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Three weeks was all it took to change my worldview forever.  After 21 years of dragging myself to World History and skipping the news to catch the latest episode of One Tree Hill, I finally get it.  I am not just a Braidwoodian, nor am I an Illinoisan.  I am not an American, but rather I am a global citizen.  I am a small part of something big, something unimaginable.  I participate in a marketplace full of vast culture and tradition.  I finally burst my gigantic, red white and blue American bubble.  And oddly enough, it all started with beer.

Of the three sector groups, I felt lucky to be a part of beer.  Not because brand tracking meant sitting in a pub all day, but because it was everywhere.  In the United Kingdom, my first observation was the acceptance of beer consumption. Where were the brown bags and flasks?  After recovering from the culture shock, I entered the pubs to find conversation and fraternity.  Conversation ranged from world politics to sports, especially the World Cup.  The beer was not the center of attention; Instead, it seemed to complement the conversation.  The pubs were a social gathering ground filled with light music and heavy conversation.  In contrast, the bars blasted loud music, making anything more than the occasional “HI!” impossible.  The three brands I saw were Stella Artois, Budweiser and Beck’s Vier.  The ads had completely different messages: Stella promoted less CO2 emissions, Bud used social appeal, while Beck’s used music.  The advertisements were clearly meant to differentiate between brands, not introduce the products.  The brands were well-established in the market, and had probably been promoted for a while.

Brands in the Czech Republic, on the other hand, were not nearly as established.  I saw just one billboard for Budweiser, which touted one line of basic copy promoting its ingredients.  The under-developed advertising is undoubtedly a result of the many years of Communist rule.  Without proper advertising, brands are unable to differentiate themselves.  This is horrible for these brands because over 400 brands of beer exist in the Czech market.   It is not surprising that their beer is so inexpensive.  Despite the advertising, Czechs continue to drink more beer per capita than anyone else.  They drink at all times of the day, as demonstrated by our castle tour guides.  Apparently there is nothing more satisfying than a breakfast beer.  They also seem to be developing a playful attitude towards drinking.  As the younger generation grows partial to wine, beer sometimes seems conservative and old.  But in places like Pilsner’s Unique Bar, bowling alleys and casinos, beer is experiencing a renaissance in the eyes of young Czechs.

This experience reminded me that culture is everything.  It is where you come from, where you are going, and everything inbetween.  It was powerful to see how 20 years later, the Czechs are affected daily by the Communist Era.  Everything from the advertisements to their attitude towards life is a result of that moment in history.  Cultural codes take all of these moments and all the traditions, apply them to the present and relate them to a product segment to create one all encompassing word or phrase.  I can see why all of the groups struggled at least once.

Before this class, I lived in my safe American bubble, taking for granted free water and, well, freedom.  As I reached for my USA Today and hopped in my Ford car, I gave no thought to our distant neighbors across the pond.  When I wrote papers, the word “Americans” was interchangeable with “People.”  It sounded much better than “World Citizens” or “Mankind.” Once I got to Europe, my perspective on the world, and on life, changed for good.  Once you stand under Big Ben in London and explore a castle in Prague, there is no going back.  There is a world outside America that is real and alive.  Some of it is ugly and needs our help; some of it is beautiful and needs our appreciation.  Once I returned to America, I talked to my friends and family about global issues.  I casually and unapologetically talked politics, though it is largely taboo here.  I added World News to my internet news feed.  And in about 20 minutes, I’m going to watch the U.S. play England in the World Cup.

