Canada D’eh! Canadians in Prague on what it means to be a Canuck
Since the fall of communism, Prague has seen a massive increase in foreigners, and part of this group of expats are Canadians - a close knit community here in Prague who meet a few times a year to share some memories and laughs, and celebrate their culture.
Czechs and Canadians – two countries that share a mutual love for hockey and a good cold beer. But how do Canadians living in Czechia see their culture, and why did they make the move to Prague in the first place?
This past weekend, I caught up with a group of Canadians who were celebrating Canada Day at Letna park to find out why. One of the group’s main organisers, Leah Takata, a photographer here in Prague explains more.
“I’ve been here in Czechia for 16 years, and around 12 years ago I started the Canadians in Czechia Facebook group because I met five Canadians in one week, and my Czech partner said ‘why don’t you start a Facebook group?’, and I did. Now 11 years later we have this amazing group with almost 1000 members. I organise a picnic on Canada Day in Letna, we do a Thanksgiving dinner and a Christmas get together.”
For Leah, having her children grow up with a strong sense of their Canadian heritage was important for her, even thousands of kilometres away from home.
“Especially since we are such a small community, and we are quite different. Everyone assumes we’re American when we speak – unless we say ‘about’! For me, it was really important that my two kids understood and know that they are Canadian.
“So I started this group because I wanted my kids to know what Canada Day is, that we have our Thanksgiving in October, not November. I just wanted to connect with people from my country where we can talk about politics, or anything.”
For Petr Vecera and Lorraine Chabot-Vecera, their move to Prague was borne out of a desire to escape the hustle culture and lack of work life balance in their native Toronto, as the pair explain.
“We didn’t have that quality of life. We were making money, and sure that’s great – but we weren’t enjoying our lives. For me, wealth is time, and now we have more of that here in Prague.
“You can put ten years into a job in Toronto, and you get three weeks’ vacation if you’re lucky. Then you come here, and you hear about people who work at an Albert or a Tesco, and they get five weeks’ vacation immediately.
“It’s a lot more relaxed here, people take more time off with their families and go on vacations in the summer time, and there just wasn’t that anymore in Toronto. It was constant work and hustle, to take another step up in a company that didn’t give you more time off, but just gave you more work. The harder you worked the more work you got.”
For some Canadian expats, a big draw to the city of Prague is its rich history, and naturally, its world class public transportation system, as Vancouver born James Mussenden says.
“I think the history of Prague is really interesting. Canada is a very young country, and sort of being an outsider to the culture here is really fun. Canada is a super known element for me.
“Here in Prague, the transportation is really hard to beat. I think in a lot of Canadian cities, even in Vancouver where I’m from originally where the transportation is pretty good, I don’t think it’s anywhere close to Prague or any of the surrounding areas.”
There’s a lot of stereotypes about Canadians, they’re often pegged as over apologetic, hockey loving northerners who say ‘about’ a little funny. But here’s what the Canadians living in Prague I spoke to hope Czech people can learn about Canucks. Lorraine and Petr say it like this.
“We smile all a lot, not because we’re crazy people, but because we’re genuinely happy to see you, even if we don’t know you.
“People will sometimes look at you funny on the tram or on the streets like you’re a crazy person for smiling, like there is some hidden agenda, I know that from my family. When my grandparents first came to Canada from Czechia, they really wondered why is everyone smiling, so polite and so nice? And no one is trying to get anything from you, there’s no hidden agenda, we just want to know how you are and if you need any help.
“Kindness takes so little.”
James explains the following.
“It’s a bigger country than most people think it is, and there’s lots of regional differences from coast to coast.”
As the Tragically Hip played in the background - one of the most famous Canadian bands, and the sun began to set on Letna park, Leah explained why it’s important for her to keep the Canadian spirit alive and well, even in a very Czech city.
“It’s funny, I wasn’t a nationalistic Canadian when I was back home. But when I moved here, it became important for me, especially after having children. I wanted them to know their roots – they need to know that they’re Canadian and know what a Canadian is. It’s so different, we are very unique and different than Americans or British people, and I want them to be proud of where they’re from.”