In the short amount of time I have been in Prague, I feel as though I have experienced so much. While much of this week has been limited to sightseeing, visiting places like Wenceslas Square, the John Lennon wall, and the old and new town of Prague, so much of the Czech culture can be found hidden in these sites (even if the Czech people may despise these tourist-filled spaces). Exploring the Czech streets, you cannot help but feel as though you are walking through history as you pass through the cobblestone streets and brightly colored buildings covering the city—a real-life Epcot. While these buildings may simply be beautiful to look at, the colorful architecture is also a reminder of the city’s relatively recent break from communism in 1989. The bright paint covers the once gray colored buildings mandated under communist oppression. While you can still occasionally find these grey buildings dotted through less populated areas of the city, other sites like the Wenceslas Square, where Czech citizens once protested the communist government and still to this day continue to protest the government, further remind you of the Czech pride in the freedom they have achieved and the progress that still needs to be made.
Despite the external warmth of the city and its architecture, I have found Czech people to be slightly colder. Most likely rooted in its communist past when people had to keep their personal lives secret out of fear of being arrested, Czech people, particularly older people, tend to keep to themselves and are far from eager to offer assistance. I found this to be true when I asked for help navigating the city when I had gotten lost, and many individuals either were too busy to help or ignored me altogether. This treatment, of course, is not true of everyone, however. A young Czech woman even walked me to my tram stop when I was lost. Additionally, during my meet and greet at my internship, my colleagues were some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. I immediately felt respected and welcomed. Given the countries emphasis on hierarchy and formality as well as proving yourself worthy of respect before it is given, I did not expect this positive treatment in the work environment. I assume that this may in part be because my colleagues know I am an American, where people in the workplace are often assumed to be competent until proven otherwise and often expect to be treated accordingly. Additionally, I’ve also learned that making an effort to speak the language goes a long way with Czech people. Even though I have consistently been laughed at for my horrible pronunciation, when I speak Czech to Czech people they are much more open. It’s amazing how far you can get with just a few polite Czech words and a “Mluvíte Anglicky? (Do you Speak English?”. Especially as an American, where there is often a stereotype of being ignorant, making an effort to show that I have an understanding of the language, history, and culture is very helpful in easing some of the annoyance Czech people have for foreigners.
However, even with this knowledge, I’ve learned that Czech small talk and American small talk are very different and will take some getting used to. Because of their past of Communist oppression, Czech people do not want to talk about their personal lives like Americans. Instead, they will often talk about things like politics or even sexual preferences—topics often deemed inappropriate to Americans especially since Czech people tend not to believe in PC culture. Even though Czech people may communicate differently and tend to be slightly more standoffish, I have heard that Czech people hold their friends very closely to their hearts. I hope that hopefully by the end of this trip I can experience that closeness.
While it may be slightly harder to initially make a connection with a Czech person, what they lack in small talk, they make up for in dogs. Czech people love to bring their dogs everywhere, and they are not leashed. I think it may even be the case that Czech people love their dogs even more than their beer—no easy feat considering the Czech Republic has the highest alcohol consumption per capita out of anywhere else in the world. I suppose it’s comforting to know that if people don’t work out I can always turn to dogs for companionship.
But perhaps what is even more exciting than the dogs, are the cheap prices in the Czech Republic. At many places, I’ve found full meals for around 5 dollars (except for the touristy places, of which I have visited many, unfortunately for my wallet). This lower cost of living is indicative of the lower wages, with minimum wages about equivalent to only $2 here. Despite its low wages, however, the unemployment rate is very low at around 3.5% and continues to decrease. While this low unemployment rate may pose issues for me as a recruiter in the Czech Republic, I look forward to the challenge and I look forward to experiencing more of the Czech culture over the next 3 months.