-Kara

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Ethnography is the study of people and how they interact with life.  It is a careful examination of the nuances that make them unique.  It is a rewarding experience that provides the ethnographer with a much deeper insight into another way of life and allows them to examine their own.
This is exactly what I have finished doing over the past three weeks.  Travelling from London to Manchester and finally Prague, I have studied beer and its involvement in each of these places’ culture.   Ultimately, I summarized both the United Kingdom’s and the Czech Republic’s beer culture by assigning a code.  This code represents what beer means to them in a metaphorical way.
During this observation, I have noticed some patterns that emerged in both countries.  In the UK, beer is tied with a strong sense of unity and communication.  The pub is the hub that brings men (and sometimes women) together after a long day.  Here, they exchange stories and catch-up on life.  These pubs are so popular at these hours that patrons pour out the doors, spilling onto the street outside.
This trend is evident across London, but was not noticed in Manchester.  This could be due to the cold and rainy weather, driving them inside.  The Manchester pubs were structured and valued similarly to those in London.  However, they were younger buildings working to build a tradition like their London counterparts.  These efforts make it obvious how valued community is for the UK.  This bond is formed over a pint in a tradition that has existed for hundreds of years.
Prague presented a different pattern than the UK.  This pattern was consistency.  It is served with every meal and it is cheaper than water in some places.  Unlike the UK, Czech people rarely have less than two beers when at a pub.
Beer is everywhere in the Czech Republic, making it one of their national treasures.  This pride outshines what was seen with brand loyalty in the UK, replacing it with exclusive preference for Czech beers.  Czech loyalty to Czech beer brands is so strong, it makes the market nearly impenetrable.  It is as if the Czech people are within a beer sphere of their own.
This experience has opened my eyes to new cultures.  Through careful observation, interviews and reflection, I have worked with my team members to classify culture codes for beer.  These codes accurately represent the way the UK and Czech Republic incorporate beer and culture.  The results we uncovered were not what I expected.  As a result, they taught me more about these cultures than I could ever expect to learn.

-Jon

Our initial Culture Code for beer in the Czech Republic was simple: water. Just as water fuels life, beer fuels Czech culture. Czechs are known around the world for their beer, and enjoy the local drink as evidenced by their outstanding consumption level and loyalty to their local brews. It is not unusual for Czech people to drink beer at different times during the day, including at lunch, after work, and with dinner. It is so deeply ingrained in their culture that it has become ubiquitous, like water. Other cultures may bring water to your table at a restaurant and continue to fill your glass throughout the evening. In the Czech Republic, if you order beer, the waiter will continue to fill your glass during the course of the meal until you say otherwise. Not to mention that in many cases, beer costs less at a restaurant or pub than water.

Taking the water analogy further, many towns and villages throughout the Czech Republic have their own breweries, like each town probably used its own well as a water source. As towns relied on the wells for survival, the Czech beer culture relies on the breweries to survive. Because the Czech Republic is landlocked, it has no direct access to water. On the other hand, the geographical conditions are ideal for growing the ingredients to create beer. In our minds, it seemed as if beer has taken the place of water in this country.

The water argument summed up a lot about Czech beer culture, but it did not account for the pride that Czechs feel for their beer. Also, the concept of water is not culturally specific. Given the need for a Culture Code for beer more specific to the Czech Republic,  we regrouped and came to our final cultural code for beer: liquid bread.

As bread is to many cultures, beer is a daily staple in the Czech Republic. One might eat bread in the morning, midday for lunch, and with dinner. Our group was surprised when our tour guides, Tomas and Tomas, stopped for a 10 a.m. beer on the way to the castle. This was not typical behavior for them, but it wasn’t as if they batted an eye either. Similarly, beer is often consumed with lunch, as well as dinner. As we heard from several people, Czech people do not think about beer as alcohol and do not drink to get drunk. Rather, beer is a common, plentiful beverage that tastes good.

Ancient Czechs found beer to be refreshing, tasty and cheap: all adjectives that work for bread. Both are also nourishing, as they are made from essentially the same ingredients – water, grains, and yeast. Flash forward to the Socialist era in the Czech Republic, and the government provided Czechs with beer, bread and meat as rations. Being plentiful in these staples provided the people with a sense of abundance and the feeling that they must be doing well to have so much. These items, bread and meat, are essential dietary items for survival, and it is interesting to note that beer was included as a staple.

