I first started to hear stuff about Czechoslovakia when I was a student. That was before the Iron Curtain came down. I was studying philosophy at Utrecht and I was offered an exchange somewhere in Eastern Europe. It didn’t take me long to reach a decision, I was really curious. I was 21 at the time, I took loads of warm clothes with me to Prague because I had picked up the idea that it was always freezing cold here and that I was heading for somewhere like Siberia. The first summer I spent here I was very pleasantly surprised, and I didn’t even have any real summer shoes. Shoes, that was a topic. Everyone recognised I was from the West by my shoes, and behaved accordingly. Loads of people wanted money from me and girls wanted to marry me.

When I came to Prague, there was nothing for it but to learn Czech quickly. At that time it was no simple thing to find someone who spoke German or English, so I had to get my Czech up to scratch. But these days I’m really pleased I did.

When I returned to Holland after an intensive Czech year, I had a shock. I was bursting with new experiences and I wanted to see all my pals as soon as possible. But whenever I rang them, they’d always drag out their diary and say, “Yeah, hang on, we can meet in a couple of weeks on Monday for an hour”. I’d completely fallen out of the habit in Czechoslovakia, diaries only arrived here after the revolution. And I began to miss the country terribly. When the Iron Curtain came down, I immediately came on a trip to Prague, and, well, the rest is history, as they say.

There have been loads of changes here, though it still remains the case that lots of people think I have a lot of money. In fact, I earn a normal Czech university lecturer’s salary, so there’s no difference. For a long time there were two prices here, one for locals and one for foreigners from the West. So when we went somewhere with the family, my wife had to buy the tickets. I thought it was completely ridiculous. Things are a lot better these days.

See this page in Czech