Prague Graffiti

Sunday, 23 March 2008
john lennon wall prague

There are a lot of graffiti in Prague. The main reason, as I understand it, is that graffiti were mostly not tolerated before the Velvet Revolution, so once communism fell apart, no one wished to stifle this new way of free expression. Now it’s just out of hand.

I was on the tram yesterday when I saw graffiti on the side of a church on Karlovo náměstí that said in English, “Fight State”. And I thought, as I so often do – If you are going to deface private property whilst using the English language, at least get the bloody grammar right. And I thought of other examples that I have seen around Prague, like “Fuck System” and “We don’t want clean city!”

The graffiti is ugly, but as a linguist, a writer, an editor, and most of all as an absolute pedant, it’s the grammatical errors and the misspellings that really irk me.

I was on another tram later in the day when I overheard two other foreigners discussing the graffiti. One explained to the other that they were symbolic, that no one would do anything about the graffiti because under communism, graffiti had been the only means of protest.

Now I knew that was a load of crap because there is so much evidence to the contrary. For example, Plastic People of the Universe, samizdat publishing, Charter 77, the imprisoned dissidents who are today’s politicians… But like in a lot of the bullshit you hear around town, there was some truth in what the young lady had said. Specifically, the John Lennon wall.

The John Lennon wall in Malá strana became the holy wall of freedom graffiti after John Lennon was killed in December 1980. The authorities tried to keep the wall clean and graffiti-less, but not even surveillance cameras and a human guard could keep the sprayers and painters and poets away. But that wall was an exception and Prague was otherwise without graffiti.

Must have been nice.


Update on Everything

Wednesday, 5 March 2008
Kafka Metamorphosis beetle

The Flat

The contract has been fixed to our satisfaction, our funds are almost consolidated, there is always champagne in the fridge, and we are signing next week.

Max’s Residency Permit

Martin was able to fix things on Monday with VZP so that I did not have to pay their stupid penalty (see post below). Then Katka went to their office to conclude my 2-year health insurance agreement. Martin took the health insurance agreement, my passport and a power of attorney so that he could go to the foreigner police for my visa the following morning.

This email was waiting for me when I arrived at work on Tuesday:

Hi Max,

It’s unbelievable but I don’t have your visa because that stupid woman at FP has completely changed her mind – she has made a copy of your insurance card and has said that everything was OK, but she has refused to give me visa based on the power of attorney (last week she said that you do not have to go there in person). I don’t understand that but it was impossible to persuade her on anything else today. This is unbelievable country… You (or secretary) will have to go there tomorrow in the morning and stand the queue for the number…


I answered Martin straight away:


It’s not unbelievable. That’s normal. They talk out of their arses and then they talk out of the other side. FP, VZP… they should all be shot. I am trying to get in touch with my visa agent and hopefully she’ll be able to help me out tomorrow. Don’t worry about it, it’s not your fault.

You didn’t lose my passport, did you?


Martin hadn’t lost my passport and I was able to get in touch with Lenka within a few minutes. I went to the foreigner police in person this morning. Upon arriving back at my office, I sent this report to a few friends:

For anyone that has been concerned about my impending (and repeated) deportation…

I got my new visa this morning. The foreigner police wouldn’t give it to Martin yesterday with a power of attorney so I had to go myself today. I paid 800 Kč to get a number so that I wouldn’t have to wait (which could take either hours or days) and I was in and out of there in about 12 minutes with my shiny new visa.

On another note, I then took my passport to my embassy to get extra pages put in, which are necessary because EU countries have become a bit too stamp happy. It used to be that you went to the window, handed them your passport and asked for new pages, and they would do it immediately and hand your passport straight back. Not anymore. This time I had to fill in a form and leave my passport there. If I pass the security check, I’ll be able to pick up my fatter passport this afternoon and Abby V, I’ll see you in London tomorrow. If I don’t pass the security check, I guess that will mean rendition and waking up in Gitmo.

