Banal Notes From Prague


I hadn't been back to this magical city, where I lived in the early 1990s, for nine years, and thought my observations of what's changed since then might be of marginal interest to 11 of you.

Aside from tourism, the entire Czech economy is run on SMS messages. I'm not kidding. Television is dominated by reality shows where the audience makes inevitably ridiculous votes using text messages on their cell phones. A friend who designs free open source software for Second World radio stations and news organizations reports that his Czech colleagues have developed a viable SMS-based revenue stream for organizations that are otherwise cash-strapped. In more than one transactional category, Czechs prefer to use text messages instead of credit cards, because obtaining plastic is just "too complicated." People text each other so much here that last night, when I made a joke about how "Czechs probably SMS each other on the toilet," two of my companions suddenly looked guilty, and admitted that they'd both done precisely that earlier in the day.

EU membership = wine shops galore. The phrase "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive" was as foreign here 10 years ago as "Mamoo-dockface in the banana patch"; now you see it on every freakin' street corner downtown. It's no surprise that Czechs embrace the hooch (they already rank at our near the top of the world in both per-capita beer drinking and per-capita pot-smoking), but now they're getting all fancy about it, instead of just filling up their empty plastics with sweet Moravian rot at the nearest tram stop.

Vaclav Klaus is still an asshole. The world's most overrated "Thatcherite" has been hi-fiving Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev on the occasion of his fraudulent election, earning cheap western applause for mis-comparing "NGOism" and "Europeanism" to Communism, all while continuing to yank his party to the economic left of Hungarian socialists.

The kazoo-sounds of goofy expatriate media continue to fart along. Recent casualties include the bilingual entrepreneur/lifestyle mag The Prague Tribune, after a dozen years; recent additions include a screechy little cultural rag called The Alsoran. The English-ghetto press in non-English countries is always a weird and highly contested sub-genre, but one that still manages to compact more personality in each flawed issue than a dozen papers back in the Real World.

And, as I used to think back in the day, if this ain't the "real world," well, maybe it oughtta be.

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  1. re: the SMS stuff – Isn’t that basically the entire rest of the world? Text messaging just doesn’t seem to have caught on in the US quite the way it has seemingly everywhere else. There’s probably a dissertation in there somewhere.

  2. JD — Maybe so, and I can’t explain it either, especially to Czech pals who laugh at my unsophistication. What’s extra interesting here is how it’s becoming a weird leapfrog deal into things like e-commerce….

  3. How are is the Czechtek affair going?

    … and you know, I like Klaus. He saved the Czech Republic from a half-ass psuedo-neo-liberal economy, The big boom has been considered a big bust, but I think he deserves more cred as the architect of a free economy.

  4. two of my companions suddenly looked guilty, and admitted that they’d both done precisely that earlier in the day.

    Oh, come on. You mean you’ve never “brought one of your friends into the bathroom with you” on the phone before? Same deal.

  5. I always thought is was “Ma’am, mamoo go dogface in the banana patch” but my album did not have subtitles so what do I know.

    Gern Blanston

  6. You know, I thought it was “May I mambo dogface in the banana patch”. Perhaps it is an audio inkblot, and what we hear reveals more about ourselves.

  7. I visited Prague when I was twelve years-old (late 1980)with my grandparents. The looks we got arriving in our brand new blue Volvo station wagon were unnerving. The hotel employees told us to take our windshield-wiper blades off as they would certainly be stolen. My bright silver moon boots got an even better reaction. I remember one lady saying something to me in Czech as I walked around town. The only thing I understood was her pointing at my boots and saying “David Bowie”.
    Needless to say, as a twelve year-old, I was hardly impressed with the place. Now it is at the top of the list of places that I really need to revisit now that I am older.

  8. The world’s most overrated “Thatcherite” has been hi-fiving Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev on the occasion of his fraudulent election,

    Where’s Borat when we need him?

  9. ahoj!

