Wednesday, May 03, 2006


From Respekt, which has an English language page with a quirky summary of news from the previous week’s issue: “The Czech Republic maintained first place on the list of Europe countries with the most theft in shops.”

I never knew the Czech Republic had this honour, and this new knowledge solves a mystery going back 14 years. Those of you who live here (or have lived here) know exactly what I am talking about – the unsmiling old ladies in smocks that stand around and do nothing but watch you like hawks every time you go into a shop. Not a jewellery shop, mind you, or an expensive clothes shop, but your local grocery store or drug store.

Last time I went into my local supermarket, which is barely worthy of the name, I noticed one of the watcher women having a chat with a customer she obviously knew. As I walked by her and made eye contact, I smiled and she changed her expression to one that said in no uncertain terms, “Don’t try anything funny, I’ve got my eye on you.”

On another occasion, my mobile phone rang and I began a conversation in English. As all Praguers know, nothing raises suspicions in a shop more than a foreign language the watchers don’t understand. Except perhaps the presence of gypsies, but that is another story.

Yesterday I walked down to the corner drugstore, which is smaller than my flat, and I consciously wondered about the presence of the uniformed security guard.

Now I know.

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