As a Scot living in Prague, I am intrigued by the Czech passion for all things Celtic. On the metro I often see groups of young men decked out in idiosyncratic versions of Highland dress, and somehow St Andrew's Day seems to be celebrated with more passion here than in Scotland.
So I was curious when I went along to the Book World trade fair in Prague, which was held earlier this year and whose theme was the Celtic countries. One of the events on the programme was the reading of a story in Scots to a group of schoolchildren. It was a somewhat bizarre experience because the reader had a much thicker accent than mine, which, I can assure you, is not strong, although many Czechs think otherwise. I wondered how many in the audience understood it.
It was refreshing to see aspects of Scottish life on display other than haggis and heather, and the books focussed on Scotland's history, politics and culture. These topics were discussed on the second day of the fair, when there was a debate about national identity and globalisation. Whatever the arguments for and against it, there is no doubt that the age of globalisation has seen cultural exchanges across the world, such as Indian cooking, Swedish design concepts, or the music of West Africa.
The book fair made me think about what aspects of Czech culture could be spread more actively around the world. Recently I read articles in a British newspaper about the EU accession countries, including the Czech Republic. Sadly, it only mentioned the things that people know about the country already, which are not many. The Czech Republic (or should that be Czechoslovakia?) is still relatively unknown, even though it's at the centre of Europe. In contrast, Scotland and Ireland, while being small and on the fringe of Europe, are well-known across the world, even if the mental images people have are somewhat stereotyped. Yet beside the tartanry and fake Irish pubs, the more genuine aspects of the Celtic cultures, such as their music and literature, have spread worldwide, and this could be an inspiration for the promotion of the Czech Republic.
One example could be animation. I found out recently that the Little Mole children's cartoons were featured on British television some years back, but as far as I know, no others have been shown. However, Czech animation is some of the world's finest, and I'm sure it would be appreciated by a wider audience. Czech design is another field which deserves a higher profile. Food is perhaps the most accessible of all cultural exports, and when I was in Stockholm recently a friend recommended a genuine Czech restaurant there. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to visit. I don't know how widespread Czech restaurants are across the world, but if not let's hope that soon they will be. Although I intend to visit Stockholm again, it would be good to know that if I want some Czech potato soup I can go anywhere to try it. It's much better than a Big Mac.
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