Controversy In Czech Republic Over Making Water Cheaper Than Beer

If water is cheaper than beer, what do you choose? Beer. No wait, water. No, beer. Water?

It’s not an option most of us are presented with – a free glass of water is easy to come by. But in bars and taverns across the Czech Republic, the birthplace of pilsner, opting for beer is in fact often cheaper than water. But according to the Wall Street Journal, that could soon change.

Beer (and drinking in general) is a cornerstone of Czech culture, in fact Czechs drink an average of 37 gallons of beer per year, but Health Minister Leos Heger thinks the country needs healthier options and wants to require restaurants and bars to offer at least one nonalcoholic drink that is cheaper than beer.

Such a proposal sounds easy enough, but it has left some bar and tavern owners in a fit. “It ticks me off,” said Eleni Atanasopulosova, 34, the manager at U Zelenku, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal.

The deeply ingrained beer culture in the Czech Republic might not make Heger’s proposal easy to get through. For now, it haven’t even been approved by the cabinet, but if it makes it any further, it could spark some cultural controversy, pitting beer lovers against those wanting public health changes.

After all, it’s hard to change tradition – especially when it comes to beer.

[Photo Credit: Debarshi Ray]

Bud vs. Bud: Travel and the Great Beer War of the Last Century

There’s not enough beer in Bohemia to ever help you pronounce Ceske Budejovice, a Czech town located in southern Bohemia, about 100 miles from Prague. But there is at least one reason why you should go there.

Why? Let’s go back to the early 1870s, when soon-to-be major beer magnate Adolphus Busch and his friend/business partner Carl Conrad decided to do a European beer crawl, hitting the great centers of all things beer in Central Europe. Bohemians have long been known for their prowess in brewing (just go to the town of Pilsen, or Plzen in Czech, if you’re in doubt). Busch and Conrad made a special point to go to Ceske Budejovice because the town had a reputation for producing exceptionally good beer and the hops that grew in the fields around the it were (and still are) world renowned. Busch and Conrad sampled the local brew and were duly impressed.

So impressed, in fact, that Conrad bought the trademark for the name of one of the town’s famed beers, which was named after the town. Not Ceske Budejovice, but its German name. Before World War II many towns in Bohemia boasted a sizeable German population and thus, each town had a Czech and German name. Ceske Budejovice’s German name was–wait for it–Budweis.
By now, you can probably see where this is going. But with that trademark for the name of the town’s beer not only was an American beer named Budweiser born, but a century-long legal battle as well. The Czechs argued that they’d been brewing a beer called Budweiser (and, in Czech, Budvar) for centuries. Even though the actual Czech Budweiser/Budvar was founded after the trademark, they argued they had a geographical right to the name. Anheuser-Busch, though, would simply wave the trademark document at the Czechs and say–and I’m summarizing–sorry suckers!

After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Czech breweries were slowly privatized and then bought up by one of the three major multinational brewing corporations. Pilsner Urquell, Radegast, Velkopopovicky Kozel and Gambrinus were sold to SABMiller; Starobrno and Krusovice to Heineken; and the Prague-based Staropramen to InBev (which now owns Anheuser-Busch, by the way), and so on. But the Czech government never privatized Budweiser/Budvar, fearing Anheuser Busch would buy the brewery and dismantle it, paving the way for complete European domination.

But all that came to an end in 2007 when the two companies formed a loose partnership. In an unpredictable turn of events Anheuser-Busch now distributes the Czech Budwieser in the United States. You’ll never find it under that name, though. An earlier ruling stated that Czech Budweiser could never be sold in the United States because of the possible trademark infringement. So the Czechs did something quite brilliant. For the beer sold in the United States, they changed the name from Budvar to Czechvar (not a brilliant name, if you ask me, though).

So while beer drinkers of America can finally sit back and actually drink the original Budweiser, I say make a pilgrimage to the town formerly known as Budweis. Brewery tours, in my opinion, are dull, but nothing beats sitting in a big beer hall like Masne Kramy, located in a former meat shop hall from the 16th century in the center of Ceske Budejovice, a huge chunk of pork in front of you and a mug of golden, fresh-from-the-brewery Budweiser–Czech Budweiser, that is.

Oh, and if anyone asks, it’s pronounced Ches-kay Boo-day-yo-vit-say.

Useful foreign phrases, Part 2: how to say, “Can you write this down for me?” in 10 languages

A post written by Chris on Tuesday reminded me of this little language series I started in March. In “Ten things Ugly Americans need to know before visiting a foreign land,” Chris recommended brushing up on the local language. He joked about dashing around Venice clutching his concierge’s handwritten note, “Do you have 220/110 plug converters for this stupid American who left his at home?”

Thanks, Chris, because I’ve had this post sitting in my queue for awhile, as I debated whether or not my phrase of choice would appear useful to readers. It’s saved my butt many a time, when a generous concierge or empathetic English-speaker would jot down crucial directions to provide to a cab driver. It’s also helped me out when I’ve embarked on long-distance journeys that require me to get off at an unscheduled stop.

I have a recurring nightmare in which I board the wrong bus or train in a developing nation, and end up in some godforsaken, f—ed up place in the wee hours. Actually, that’s happened to me more than once, except I was actually in my intended destination. So the other piece of advice I’d like to impart is: do some research ahead of time on accommodations and how to reach them as safely as possible if you’re arriving anywhere in the wee hours–especially if you’re alone, regardless of your gender.

