Just arrived in Brno? Moving to a new city can be overwhelming, but there are a few things you can do to make the most out of your first month here and get yourself settled in faster. From practical advice that will improve your personal experience, to finding out what makes your new Czech neighbours tick, here are some of our suggestions for things you should prioritise in your first weeks in the secret paradise in the heart of Europe. Photo: ZM.
1. Learn survival Czech
On your arrival, you will find plenty of people quick to complain about the impenetrable horrors of the Czech language. “Where are the vowels!”, they weep. “Why does every word have twenty different forms!”, they wail. And it’s true; unless you are a native speaker of another Slavic language, the grammar is going to seem incredibly complex, the vocabulary can be very hard to memorise, and the way Czechs use their language to express themselves will probably never come easy to you. But the good news is that nobody expects you to be fluent. Czechs are aware that their language is tough, and many take pride in that. And on top of that, maybe you have a job in an English-speaking company and none of your new friends speak Czech either, and every bar, club, cafe and restaurant you visit is staffed by young people speaking fluent English. So learning Czech might seem like more trouble than it’s worth, especially if you don’t necessarily plan on staying forever.
Nonetheless, you should try to get a basic idea of “survival Czech”: how to order in restaurants, cafes, etc.; the (admittedly sometimes baffling) numbers; days of the week and so on. You will find yourself feeling more comfortable and secure when you can identify at least some words, and more importantly, you will make a good impression on people you come into contact with when that see that you are making an effort. They are our hosts, after all, and we should try to make them know that we appreciate that. The smile you will usually get is definitely worth it, and is sometimes wider the worse your Czech is. And who knows, you might actually like it! Like any language, Czech becomes more beautiful the more you learn. And if, sooner or later, you unexpectedly find yourself wanting to stay forever (it happens..), you won’t be starting from scratch.
There is always an element of culture shock when moving to a new city or country, but it can really help to contextualise your new home by learning how it came to be like it is. Like every city in Central Europe, Brno has a long and fascinating history, and past is prologue; everything about the city and its people has been shaped over time, and history is very important to Czechs. We are not suggesting enrolling in a masters’ program: start with the Wikipedia article about Brno and its history; take a free walking tour of the city centre (there are now several); and read the information boards that are dotted around the main squares and landmarks of the city. Knowing these basics will help you make sense of the many anniversaries, commemorations, celebrations, and exhibitions that fill the city’s cultural calendar.
If you want to go deeper, keep an eye out for “Don’s Walks” – regular events organised by Brno Expat Center and led by Don Sparling, a Brno expat of 50 years with unparalleled knowledge of the city’s history.
3. Get to know the transport system
Brno’s transport network is one of its great selling points, highly user-friendly in its simplicity, especially at night. All the night buses leave Hlavní Nádrazi at the same time on the hour or half-hour, though the frequency varies depending on the day. If you don’t happen to be in the city centre, however, working out how to get back there and when can take some getting used to. Similarly, the tram system can get you to far-flung corners of the city with relative ease, but if only if you know how. The public transport journey planner website, iDos, is straightforward, well-designed and easy to use, but getting the information into your head as quickly as you can will make you feel like a local, and save you battling with your iPhone at 3am. And there’s nothing like being able to point strangers in the right direction to make you feel like a Brno pro.
4. Work out how to tip
Tipping in the Czech Republic is not the tortuous psycho-drama it can be in other countries, but Czech service staff are often paid very poorly, so it’s still important, and very much appreciated. Not tipping is acceptable, but sends the message that you didn’t value the service, and you don’t want to send that message by mistake. New arrivals who don’t know the ropes can inadvertently end up disappointing the friendly staff they have been bantering with all evening.
So, the basics: any bill up to CZK 100 should be rounded up at least to the nearest ten, from CZK 100 to 200 could be the nearest ten or the next one after that, anything over CZK 200 some kind of proportionate increase on that, and so on. It’s not an exact science, but neither is it so complicated. And anything on top of that you want to give for particularly friendly or efficient service is likely to be noticed, and may well improve your experience there on your next visit. One norm of the Czech system is that you need to state how much you’re paying at the moment you hand over the money; unfortunately, if the server doesn’t speak English you will need to know the numbers in Czech (see #1). If you get the hang of this simple procedure, you will make a good impression on the front line of our contact with Czech locals, and that’s ultimately good for all of us!
