As of press time, I will have been in the Czech Republic for five weeks. Which is long enough to finally learn how to cook rice, but not long enough to wash my sheets more than once (yes, I am disgusting) and by far the longest I have ever spent outside of the United States. In honor of this milestone, I present a few cultural differences that took me by surprise. Unlike Prague’s famous Charles Bridge at sunset, they’re not all pretty.
1. Terrifying food service
Having been a barista and server for four years, I understand how the job can instill a hatred for humanity in even those graced with the sunniest of dispositions. Still, I was ill-prepared for my first experience in a traditional Czech pub, where it was clear that the waitress despised us as soon as she realized we only spoke English. She looked at my friend like she had committed a murder when she had the nerve to order tap water rather than beer.
During my own time as a server, I was constantly plagued with guilt; my natural clumsiness made me a bad fit for the job,and I felt like I was disappointing each new customer. How the tables have turned here in Prague! Now I feel guilty the moment I step into a restaurant, and the rest of my experience is defined by trying to make it up to the waitstaff for being an uncouth American. A dose of humility is probably good for me, but don’t be surprised if you come to visit and encounter me huddled outside a pub, weeping softly onto my unfinished one-star Yelp review.
2. PDA all day
Back at Vassar, public displays of affection tend to remain pretty low-key during the daylight hours, but anyone who has stuck out a Mug Night or Villard Room party to the bitter end knows that by the time the evening is finally winding down, it’s difficult to move an inch without being spattered by the flying saliva of couples frantically making out on all sides (no judgment here, by the way—I have been one of those sloppy people, and I have no shame. Okay, maybe a healthy amount of shame).
Here in Prague, however, PDA can be spotted day or night and rain or shine. One evening, as my friends and I were en route home on the tram, we spied a couple sucking face; what was unusual was how she had her hand stuck all the way up his sleeve and was rooting around in the
vicinity of his biceps. What was she expecting to find up there? Was she exploring the possibilities of the armpit as an erogenous zone? Perhaps the Czechs are just more sexually innovative than we Americans. They are certainly less sexually repressed, as I’ve gathered from the “Erotic City” superstore across from my gym and the sex shop in the metro station boasting a giant dildo in the window. I must be growing accustomed to it because I naturally assumed the “Loving Hut” by my apartment was a sensual massage establishment until I looked closer and realized that it was a vegan restaurant chain.
3. Political tone-deafness
One of my professors here in Prague is fond of prefacing his off-color anecdotes with “Girls, don’t listen!” This is undoubtedly a red flag on its own, but it gets worse. One such story concerned the time he got a phone call from a friend who claimed he was at a bar with a couple of gorgeous women. Naturally, my esteemed professor made tracks to the bar. Upon arriving and seeing the women, however, he exclaimed, “What, you mean these witches!?”
Mind you, this was all to illustrate the fact that what we see through our camera’s viewfinder can’t always be trusted because someone else might see it differently. While I respect the technical knowledge my professors, many of whom are seasoned professionals in their fields, have to impart, I miss being in classrooms where I’m not periodically invited to cover my ears.
4. Ending on a positive note…
If you happen to have read my first post for The Miscelany News’ Far and Away blog, then you already have heard of the wonders of Vzorkovna, or “Dog Bar,” an off-beat underground hangout that’s home to a gigantic and aged wolfhound. The dog obsession does not end there. Prague is chock-full of adorable pups of all shapes and sizes. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Czechia ranks at the bottom of the world’s nations for fertility rate. Therefore, I have concluded that the denizens of Prague have swapped children for canines. This is a choice that I ardently applaud
I expect to be seriously dog-deprived upon my return to the States, and I’ll be flying in right around the holidays. So, to my family members, please do take note if you’re still searching for the perfect gift. My favorite dog breeds are basset hounds and corgis, and I will accept kibble in lieu of cash.