I digress. Before your next trip to a foreign land, take the time to scribble the words, “Can you (please) write this down for me?” in your guidebook or dog-ear it in your phrasebook (you’re bringing one, right? Right?). It will serve you well, I promise you. Below, how to make this useful request in ten languages.

P.S. It bears repeating that I’m far from a polylinguist; I’m relying on phrases based on past experience or research. If I inadvertently offend anyone’s native tongue, please provide a correction in the “Comments” section.

1. Spanish (Catalan): ?Puedes escribirlo, por favor?

2. Italian: Può ripeterlo, per favore?

3. French: Pourriez-vous, l’écrire, s’il vous plait?

4. German: Könnten Sie das bitte aufschreiben?

5. Czech: Můžete prosím napsat to pro mě?

6. Portuguese: Escreva, se faz favor.

As I noted in my Part 1, many languages, including those spoken throughout Asia and the Middle East, use written characters. For that reason, transliteration will vary, which is why the spelling or phonetics may differ. These languages are also tonal in nature, which makes them notoriously intimidating to Westerner travelers. Just smile, do your best, and have your pen and paper handy.

7. Chinese (Cantonese): Ng goi nei bong ngo se dai.

8. Japanese: Anata ga shite kudasai watashi no tame ni sore o kakikomu koto ga dekimasu ka?

9. Vietnamese: Có thể bạn hãy viết ra cho tôi?

10. Moroccan Arabic: Ktebha līya.

What useful phrases have helped you on your travels? Please tell us!

[Photo credits: pencil, Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography; tourist, Flickr user Esteban Manchado]

Useful foreign phrases, Part 1: how to say, “I’m just looking” in 10 languages

I’ve frequently pimped Lonely Planet’s Phrasebooks on this site, but I swear I don’t get kickbacks from the company. It’s just that I’m a big believer in not being a). A Tourist (although, let’s face it, if I’m not at home, I am indeed A Tourist) and b). helpless.

Even if you’re the biggest xenophobe on earth–which would make foreign travel a really weird and pointless pastime you might want to reconsider– it’s hard to dispute the importance of knowing how ask “Where’s the bathroom?” in certain urgent circumstances.

It’s with such experiences in mind that I came up with this fun little series. There are a handful of phrases I’ve cultivated in various languages that have served me well, in situations both good and bad. Not only are they inscribed on the dog-eared inner covers of my trusty Phrasebooks; they’re etched into my mind, so I can summon them at will. Whether you need to ward off annoying vendors, personal humiliation, potential suitors, or would-be attackers, it pays to be prepared and know what to say, when. Since things like “Yes, No, Thank you, Please, Hello,” etc. are generally not too challenging, for the purposes of this series, I’ll leave them out. That doesn’t mean they’re not very important to learn, however.

This week’s lesson: “I’m just looking.” Invaluable for politely but firmly stating your desire to see with your eyes, not your wallet. It may not stop persistent hawkers from trying to close a deal, but at least you’re showing respect by speaking in their native tongue (or an approximation thereof). And who knows? If you change your mind, that alone may help you score a better bargain.

P.S. I don’t claim to be polylingual: I’m compiling phrases based on past experience or research. If I offend anyone’s native tongue, please provide a correction in the “Comments” section. Be nice!

1. Spanish: Solo estoy mirando.

2. Italian: Sto solo guardando.

3. French: Je regarde.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Gerry Balding]4. German: Nur schauen.

5. Czech: Jen se dívám.

6. Portuguese: Estou só a olhar.

Many languages, especially those spoken in Asia and the Middle East, use written characters. Transliteration will vary, depending upon the guidebook/translator, which is why the spelling or phonetics below may be different from other sources. Since these languages are largely tonal (and may require accents or characters not available on a Western computer), look at this way: odds are you’re going to mangle the pronunciation anyway, so just do your best! It’s the thought that counts.

7. Chinese (Cantonese): Tái haa.

8. Japanese: Watashi ga mite iru dakedesu (here’s to Japan getting back on its feet and attracting travelers soon!) To make a Red Cross donation, click here.

9. Vietnamese: Tôi chỉ xem thôi.

14. Moroccan Arabic: Ghir kanshuf.

What’s the most useful phrase you’ve ever learned in a foreign language? How has it helped your travels? We want to hear from you!

[Photo credit: Flickr user wanderer_by_trade]

Beer bath isn’t what it was in college

You know how a case of beer can make you feel great? Well, this concept takes on a new meaning in the Czech Republic.

There’s a difference between wading into a bathtub full of Natty Light and enjoying an unusual spa treatment in the Czech Republic. In Chodova Plana, a beer town close to Czech spa destinations, you can enjoy beer-based treatments at the Hotel U Sladka‘s spa. Half a dozen tubs form a human six-pack of relaxation. Don’t worry, this brew is served warm.

The beer poured into hot tubs for this unique experience is blended with herbs, mineral water, yeast and hops. The goal is to rejuvenate your skin, improve blood circulation and give you a bit of mental relief.

Beer, beer everywhere, and not a drop to drink? Not quite …

While you’re in the midst of a 20-minute soak, the spa attendant will bring you a glass of beer (cool, unlike that around you) to sip while you unwind.