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.
I first noticed this phenomenon after my friends and I stumbled onto a wine festival dedicated to Styria (the region of Austria where Arnold Schwarzenegger is from.) I know that this is what the wine festival was for because some very friendly Austrian people explained this to my friends and me after noticing our confused and bewildered expressions. The trend of unprecedented friendliness continued when, later that evening, I walked into a pub to ask for directions and every single person at the bar turned to help me/resolve the best way to get where I wanted to go. But the most stunning display of courtesy occurred when I contemplated making a purchase at an Easter market outside of the Schönbrunn Palace and was greeted with smiles and helpful suggestions by the sales people. One woman even spent 20 minutes helping me pick out the perfect assortment of hand painted doorknobs. After months of feeling anxious in the presence of the silent and stoic storekeepers in the Czech Republic, this was a huge relief.
Yet I must say that, though it was refreshing as a tourist for the locals to be so helpful and caring, it was frankly a little bit exhausting to be smiling and nodding so constantly. I also felt continuously worried that my manners wouldn’t measure up to those of the Austrians, and they might find me to be rude. Personally, I feel more at ease in Prague where I can exhibit my true emotions without shame. There is a certain freedom that comes with not worrying about how other people perceive you, and, even if it appears unfriendly to some, it is so worth the peace of mind.