Monday, October 3, 2016

Where in the world is Czechia? And whatever happened to Czechoslovakia?

How many European countries do you know? There's a map with the country names and capitals at the end of the post.

One of the ways I like to distract my mind during takeoff is by playing "Name that Country". As the plane taxis into position, I flip open the airline magazine to the flight map of Europe and mentally point to Switzerland, France, Italy and Spain. Like reciting a mantra to the god of travel, I find myself silently rattling off a couple more easily identifiable countries while the planes barrels down the runway. By the time we begin our ascent, I've moved on to the more difficult Nordic countries. My brain is occupied with the location of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland while the earth recedes in the distance. When the plane levels off, my eyes settle momentarily on the cluster of countries to the east and northeast of Italy. Thankful that we're now too high for a bird strike (Have you seen Sully, Tom Hank's latest movie?!), I promise myself that I'll tackle the more difficult countries during my next flight. Now, it's time to relax and wait for the beverage service.

During recent flights from Prague to Paris and London, I've found that my routine has changed. Instead of focusing on Western Europe, my eyes immediately zoom in on the salmon-colored country smack dab in the middle of Europe. That's the Czech Republic! And despite having lived in this remarkable country for nine months, I'm still baffled by it's placement. How can Prague be further west than Vienna when Czechoslovakia was referred to as an Eastern Bloc country during the Communist Era?

As it turns out, many of our visitors this summer were also confused. "Why?", they asked, "Do you keep calling Czechoslovakia the Czech Republic and saying that it's in Central Europe?".

To answer those questions, I have to back up a bit and explain that this region was previously part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the end of World War I, Czechoslovakia was created by cobbling together the present day territories of Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia in 1918.

Let's fast forward past World War II and the Communist Era to November 1989 when democracy was restored to Czechoslovakia as a result of the bloodless Velvet Revolution. In 1992, the Czechs and Slovaks decided to part ways. Unlike the hoopla that accompanied Brangelina's recent split, the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which is known as the Velvet Divorce, happened so amicably that it wasn't splashed across the world's headlines.

Judging by an official letter I received last summer from the Comptroller of a certain US state that shall remain nameless, the Czech Republic needs to do a better job making its name change more widely known because the letter was addressed to me in Czechoslovakia, a country that hasn't existed for 24 years.

To make things even more complicated, the Czech Republic decided to rebrand itself in April 2016. Henceforth, the government asks that English speakers refer to the country as Czechia, which is hard to pronounce and will probably be confused with Chechnya. It will also be known as Tschechien in German and Tchequie in French. All are direct translations of Cesko, which is how the Czechs refer to their homeland.

And what about Czechia's location in Central Europe? That's another complicated post for another day!


7 comments:

  1. Wow, 24 years later and the US still hasn't caught up to a country name change? Yikes.

    Family lore says we have family that were originally from Bohemia, though how true that is, who knows?

    Also--I've been using a flashcard app to learn the countries and capitals of the world, called Tiny Card. It's kind of fun! And nice to have something quick and easy to do while waiting in line for something.

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    1. Thanks for the info about the flashcard app, Bridget! Maybe it will help me to finally learn all of the countries in Africa. I first realized how little I knew about the location and names of countries when we visited a friend in the Ivory Coast 30+ years ago. He gave us a blank map of Africa during breakfast and asked us to fill it in. Much to my chagrin, I didn't get very far. :( That's when I started playing "Name that Country" with myself. The app sounds really good!

      Has anyone in your family searched for your family's records on Ancestry.com? I was surprised by how far back I could trace my family. If you learn that they did come from Bohemia, you might want to visit the National Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (http://www.ncsml.org/) It popped up in a search when I was trying to find some information about a traditional Czech dance that we saw performed at a wine festival in Prague.

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    2. We haven't done much with tracing ancestry beyond the Swiss branch that goes back to 1500 or so. It's been on my list of things to do one day. :)

      And yes, the app is great! Once it's released on the web, I'm going to build one for all of the neighborhoods and suburbs in the Twin Cities to help give myself better bearings for where I live.

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  2. Like Bridget I'm amazed that the US doesn't know that Czecoslovakia no longer exists. But then I remember once on trip advisor some Americans didn't know that Ireland wasn't part of the UK. and even worse didn't think it mattered when her mistake was pointed out!

    Im not sure I can get my tongue around the new name for Czech republic!

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    1. It's so good to hear from you, Denise! I hope that all is well and that you're enjoying your retirement. When I wrote this post, I thought that it was just an American thing to not know that Czechoslovakia no longer exists but I changed my mind while in London this week. On Monday I went to Marks & Spencer on Oxford St to buy some Heatgen thermals (I LOVE them!) and the salesman asked if I was Canadian when he heard my accent and saw what I was buying. Anyway, when I told him that I was an American living in Prague, he asked if I knew about a famous beach (?!?) that was somewhere in Czechoslovakia. It seems that the Czech Republic really does have a name recognition problem and it's probably only going to get worse with the change to Czechia. At least most people have heard of Prague! :)

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  3. What an amazing story. I've never heard of Mary Anning.
    However my son and his family regularly holiday are Lyme Regis and we've lots of photos of the amazing coastline.

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  4. Wow, 24 years later and the US still hasn't caught up to a country name change? Yikes.

    Family lore says we have family that were originally from Bohemia, though how true that is, who knows?

    Also--I've been using a flashcard app to learn the countries and capitals of the world, called Tiny Card. It's kind of fun! And nice to have something quick and easy to do while waiting in line for something.

    ReplyDelete