I am reading a book called "Me, Myself & Prague" (An Unreliable Guide to Bohemia) by Rachael Weiss. It was first published in 2008, and in some ways, I don't really recognize the country she is describing. It seems different from the Czech Republic I am experiencing.
Ms. Weiss is an Australian writer (with a Czech father), who moved to Prague to write. The book is a sort of humorous memoir about her experiences in adapting to a new culture. I am only on page 102, but so far I am somewhat dissapointed: it reads a bit like a personal diary. However, since I am currently in a similar situation, i.e. trying to adapt to life in the Czech Republic, it is of course interesting to compare her experiences to my own.
As I wrote above, the book was published in 2008, but of course I don't know what year it was when she actually arrived in Prague - it could have been earlier. But it seems that the Czech Republic is changing and developing really quickly in any case. Here is just one example: toilet paper (TP). Here is what Ms. Weiss writes on the subject:
"The last bastion of communism in the supermarket, though, was the toilet paper. Called 'Big and Soft' it was neither big, nor soft. It was small, one-ply, harsh, and a grim, dark-grey colour - the colour, and texture, of a cardboard box that's been left out in the rain then dried in a furnace. It was communist toilet paper if ever I saw it."
I was at Tesco's in Ostrava today and checked out the varieties of TP. I wanted to see if I could find this "communist" TP that Ms. Weiss writes about. And, sure enough, it was there. And it was possible to buy just one roll of it at a time. It may be true that in communist times this was indeed the only TP available - perhaps it was - but I have seen this kind of horrible, low-quality TP on sale in other places too: in Paris, for example. So I would not say that it is communist TP, it's just the low quality stuff. And what I've noticed in Central Europe is that there is more variety in the prices than in Finland; in Finland you pretty much only get the good quality stuff, the really cheap products or services are not available. So it's very difficult to be poor in Finland!
But back to my trip to Tesco's: not only does Tesco's sell the low-quality TP, regular TP and every kind of scented, thick, fluffy, luxury TP on the planet, it even sells the TP in the photo: Hello Kitty TP! In fact, there is a much greater variety of TP in Ostrava supermarkets than there is in Helsinki supermarkets. Ms. Weiss also commented that no matter how hard she looked in her local supermarket, she could not find olive oil; well, at Tesco's there must be about 100 different varieties of it. So whatever year it was when Ms. Weiss found only the "communist" TP in her local supermarket - that state of affairs seems to be a thing of the past: capitalism has hit the Czech Republic big time. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is, of course, debatable. Personally, I would dare say it's a bit of both.