I was sitting in The Globe last night when the conversation came around to The Question. There were about six of us. As you might expect given the location (the Globe is an expat haunt) we all came from different places: England, the States, Germany and Russia.
‘So, since I don’t know you guys that well, we could do all the ‘why are you here?’ stuff,’ I suggest. There is some rolling of eyes for comic effect. ‘Not in the philosophical sense. I mean, why Prague?’
‘Aren’t we all here for the same reason?’ one of the Americans offers. ‘That we hate our own countries?’
‘I don’t hate America,’ another swiftly replied.
I always listen to people’s reasons for having decided to move to Prague with interest. Suspect Answer Number One as far as I’m concerned is ‘I just fell in love with the place.’ This just doesn’t cut it for me. ‘You know when you come to a place and it just feels like home?’ makes me just as suspicious. Like home how exactly? If you come from anywhere English-speaking it can’t be the buildings or the food and it most certainly isn’t the language with its complicated ‘ř’s and ‘ž’s and ‘č’s. Are you trying to tell me even though you come from West Carolina or Scunthorpe or Melbourne your soul is somehow Czech?
The most common unacknowledged reason for being here – for moving abroad full stop – is that you’re on the run from something. Maybe the something is a bad break-up or a small town with no prospects or the enormity of deciding what to do with your life now college is over and you’re somehow supposed to get by in the real world. Perhaps you were a misfit back home and you think you can disguise your oddball nature behind the fact of being foreign. I suppose there’s nothing inherently bad in any of these reasons for being here. Just be aware that moving abroad will not necessarily solve the problems you had to begin with.
What about me? Moving here for love might seem worthier than the reasons listed above but of course, it isn’t quite as clear-cut as that. I had things to run from. London was becoming too overwhelming. Things in Prague have been made on a human scale. Getting to work doesn’t involve taking a bus, a train, another bus and then flagging down a camel ( I made that last bit up). There are no strange men urinating in our stairwell; no little gangs of boys smoking joints and spitting; no barrage of grot and grime and crime to block out every time I walk out the door into my allegedly up-and-coming neighbourhood.
Of course, I’m in Stage One of the Expat Trajectory: the Honeymoon Period. This is when you walk around your new destination feeling that you’re on a film-set. I’m not against honeymoons. Honeymoons can be nice but they can’t last forever.
I’m not sure how to end this. I don’t want to say anything cheesy or sentimental by stretching the above metaphor too far, like ‘A honeymoon may last a week but a marriage is forever’ – and anyway, you’ve all seen the spiralling divorce statistics so that would not only stretch the comparison but would also cause it to fall flat on its hypothetical ass. Anyway. I am quietly optimistic about my new life in Czechland. Of course, nowhere’s perfect and I haven’t managed to escape all my old problems but things are going well with Czechman and I have reason to believe that my life is objectively better than it was back in England. So that’s good. Happiness is a notoriously elusive thing so let’s just hope it lasts.
If you’re a fellow expat reading this, I want to know about your answer to The Question. Why are you here? If you’ve been here for a longish spell, has your answer to the The Question changed? Is your life better than it would be back home or just different?
P.S This is a Turkish coffee. A Turkish coffee is pretty much the same as an ordinary coffee except that it doesn’t have the little granules filtered out of it. The only reason the picture is here is that as I said before, I’m a sucker for a well-presented hot beverage. Also I was drinking it while writing this post.