Why I Love Czech Women
I was raised by two beautiful, captivating and gloriously insane Czech women – a mother and a grandmother who my husband affectionately calls “The Gabor Sisters.” As in Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor (who are actually Hungarian and pictured here with their mother). For those of you scratching your heads, Google them. It’s worth it.
As I was growing up, what struck me most about my mother and grandmother – apart from their uber-dramatic lives and their goonishly big-hearted gestures – was that neither of them thought “the rules” applied to them.
My grandmother had come to the USA in the early 1950s – not exactly at the pinnacle of the women’s movement – yet in my more earnest years, when I demanded to know what discrimination she’d suffered as a woman in the workforce, she looked at me quizzically.
I went on to explain what I meant –
“Barely gettin’ by
It’s all taken and no givin’
They just use your mind and they never give you credit,
It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it.
-Dolly Parton, from the song 9 to 5
My grandmother still didn’t get it.
Finally, she lost patience with me and said, “Look, wherever I work, within five years I was always the boss of men.”
And it was TRUE!
Even by today’s standards, my grandmother had an amazing career running the business-end of three five-star French restaurants simultaneously. These were places that used to host Studio 54 regulars like Mick Jagger and other people my grandmother wasn’t particularly impressed with.
It’s not that she maintained discrimination against our sex hadn’t existed in her day – she was sure it had. She just didn’t see what that had to do with her.
I really couldn’t tell you why, exactly, the glass ceiling was more of light mist for her. On paper, she was an immigrant woman who came to America at twenty-eight years of age with $10 bucks between her and my grandfather and no English skills.
I can only say that my grandmother carried herself with a dignity and authority that said “watch out.”
Some years ago she even recounted to me a story of a millionaire boss who up and confessed his love for her one day after work and begged her to run away with him. She told him in no uncertain terms that she was a married woman and that if he continued to behave in this way she would be forced to find other employment.
Of course, he apologized profusely, pleaded with her to stay and the incident was never mentioned again. Until my grandfather found out and made her quit that job.
Which she did, moving onward and upward.
But I don’t mean to imply that her rise was always paved with rose petals. My grandmother was once fired for being Czech. She was working at a brokerage firm where she became, characteristically, the “boss of men.”
Until the Hungarian uprising of 1956.
A spontaneous, nation-wide revolt against Soviet policies, it was the first credible threat to the USSR since the end of the Second World War. Thousands of civilians were killed and it was a crushing defeat not only for Hungarians, but for democracy.
And the Czechs hadn’t stood with their Soviet-occupied counterparts. In fact, Czech tanks – on Soviet orders – made their way into Budapest.
When my grandmother went into work after this development, her boss screamed for her to get out and never return.
Devastated, she wandered outside, where she bumped into the owner of a rival brokerage firm and told him what happened. Long story short, she was hired on the spot because that broker had heard stories of how good she was – ironically, from the man who’d fired her.
My mother, on the other hand, has always been the Queen of the get-around.
Though a valued employee, she didn’t have quite the high-falutin’ success my grandmother enjoyed. She did, however, manage to get away with murder in other areas.
To my knowledge, my mother has never parked in a legal parking space. What is extraordinary about her experience isn’t her blatant flouting of the law, but the fact that she has never, ever, not once, paid a parking ticket. The tickets she has accrued have always been dismissed, ignored or torn up on the spot. In one case my mother waltzed out of her workplace to find a police officer actually putting his own money into her meter. Not finding anything in the least bit strange about this, she thanked him cheerfully, then drove away.
My mom can haggle her way into a designer dress at Saks Fifth Avenue that she couldn’t otherwise afford. She can get her hands on a brand new computer for a pitance. Whatever it is, she can find her way to it, around it, on top of it, through it or dig her way to the other side of it.
And though she is charming as h*ll, her way with a smile and a well-placed compliment doesn’t begin to make clear her ability to get what she wants – all the time. If it had merely been good looks and flattery, that wouldn’t explain why, at seventy and up about 40 pounds, she can still get the same results. I’m telling you, after an apocalypse, I’m sticking with her.
