The Czech glass ceiling is extra thick

I deliberated writing this post for the risk of being seen as, ahem, “patrician”.  But I have been moved by some young women to do it anyway.

Recently I hired a woman who just graduated from her Master’s program in business & marketing. During the interview process, she distinguished herself as having great potential. And everything that she has done since arriving has reinforced my impressions.

I began to reflect on where her talent might take her in the Czech workplace in the years ahead. As I looked around at the women in my company, and other companies I have been exposed to in the Czech Republic, I saw the dearth of women as managers. And there are still fewer female executives. Most women are individual contributors and many of those are performing administrative assistant functions.

Americans decry the lack of women in high positions, but the situation is worse still in Czech.

This is a country that is growing in large part thanks to its “knowledge economy”, where the technology and business process outsourcing sectors are the engine. What a shame if a big part of the workforce is excluded from participating in that opportunity.

As an American, one must be careful not to judge other cultures that one doesn’t fully understand. Perhaps women drop out of the workforce once they have a family due to choice of priorities. Or is it because they have no incentive to remain in the workforce?

But for those women who do want a career, it’s going to be a long hard slog. What to do?

First, the challenge will be greatest for women who have been in the workplace for 15 or more years. They are now labeled by the role they currently play and the money they now earn. If they haven’t succeeded in defying the odds somehow and become high earners, managers and executives, then the system won’t change in time to remove the obstacles for them.

Second, for those in the workplace for 5-15 years, the non-managerial roles are probably within easier reach. There can be a career growth path that rewards expertise as an individual contributor and avoids the strongest bias, which is against placing women in leadership roles. Maybe the government should step in and provide mid-career assistance in training and education that enables individual contributors to ascend to a level of expert? Certainly, technical disciplines like high-tech and manufacturing can support such a career ladder.

Third, the youngest of the workforce stand the greatest chance of unconstrained growth. There are tremendously smart, ambitious women available as recent graduates. And the wages they command are modest to say the least. Can they be fast-tracked somehow? Such as pairing them up in apprenticeship-style roles doing the work of a more senior person or even a manager? Companies can afford to carry these costs if they see the value in finding early stars and grooming them.

Last, time above all will enable change. The issue of women in the workplace is a global one, and no country stands out as having solved it. However, the Czech economy is increasingly global; with it comes exposure to other business cultures where women play a more prominent role.

I suppose the greater question is whether Czech society wants this change for itself.  I certainly hope so.  I’ve seen the bright young faces and the hope they have for their careers. They deserve the chance.

Do friendships ever end?

I got an email out of the blue from an old friend.  We had drifted apart long ago, living in different cities for many years since with only very little contact.

His email was prompted by his New Year’s resolution to write old friends, and tell them what that friendship meant to him.  So I was a pleasantly surprised recipient of one.

The cynics amongst us might think it’s a mid-life crisis on his part, or some sort of self-improvement technique as taught in a self-help book.  I don’t really care why he wrote me; the sincerity was what mattered.

I was struck by two things.  First, the stories he told about a friendship 20 years ago had been long-forgotten by me but came back in vivid terms once reminded.  It was if, by being reminded, that these stories happened yesterday.

Second, it was fascinating to read what he remembered and valued.  Like interests I might have shared with him that I would never have imagined to be meaningful.

So I wrote him a reply.  It was easy to remember things that his friendship gave me in turn.  Things that were unique to him such as the fact that he is a native of New Orleans and introduced me to that city as an insider.  My love affair with New Orleans has endured ever since.

I was also reminded of the fact that my family and I probably won’t live in Prague forever.  Nor will our ex-pat friends.  It’s the nature of being an ex-pat that friendships are somehow temporal.  But they are still enduring in a way.

We all have friendships that have faded over time and place.  Perhaps most of our friends in early adulthood are no longer active.  But did they really die?  Not if the memory can be conjured, and one can describe how that person played a role in helping you become who you are.

Favorite restaurants in Prague

Prague has some very active restaurant reviewers amongst the Expat and English-speaking community.  For example, Czech Please, and The Prague Post.  I won’t attempt to compete with their professionalism.

There are also some very highly regarded places I have yet to visit, notably La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise.

That said, here are the places I’ve been to and like, in no particular order:

V Zatisi.  High-end, nice “design-your-own” tasting menu.  They match wines well with the courses.  Professional and attentive service.  A good place for a special night out.

The Pind.  Quickly developing a reputation for the best Indian food in Prague.  I’ve liked every dish thus far, and have been exposed to a few selections on the menu I hadn’t seen before. Which is good, as the variety of food from India is infinite and worthy of constant exploration.