    Matt: smell of coal in the winter. that’s dropped lots since back when 🙂

    the new trams (same models as the new ones in philly). the new subway cars.

    red, hot, and blue has gone under (dammit). tycho brahe still can’t hold it any longer… to je skoda.

    andjel is still a dump 🙂

    and budweis and cesky krumlov still rock 🙂


    (kudos for pointing that Klaus is an overrated asshole who gets far too much credit. but then again i think havel is a tool, too).

  10. I was in Prague for the first time this Fall, and loved it. One thing I noted was the high number of Czechs who seemed to be high. I particularly liked our stoned waitress Lucka who said, “OK, I am serving you from the side.”

    Also, I couldn’t stop giggling at “Rabbi Jakov Style Pork Schnitzel.”

  11. red, hot, and blue has gone under


  12. If there’s such a thing as the “Czech temperament”, it and communism were one Hell of a misfit.

    Czechs prefer to use text messages instead of credit cards

    How does that work?

  13. PHEW!!!

    i was looking at the wrong freakin spot. good correction. damn. yoooo da man! yoooo git the first class ticket on the pigskin bus to tuna town! and the leather bound copy of “heather” for that pick up!

    thanks, Matt! phew. was first there in nov 1993. was back in 1995, but had a long, dry spell till 2004, and couldn’t find it. my czech friend, now in london, clamed it was out. but he didn’t like it there. he was (is?) a “buffalo bill’s” fan.

    there was also a good sandwich shop, corn-a-copia.

    dekujeme vam!


  14. Rick — It’s a bit beyond my technical sophistication (admittedly not hard), but I think it referred to small payments online, for example. The people who explained this to me were very vehement and comprehensive about it, but I, uh, wasn’t taking good notes.

  15. I always heard it as “may I mambo dogface to the banana patch,” myself… but some people have a way with words, and some people, oh, not have way…

  16. Man, Prague could never touch Moscow during the 90s. And ironically while every hipster and future entrepreneur was running around Eastern Europe, it turned out that China was the place to be – both for making money and for cutting edge culture. The Exile had a recent list of everything wrong with the 90s – Prague made #65:

    “65. Prague

    The Sham:Somehow it was decided that Prague was to the 90s what Paris was to the 20s. Why we don’t know – Paris of the 20s was only that in retrospect, no one knew it would be an era in-advance, but somehow Prague was already that before the first black-turtleneck-totin’ free-versers Delta Airlined it into town. Prague was crammed to the gills with so many alienated American bohemians per square meter that it looked like a spawning ground for the eccentric-in-training set, yet it didn’t produce a single memorable book, poem, song, artwork, film, even joke or quip or statement on our condition, all that in an entire decade of trying. Which is a mighty achievement in the annals of mediocrity, and the one mitigating factor (imagine if a great book really did come out of Prague – that would really sting).”

  17. I’ve never been outside of the continental United States, but I will simply add that the Czechs also make some of the finest firearms I’ve ever used.

    ?esk? zbrojovka a.s

    Since the fall of Communism and the privatization of their small arms market, the Czechs have proven themselves to be very capable arms makers, and CZ makes some very fine handguns that can be had stateside for very reasonable prices. CZ is one of the few European companies to really grasp the American firearms market, and understand how it differs from the European market.

  18. Vanya — Jealousy is an ugly emotion, though I very much enjoy The Exile….

    The roots of that whole Left Bank of the Whatever myth *does* have a very well-known explanation, which was an oft-quoted, BS-choked column by Editor Alan Levy in the inaugural issue of our hated competition, The Prague Post. Every Young Americans in Prague article thereafter had to quote copious chunks of it, and eventually, through repetition, it all became enough of a self-fulfilling prophecy (at least in terms of attracting black turtlenecks and awful poetry readings).

    At any rate, the song “Klamovka” by Dope is especially good; I’m also fond of Nick Cave’s “Thirsty Dog” for a variety of sentimental reasons. Thor Garcia’s “Tund” is a terrific book, and the photography of Amurricans like Jim Fassinger has been stellar. I frankly haven’t read much of the stuff people have recommended, like “Prague,” or “The Russian Debutante’s Deal,” anything by Robert Eversz, or that business that that one guy made into a movie recently. Though I can highly recommend the non-fiction title “The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber,” set in Budapest….

