Letter from Prague

18-11-2001

I don't know about you, but I never find time to write letters when the weather is good, but as soon as it gets as cold as it is now, I sit down and try to catch up on all the unanswered mail. So, for me this really is a good time to write my letter from Prague. This year the cold has set in rather early, which is very, very welcome for all the people who run ski resorts in the mountains, but less welcome for owners of summer restaurants. Usually people sit around in garden restaurants till late in the autumn, this year all those places closed down about a month earlier because of the cold. It was bad for business in general, but especially bad for the sale of beer. Real beer lovers drink the beverage regardless of the weather, but for many of us, as soon as it gets cold we change from beer to grog - that's hot water or tea with some sugar and lots of rum in it. Which, come to think of it, may soon be a problem. Czech rum is one of the important, for many of us important, items on the list of products with a shaky future in connection with the Czech Republic joining the European Union. Czech rum is traditionally produced from potatoes or sugar beets, and it's brown, while in the rest of the world it's made of sugar cane and it's white, with a completely different taste. So, when we join the EU with all its norms and standards, we'll either have to change the name and get used to calling our rum something else, or else stop producing it and get used to what the rest of the world calls rum. The latter is absolutely inconceivable - no Czech housewife could bake her favorite cakes and cookies without rum, and of course, our grog would never taste the same, either. And that threat is just one of the major problems many Czechs have with the idea of joining the European Union. Word has spread that we'd have to give up many of our traditional foods, because they do not meet EU standards. One such food most Czechs would never be willing to do without is called utopenec, or, to use an absolutely inadequate English translation - a drowned man. It's a pickled sausage - produced by filling a jar with sausages, Czech sausages, something completely different from what an Englishman or American knows as a sausage. You add onions and some other garnishes, pour vinegar over it - Czech vinegar, which, again is different. And then you let the jar stand for a couple of days at room temperature, and there you are, a snack to go with your drink, especially with beer. For some time now word has been spreading that joining the EU would end all these traditional foods and for many it has been a strong argument against membership. Well, now it has been officially announced that we need not worry. Most EU member states have their own local specialties. They may not be introduced on the international EU market, but nobody keeps the locals from producing and eating them. Which does come as a relief and for many Czechs makes the perspective of EU membership much less of a scare.

18-11-2001