Sokolovna.  Nicely done traditional Czech cuisine.  A really good chicken soup.  Warm decor.  Inexpensive.

Las Adelitas.  The place to scratch the itch for Mexican cuisine and margaritas.  Anything “el pastor” there is very good.  The horchata is delicious if you don’t feel like an alcoholic beverage.

Artisan.  A wonderful higher-end restaurant tucked away on a side street, far from any tourists. Very good service and value for money.  The outdoor patio in the summer is intimate and really pleasant.

Sansho.  Creative southeastern Asia cuisine with some other influences thrown in.  A fixed price, set menu comprised of many bold flavors.  The staff is wonderfully accommodating and will tailor the menu to dietary needs or even diner preference. Not a hint of pretense in the place; probably by design.  Perhaps amongst the most expensive in Prague.  But satisfying nonetheless.

Grosseto Marina and Vinohrady locations.  This small chain reminds me of Paparazzi in Boston: very consistent, decent Italian food with good value for money.  Tasty thin crust pizzas.  The Marina location has a great view of the castle.  The Vinohrady location has a nice summer garden.

Noi.  Solid Thai food in a setting with nice decor.

Sasazu.  Not unlike the cuisine at Sansho: pan-Southeast Asian influences.  But in every other respect quite different: dramatic decor inside a transformed warehouse, featuring huge light fixtures, bold colors and trendy music.  A place where the vibe is as much a reason to go as the food.  And the food is quite good.

Mirellie.  Mediterranean cuisine with a bias toward Italian.  Good value for money.

Sahara Cafe.  Wonderful decor and some strong North African/Middle Eastern food choices.  The hummus with all of its “enhancements” is my favorite.  A great outdoor terrace for summertime.

El Barrio de Angel.  One of the better places for steaks.  The chimichurri sauce is really good paired with a medium-rare or medium-cooked steak.  Service and atmosphere are nothing special.  Nor is the wine list.  But definitely a place to satisfy the carnivore craving.

Vytopna.  This one is my son’s vote for best restaurant.  Of course, he’s 4 years old and loves this restaurant because of the model trains that deliver drinks to your table.  If you have kids, well worth a visit.  The Czech cuisine is decent.

That’s all for now.  What do you think?

A future post: Prague watering holes.

How to stop your car from being towed, Prague style

My wife sent me the following email today.  It about says it all…

“Tried to pull into garage.  Electricity out, door won’t open.  Park on the street, go get ice cream.  Come back, car being lifted onto tow truck.  I stand in front of tow truck, refusing to let it leave.  Police came, I pay off the cop $40, get my car back.  Home now.”

The Czech Republic’s police force was notorious for pocketing traffic fines on the spot.  Maybe it’s still the case.  Though one could argue it’s more convenient than the U.S. alternative of remembering to write a check and mail it in.

Was the Prague transit strike a good thing?

Prague transit strike demonstrators

I’m not a big fan of unions, at least in the U.S.  But I thought the Prague transit strike today was a good thing in a way.  Why?

I can’t imagine that before 1989 any such strike would occur. Or, if it did, that there would be severe reprisals by the police and who knows else in the government.  Including violence and long term damage to the lives of the organizers.

So, to see a peaceful gathering of strikers today, with the police lingering in the back dressed in ordinary uniforms, said volumes about the freedom of speech that the Czech Republic now enjoys.  The right to assemble & demonstrate, regardless of the merits of your position, is a huge element of any open and democratic society.

March on, Czech colleagues.

One Year Anniversary in Prague

It’s been one year since I arrived in Prague, haggard from a volcano-interrupted journey.  Said journey ended up being me, a briefcase, and my urine-soaked cat in a crate after 25 hours of confinement.

I’ve written in previous posts about what I love and (un)love about Prague.  So no need to sum it up again.

That said, my arrival in Prague is inextricably linked to the death of my father on the third day I was here; which was also my first day of work.  The first call I made from Prague back home was to my sister to inquire about my dad’s (seemingly non-life threatening) condition in the hospital.  My sister replied, “Donny, Dad died 10 minutes ago”.

I wrote this eulogy of a sort last year.  My arrival and his departure will be forever linked….

Things I love and (un)love about Prague (Part 3)

I wrote previously about this topic here and here.


Czech Courtesies.  Virtually everyone offers their seat on the tram to the elderly, or says “hello” and “goodbye” on an elevator.  The receptionist in my building will loudly scold those who fail to greet her in the morning.  Good for her.

