Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West
By Emma Palova
Lowell, MI – I worked on a draft chapter “Consolidation” about life in Czechoslovakia before mom’s second departure for the U.S. earlier this morning up to 1980. I logged in a grand total of 40, 537 words in the NaNoWriMo 50k word challenge.
I described Czech Christmas traditions and the major differences between Czech and American cultures. My author’s gig at the Lowell Area Historical Museum helped me add another dimension to our immigration saga from socialist Czechoslovakia.
I talked about the memoir with fellow vendors Mike and Mary Lacy of M&M Prescious Gems from Grand Rapids during Christmas through Lowell. We shared a 28-hour workload over three days under the watchful eyes of the Lowell Board of Trade 1908 and the portrait of one of Mr. Graham’s wives. Mr. Graham built the Italianate structure of the museum in 1873.
“Were you scared in Czechoslovakia?” Mary asked me on Sunday.
I had to think really hard if I was ever scared living in a socialist country under the Soviet rule in the hardline 1970s and 1980s.
“I was careful, but not scared,” I said. “Unless you were a political activist like late Vaclav Havel, you were just an ordinary person, and they didn’t care about you.”
By that, I meant the communist party and the whole political system didn’t really care about a regular citizen. However, we were under surveillance after our return to Czechoslovakia in 1973, since we were tried for illegally leaving the country.
True, you had to be careful about what you said in public, because there were spies. Plus, there was a religious prohibition. We were afraid to go to church, especially my dad and aunt, who were teachers.
Excerpt: Differences between the two cultures
People often ask me what are some of the differences between the two cultures: Czech and American. Many differences have disappeared after the communist regime fell with the Velvet Revolution in 1989. However, judging from visits and people’s posts on social media, phone calls with friends and family, the attitude toward life in general hasn’t changed. It is a mix of pessimism with a twist of evil in the response to a typical Czech greeting “How are you?”
“It’s worth shit.,” anyone will say at any given time.
The honest answer holds an entire spectrum of emotions including the disappointment from the aftermath of the Velvet Revolution as capitalism stuck out one of its ugly heads like Medusa. The gap between the rich and the poor in Czech Republic is getting wider and wider, as there are few rich people, while the majority struggles. Traditionally, the Czechs envied each other’s possessions, but with capitalism the envy maxed out into hatred usually directed toward politicians and the past that cannot be changed. Whenever anything bad happened, it was usually the other person’s fault. There is a general lack of responsibility among the population for anything whether bad or good. That is the legacy of communism; no one was responsible for anything because the almighty Communist Party took care of everything for you. There was very little left for you to do; go to work, get some groceries and watch TV.
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