I usually say when people approach me and start rapidly speaking Czech. (And yes, sometimes I want to make the “Confused Trump” face at them.) This means, “Do you speak English?” in Czech, which I can confidently say that I have used everyday since I have been here. To me, it is an odd occurrence that people make the mistake of assuming I speak the language when I feel like my American nationality stands out so much that I might as well be walking around with the American flag tattooed on my forehead. The Czech Republic and the U.S.’s societies are two very different cultures, which is the main reason I feel that I stand out so much.
For starters, Americans are actually quite informal and “friendly” in their daily interactions with people. My daily habits included smiling at people as I passed them on the streets and saying hello with the possibility of asking how they are doing. Here in the Czech Republic a good word of advice would be to not try this. Everyone here keeps to themselves in public and on the streets. In fact, there are only limited public interactions that I can think of when it comes to the people of Prague. One glaringly obvious one is the staring. In the United States, it is quite rude to stare at someone. I even recall my mother teaching me social customs as a toddler and explicitly stating to me not to stare at others. Here, though, staring is a common practice. Everyone just glares around at each other on the tram without saying one word to each other, nor exchanging a brief smile. The only time I have ever seen people exchange a few brief words is when someone gives up their seat on the tram for the elderly or women with children. Though I do not know what they are saying to each other, I imagine it being a prolonged thank you.
Public interactions are not the only difference as well. The Czech people are very formal. For example, you greet everyone that you do not know with the phrase, “Dobry den.” This simply means “good day”, and in my opinion this is how they show respect to those that they do not know. So, their value is based on this spoken respect. I cannot imagine saying, “Good day” to someone in the U.S. as I passed them in the hallway at the office without getting some type of confused expression.
As today marks the official one month mark of me being here, I have met my fair share of Czech people and other E.U. nationalities, and they all have their very distinct thoughts on Americans. Most are under the impression that we are all filthy rich. (Note: Here in Prague, the economy is fair. The standards, I am learning, are lower than other E.U. countries, which makes it a “cheap” location. I hate to say the word cheap, but I cannot think of another word.) With these conditions in mind, I will admit that the currency exchange is in my favor, but I would like to argue that I am certainly by no means rich in the U.S. In fact, it is quite a struggle for myself and my family, so to me when I am told, “Oh Americans are so rich”, I simply laugh in my head while thinking that they have no idea.
Another topic that has been brought up a lot to me is Donald Trump. In fact, if I had one crown for each time I have encountered something related to Trump and his practices, then I just may be that “rich” American. Just the other day, I passed a political cartoon of Trump out on the street even. I have also been asked about my opinion on him as well as my political views many times. However, I must admit that I figured that many people would be curious about an American’s views on our current leader. As an American though, politics is not something that we openly discuss with one another, so it still takes me back when someone asks me these questions. This is when I suddenly take the Czech approach to public interactions and become very reserved.
Despite all these differences, I do not feel unwelcome, and I have not been intimidated or offended by any of them personally. I still have many more differences to encounter, but for now the largest one that is unsettling is the complex language barrier. We will see if I am able to handle the language a little better by the end of the trip, but for now I shall stick with “mluvite anglicky?”
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