The automatic replenishment of one’s beer without asking (this can also be hazardous to one’s sobriety).

Laissez faire.  Want to enjoy a beer on the street?  You won’t be arrested.  There is a form of tolerance here for personal choices (indulgences?) that exceeds American standards by far.  I remember the huge legal debate leading up to – gulp – sidewalk restaurant seating in Boston.  And this is one of the most liberal cities in the U.S.

The attitudes of Expats.  First, let me say that I have made friends with some really nice Czechs both at work and in private life.  But the expats here have a consistent trait about them: they are very open to new friendships.  I think being an expat creates great empathy for other expats, and with that comes approachability.  When move back to the U.S., I will look at immigrants through a new lens.


Retail banking.  A prime example of the state of the service sector.  Getting my wife a debit card linked to a joint account took 3 months, 4 visits to a retail banking branch and 6 hours’ worth of time.  And this is from a bank owned by an Austrian parent company with presumed Germanic efficiency.

Lack of fresh green vegetables.  This despite the proximity to the year-round Mediterranean growing zone.  I long for selections of fresh lettuces, chards, herbs, spinaches, etc.  Farmers’ markets soften the blow, but only for a couple months a year.

Dog poop.  The city clearly ignored my protestations in this blog last year;  the depositing of poop on pedestrian pathways continues unabated.  Stepping in poop is inevitable.  You only hope it’s on a rainy day where you can use a puddle to dissolve the crap from your shoe.

No great Chinese food.  Please, please, please tell me I’m wrong.  I’ll be darned if I can find any great restaurant reviews in the usual English-language places like or Czech Please.

The Christmas that was – then wasn’t – then was

Beyond the need to vent about the experience my family and I just had, I suppose I write this in empathy for the thousands of other families who suffered a similar fate this week.

Of course, I’m writing about the epic failure of the European airline system, and the untold numbers of families who weren’t reunited on either side of the Atlantic for Christmas as a result.

Our journey to North America was intended to start with a flight to Heathrow from Prague last Monday.  Then a non-stop flight on Tuesday morning to Halifax, Canada.

The reality: our flight to London was cancelled.  We managed, thanks to a resourceful travel agent, to fly to London Luton that night on “WizzAir”.  A Hungarian airline that clearly has no plans to serve North America given the term “wizz” stands for, well, having a pee.

A $100 taxi ride later and we were nicely ensconced in our Heathrow hotel.  The lobby of which looked like a refugee camp; dozens of dazed and confused travelers milling about wondering whether they were going anywhere.  And surely some of whom had been there since the Friday before, when all of this mess broke out.

Come Tuesday morning, our flight to Halifax had been cancelled.  We waited all day to hear from the travel agent about alternatives.  As in, any desitination in Eastern Canada or Northeast U.S.  Zippo. Nada. Nul.  Air Canada said the earliest available flight to Canada would be December 30th.

Meanwhile, we were looking for another hotel for the night.  The one we were in would gladly put us up another night at double the cost.  My son wanted to stay; he couldn’t get enough of jumping between twin beds in his adjacent room to ours.

So, another $100 taxi ride to a more distant outpost hotel from Heathrow.

By Tuesday afternoon, hope was lost and it was more a question of whether we could even get back to Prague.

Tuesday night we decided that living well is the best revenge.  And hopped a train into London for a great curry meal and some relief from the four walls of a hotel room.  On the ride back, a friendly train-mate charmed our son.  It’s these random encounters with interesting people that make travel worthwhile.

Wednesday morning arrived with a 5am wake-up call and a trip to London City Airport.  We had secured a flight to Amsterdam, with a connection 6 hours later to Prague.

Another $100 taxi ride later, and we arrived at the airport.  If the hotel lobby at Heathrow was like a refugee camp, then the scene at this airport was like the evacuation of Saigon.  Thousands of distressed refuguees travelers queued up in the cold outside the terminal, unsure of how & when they could enter and check in.

An hour after we arrived, the police showed up in force.  Somebody wisely surmised that with this many people, and this little coordination of the queues, something nasty could occur.

2 hours later, we reached the check-in counter.  Bags piling up in heaps.  Children crying (including my own).  Airline employees busily conferring, trying to figure out what to do in the face of utter, systemic break-down.

Once aboard the plane, the captain announces that bags had been loaded for passengers not on board.  A major security no-no.  2 hours later, every bag was finally accounted for.

The rest of the day was mostly without incident.  We spotted some cots and blankets in use at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam.  More signs of the European air travel melt-down.