  19. Isn’t Second World the United States?

    Old World = Europe
    New World = Americas
    Third World = all the little countries

  20. Naw, “Second World” was the commies in the good old days of the CW.

  21. The Czechs should be in a good mood.

    The have the USA in their World Cup group, so that’s an easy win for them.

  22. Tom, correction there , fella.
    Rummy said Old Europe is the one’s who will not send soldiers to Iraq. New Europeans will send troops(plural, at least two: per country)

    I say there is an Old America(civil rights, search warrants, pre-paramilitary police, & a new Amerika(a compassionate police state, just with zero tolerance)P.S. Don’t forget your meds before getting on the big silver airplane! and

    Regarding the Third World, it doesn’t matter, Old, or New, they all have rich dictators, with a few rich friends, looking for Amerikan aid money.

    You know we skipped World War III for some reason.Maybe we should skip the Fourth World, & just go on the the Fifth World. What would that be ? A compassionate, zero tolerance police state theocracy, where nobody eats much, but no one complains, for fear of the nightly death squads. Wait, that what our gov’t has been supporting, & becoming for the last fifty years.

  23. mediageek – “Since the fall of Communism and the privatization of their small arms market”?! They’ve been excellent small-arms makers for much longer than that. The USSR tried to browbeat all its satellites into using Soviet-designed weapons, but the Czechs were pretty grumpy about that, and mostly seemed to manage to go their own way. Needless to say, the usual hand-wringing nanny groups aren’t real happy about the Czechs being involved in the arms business, and seem to be blaming them for guns which subsequently turn up in Western Europe.

  24. “May I mambo dogface TO the banana patch”

  25. “I’m also fond of Nick Cave’s “Thirsty Dog”


    “i’m sorry about all your friends
    I hope they’ll speak to me again
    i said before i’ll pay for all the damages”

    ah, yes, spring 1994. and the video to “do you love me” in Sao paolo.

    gotta love it!

  26. “They’ve been excellent small-arms makers for much longer than that.”

    True. But during the Cold War, neither you nor I would have likely been able to get our mitts on them.

    I’ve read that before the Commies got tossed in History’s landfill, one enterprising and stubborn individual was able to import a CZ-75 pistol to the United States at a cost of around $2000. Now I can bop on down to my local Gonne Shoppe and pick up nearly the same model for around $450.

    (The story I related could simply be an urban legend, but the point still stands that such weapons were unheard of in the west.)

    The CZ52 was also a Czech-grown pistol design. Lots of fun.


  27. so where does all the weed in prague come from?

  28. so where does all the weed in prague come from?

    This is just a guess, but at least some of it could be grown locally.

    There is a reason they call it ‘weed’.

    Cannabis is a very hardy plant.

  29. I thought a lot came from Ukraine and Russia. The Soviet Union was the world’s major industrial hemp producer back when people thought it was only good for ropes and cloth. I assume that crop is still going strong, even if they’ve switched to the more smokeable varieties.

  30. Off topic to mediageek:

    Have you ever heard of this gun store that sells online called Bud’s Gun Shop? I’ve found some killer prices on there, and was wondering if you’d heard anything good or bad about them.

    This is a link to a CZ100 for $333.

  31. Czechs got the BOMBEST beer! Try Pilsner Urqell, or my personal favorite, Litovel.

    No wonder they drink so much beer 😛

  32. Even bomber beer:

    Vielpopovicky Tmava (I can’t spell in Czech, sorry).

  33. Lowdog, I’ve never dealt with Bud’s, but here’s some info from THR:

    Bud’s Gun Shop in THR’s Rate Private and Retail Transactions forum

    Another good resource is Gun Shop Finder

  34. “May I mambo dogface TO the banana patch”

    Right or wrong, I just want to thank Matt and everyone else for giving me a good chuckle by reminding me of a recording that I haven’t heard in 20 years.

  35. Glad to see you are having such a good time in Prague Matt. It was a shame we produced such a lame turn-out for your brief time in London. We did have a good time thought dat is for sure.

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