Culture Shock in the Czech Republic


Elyse Wyatt '20

Elyse Wyatt, Scarlet Staff

I am now just over a month into my study abroad program in Prague, Czech Republic. It has been an incredible experience thus far, and I can tell it will continue to be so. I’ve gotten to visit the famous Charles Bridge Prague Castle, as well as travel to the idyllic town of Cesky Krumlov in southern Bohemia and to the original Pilsner-Urquell brewery, all covered by my program! Needless to say, a lot of things are different here than in the United State, and it’s taken some getting used to. Having never been to Europe before, I had no idea what to expect.

To start off, some of the things that surprised me most had to do with food – foods that I had considered universal staples are almost impossible to find here, such as peanut butter and mac and cheese. Also, waiters will sometimes laugh at you if you say you’re a vegetarian, and might tell you, you came to the wrong country.

It’s not just a myth that beer is cheaper than water. The Czech Republic has the highest consumption rate of beer per capita in the world, and looking at prices it’s clear why. In most restaurants and pubs that aren’t just tourist traps, you can get a beer for 35-40kc, which is equivalent to ~$1.60. In a supermarket, a can or bottle of beer may only be 15-20kc, which is less than a dollar. However, in addition to meaning that beer is cheap, it also means that water isn’t free! In fact, nothing is free; bread put out on tables in restaurants is not actually free, you’ll be charged for ketchup to go with fries, and so on. However, Prague is one of the cheapest cities in Europe, so a meal including water, ketchup, and bread will still all come out to be less expensive than what I would typically pay in Worcester.

There’s also a lot that’s better (in my humble opinion) about the Czech Republic and about Europe in general than the United States. Some of my favorite differences include the fact that bathroom stalls never have gaps in them, and usually have full doors that go down to the floor. Also, tax is always included in prices! You can walk up to a checkout counter already aware of what your total will be. The public transportation is not only efficient, but clean. Waiting 20 minutes for a less than sanitary bus to show up only to have it take 30 minutes to go a mile is a thing of the past. And finally, the use of the metric system is significantly more coherent than the imperial system, but we all already knew that.

Part of my program has also been taking a Czech language class. Like all slavic languages, Czech often seems daunting, overrun with consonants and strange accents, but does still employ the latin alphabet, so there is that to be thankful for. All of my other classes are taught in English, but everyone is required to take Czech as part of the curriculum. I was a good French student in high school, so I assumed I would have a similar time with Czech. That was incorrect. Being immersed in the language outside of class is intimidating, but gives me a good chance to practice my listening skills by seeing what I can pick out. It also means I’m more confident communicating in Czech after a month of taking the language than I felt after a year or two of high school French, even though I am still terrible at Czech. Luckily, most people speak at least some English, so it’s possible to get by.