Human Flower Project

A Czech Mark of Civility


How do you estimate a culture? In at least one measure—the public handling of flowers—the citizens of Prague are, quietly, the most advanced in the world.


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Restaurace Stoleti: you and your flowers are welcome

Photo: Restaurace Stoleti

A Thursday night in Prague: we were on our on way up Karolíny Světlé  to a restaurant in the guidebook when we found an inviting corner.

The sun had just gone all the way down over Old Town. You could see yellow lights inside this place and hear happy voices, friendly ripples (without the squeal of students getting off on their “pivo”). So we strolled up to look at the menu posted outside,  and stepped in.

Right away, we were greeted and shown a table for two in the small front diningroom, attended by a courteous gentlemen we later learned was the owner of this establishment:  Restaurace Stoleti. Over the next half hour, the front filled up, and other diners were shown to a larger room in back.

imageOne of Michal Tomek’s paintings

at Restaurace Stoleti

Photo: Restaurace Stoleti

We ordered and enjoyed a delicious Czech meal, all the while feasting our eyes on an intriguing series of still life paintings (by Michal Tomek, we were to learn) and a large bouquet of fresh flowers, standing on a counter nearby.

A congenial family of four, parents about 50 and a pair of teenagers, sat at the next table and were finishing some enticing hot and cold desserts as our entrees arrived. When they stood to leave, we received a mild shock.

“Mother,” newspaper in hand, stepped over to the counter and pulled the flowers from the vase. She wrapped them up tidily and proceeded out the door with the whole bouquet, bidding her waiter and our host goodnight.

Amazing! We’d never seen such a private/public/private gesture with flowers, anywhere. What a sublime degree of comfort, for a customer to bring her own flowers to a restaurant, enjoy them through the meal and then, with equal ease, collect her bouquet and take it home.

imageHis rose-gift settled into a vase, Tomáš Němeček turns to conversation with friends at Grand Café Orient.

Photo: Human Flower Project

About a week later, we had planned to meet our friend Tomáš Němeček at the beautiful Grand Café Orient—this fine café is upstairs in Dům U Černé Matky Boží (House of the Black Madonna), one of the city’s gems of cubist architecture. Standing out on the street in the late afternoon, admiring the façade of Josefem Gočárem’s intriguing building, we soon saw Tomáš striding up to the main door. He was carrying one very long-stemmed red rose.

For us? Yes! We went up to the café together and found a spot by the window, in one of the grand old booths, upholstered with green-and white stripes. A waiter approached. Nodding slightly to us, and to the rose as well, he returned promptly with a vase.

Clearly, this is how it’s done in Prague. The restaurateurs seem truly sensitive to how we socialize with flowers. Some of the really upscale spots had great displays of blooms as part of the décor, as do fancy establishments in any city. But this was a different custom – far more spontaneous, sensitive and, in our view, generous. 

After a vigorously talkative hour or so (then a tip for our flower-friendly waiter), we collected our rose without hesitation and departed, bidding Tomáš thanks and goodnight in the street.

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At Restaurace Stoleti in Prague, Bill Bishop and a rose are both seated at a choice

table, beneath a painting by local artist Michal Tomek

Photo: Human Flower Project

Then, two of us (three, if you count the rose) were on to dinner – back again to Stoleti. About to be ushered into the large diningroom, we asked instead to be seated up front, under our favorite of Michal Tomek’s wondrous paintings.

But of course. And then our waiter brought the vase.


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/07 at 09:02 PM

Comments

What a wonderful custom. Thanks for sharing it. My husband was in Prague last fall on business, and he stopped in at a cozy corner pub in Old Town and was enraptured by the all-ages enjoyment, warmth, and friendliness of the people.

Posted by Pam/Digging on 06/09 at 12:39 AM

Erm…. what I think is far more likely to have happened is that it was Mother’s birthday, her husband had given her some flowers and the waiter had put them in water for her so that they wouldnt wilt during the meal.  I don’t think she bought them from home with her specifically!

I think you’ll find that this is standard restaurant practice the world over.

Posted by Russ Bowes on 06/09 at 08:51 AM

Thanks to both of you, Pam and Russ.

Pam, how did you manage to miss out on the Prague trip!!?? Next time, you must go—would love the gardens terraced down the castle hill (they REALLY have a castle hill there.)

And Russ, I am so heartened to think you find this custom “standard practice.” Heartened and envious. Here in Austin, the norm is more like this:

Twenty-something waitperson walks up to table, fondling her nose ring, then with same hand, points at your plate and asks:

“You still workin’ on that?”

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/09 at 01:28 PM

This was an enjoyable post in several respects, but first I must comment that having either lived in or worked in Manhattan for much of the last 20++ years and traveled quite a bit as well, I have never seen this custom of routinely bringing flowers into a restaurant as a personal accoutrement.  Since everything happens somewhere in New York, I’m sure that I missed it.  What a civilized custom that I for one was unfamiliar with.

The other thing that I found amusing, or identified with, was that on a vacation trip of limited time you seem to hve adopted a favorite restaurant.  Somehow we always do that, despite knowing that we may miss some other treat that the guidebooks or friends have billed as a must see.  There’s something about that feeling of belonging that comes from going to the same cafe several mornings or doing a repeat visit for dinner and relaxing into a place and with the people there.

And… nice photo of Bill appreciating art over rose.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/10 at 08:15 PM

Why did I miss Prague? Oh yeah, we crazily decided to buy a new house at that time. New house meant no travel budget for a while, alas. But it was a good trade-off. grin

Posted by Pam/Digging on 06/10 at 10:57 PM
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