As with any new country that you go to, there is always a bit of a culture shock, and the Czech Republic is no different in that respect. Coming from the UK, it is my natural tendency to adhere to manners and pleasantries at all times. Even more important to uphold them in public places. So from the moment I entered the transport system and saw that those glum looking faces, devoid of smiles, I knew I wasn’t in my home country anymore. I’m not going to lie. It made me feel very uneasy. I wasn’t expecting a conversation on my tram rides, but definitely more than a cold hard stare to welcome me to living in Prague. Unfortunately, with my English social conditioning, a voice at the back of my head said that these people are not nice. Not the type of people that I should try to integrate with. How foolish this voice was for not considering that you should never judge a book by its cover. For thinking that just because you can smile at a stranger and kindly let them past you, it means that you are a genuinely nice person. Politeness counts for nothing with sincerity. It’s a lesson I have learned living in Prague.
Pubs and bars in Prague
Especially taking myself down to the various local pubs. I was utterly astounded by the price of beer in this country, the affordability the reason for these halls being filled with laughter, jokes, pats on the back and, yes, huge clouds of cigarette smoke. It was 9 years ago, at my tender age of 17, when the smoking ban was imposed in British pubs. It made the public houses clearer, lighter and easier on the lungs. But living in Prague is like stepping into a time machine, and in some strange way, it was actually quite refreshing to see that nobody cared. They’re happy to sit at their tables with their close friends, half litre glasses of the finest lager in their hands, shout “Na Zdravi” (cheers) and drink the night away. You don’t even have to leave your seat to acquire such luxury. In the UK, they make you work for it. Not only do you pay extortionate prices for low quality beer, but you have to take yourself to the bar and wait patiently for inefficient customer service. Living in Prague, you might not get the smiles and pleasantries, but they will slam those beers on your table before you can say a word and simply mark it on your tab for you to pay at the end of the night. What could be better? Perhaps the downside to this simplicity is that there is generally a lack of variety in these pubs spread across the City. Especially when coming to a new City, you crave a bit of eccentricity. And after all, this is meant to be the eccentric capital of Europe. That’s not to say it’s impossible to find something a bit different. With a bit of effort, and help from Mr Google, it’s possible to find some character in your location for a Friday or Saturday night, but what that usually entails is a hoard of loud obnoxious tourists being there with you.
Is living in Prague cheaper?
In terms of the coffee though, there is a lot to be excited about. The term ‘cafe culture’ has all but disappeared in the UK, thanks to the astronomical prices of its product. People don’t sit in Starbucks getting top up after top up, reading newspapers or conducting business on their laptops. They buy a Latte to go, cursing themselves for throwing £5 down the drain when an equally good Nescafe is waiting for them at the office. The cafe scene is alive here, albeit a calmer sense than the beer culture. Sitting in cosy arm chairs, reading books, playing cards with your intellectual friends, sipping generous amounts of cappuccino. No concern about the dent it’s making in your pocket. This is when you sit back, let out a long, drawn out sigh of relief, and realise that this is what living in Prague is all about.
How different is it actually living in Prague
However, everything I have described is surface level observation. Things that any old person can detect from walking the historic streets of Prague. After being here for six months, I can safely say that I am now a resident and have been lucky enough to delve a little deeper into what makes the Czech people tick. I teach English all day every day and have therefore managed to break through the formalities and stern looks that provide the initial hurdle to leap over. Once you do that, you will not regret it. The Czech’s are extremely private people. They are formal, reserved, and will not smile unless you give them a damn good reason to. Don’t sound like the most fun people in the world do they. But as I described before, in British culture we confuse good manners and upbeat small talk with sincerity. We take things at face value all too easily. Living in Prague, you have to work for your relationships. And the fact that it doesn’t come without a bit of effort makes it all the more worthwhile. The patient will bring you genuine smiles, invitations to a couple of drinks in their local, perhaps even dinner at their family home. If this happens, please remember to always take your shoes off unless they specifically tell you that it’s not necessary. Then be prepared for some seriously black sense of humour and ramblings about the state of their political system. The big divide between authority and the public is quite apparent within these types of conversations.
Why living in Prague is amazing
All in all, living in Prague is truly wonderful. The people and social customs are different from what you expect, but that’s what makes it so special. It’s easy to stick with the historic buildings, the expat bars and English speaking museums. But by delving a little deeper and getting to know the people that produced everything you see around you is to learn more than any guide book or exhibition can offer. It will challenge you, but also your beliefs and you’ll come out the other side knowing yourself more than you thought you did. Take the plunge!