Liquid bread also accounts for the social aspect of beer. Bread is placed at the center of the table, around which people come together. In fact, the term “breaking bread” means to come together and share around the table. Beer is also commonly shared in social situations, whether with friends, family or other acquaintances. People told us that they go to pubs to socialize, and beer happens to be what they drink.

Bread is nourishing, social, and consumed daily. Beer is liquid bread.

-Jon, Julia, Kara, Katelyn & Luke

I like doing this whole ethnography thing. I like how there are many options of getting information from people. Sometimes I like to watch what goes on around me while using my senses. Other times I like to jump into the activity myself, and see what its like to be emerged in the culture. However, I think my favorite thing to do while doing an ethnography is to talk to people in the culture.

I got a chance to talk to Casper, one of the men who works at Garp. He and a few of his fellow advertisers took us to a couple pubs one night. He was very interested in giving me information about the Czech beer culture, so I happily listened and had quite the interesting conversation with him.

He started off by telling me about his first memory of beer, when his dad let him taste a sip of his beer when he was about 12 years old. The first time he was drunk was he only had three beers and was really drunk. Now he can drink ten beers before he feels drunk. I asked him if Czechs go out and drink to get drunk and he said that beer isn’t really viewed as a drink that will make you drunk.

Casper mostly shared stories about what it was like to grow up in a culture where beer is so prominent. The drinking age here is 18 years old but he said it is quite easy to drink when you are younger. Most pubs will not kick you out because you are underage because they know that if they make you leave you will just go somewhere else and give another pub your money.

Parents are not strict about underage drinking, they like to let their kids learn how to drink on your own. He said that Czech people like to “be in touch with beer but not overdo it.” He said beer is Czech in a nutshell. Beer is so much a part of the Czech people’s lives that it encompasses a huge part of their culture. Talking to Casper got me to see a lot of things that just observing would not have brought me to.

-Katelyn

My experience in the beer culture here in the Czech Republic has been very unexpected.  I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived here a week ago, but what I found surprised me.  The Czech Republic drinks more beer per person than any other country in the world.  The tourists are a significant part of this stat but it still helps to understand the culture here.  

The truth is that Czechs love their beer.  They don’t just love all beer, they love their own specific Czech beers.  This beer has a distinctive look and taste that’s different from most other beers.  The beer is a lighter color but has a large foamy head that usually comes with a darker beer.  It is usually served in a egg-like glass mug with the beer brand written on the side.  I asked some people here why the beer has such a large foamy head and they said it’s necessary to preserve the taste of the beer.  They explained that the beer starts to lose its unique taste once the oxygen in the air reaches the beer.  The fact that many people knew this shows that the people are pretty well educated about their beer as well.  

The taste of the beer fits the look well in my opinion.  It’s not very strong and it doesn’t taste as sweet as other beers.  It is also fairly easy to drink.  It’s a more bitter tasting beer  and is usually served at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  It goes well with many traditional Czech meals which are fairly basic meals as well.  The taste of the beer doesn’t get old either.  I’ve had some beers that get boring after a while, but each beer tastes as refreshing as the next.  This could be one of the reasons why Czechs drink so much beer.  

Czechs love their beer so much, that they really don’t drink anything else.  They take great pride in their beer.  Every Czech person I’ve asked has said that their beer is the best in the whole world.  They also want tourists to try it to see what they think.  We went to a pub with people from the Garp Agency and they showed us about a dozen different Czech beers.  I could tell that they were really excited to share their beer with us and were also very proud of it.  He said that one of the reasons why they are so proud of their beer is because they aren’t very good at doing much else.  

The beer is also cheap compared to other places, which is another huge reason why the people love their beer so much.  One of the people at an agency even said that he has taken Czech beer with him when he goes to another country because other beer doesn’t taste as good and is also much more expensive.  

Beer is consumed here similar to how water is consumed in the US.  It is consumed periodically throughout the day and can be found almost anywhere.  I was also surprised to find out that Czech restaurants don’t usually offer free water for the customers.  In some places, the water was more expensive than the beer.  This shows just how much beer is a part of the culture here.  

