I live in Prague, which is a touristy city, but I don’t live in a particularly touristy area. The neighborhood I live in is full of other expats, artists, families, and a truly incredible amount of adorable puppies, and living here affords me the opportunity to pretend that millions of people don’t invade this city every year. Living outside of the tourist center of the city has also caused some…encounters…with Czechs that aren’t particularly thrilled that I don’t speak Czech very well, and with Czechs who think my attempts are either laughable or adorable (I’ve never been able to tell which). Regardless, my experience living in Prague 3 feels “local” to me. I feel like I’m part of a community here, and that I’m adapting to this beautiful city well enough to start calling it home.
All of this changed last week when I had to temporarily leave my apartment while some repairs were being done. Because I work in Old Town, I decided that I would take my rent reduction and book an Airbnb apartment close to work so that I’d be able to cut down my commute for a couple of very lazy days. I had no idea that 3 nights spent living in Prague’s Jewish Quarter would be so incredibly different than the past 7 months I’ve spent living 4 metro stops away from the heart of the Old Town. Experiencing my (current) home city through a tourist’s eyes gave me both a deeper appreciation for tourists, and for the city itself. In light of my most recent revelations, here are some things that I learned while living in the tourist district of Prague:
- Using the local language will (usually) earn you major brownie points. I’ve been learning Czech for 3 or 4 months, and I can say basic things. Very basic. So basic that people in my own neighborhood usually get frustrated or angry with me, and if they don’t, they usually just laugh at the “cute” attempt. In my laziness, I visited restaurants in the Jewish Quarter that I probably wouldn’t have ever gone to otherwise, and did my usual “attempt to order in Czech” thing, and it was met with such gratitude I felt like I was going to be thrown a parade. I had one waitress apologize to me for greeting me in English as soon as she heard me say “ja si dam” (“I’ll have”) when placing my order. …She actually apologized- and in a very heartfelt way at that! I had another waiter come over to me when I finished a meal to thank me for attempting Czech, and he said it so earnestly that I could believe he’s never had another customer make the attempt. I’ve never been thanked for butchering a language before, I guess I can check it off the bucket list…
- Not using the local language can be a serious detriment. It’s not often the case that I can pick and choose when to speak the local language, and to be fair, if I can speak the local language I almost always give it a shot. In these three days, I certainly ran into moments when my Czech wasn’t sufficient, and it became a truly interesting exercise. In these moments, it was clear that my quality of life in Prague is significantly better when I’m attempting to speak Czech. Or in any case, I pay less for wine.
- Tourists are both incredibly annoying and incredibly charming. When you’re trying to get to work in the morning and have to walk through Old Town Square, it’s much like the feeling you get walking to an important meeting through Times Square at 2:00 pm on a Saturday. It’s not a happy feeling. On the other hand, seeing the city you’ve lived in for more than half a year through the eyes of those tourists is a great path to rediscovery. I usually blow past them on the sidewalk in an effort to get home, but because I was living so close to the office I had a lot more free time to appreciate what was around me. Part of what I found to appreciate was the amazement with which many of the tourists see Prague. It’s also a great feeling when someone asks you for directions, and you can help them. It’s even better when you can see the pure joy in their eyes when they realize that you speak English- a feeling I can truly understand!
- Prague is beautiful, and I’m incredibly lucky. I read a HuffPost article today which named Prague “Europe’s Prettiest City”, which may be an exaggeration, or maybe not. This city is truly beautiful, there’s no denying that. I live and work in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, if not the world, and I almost never actually think about that in my day-to-day life. It’s so easy to get caught up in work, friends, and traveling outside of Prague that I forget to appreciate my own city. It’s actually ridiculous that I’m saying this, because it’s the one thing I always tell my students- “remember to live in and love Prague, it’s just as amazing as all of those travel destinations you have planned”, but I’m so guilty of the same mindset. While I was staying in the Jewish Quarter, I walked down Parizska ulice (Paris Street, reminiscent of the Champs-Elysees) and admired the beautiful architecture surrounding the incredible store windows of the most expensive stores in Prague. I even took a walk down to Charles Bridge at sunset and parked myself on a bench to stare at the rooftops on the other side of the river. Not many people get to experience that feeling ever in their lives, I can do it whenever I want. So I’ve decided that’s exactly what I’m going to do- something to appreciate Prague every week, if not every day, I owe it to this magical place.
This week’s revelations aren’t Prague-specific, I think they’re travel, study abroad, or expat relevant, in general. So many of my expat friends and students tell me about how boring it is in their host city, or how they can’t wait to travel somewhere else, and it kills me! Learning to appreciate the beauty surrounding you, no matter where in the world you are, is one of the greatest rewards and lessons you can gain from traveling. Learning to respect and appreciate the local people and language is another great, albeit challenging, lesson to be learned from traveling and living abroad. Once you make that step towards immersion and adaptation, it’s become clear to me that your life abroad will become significantly better. I’m so happy to call Prague home for now, and I’ll be even more happy when I’ll be able to officially add Czech to my “languages spoken” list. Living in the Jewish Quarter for 3 nights was a great experience, and I would recommend anyone living abroad to experience their city as a tourist would- it will certainly breathe new life into your experience!
The view from my bench at Charles Bridge. Did I mention this city is incredibly beautiful?