Early Czechs catch the worm

The early bird catches the worm is a very popular proverb in the Czech Republic. If you've ever visited the country, you've probably noticed that Czechs are early risers, with many people getting up at six and starting work at seven. But the times may be changing, as Pavla Horakova reports.

This week, students at a secondary school in the North Bohemian town of Dubi are taking part in a referendum. The question they're being asked is whether they want their classes to start at 8 am like everywhere else in the country, or whether they'd prefer another hour's sleep and start school at 9.

All Czech primary and secondary schools start at 8 o'clock, and it has been like that since time immemorial. Before the fall of Communism, it was quite normal that by the time children left for school in the morning, their parents had long since started work. Not surprisingly, the morning shift in factories began at 6 am but office workers were also expected to be at their desks at seven. People who worked at ministries and other state institutions were lucky - they didn't start work till 8 o'clock. And employers were much stricter about punctuality in those days.

Those Czechs who do hate getting up early can probably blame one man: Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef I, who ruled from 1848 until 1916. Franz Josef used to wake up very early and started work early too - he would, for example, give audiences at around 6 or 7 am. The court in Vienna had to wake up with Franz Josef, and the whole empire followed. And thanks to Franz Josef, Czechs still get up early to this day. Now, 12 years after the fall of communism, when many people can chose their working hours, they prefer to get up when it's still dark and start working when most of Europe is still in bed.