On arrival in Prague that night, we simply assumed our 4 checked bags were lost, perhaps forever.  Miraculously, 3 bags arrived and only a child’s car seat was missing.

So it was the Christmas that wasn’t.  But the story ends on a better note.  As expast are wont to do, we have invited some friends for Christmas dinner, secured a frssh turkey to cook, a couple of magnums of nice Italian wine, and many other delicacies.

Christmas might not have come off to plan, but the company of friends in a foreign land and the comfort of good food will soften the disappointment of missing one’s family.

May the thousand of others so affected this week be as lucky as us.  God speed!

2010 in review: change or be changed

With apologies to those who cringe at the “holiday letter”, here comes……the blog equivalent.

I can’t remember another year in my, ahem, 45 year life that was marked by more change.  I changed jobs.  We moved to Europe.  My dad died.

All of this before April!

In January, I found myself in lovely, freezing, windy Overland Park, Kansas helping to consummate an acquisition of Archer Technologies by RSA.  Weekly trips for the rest of the year were in order from my home in Boston.

Something managed to interrupt that plan, though the seeds were sown in November 2009.  A random call from a search firm started a conversation about a company I had never heard of – AVG – and their interest to hire someone in Prague.  By December 2009, I had decided this wasn’t for me.

Fast forward to February, and my wife and I are in Prague to visit AVG and check out the city.  I guess the opportunity grew on me (us).

By March, I had resigned from RSA and agreed to move to Prague in April.

I landed in Frankfurt on the 16th of April to an airport closed by volcanic ash.  I had a cat and a briefcase.  Lufthansa decided to hang on to my luggage, as I continued on my planes, trains and automobiles buses journey to get to Prague that evening with my cat (now covered in pee after 20 hours in a crate).

I spent the weekend shopping like crazy as if my luggage would never arrive.  New eyeglasses (contact lenses left in suitcase, d’oh!), kitchen tools, underwear, socks, work shirts.  You name it.

Without a cell phone, I had to wait until Monday to call my wife and my family.  The second call I made was to my sister, to inquire about how my dad was doing in the hospital. He died 10 minutes prior.  Read more about him here.

Fast-forward to July and the arrival of my wife and son to Prague.  After 3 furious months of work, it was time to re-balance one’s life and re-connect with those who are most important.  Oh yeah, and to find a home.

In September, we returned to Boston and Nova Scotia to visit family and friends.  Surreal sense of “not belonging here” while not belonging to Prague yet either.  Though this will pass.

By October, my wife was throwing a gala Halloween party for 90 adults and kids.  Life was back to (the new) normal.  Which leads us to today.

I have the habit of writing blog posts about specific stories, then summing them up with some sort of “truisms” or “reflections”.  When reviewing the events of an entire year, how can I resist this time?

The conclusion? It all comes back to change.  How do you react to it?  With resistance, fear and anger?  Or do you seek it out?  Do you control it, lest it control you?  To enjoy it, even.

My persona at work is often perceived as a conformist.  Yet I would like to think I’m one to initiate change.  I suppose this makes me confusing to others at times.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Change on….

Christmas, Czech-style

The Czech Republic is reputed to be the most secular country in Europe.  Something like 60% of its citizens either don’t practice their religious affiliation or are agnostic.  Yet the Christmas holiday season is in full swing and appears to be a serious matter here.  Go figure.

The Christmas market outside my flat at Namesti Miru is the picture postcard of charming.  A huge tree is decorated and lit in the middle of the square.  Small wooden stalls surround the tree, selling handmade crafts.  And, more importantly, some sort of fried dough with cinnamon is on offer.  And hot mulled wine that you consume at stand-up tables.  Meanwhile, the beautiful church of “Saint Ludmila” looms in the backdrop.

All across the city, beautiful old buildings are adorned with lights.  Even the street lamps have holiday lighting attached.  Several days of snow have made the city more charming and festive still.  Including Old Town Square:

Christmas market at Old Town Square in Prague

Then there’s the vacation time off.  When planning a recent product release, we assumed that no development work would be done for the last two weeks of the year. Everybody is off for at least a week, and many for two.  You would otherwise assume that Christmas is one serious religious observance for the country as a whole.

In the few months of writing this blog, my Czech friends have demonstrated that they don’t get my irony and sarcasm.  So let me be clear.  I am not criticizing those who are in fact religious and for whom Christmas is a big deal.  Somehow the spirit of this holiday has transcended religious meaning if you’re to believe the statistics about secularism.

In the end, how is that a bad thing?  Merry Christmas!

Coming: the year in review.