Tag Archives: why Prague

Girl in Czechland one year on: is the honeymoon over?

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Twelve months ago, Ms Girl boarded Easyjet flight EZY484 from Stansted to Prague. According to my diary, during my first week here I felt so happy I couldn’t stop smiling. Not that I didn’t anticipate that there would be bumps in the road, but I think my initial assessment of my life in Czechland still applies: “So far, so great”.

So, what have been the highs and lows of the last year? Here are a few of them, presented in an easy-to-digest list format:

The Highs

1. Receiving ridiculous amounts of praise from surprised locals when managing to stammer out the most basic utterance in Czech. Disproportionate, yes, but also deeply gratifying.

2. Swapping a particularly grotty London suburb – the street I lived on was actually called “Murder Mile” although I obviously survived – for a cosy flat in a pretty corner of Prague which Czechman and I can actually afford to rent without having to share with anyone else.

3. Managing to get more mentally and emotionally rewarding work than I had in London – and luncheon vouchers! I’ve never had a job where they gave you luncheon vouchers, not even in France! Another excuse to eat out nearly every single day (don’t tell Czechman…)

4. Managing to make nice new friends (aww) which has helped me to avoid homesickness almost completely. That and regular trips to Marks and Spencers. Once M & S pulled out of France, I wasn’t far behind…

5. Discovering new things. Like the fact that I could ski without significantly injuring myself or anyone else. And that fruit dumplings can be a main course.

The Lows

1. Having my attempts to communicate in Czech undercut or ridiculed. It’s not like I don’t have the knowledge – I can tell my irregular imperfect verb of motion from my locative plural, thanks very much – but thanks to people in shops and restaurants being so determined to show off just how well they can speak English, I’m now severely lacking in confidence.

2. Grumpy-faced individuals behind desks who think that rather than attempting to solve your problem, from their perspective the problem would go away if you simply buggered off.

3. Grumpy-faced individuals who work on supermarket checkouts who yell at you for putting your shopping basket back on the wrong pile, refuse to accept your stravenky (luncheon vouchers) because you have two 3 crown toilet rolls amongst your otherwise completely edible groceries and avoid putting your change in your hand lest they be contaminated by your foreign germs.

I know what I said before. I was wrong.

4. My failure to make more than one genuine Czech friend of my own. Aww. You will all be aware that I live with (a) Czechman – “Stop talking about me on your blog! It’s all Czechman, Czechman Czechman!” – so I suppose that makes me more integrated than the average Anglophone expat but I wish I had a few more Czech pals.

5. Killer icicles. It turns out the main hazard of a Czech winter is not the actual cold which if you wrap up warm enough – one English friend of mine even goes as far as sporting a balaclava – but the ice. All the snow made things very slippery out there indeed. Then there were the icicles – huge monsterous stalagtites which when the thaw came started falling from the sky. Yikes!

Phew, I enjoyed that. Especially the moaney bit. It’s nice to get things off your proverbial chest once in a while. Anyway, thanks to those of you who’ve been reading this for the past twelve months and apologies for my recent lack of posts. Now spring is finally in the air, I’m sure I’ll feel more inspired.

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The Expat Question: some thoughts on why foreigners flock to Prague

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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? 

krivoklat 012

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.

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