Since so much beer is consumed here, one might say that Czechs love to get drunk.  This isn’t always true.  Beer drinking is just a social thing to do around here.   One person said that they drink because their isn’t much else to do.  Since they do it so much, one man from Garp even said that he doesn’t even consider drinking beer to be drinking alcohol until after the 5th or 6th beer.  Another has said that they know that drinking enough beer will eventually get them drunk, but the goal is to continue being social with friends instead of getting drunk.  

I’ve had a great time here in Prague and have definitely enjoyed the taste and price of the beer here.  The people here have been great and I really hope to visit here again sometime soon.

-Luke

As I noticed the advertisements in London, it was refreshing to be away from the cheap, sexist beer advertisements that pervade America.  In a recent campaign, Miller compared women to beer, as men struggled to confess their love to their girlfriend, but easily did so to their beer.  Women were treated like objects, and America could not get enough.  In London, advertisements focused on history, music, or the environment.  And then I went to Prague.

Given the discrete, subtle nature of Czechs, I expected more conservative advertisements.  Staropramen commercials displayed the exact opposite.  In one, a man deflates his complaining girlfriend and folds her up like a float.  Of course, these advertisements were targeted toward a younger, less conservative market.  But still, I found Staropramen ads to reflect American beer advertisements.  Perhaps they are following US trends in advertising.

-Kara

Beer Castle

To clarify, there is no “Beer Castle” in the Czech Republic.  This is a connection I have made regarding beer in Czech culture.  It is a potential culture code for Beer in the Czech Republic.

The Czech Republic holds the world record for most castles per square mile with roughly 2,000.  These are large, ancient structures that are a strong part of Czech culture.

Functionally, castles are used to protect.  Their thick walls stretch high to prevent entrance of intruders.  This mirrors the Czech Republic geographically in how the country is surrounded by mountains with a basin in the middle.  Taken further, this reflects beer culture in the way Czech beer is so prominent within the country and how it is secluded from the outside beer world.  Few beer brands attempt to penetrate the Czech market, knowing how difficult it is to break Czech loyalty.

A castle is also a symbol.  For the people it is a sign of strength and security.  History shows people would congregate near a castle for strength and protection.  Castles bring people together rather than scattering across the countryside.  This is similar to the way beer brings Czech people together.  It is a cultural tradition that unites them all, providing a connecting point they can rally over.

From an outsider’s perspective, a castle is a symbol of the people.  Positioned above the landscape, castles could be seen from far away.  Others would know where the castle was and marveled in its excellence and power.  Castles stand as a public display of strength and pride.  This relates to Czech beer culture in that the outside world knows of Czech beer and the pride Czech people have for it.

Castles also relate to Czech culture with their quantity.  The 2,000 castles has a strong correlation with the abundance of breweries within the Czech Republic.  Just as this number got them a world record, the amount of breweries shows the Czech Republic’s widespread love of beer and how ingrained it is in their culture.

All things considered, “castle” seemed like a fairly strong culture code for beer in the Czech Republic.  Upon further review, we decided it did not represent the entire culture.  The major missing piece is the lack of addressing the daily routine Czechs have with beer.  It is a drink that is consumed regularly, which is hard to represent with a castle.

Another issue is that castles are associated with royalty and authority, which has a negative connotation with Czech people based on rulers from the medieval times to today.  This point was addressed by a Czech citizen when this code was mentioned.

What is important to understand with this code idea is that a castle is used to represent what beer means to Czech culture as a whole rather than how it connects with the individual and their beer drinking experience.  A castle’s historical and symbolic value strongly relates to the way Czechs value beer and how it is understood from an outsider’s perspective.

As with many attempts at establishing a culture code, there are some gaps in this idea that deem it an inaccurate summary of Czech beer culture as a whole.  However, some concepts will be salvaged and re-applied in our pursuit for the best code.

-Jon