5. Make Czech friends
Many of the foreigners arriving in Brno these days find themselves working in multinational companies with colleagues from all around the world, all eager to socialise and explore the city together, and that’s exciting. But if you want to feel at home and feel connected to the city, there is no better way than to make sure your social group includes at least some Czechs. There are many obvious reasons for this: simply put, your new Czech friends are locals, so they know the best places for everything, where to avoid, how to get around, why today’s bizarre event is happening on Moravské namesti and what it means, and many other things that crop up. They can also help you with the many life admin situations that still require Czech language, such as going to the doctor or registering for whatever you need to register for this week. Engaging with the local community opens a new side of the city and the country; you might find yourself at a wine festival in a South Moravian village, get invited to a wedding, hear all about the latest political corruption scandals, go hiking in a lesser-known beauty spot, or be given more home-made slivovice than you can possibly handle by someone’s dad. These things are all part of everyday life here, and if you don’t get involved, you risk feeling like you’re on some kind of permanent holiday, just a guest rather than a participant.
But if this all sounds like some self-interested calculation, it’s not. Brno is currently a thriving, blooming international city, and the more connections are formed between the Czech and immigrant communities, the better it will be for both sides as we come to understand each other better. So how can you find these friends? Well, as well as your workplace, any and every social occasion is generally full of people who will want to chat to you, but the most reliable way…?
6. Find a hobby
A few years ago this may not have been the case, but Brno 2019 has outlets for more or less any personal interest you can think of, everything from medieval fencing to yoga to improv comedy to quidditch to cooking for the homeless to theatre to environmental clean-up actions to every imaginable form of latin dancing. If you haven’t found your niche yet, keep looking. And if it’s still not there, then start your own group. Brno has an admirable can-do, DIY attitude to social hobbies, and finding people with shared interests is the most sure way to make like-minded friends. This will also help you escape the work bubble and find a balanced lifestyle. Taking this step in your first month will give you a sense of the possibilities that await you in the city and stave off the “what the hell am I doing here?” feelings.
As a first step, try the Living in Brno Facebook page. They like it when you use the “search” box first!
7. Explore your neighbourhood
Brno is a city but not a huge city, so it’s fair to say that most of the action happens in the city centre. But wherever you are living in the city it’s worth taking the time to explore your local area. Every district has decent restaurants, pubs, cafés, parks, and its share of architectural and historical quirks and oddities. As well as being able to show people around, or finding new and interesting places to make friends, it can be a godsend having a quiet, friendly café in your neighbourhood that can remain your secret place. And knowing the community you live in can make you feel at home there; who wants to think of their commute home as a trudge into the soulless unknown?
8. Stay up all night
Brno really is a city with two faces; a smart and orderly city of good citizens by day, and a dynamic and vibrant night culture after dark, which runs pretty much 24-7 if you know where to look. Whatever your personal preferences, it’s worth checking out the nightlife here at least once, if only to understand how the city looks when it’s at play. If this sounds like Brno Daily is telling you get drunk, think again: alcohol famously plays its part in Czech culture, but the night culture in Brno is surprisingly varied, with tea-houses, cafés, shisha bars, cinemas and various restaurants staying open late into the night, with clientele of all ages. The squares and parks are also often full of people socialising and enjoying the night, especially in the summer. Even if you are in bed by 10pm the rest of your time in Brno, we recommend seeing the sun rise at least once in your first month; it will show you another side to the city and help you understand how things work here.
9. Read Brno Daily
Slightly self-promoting, we admit, but here at Brno Daily we really do our best to keep Brno’s expat community in the know about everything happening in the town, and all the important news you need to know. Hopefully reading Brno Daily, or connecting with other foreigners via Facebook groups or other social media, will quickly help you to feel like part of a community, and help deal with any homesickness you might be feeling. No person is an island, after all, and we were all new here once!
If you find this article useful or interesting, please share it with anyone else you know who has recently arrived. And if there is anything else you would like to see Brno Daily include in our coverage of expat life, just get in touch!
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