Monday, 22 October 2007
In my last post I talked about the Czechs as a nation of hunters and in previous posts I have talked about the Czech obsession with gathering mushrooms. In both cases they are very unlike us Brits. For the Czechs hunting is something done by all classes, unlike the British class-ridden approach. Whilst for mushrooming the contrast is even starker - going mushrooming in the Czech Republic is something that starts young, in Britain it doesn't start at all, unless you are unusual. A Czech child will take their little basket and go with their mum or granny into the forest and learn what to pick and what not. My mother, like most Brits, regarded all mushrooms with suspicion unless they were field mushrooms and I was told very clearly never to pick any fungi - they were dangerous. Now unusually I do collect mushrooms. Thanks to the instruction of my Czech friend I now recognise, collect and most importantly eat over 20 types of fungus.
A year ago I had an experience which sums up the differences perfectly. I was in the Forest of Dean collecting mushrooms - being late in the year I was on the look out for the purple Wood Blewits. I was rummaging about in the undergrowth beside a track, when a group passed by close enough for me to hear their conversation. "What is she doing?" "Looking for something, I think." and so on. I carried on and collected a reasonable trawl of purple treasures (blewits are one of my favourite mushrooms).
After a while the group came back, and again the speculation started as to what I was doing - something that would never happen in the Czech Republic as everyone would know what I was up to. For one woman in the group curiousity got the better of her and she broke away from the group and joined me. "What are you looking for?" she asked.
"Mushrooms" I replied, "Would you like to see them." I opened the bag and she looked in. She looked back at me askance. "It's all right," I assured her "They are quite edible."
"Well I hope you know what you are doing, otherwise you won't be around to do it again." She said. I assured her that I did. And she returned to her group and went her way.
When I tell this story to my Czech friends they are amazed that the British should ever be surprised at someone mushrooming, and even more so by the fear of mushrooms that she betrays. Then I tell them about her group - it was made up of a man riding a camel, and three people leading llamas. Of course to a Brit such eccentricity is taken without batting an eyelid, indeed she and her fellows regarded me as the weird one. To my Czech audience this stretches the credulity to breaking point - those Brits are weird.