I went back to the embassy after lunch and they returned my passport to me with 24 lovely new blank pages. That should last me another two or three years.

But my passport is gone once again. I had to give it to the secretary that has my power-of-attorney for the Trade Licence Office. She’s on her way there now to show them my new visa so that they will renew my trade licence. Then someone will have to go to the commercial court to show them that my trade licence has been renewed so that can be registered in the Commercial Register.

And then I should be all set until I move into my new flat when I’ll have to send people running around to every possible administrative authority in the Czech Republic in order to change my address. What a country.

Meanwhile, over in Max’s other hell…

Thursday, 28 February 2008

I sauntered into work this morning at about 10 to find this email from one of our trainee lawyers waiting for me:

Hi Max,

I was at the foreigner police in the morning (quite interesting place); almost everything is OK, except of (bad news) term of your health insurance. As FP needs to extend your visa obligatory for 2 years (good news), they need evidence that your health insurance will last till March 2010. However, FP women on the phone were not able to tell me before for how long will be your visa extended. That was the reason why we have decided to extend your health insurance for 1 year (anyway, insurance company could extend it only for 1 year by one agreement).

I have asked Katka to go to the health insurance company today or tomorrow and to conclude another insurance agreement valid until 2010. Then I will visit FP on Monday, give them a stamp and health insurance documents and they will grant new visa immediately.

I will stop by you when you’ll be at your desk.


Great, I thought, it sounds so easy.

So Katka, a secretary, went to VZP, which must be the worst insurance company in the world. There she was told that it would be impossible to conclude a health insurance agreement for a year from now (March 2009 to March 2010) and that instead I would have to cancel my 2008-2009 agreement, pay a 20% cancellation penalty, and then conclude a 2-year agreement. Which you may note, if you understood the email above, is absolutely contrary to what they had told her in January when she originally went to renew my insurance.

Katka, bless her, did not tell me anything – she was too smart for that because I have been known to shoot the messenger, so to speak. Katka told Martin and Martin had to tell me and face the wrath of Max. Which in fact he enjoys. All I need is some leather, a pair of thigh-high boots and a whip, and I think he’d be in heaven. [Martin, if you’re reading this – NO. Forget it.]

Two minutes later I was on the phone to VZP getting the director’s number. Martin took over and called; he talked to the director’s secretary. I am trying to teach these kids not to take things lying down. And that if two people in one office give you two different answers, go higher and talk to someone who knows what they are talking about.

“I always win,” I said to Martin. But then I had to admit that I lose a lot in this country – the trade licence office, the commercial register, the foreigner police – and it always costs me money.

And that’s where we are. The director was in a meeting and it was really too late to find anyone in authority to talk to. Martin will start trying again tomorrow morning at 8. But I had to promise him that if we don’t get things sorted out by tomorrow afternoon, I will pay the 20% penalty so that he can go and get my new visa on Monday. The penalty will actually be less than 1800 crowns (just over $100) and it’s not worth getting deported (again) over that.

The Flat in Žižkov – a progress report

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

We were notified last Wednesday that the building permit for the new attic flats had finally come through. Only approximately 5 months behind schedule, but that is par for the course. The Building Authority, after all, is just another cog in the antiquated machine that is Czech bureaucracy.

Filip sent me the agreement on future purchase agreement and asked me when I wanted to go over to his office to sign it. The agreement was 8 pages long and in Czech. I skimmed through it quickly and then sent Filip an email that started thus:

The attached agreement is wrong. It does not match the agreement attached to the reservation agreement. If you remember, we made some changes to the agreement – I am sure that you have it on file.

The changes I was referring to in my email were those that I had carefully negotiated last summer with the help of one of my Czech colleagues.

Filip then tried to tell me that the agreements were substantially the same, that only some building specifications had been inserted. It seems that Filip completely forgot that I am a lawyer.

I sent him one example of where the agreements were different and asked him to find the agreement we had actually agreed and to update that version for me to sign. Filip then merely corrected the one point I had specified and asked me to let him know if I found anything else. I was pissed off.

