Mailbox

Prague metro

Today's Mailbox includes Topics: Listeners' help for Czech flood victims. Has Prague transport system been influenced by the flood?. Czech food shops are getting ready to meet EU standards. Prague house signs. Listeners' greetings to Czech friends. Quotes from: Listeners mentioned and quoted: Yukiko Sawa, Peter Larsen, Ann Easterman, Jack Mortimer, Jim Logan,

Yes, it's Mailbox time and time to thank you for all your letters and the interest many of you are still showing in the consequences of the floods in our country in late August.

We mentioned last week, and on previous programs, that many of you have been asking how you could help out and we have published the bank accounts set up to help flood victims.

But we would like to mention at least one of the letters from listeners who have found their own way of helping. It's from Japan, from pianist Yukiko Sawa who lives in Tokio.

"Some friends and I are organising a concert to help victims of the August flood in the Czech Republic. The concert will be here, in Tokyo on October 27th and we would like to ask permission to use the photographs on Radio Prague's website showing the devastation. We would like to enlarge them and display them at the concert, so that people can see how terrible it all was. We will be giving the proceeds from the concert to the Czech Embassy in Tokyo to be sent as our contribution towards helping the victims."

Thank you for the interest and initiative Yukiko, and our internet department has, of course, given its consent for the photographs to be re-printed. We are all very glad to be able to co-operate at least in this way.

And still on the topic of floods and their consequences, we also keep receiving questions like this one from one of our Danish listeners, Peter Larsen

Prague metro
"I will visit Prague next week, and would like to know whether the Metro is running, or whether it is still closed down."

Some parts of the Metro in the center of town are closed down, the rest, especially in the outskirts, is running. But there is a well functioning bus system along the routes where the metro does not run at the moment. You should have no problems getting around.

That's getting around using the public transport system. Getting places by car is a different matter. The center of Prague was always jammed, the narrow and winding streets of the old parts of the city just couldn't cope with the increasing traffic. But after the floods it's even worse. Some of the streets and some of the bridges have been closed off and driving anywhere is a nightmare.

And still, people do drive. You can see them, in most cases, just the one driver in an otherwise empty car stuck in the traffic jam and hoping he'll make it. Czechs just seem to love their cars.

And there was practically no difference last week, during the one day that was supposed to be a "car-free" day. People were asked to use public transport just for once, and it had practically no impact.

With just some exceptions outside Prague. In Brno, the capital city of Moravia, for example, some people rode their bicycles to work, demanding more routs for cyclists through town, but that is a problem in most of our big cities, there are very few lanes set aside for them in the centers of town, the ones there are, are mostly in the outskirts.

Maybe that will gradually change as we get really ready to join the European Union.

Well, we have been talking about the various changes in that connection in some of our recent programs, especially those connected with food, both its production and the way it's sold. And as usual, when we mention food, the issue has met with huge interest from our listeners.

Ann Easterman from Southampton, England asks:

"Will the Czech customer benefit from the changes in food shops once EU standards are met in your country? Or will the extra rules and regulations just bring up prices?"

Well, the answer is yes, yes in both instances. First of all, hygienic conditions will be improved, especially in self services. At the moment items like doughnuts and various kinds of cakes, rolls or loafs of the Czech kind of bread, cut in half or quarter are on the shelf for customers to pick up, and there is no way of preventing people from handling half a dozen of them before they choose the one they take away. Of course that is anything but hygienic.

But people have been used to it for years and they're complaining that if every piece of cake or doughnut with sugar on top, is packed, they'll be soggy by the time you buy them and of course the process of preparing them for sale will certainly bring prices up.

On the other hand many of the new regulations will, in the long run, mean saving money, or at least making it more obvious how you're spending it. At this point various types of food packed individually have just the price of each on the jar or bag, but do not have to have the price per kilogram, litre, or meter. So that you can, for example, have two different packages of rice, each with a different price, you can choose the cheaper one, but it may actually contain less, so that the price per kilogram is actually higher - the package does not have to give that information.

This kind of lack of information won't be allowed any longer, and gypping the customer will be a little harder. Not that there haven't always been tradesmen and craftsmen who gypped customers. Only in medieval days they were punished more severely than now. Dishonest tradesmen used to be put in baskets at the end of a long pole and dipped into the river.

Unless they were influential enough to pay their way out, which is exactly what a Prague baker, Ondrej Lerch did in 1696. Which statement is a round about way of getting to a question from Jack Mortimer from Buffalo, New York, USA:

"I visited Prague some months ago and noticed that some of the old buildings have strange signs on them, not signs hanging out, but right in the masonry. Each sign was different - was that a kind of signature or trade mark of the person who built the house?"

No, not the person who built the house, but the person who lived in it. There were no house numbers in those days and people had their initials, or symbols of their trades put on the building, so they could be found.

And the particular house sign you were thinking of in connection with gypping customers was put on the building of a baker, and it's still there. It has a pretzel, and the year 1678, as well as the initials ASL on it, all with a crown on top and a wreath around it.

The building is on Karmelitska Street, in Prague's Little Quarter under the Castle and the letters are the initials of Andreas Lerch and his wife Sofie. He was a well known, and influential baker, influential enough to get out of being dipped in the river when he was found guilty of cheating customers. He paid a fine instead, which did not, obviously change his ways, nor those of his family, because some years later his son was also found guilty and he, in turn, paid a fine.

But it was obviously well worth it, because the house was a grand one and the family obviously had it for a long time, since the sign is there, very well preserved, after all these years since 1678 .

Now, then, before we draw any moral conclusions, let's get back to listeners' letters. I'd like to quote from this one, sent by Jim Logan from Larne, North Ireland. He writes how he discovered and old radio in the loft of his house and how that started him off on short wave listening.

"That was when I discovered Radio Prague. I now tune in regularly and have become a big fan. I also have another interest in the Czech Republic and its people, having worked along side them in a large electronics company in my home town. They were wonderful people. We all had great times and were very sorry when the time came for them to return to the Czech Republic. Most of them live near Brno. If any of them listen to your broadcasts, I would love to hear from them."

I'm afraid we cannot be of much help in this kind of request, Jim. We are a short wave radio station beamed to listeners in foreign countries, even though we can be heard, for example in Prague, on FM. As a result, we cannot deal with any messages, musical dedications to Czech listeners and the like. Sorry.

Basically, our aim is to inform foreign listeners about life in the Czech Republic and, as we keep repeating, we try to answer their questions and welcome their reception reports.

The address, not only for reception reports, but for all your letters is Radio Prague, 120 99, Prague, Czech Republic, or, if you prefer e-mail: English@radio.cz. And with that reminder this is Olga Szantova

and Dita Asiedu saying good bye for today, and looking forward to next week's Mailbox.

Authors: Dita Asiedu , Olga Szantová
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