Even as I grow more settled over here, cultural differences still crop up.
This far from the ocean, the seasons vary far more than in Britain. I'd never really grasped how peculiar the British climate is -- how much it is stabilised by the proximity of the sea on all sides. British summers aren't very hot and winters aren't very cold -- especially in certain areas, such as my homeland of the North-West, sheltered by the Pennines and the hills of the Trough of Bowland and beyond that the Lake District to the North, and to the south by the mountains of North Wales. Also true of my adopted homeland, the south-east, of course.
Here, the sea is nearly a thousand miles away. Summer is properly hot and dry -- 35º C is normal for a few months, and rain is infrequent and tropically heavy. Winter, meanwhile, is real winter. Last winter was the longest and coldest of my life, but the locals all told me that there wasn't a winter at all last year. This year has been significantly colder. There was snow on New Year's Day, and there's been more at least once a week since. A week into January, I took my snowboard to the local park, Wilson Forest, for a bit of a practice. The last two Sundays, I went to a nearby resort, Olešnice. My meagre skills are slowly returning, after about six years off.
This, I am told, is more like a normal Czech winter. There have been whole weeks where the temperature reached a high of about -3º and fell to -6º or -8º at night. Weeks of snow piled everywhere -- although the preparations are plentiful, with even miniature ride-on lawn-mower sized snowploughs to clear the pavements and everywhere lavishly gritted.
Czech culture has adapted, too. Like the Scandinavians, here, nobody ever wears shoes inside the house. Partly it keeps the house cleaner, but mostly, it stops you trekking snow into the house for half the year. You remove your footwear in the hall and guests are provided with slippers -- whether they want them or not. This makes leaving the house a ritual -- if you forget something, you need to remove your footwear before going to get it. You can't just pop back in. Even elaborate or fancy women's footwear gets removed -- it's just what you do. Many people wear slippers in the office, as well. Although my house is well-heated, the hall isn't -- snow remains on the carpet until the following day, sometimes. That seems weird to me.
In summer, there's a stronger pavement culture than in Britain. Obviously, the Czechs love their beer, and with good reason. So there are bars everywhere. Most have at least a small outside area, and many have tables and chairs outside, from the countryside to right in the city centre.
But there EU smoking ban hasn't reached here yet, and it remains controversial. Purely based on ad-hoc observation, I'd say more people smoke here than they do in Britain these days. There are ashtrays on the street. Some food and drink places have a smoking ban, but under half, I reckon. Some have smoking and non-smoking areas, but often not clearly delimited.
In summer, the smokers often head outside -- but in winter, that's a much less attractive option. A decade ago, I saw hardy Norwegians sitting outside with a drink in subzero temperatures. Here, people dash outside for a very hasty ciggy then come back in. This means that the smoking bars are more popular in midwinter. Like the Norwegians, though, Czech venues are heated to what I consider very warm temperatures -- over 20º to around 25º seems typical. Walk into a shop in 4 or 5 layers of winter gear and I have to peel the outer layers off, or I feel faint from overheating. So I often find myself sitting around in bars in a T-shirt, with my bag bulging with multiple sweaters.
Now, normally, in wintertime, I wash my clothes rather less than in the summer. It's colder, so I sweat less, so I might get a few days out of a T-shirt. This isn't something I had expected to change, but it has -- after an evening in a bar or restaurant, there's a 50% chance that all my clothes will reek of stale smoke. I'm actually doing far more clothes-washing than in summer, where few garments are wearable for more than a single day. I'm wearing far more clothes all the time, but many need daily washing. It's a pain and one I didn't see coming.