Early starts normal for Czechs, especially country dwellers

Czechs are early risers, something often credited to the 19th century emperor Franz Joseph, a reputed insomniac who insisted all the members of his court be ready to start business every morning at 6 am. They say the sovereign’s habit trickled down to the entire population of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; to some extent, at least, that tradition lives on in this part of the world.

When I first came here in the summer of 1992 I once spent the night in a block of flats in a small town in Šumava and was surprised by the hub-bub that started around 5 am; through the thin panelák walls, you could hear doors closing and the lift going pretty much non-stop. Leaving a while later I passed a factory that sounded like it was all systems go. Honestly, I hadn’t a clue what was going on; it wasn’t, it seemed to me, the town where time stood still, but the town where everybody’s clocks were several hours fast.

Nearly 17 years later, factories around the Czech Republic are still firing on all cylinders at an ungodly hour. At least, those in rural parts are, according to an interesting survey published recently in the newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes. It seems what time Czechs start the day depends to a large extent on where they live.

In the country, 25 percent of people are already out of bed at 5 am. 6 am is the average time at which rural types’ feet hit the floor, and by 7 am a full 70 percent are up. In fact, 7 is the average time that work commences down the country. At that hour, nearly half of the Czech Republic’s city slickers have yet to be roused from the land of zeds by their alarms.

But the country folk are no fools. The upside of stamping (or more likely swiping) your card extremely early is that you’re heading home when your urban cousins are just getting back from lunch. Many go home at – wait for it – 2 pm. Or 3 pm at the latest (the poll suggests that only 30 percent of country people are still at work at 3). That of course gives them more time to enjoy the afternoon or just get a few things done. At the end of the day, 40 percent of country folk are asleep by 10 pm, at least an hour earlier that urbanites.

One sociologist interviewed by Mladá fronta said changing lifestyles could well lead to a reduction in the “time difference” between town and country. But, he said, it is unlikely that urban and rural types in the Czech Republic will ever find themselves setting their alarms for the same time in the morning.