Surprisingly enough, it took a whole month for me to experience my first bout of culture shock—and it didn’t even occur in the country where I’m studying! During our winter vacation, just one week ago, the girls and I decided we would hop on a plane to Prague to check out the hidden gem that is the Czech Republic. However, as I drew the short straw and ended up with Friday classes (future exchange students: avoid this at all costs!), I found myself traveling alone, on a Spanish airline, to a Czech-speaking country. For those who don’t know me that well, I’m a French major. I speak neither Spanish, nor Czech.
C’est la vie!
Monday morning I was off to a new city with just a small duffle of belongings, but it wasn’t until I stepped off the plane that being immersed in a completely new culture hit me like a ton of bricks. Outside of the airport and commercial areas, there are not many people who can speak English in the Czech Republic, and as a result, I felt like an uncultured American tourist for the first time in my life. Luckily for me, my Uber driver Ondrej was one of those rare savants who was able to teach me basic phrases in Czech, point me in the direction of “non-touristy areas,” and suggest traditional Czech dishes all in the 30-minute ride to our AirBNB. Bless you, Ondrej.
After reuniting with the girls and finally realizing that any Czech person who doesn’t speak English will not speak French either, I really enjoyed venturing around Prague. The buildings that line the crooked cobblestone streets of Old Town Square are all pastel-colored, lending a fairytale ambience to the entire city. If you walk 10 minutes further north, you hit Charles Bridge and the Vltava River which is an absolute dream at sunset. It’s as if someone took their brush, dipped it in cotton candy colors, and painted the skies.
Just a few days into our stay, we were already living like locals, buying groceries at the local LIDL and taking the tram on our daily excursions. On Valentine’s Day, we decided to go out for a nice authentic Czech dinner of beef goulash—our “big splurge” on the trip—that ended up costing us around 150 krona each. With the current exchange rates, that’s a solid $6. I love the Czech Republic. We dined on other local delicacies such as the famous chimney cakes (aka swirled dough filled with a cream of your choosing) and hot dogs covered in sauerkraut and mustard.
My favorite part of the trip, and also what helped me get over my initial culture shock, was probably our walking tours of the city led by an energetic redhead ex-pat from Milwaukee of all places! She shared with us the history of some of the city’s oldest buildings and the eclectic tales of King Charles and several famous men all named Yann. A bit of trivia: when you walk into a restaurant or shop in Prague, you generally descend a staircase or two before reaching the ground floor. Every time the water level rose in Prague, the builders decided rather than starting over, they would just build on top of the existing buildings. The result? What our tour guide liked to call “architectural lasagna.”
Despite my initial worries about being in a new place and not knowing my way around or the local language, I ended up falling in love with Prague. It is truly a magical city, home to cheap eats and pretty sights around every corner. I attempted to describe it to you as vividly as possible, but just to show you how truly amazing the town is, I also made this little video of our stay. Hope you enjoy it!