The things people will steal

05-02-2005

TG Masaryk, the founder and first president of Czechoslovakia, gave the new state one memorable piece of advice: Nebat se a nekrast (don't be afraid and don't steal). But during the Communist era an equally well-known phrase arose: ten kdo nekrade, okrade rodinu (whoever doesn't steal deprives his family). It sometimes seems to me that the second "philosophy" still prevails, 15 years after the end of Communism.

Thievery is obviously not a phenomenon particular to the Czech Republic, but from time to time I am shocked at the things, often of little value, that people are prepared to pinch. There was something in the papers the other week about municipal "wheelie" dustbins disappearing. But they weren't spontaneously combusting - people were stealing them to use at their chalupy, or country cottages. A colleague says she heard in Moravia about people stealing park benches with the same idea in mind. Now that's what I call a lack of community spirit!

Then of course there are stories about people filling their pockets at events where there is free food. This I find particularly hard to understand, given that the fare on such occasions is usually classic Czech "open sandwiches" called chlebicky - who wants a pocket full of butter and mayonnaise?!

A friend says the people in his building are super diligent about locking the front door, after door handles and light switches were stolen from the hallway. In this case the thieves were probably drug addicts. Anyway, one of the residents scratched up all the replacement light switches, to deter would be thieves.

Visitors to the Czech Republic will be familiar with toilet attendants who charge you a few crowns to spend a penny, so to speak. Recently I went to a Metro station toilet, where there was a huge roll of toilet paper on the wall right by the attendant's "station". Is there also toilet paper in the cubicles? I asked. The old lady looked at me as if I had asked the daftest question of all time, and said "sir, do you think I would hazardovat (take risks with) with the toilet paper?" By which she clearly meant if there was paper in the cubicles some jokers would steal it. And the very sad thing is I am sure she was right.

05-02-2005