I spent the whole summer in Prague, the longest stay of my trip. It is without a doubt the most architecturally beautiful city I’ve ever visited, and I can’t imagine that any city in America comes close. We have our natural wonders, that’s for sure, but we’re too young a country to have truly beautiful cities. I mean, name one city that has a real castle. You can’t.
But not only was it beautiful, it was the most affordable city I stayed in, rivaling Cebu City, but with much better infrastructure. In Cebu, I often struggled with the internet connection, the roads, the sidewalks (or lack thereof).1 In Prague, I had to watch the sidewalk for dog droppings, not posts and potholes (although you are dealing with cobblestone most of the time).
Public transportation was fantastic. For $35, I got a one month pass that gave me unlimited access to the metro, trams, and buses, and the last two are often very modern and always clean. I bought the pass mostly out of ceremony, however; not once in 3 months was my ticket checked.
Restaurants were cheap as well, with the exception of seafood. And the only place where more English was spoken was Cebu. I only had trouble finding English speakers in Tesco (yes, the British supermarket chain), but they had lots of English labels.
If the city is something out of a fairy tale, the people are not. Don’t get me wrong, they are most hospitable! I just mean they look like they came straight from a middle American town. When meeting a Czech person, I was most commonly asked “Do you like Czech food?” followed by “Do you like Czech beer?” Guess what? The Czech Republic is the obesity capital of Europe and the beer consumption capital of the world. It was the first city in which I did not appear conspicuously overweight.
Czech food is, in a word, gastropub. A section of most menus is titled “With Beer” and contains a selection of small plates meant to be paired with beer. Bread is a frequent side dish – what they call dumplings are actually slices of moist, dense bread. One popular dish, Sví?ková, is slices of sirloin beef smothered in gravy (really, a creamy vegetable puree), topped with cranberry sauce and whipped cream, and of course, accompanied by “dumplings.” I was highly skeptical of this, but soon was thinking, “This needs more cranberry sauce!” I knew I would get sticker shock when I returned home because when I occasionally dined at a nice restaurant and saw an item for $20 or more, I thought, “Whoa! Expensive!” And you can’t talk about restaurants without mentioning smoking. It’s on par with or worse than Tokyo, and many restaurants with great reviews and prices have bigger smoking sections than non-smoking sections. Even at the airport, the directory shows that almost every restaurant proclaims, “Smokers welcome!” Thankfully, the malls are smoke free.
Most cultures have street food, and in Prague it’s ice cream. Even when it’s pretty cool outside, I’ll see people walking around with an ice cream pop2 or cone. Prague also has some great bakeries. Between beer, pub food, ice cream, and cake, you can see where the obesity comes from.
In line with the middle America theme, Prague is home to some of the worst haircuts I have ever seen. First, I want to stress that I find alternative fashions and hairstyles, which you see in many subcultures – goth, industrial, punk – terribly cool. I must also state that norms here are pretty much the same as elsewhere. Like in most cities in America, the average person is not overweight, nor fashion challenged. Finally, I must admit that I certainly have had my share of bad haircuts in my youth (at my own direction, no less). But I’m not talking about teenagers here. Some examples:
- Dreadlocks are popular here with both genders. I’m not a big fan of them in general, but they are frequently combined with partial head shaving. I’ve seen dreadlock mohawks (not spiked, just flacid), and man had shaved his head except for the back, which had dreadlocks past his waist. I assume he gave his barber a photo of the Predator and said, “This.” BTW, he works in the Czech equivalent of Lens Crafters in a very large mall.
- A man with male pattern baldness got creative. Since he only had hair on the side, he shaved all but the very top, which he then dyed green and spiked into a couple wispy side mohawks. Perhaps he was trying to be a punk PHB.
- There be mullets here, and some are very low effort. One man appeared to have instructed barber to give him a crew cut everywhere but the back. Or perhaps the conversation went something like this: “How long will it take you to give me a mullet?” “Well, depending on what you want-” ” You’ve got 60 seconds. Starting now.”
- I’ve seen women with mullets as well, although not many. Most were in the vein of Ziggy Stardust, combined with shaving a strip just above the ear. No idea what prompts that, perhaps some sort of cultural signifier, but I saw it in Kyiv as well.
Another thing stood out here. Remember that guy with the long pony tail and wire rimmed glasses? Always wore a heavy metal t-shirt? Ran a D&D group or Magic or something like that? Well, I run into that guy all over Prague. Heavy metal is definitely a thing here, and time has stood still. I saw a guy wearing a W.A.S.P. t-shirt. W.A.S.P.! I don’t think I’ve seen one of those since Riki Rachtman hosted Headbanger’s Ball. And before you ask for photos, have you ever gone out not looking your best? Weren’t you glad nobody photographed it and put it on the internet? Me too.
It was here in Prague that I finally got involved with Internations, which I probably should have done sooner. Internations is like Meetup and Facebook in one, but serving the expat community. It’s a great resource for meeting English speaking people in a foreign country. They held frequent mixers, both business and social (mostly social), and it was nice to get out of the flat and mingle. It seems to have a strong membership in the US as well, but when I look at the guest list most are people like me: US citizens who are now back on their home turf. Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t appear the be the awesome cultural melting pot it was abroad.
In closing, Prague was an expat’s dream. Since returning, everyone has asked me, “Which city was the best?” which is a completely reasonable question to ask, but has no simple answer. Every city was great in its own way. However, Prague had to be the easiest city to live in. English speakers, public transportation, internet connection, social scene, and prices were all fantastic. I doubt I’d ever visit outside summer, but I could totally see myself doing another long stay here.