As a kid, I thought this Twilight Zone-y mind over matter experience was specific to the women in my family – you know, like having blue eyes or being left-handed. But once I moved to Prague and met other Czech women in their natural habitat I wasn’t so sure…
But I’ll let you decide.
The following are a list of 6 basic traits that have come to my attention over years of observing and interacting with women of the Czech persuasion – including, but not exclusive to the women in my family.
1. Czech Women Are Babes: Don’t take my word for it. Just check any list of supermodels, either from today or yesteryear, and you’ll find a disproportionate number of Czech women on it. Anyone from 80s sensation Paulina Porizkova to more modern day gals like Eva Herzigova, Eva Poloniova, Karolina Kurkova and so on and so on. My own husband can barely breathe when riding the Prague metro because of the bevy of beautiful women around him. Our son is already lobbying for a year abroad at Charles University there – and he’s only twelve.
2. Czech Feminists Look At Things a Little Bit Differently Than Their American (or British) Counterparts: A Czech girlfriend of mine, a passionate feminist with a PhD in biochemistry and a minor degree in Hindi that she got just for fun, I guess, once said to me, “Why do American feminists despise men? Don’t they enjoy making love?”
I nearly choked on my Pilsner.
Consequently, when Czech feminists start talking about, well, feminism – the equality and possibly superiority of women on both an intellectual and sensual level, the need of women to be heard, respected, whispered to, worshiped and given equal pay and a fair representation at the highest levels of industry and government. Well, let’s just say that by the time we get there, even the most hostile-to-the-concept alpha male will lean in and say, “I’m a feminist, too.” And he will mean it.
3. Czech Women (including intellectuals and even women on the mommy track) Are Sexy Dressers: I’ve known quite a few Czech female intellectuals (and they don’t mind calling themselves such), and not a single one of them dresses like a frumpy schoolmarm. Case in point, the above mentioned friend spoke her observation about American feminists with a full mouth of lipstick, a cigarette, a short pencil skirt and a tight shirt that showed-off a fabulous chest. It would never occur to her that such an outfit might render her “less serious” and her many professional accomplishments seem to agree. My fellow Czech mothers are never opposed to short shorts or stiletto heels – sometimes even worn together and while pushing a baby carriage (I kid you not – I’ve actually witnessed this on more than one occasion).
This was my doctor in Prague.
And my lawyer.
Okay, maybe more like this.
4. Czech Women Win Every Argument: And they’ll use any method within their arsenal to secure victory. This, of course, can be an unfortunate trait for those who love them or even cross their paths, but it’s one to be admired nonetheless. They don’t do it by shouting, or brow-beating or God-forbid withholding affection, but through a labyrinthine sequence of manipulations that leave their opponent scratching his (or her) head and wondering what happened. Yes, they are the women literature warned you about.
5. Czech Women Are Natural Athletes: Again – just look up any old list of Wimbledon Champions, gold-medalist skiers, etc. For such a small country, the amount of World Class female (and male) athletes the Czech Republic produces is pretty amazing. Is anyone reading this old enough to remember how Ivana Trump skied backwards while berating her then-husband, Donald, over his tawdry affairs? You don’t want to mess with that.
6. Despite a Penchant For Six-inch Heels, Czech Women Are Outdoorsy, Even Back-to-Nature Types: A Czech woman will strip naked and dive into any old trout stream, climb a tree or chop one down if she has to. My own aunt can field dress a bear – often while wearing a push-up bra and rhinestone earrings. It may not be blind luck that Czech Supermodel Petra Nemcova survived the Tsunami of 2004 by hanging on for her dear life as a death current of debris rushed by her. Petra’s boyfriend, sadly, did not make it.
Czech women – no matter how pretty – are tough.
Now, I’m not saying that all Czech women have all of these qualities. In my own family – as far as I know – we have no supermodels. And my mom actually hates the outdoors. My grandmother, while she lived, wouldn’t be caught dead in pair of stilettos. But I have noticed a preponderance of these traits in women born in the Czech lands. And you have to admit, if you came across a woman with even some of these attributes, you might just put your arms in the air and back up – your heart pounding – and say, “Easy, lady. I don’t want any trouble. But I wouldn’t mind just a little…kiss.”