Well, I have been in Prague for eleven days, and I can officially say it is the most beautiful city I have ever seen! Everything looks like a fairytale, and even the most mundane activity, like going to class or going to the grocery store, has the coolest back drop. The cultural adjustment hasn’t been too hard; the language barrier is a challenge, but daily life doesn’t feel too different here than it does at home. However, there are a few adjustments that have surprised me… here are the top ten things I’ve learned in my eleven days of living in Prague:
- Don’t pet people’s dogs. Truly.
Being a dog lover, I was warned about this by a friend who studied abroad in Prague. Going up and petting people’s dogs is rude. The dogs here are less like pets, and more like…kids maybe? They’re definitely completely part of people’s families. Dogs are everywhere, and most aren’t on leashes. Apparently its socially acceptable to pet dogs if they come up to you, but the funny part is, most aren’t really interested in saying hi to strangers. They’re quiet and polite and reserved, so much so that I would feel awkward about going up and saying hi to them if they didn’t initiate it. The only dogs I’ve seen on the street that wagged their tales and clearly wanted to say hi were an Australian Shepherd and a Golden Retriever puppy (both notoriously friendly dogs). The rest seem content to stick with their human friends and watch the world go by.
- Grocery shopping involves way too much Google Translate.
Somehow, I thought that grocery shopping would be easy, and I would recognize brands and could just rely on the pictures on the box if I couldn’t read the words. Well, my first time shopping alone I spent a solid ten minutes trying to piece through the yogurt section, another ten staring at tea boxes, and finally gave up and left buying cereal for another day. Shopping is going to have a learning curve.
- The Czechs take recycling very seriously.
Each flat in our program has study abroad students and one “Czech buddy” who lives with us and helps us navigate living in a different country. One of the first lessons that my flatmates and I learned is how to recycle; definitely thought I already knew how to do this, but the Czechs take recycling to another level. Our apartment has four containers: A blue one for recycling paper, a green one for recycling glass, a yellow one for recycling plastic, and a white one for trash (basically just food scraps, aluminum foil and paper towels). In fact, on our first day here our Czech buddy showed us the rolling garbage can outside the building, exactly the same size as the ones that each house gets in the States. Big enough so it doesn’t overflow, but small enough that one household fills it up by the time it gets picked up by the garbage truck every week. Well, that same size garbage can is what the entire apartment building uses every week here. That’s right—one apartment building in Prague produces the same amount of waste as one household does in the States. Wow.
- Dryers aren’t a thing.
We have one teeny, tiny little washing machine in our flat (it’s really quite cute), and all the words are in German so our Czech buddy put little arrows on it so we know which settings to use. But dryers, as many Czech locals have told me, really aren’t a thing, and so everything must be line dried. I really don’t mind this, but I do miss having warm, soft, freshly dried towels instead of cold stiff ones. Oh well, if that’s one of the biggest cultural adjustments I have to make, I’ll gladly take it.
- Paying for public restrooms is a thing.
I found this out when I had to pay Kč 10 (about 45 cents USD) to use the bathroom in a metro station. On the plus side it was very clean.
- Free drinking water really isn’t a thing.
This is by far the hardest thing to get used to. I have struggled trying to find a reusable water bottle to buy, I have yet to see a drinking fountain, and water is rarely free at restaurants. When I (or someone else) has asked for water at restaurants, the response varies from saying “We don’t serve tap water” to bringing an entire pitcher of water with lemons in it to bringing fancy tall glass bottles of water (and then charging you about $2 USD for it).
- Store clerks aren’t that friendly, and don’t really care if you get helped in a timely manner.
Lines take a long time in stores, most grocery store workers that I’ve seen look bored and don’t try at all to hide it, and I have yet to be greeted when I walk into a store (which I actually find preferable to being followed around in stores in the U.S. by clerks asking if they can help you—and that’s coming from someone who works part-time in retail). When you check out, the cashier throws your items down the counter after they’ve been rung up, and they don’t provide plastic bags (or do for an additional cost) so you better have brought your own or be prepared to carry everything you purchased. Once you get the hang of this, though, everything goes quite smoothly.
- Nutella is as expensive here as it is anywhere else.
Since the rest of my grocery items are less expensive than at home, I came here expecting Nutella to be much cheaper, so that just surprised me. Enough said.
- Drip coffee is very, very hard to find.
I’ve finally stopped asking for “plain coffee” or “regular coffee” in coffee shops (after confusing too many baristas when they ask what I mean and I try to explain it further) and I’ve accepted that lattes, cappuccinos, and the occasional Americano is what I’ll mostly be drinking. And getting used to drinking a lot of instant coffee at home.
- Don’t go to Starbucks. For so many reasons.
First of all, it’s not a place where you can practice your Czech—the baristas assume that most of the customers speak English. Second, they’re mostly in touristy areas. Third, you can get Starbucks anywhere. And finally, it is much, much, MUCH more expensive than local coffee shops, and I plan to visit as many local coffee shops as possible. However, I can’t promise I won’t go in every once in a blue moon if I simply need a nice, plain cup of coffee.