I emailed Filip again the next day once I had enlisted the help of another Czech colleague. (The one who had helped me last summer is currently on holiday in Africa.)

One of my Czech colleagues is going to go through the agreement for me to make sure it matches the agreed agreement. I will get back to you on Monday to tell you if we need to make any more changes and to agree a signing date.

My email to Filip on Monday:

There are several problems with the new agreement. It is not consistent with the changes we made last summer and certain other changes have been made to the contents we had agreed.

My accompanying list contained 12 points.

Since Monday, all I have received from Filip is an acknowledgement that he had received my email.

In the meantime, Jono and I are consolidating the funds we need to pay our 2nd deposit. I expect we’ll sign next week or the week after. We’ll be one step closer and there will be champagne.

Last time I walked by the building, by the way, was 17 days ago. The scaffolding was up, the roof was off, and there was work being done on a Sunday.

Max always loves authority

Tuesday, 29 January 2008
stop eu

London was really good. I saw a lot of friends, went for my favourite walk with Jono along the south bank of the river and experienced some unusual art in the Tate Modern that involved mounted policemen. I also spent one night in a village in Sussex where I got to walk with Harry the dog and Big G along country lanes late at night under the stars.

Still, I am always happy to land back in Prague. When I arrived at the airport yesterday afternoon, there were only 5 windows open at passport control and 3 of them were for EU/EEA passport holders only. The 2 “ALL OTHER PASSPORTS” queues were not particularly long, but they were moving unusually slowly. I had chosen the queue with the higher ratio of white people, but it seems that that may no longer be the right strategy.

After observing what was going on up at the window for a few minutes, I started to suspect that perhaps the immigration cop was being a bit overzealous. I considered changing queues, but then I thought – I have a long-term visa in my passport so I should have nothing to worry about.

Will I never learn?

I smiled as I said “Dobrý den” and handed her my passport. She put my passport in the reader, then took it out and examined the photograph and then looked intently at me and then examined the photograph and then looked intently at me and then examined the photograph again.

She studied every page of my passport, and I have a double-thick passport and most of the pages are full of stamps. She finally settled on my current Czech visa, which is valid until March, and she decided she didn’t like it.

You don’t have a normal visa.

I do, you have it there.

What kind of visa is this? It’s not trvalý pobyt, it’s not dlouhodobý pobyt.

Yes, it is, it’s dlouhodobý pobyt.

No, this is not the right kind of visa, it doesn’t look right. You don’t have the right stamp on it. Where is the red stamp? This is přechodný pobyt.

Now, I have had all of those different kinds of visas and I had no idea what she was on about. Trvalý pobyt is permanent residency – what I had when I was married to a Czech. Dlouhodobý pobyt is long-term residency – what you usually have if you are employed by a company or self-employed under a Czech trade licence. Přechodný pobyt is temporary residency – what I had when I was a contractor to the Ministry of Defence through the US Department of Defence. And it shouldn’t have made any difference to her what was in my passport as long as it wasn’t expired.

She eventually gave up that line of questioning to try another. She asked me if I had that white entry paper that they used to use with long-term visas. I told her that I did not, that I had never used one. She didn’t believe me. I thought for a minute that she wasn’t going to let me in because I didn’t have that paper even though they had always had blank ones for people to fill in – back when they used to use them, I mean. She said that I had the old kind of visa and therefore I needed the white entry paper. I just stared at her like she was completely mental, because she was.

The cop babbled away for another few minutes and I just stared at her. Then suddenly she shrugged, shook her head and sighed, looked at me like I was a completely hopeless case, and at last stamped my passport and allowed me through to the other side.

Max is home

Monday, 21 January 2008

…and I found this beautiful photograph of a snowy Prague on the interweb. There is not actually any snow in town right now, but we can hope.

praha v zimě

Max is away

Friday, 18 January 2008
Velká Úpa
…on a forced weekend in the mountains with work colleagues.