorry turned up and I wasted a day waiting for him. On Saturday my friend telephoned me - a major international incident had been triggered by my iron.

Somewhere in the Chinese whispers that had led to the process, the any-old-iron man had been led to believe that there were five tonnes of metal in my yard. He was insulted to be asked to take my paltry piles away, it would cost him more money to hire a lorry than he would make. There had been a major bust up with his friend who had told him about the iron in the first place and now twenty years of friendship between the two was under threat. His friend had then rung mine in distress about what has happened and after she had spent half an hour calming him down, she had had to ring the iron man and done the same to him. After that she rang me.

We both expressed our frustration at the process. Why, oh why, had the man said yes he would take it when he inspected the iron in the yard, when he should have said no? The answer is that they do it all the time. The Czechs have a problem saying no. They will tell you what they think you want to hear, and that means saying yes when they have no intention of doing anything. As a Brit, I hate it, and find it incredibly hard to get used to. I do not mind being told bad news - in fact it is almost a national characteristic to quite like it - but I hate being lied to and regard it as downright rude. I suspect the Czechs see it totally differently. But at least the ironman didn't get halfway and then leave everything partially done - unlike some Czech carpenters I have known!


Anonymous said...

I am an opposite of you - I was born in Prague and have lived the happiest part of my adult life in England near Oxford. I and my British husband now live in Prague and I greatly admire anyone who can find a home here after living in Cotswolds. I miss English countryside, gardens I even miss miserable English carpenters. I find living here difficult and confusing, but my husband loves it here. Life is full of surprises. I enjoy reading your blog. Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

I too enjoy the blog. My wife and I are thinking of a move to the Czech Republic. But we both have our concerns. My wife is Czech and I find it interesting to note Alena's views. Whilst in many ways we would be better off in the Czech Repubilc we wonder if we would miss the UK too much and basically my wife is happy here. Our main concern is whether I would fit in or whether I would end up feeling isolated as at the moment I am struggling with the language (I know this will improve but it could take a couple years or more before I can fully understand it properly). We are looking at the Krumlov region. I would be interested to get any thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I actually have the opposite experience. I lived in England for 4 years and I did realize that the English people have a incredible difficulty to say no. Maybe due to exaggerated politic correctiveness.

Anyway, I find your blog very interesting and, as I recently moved in to Czech Republic (despite visiting this country twice a year for the past 6 years), it is giving me nice insights about Czech people.

Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am from Czech Republic and I lived in UK for 4 years and I cannot believe your yes/no comment about Czech people...From my experience I can say that British people are one of the worst in this case. I still remember when I arranged great dinner for my friends Czech and English and everyone say yes for my invitation and I end up just with my Czech friends the best is that my English friends did not even bother to let me know ....and this was not one off case. This is well known thing about English people why there would be a regulation such as to put a ''deposit'' on restaurant reservation?? Moreover, it is settle in the language already such as a case of ''I am afraid'' which basically means No or ''I will have a think about it'' which means No as well and seams to be polite although simple No might be enough....What I do find out very nice about Czech people is that they always try to help you even they might not speak English at all. Another joke is equal opportunities for after you have to fill out application form and there is a page you have to fill in your origin, your race and religion....what is this lie about equal opportunities? All our English friends got a job after 6 months they finished their degree and non of the foreigners got a job in UK they all moved away within 2 years time and are happily working around Europe. At the moment we are living in Prague I have decent job and my boyfriend who is Portuguese finally got a job in his area. I would never imagine that we will get such a great job opportunity back home.

potok said...

Hello Anonymous,
I am sorry that you have had such a bad experience in the UK. You have been unlucky. This post reflects my experience in CZ.

It is true that the Brits use alternate ways of saying no, ways that a non-English speaker will often miss. It's a form of British politeness, a pretty stupid one as a Brit knows what it means anyway.

As for the employment form you refer to, I have 30 years' experience of being employed and employing people in the UK and have only ever see it used to monitor the recruitment process to ensure that it is fair to all - the opposite of what you assumed. Any other use of it would be illegal in the UK.


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