With the arrival of tourist season, Prague has been filling with travelers eager to see the city’s most beautiful and historic sights. However, eager as these travelers may be, they seem to be equally stumped by the city’s winding cobblestone streets, and spotting a lost tourist has become a regular occurrence in my daily life. Though it may sounds cruel and insensitive, this brings me a great deal of satisfaction. This is not because I enjoy watching people struggle to find their way, but because as I watch these disoriented tourists struggle to unfold their large maps or navigate the metro system, I feel as though I am no longer a foreigner in this city. Instead I feel as if I carry with me an understanding of Prague’s inner-workings that true foreigners lack, and can finally identify as an “insider” in comparison to those around me.
I know what you are thinking. And yes, the title of this post is a reference to season 5, episode 18 of the late, great show How I Met Your Mother, where Marshall sings to his wife Lily “happy, happy Lily day” on her birthday. But, no, it is actually not my birthday. My birthday was a few weeks ago which you would have known if you had been keeping up with my posts! Don’t worry though, I forgive you if you missed a couple. What matters is that you are here now. How, though, could there possibly be another reason to celebrate my life so soon after my birthday you wonder? Was I recognized as one of the greatest minds of our generation? Did I break a world record? Or maybe I found a cure for the common cold during my free time here in Prague.
Part of the reason I wanted to study abroad was so that I could prepare myself for adulthood and life after graduation. As my last semester of Junior year comes to a close, that final day that marks the end of my undergraduate studies is in clear sight, and it is only getting clearer. So I wanted to remove myself from all of the comforts and support that I have at Rhodes (as well as in America) to see how I would manage without them. I wanted to see if, without these luxuries, I might be able to function as an adult might in a world beyond college.
Something that a lot of foreign students I have met seem to agree on is the fact that Czech people are not “nice.” It is not that anyone thinks of Czech people as being mean, rude, or inconsiderate. On the contrary, I have seen countless random acts of kindness occur since being here; people always swarm to help a woman with a stroller or a blind person onto a metro, rush to give up their seat for an elderly person, and take the time to give directions when asked. Czech people are just not overtly nice. By this I mean that they stare straight ahead with a blank expression when they pass you on the street, they make no effort to hide their aggravation when they are annoyed, and they are not afraid to scold you for walking in the bike path. The last one is totally understandable though—sorry to all the bikers of Prague for the countless times I have unknowingly blocked your path. So when I went to Vienna last weekend I was slightly overwhelmed by the friendliness that Austrians exude. Being from Georgia, I am accustomed to a high degree of politeness—but Austrians take courtesy to a whole new level.
Perhaps the most difficult concept for me to grasp here has been that nothing is ever free. We say that to ourselves in America often; “nothing comes free,” “everything has its price,” we grumble. But in the Czech Republic, everything actually does have a price and it is printed clearly at the top of the bill. This means that a 0,2 liter glass of water costs money to consume. The same goes for the bread that is already sitting on the table at any given restaurant. Even the tablespoon of butter that accompanies said bread has its price. So it should have come as no surprise that the dessert brought out to me at the Thai restaurant where I opted to celebrate my birthday was not free of charge. But I was somehow surprised anyway. Maybe it is because making someone pay for dessert on their birthday just seems like a heartless crime to me… Is that too harsh?
The first few weeks I was in Prague, everyone told me that I HAD to go to Prague Castle. Tour guides, new friends, and teachers insisted that it has the best view of the city and a beautiful church to boot. So, after checking with my favorite online travel guides to see if it is as beloved by tourists as it is by locals (it is), my roommates and I navigated our way to the top of the castle. After seeing it, I had to agree that it is beautiful and breathtaking and everything everyone said it would be. But it is not my favorite castle in Prague.
Lately, I have been unable to pull away from my collection of short stories by Franz Kafka. Born in Prague, Kafka is one of the most famous authors to come from the Czech Republic (and for very good reason). After reading one of his most successful stories, The Hunger Artist, last semester in an English class, I fell in love with the dream-like, yet somehow normal, nature of his writings. His work is so unique that it has developed its own adjective, “Kafkaesque.” This refers to the surreal distortion and sense of impending danger present in his writing, but the term can also be applied to things outside of the pages of Kafka’s stories. For instance, I have noticed many aspects of Prague that tie neatly into the idea of the Kafkaesque, especially with the city’s sculptures.
Having only lived in Atlanta, Georgia and Memphis, Tennessee before now, I have grown very accustomed to the sweltering summers and mild winters that the South has to offer. Therefore, I was very afraid for my wellbeing when I decided to spend a semester in the Czech Republic. I know absolutely nothing about functioning in cold weather conditions, and I was nervous to have to adjust my mentality, diet, and dress for cold weather. Truth be told, I never even owned a heavy coat before I decided to study in Prague because the weather in the South has never demanded it. So one can imagine the impending doom I felt as I prepared to migrate to a much colder climate.
Last weekend, I was able to travel to Berlin through my program. The trip was such a breath of fresh air, as the program coordinators transported us to the city on a charter bus and arranged for us to stay in a hotel for the weekend. This meant that we each got private bathrooms, room keys, and a full breakfast every morning of our stay- luxuries that I had not thought possible since being here. After weeks of traveling via anxiety-filled train rides only to arrive at hostels housing bunk beds that swayed in the breeze from an open window (true story), this trip seemed like a dream.
This Wednesday my roommates and I all experienced our first classless morning. The previous two weekdays we had each spent about 10 hours in school, so we all took advantage of the opportunity to relax.