The view from Mostecka looking up the street towards St. Nicholas Church.  The street is filled with tourists from all over the world offering not only Czech goods but items from our homelands as well.

The view from Mostecka looking up the street towards St. Nicholas Church. The street is filled with tourists from all over the world offering not only Czech goods but items from our homelands as well.

Culture shock is something everyone experiences, even the most seasoned traveler may experience culture shock once in awhile. By no means do I believe I’m an experienced traveler, but I have done my fair share of traveling. I am also familiar with visiting different countries and understand that experiencing different cultures can be strange.  It’s easy to get into the mindset that your own particular culture is the one and only culture or even the “right” culture. I’m hoping that everyone on this trip can set aside their American culture to experience the Czech culture while we are here. That being said, it won’t be surprising when I say that I’ve seen some of the students experience different levels of culture shock already. It would be in our best interest to keep in mind that while the culture is different and maybe strange at times, that we need to change our perspective to that of a native rather than one of a tourist.

Typical sign in Prague and all of Europe indicating a restroom. This particular sign is located at McDonald's indicating the restrooms are located on a lower level. Photo by Kirstie Ratzer-Farley

Typical sign in Prague and all of Europe indicating a restroom. This particular sign is located at McDonald’s indicating the restrooms are located on a lower level. Photo by Kirstie Ratzer-Farley

I am more experienced with travel than the other students and I am not as easily shocked by local cultures as the others which benefits not only me but the other students as well.  I am actually happy to share what knowledge I have gained about foreign cultures and trips and travel in general with the others. Just today I explained that the ‘WC’ sign on doors stands for water closet, which translates to restroom or bathroom to Americans.

One of the biggest culture shocks so far for our group has been food and beverages. We found it to be a bit strange the types of food that are served for breakfast in the Czech Republic. Thankfully, there are enough American breakfast foods served at the hotel that we can still enjoy breakfast. It’s not that I don’t enjoy trying new foods but salads and deli meat for breakfast just seems so strange to me.  After talking to our host Bibiana, I learned that most Czechs eat deli meats and eggs for breakfast daily, so in actuality it is my breakfast habits that are strange here in the Czech Republic.

On that same note, I was nicely surprised to find pancakes as part of the desert at the reception dinner. I instantly recognized the smell of pancakes and was happy to hear that it was indeed pancakes with fruit as dessert. The Czechs eat what we think of as lunch foods for breakfast and typical American breakfast foods for desert. Seeing this makes me realize that food is food, not matter what time of day you eat it.

Not surprising is how highly valuable ice has become to students for their drinks. I already knew that ice isn’t commonly used in Europe, even if you ask for it doesn’t guarantee that you will get it. It was kind of funny to watch the facial expressions of my fellow classmates when they received their drinks without ice, but I miss the ice in a glass of Coke too. Again, this is just a habit we are used to and something Europeans just don’t do.

Along the same lines of ice, I’ve noticed that drinks here are also not nearly as cold as the liquids at home. A plastic 22 ounce bottle this morning from the vending machine wasn’t really cold and didn’t even sweat in the steamy military classrooms without air conditioning. I guess Americans just like their beverages very cold and that Europeans don’t mind beverages a bit warmer than we like.

I am, however, surprised at the serving size of drinks here in the Czech Republic. I think the Coke bottles and water bottles may be only eight to 10 ounces, which are very small compared to our usual American 22 or 32 ounces. I know I have experienced a slight frustration with running out of drinks so quickly and having to wait on the waiters or waitresses to return to ask for more. As a Midwestern American, I am used to free refills that come as long as the day is long. I’m not sure what the habits of Czechs are regarding drinks at meals, but I feel like such a bother when I have to keep asking for another water or Coke because the bottles empty so quickly. I can only assume that Europeans must drink less while eating their meals which isn’t a bad thing.  I will attempt to lower the amount of liquid intake during meals to accomodate the beverage size we receive which will lower any frustrations.

The idea that some restaurants, taxis and vendors would consciously rip off tourists is mind blowing to me. This is not something tourists have to deal with in the U.S. or the U.K. Just in the few days we have been here, I have already witnessed this a few times. My first experience with this was a group lunch where the waiter generously added an automatic tip to our bill. Tipping here in the Czech Republic is much different than what we are used to ,and this employee took advantage of the fact that we didn’t speak the language. The following day a few of us bought pizzas, and I believe we were hit again with a fee that only tourists pay when we were charged 20 Korunas that was listed as a box fee. I knew we were being taken advantage of but feel like I can’t fight these charges because I can’t converse with them in their language. As unfortunate as the situation is, I can accept it and understand that it will happen again while we are here. As a group we just need to be more aware of the possibility of this happening and remain on guard and know that not all shops and vendors will rip off tourists.

I am looking forward to more opportunities that make us as a group question the native culture. I do look forward to the first time any of the students need a public toilet and have to pay 10 Korunas. I know I was in complete disbelief at the idea of paying for use of a toilet when it happened to me in the U.K. at age 18. It was’t until I was researching the paid toilets for this blog that I now understand why the public toilets cost money to us and it actually makes sense.  Think about all our public restrooms in the U.S. that are free and the current state of them.  Our bathrooms are absolutely disgusting and sometimes even unsafe to use.  If we had paid toilets, we could afford to have them cleaned daily and safe to use.

I think before automatically labeling something weird or strange, we, as tourists, need to stop and ask ourselves why they the natives may do something.  By doing this, we can not only figure out why they do it but also possibly learn a better way of living when we return home to the States.  What will we experience next that we may find shocking?  And most importantly, can we remain conscious enough to incorporate a native persepective to our tourist thinking?

 

 

 

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