1. How to be alone.
In Prague, it’s pretty common to see single diners at a restaurant or café, people walking around by themselves in parks or shops, loners having a drink at the pub, or people dancing with no one but themselves at a club. It’s not because Czechs have no friends, but more because they are totally okay with — and appreciate — their alone time.
Even in New York, a person doing things on their own is usually scrutinized. “Are you waiting for your boyfriend? No? Are you waiting for your friends?” are common questions I get asked when I try and grab a drink at a bar by myself. I get odd looks when I reply that I’m here on my own; people don’t understand why I’d want to be by myself, that I must be crazy or something, because I don’t have a gaggle of girlfriends, or I’m not cozying up to a dude.
2. How to express happiness.
“You should smile more often, aren’t you happy?” is another annoying question I get here in the USA. I don’t need to smile in order to show you how happy I am. Yet Americans don’t believe me unless I’m grinning like a fucking idiot.
Czechs are practical people — my friends don’t like exerting more energy than they need, and thus, they don’t walk around with weirdo smiles plastered across their faces for no reason. If they are happy, and they want you to know, they’ll tell you. But most Czechs don’t feel the need to prove themselves in such an outward manner.
3. How to drink.
I’ve never seen a Czech puke once from a night out on the town — they have this amazing way of holding their liquor like I’ve never seen before. They can consume a lot of it, like sixteen beers’ worth, and never show signs of acting like an asshole. Czechs drink more beer per capita, and there is even a political movement going on to keep beer as the cheapest beverage you can order at any restaurant. They hold their liquor (and their liquor intake) with such a high regard that it makes me wonder what things would be like in the USA if our drinking age was lowered and there were no open-container laws.
4. How to structure politics.
The first president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, was a political activist who spearheaded Charter 77 and the Velvet Revolution, and was also a successful playwright. During major elections, citizens are allowed to vote for anyone within the multi-party system, including those who are part of the Czech Pirate Party, the Friends of Beer Party, and The Party of Common Sense. Offering these options allows for many issues to be represented, and keeps people from voting for “the lesser of two evils.” In the US, maybe our issues would be more easily solved if we had better representation than just Republican and Democrat ideologies.
5. How to overcome illness.
“You have a sore throat? Here, take a shot of Becherovka.” Alcohol was consistently prescribed for whatever sickness I might have had back in Prague. Kofola, a spicy soda, was also used to cure my hangovers.
In the USA, I’m barraged by costly prescription medicines, doctors who couldn’t care less about my actual state of health, and this attitude of, “Work it out, sissy! Go for a run! Go to work! Fight through your head cold!” Czechs, on the other hand, will tuck themselves up in bed and sleep through most illnesses, waking only to sip on some broth. The American version usually leaves me exhausted and sick for another two weeks, but I’m usually good to go in a day or two after self-medicating the Czech way.
6. How to cook.
Czechs don’t concern themselves with health trends. They’ve been cooking the same five things since the beginning of time – meat, bread dumplings, potatoes, cheese, and cabbage are pretty much a part of every meal. Most of my friends and neighbors were rail-thin, and the more portly folks don’t concern themselves with their body image at all.
I’m constantly monitoring my diet in the US though. Between veganism, gluten-free and other foodie revolutions, it’s no wonder my diet yo-yos so much. Czechs also enjoy walking and being out of doors, which helps burn off the otherwise heavy dishes like svíčková, smažák, and ovocné knedlíky.
7. How to spend our free time.
Most Czechs have a summer cottage that was granted to them under the Communist regime, a strange combination of the Sudetenland Crisis, the seizure of private property beyond one residence, and then an excess of unclaimed housing that resulted in everyone getting a house in the city and a house in the country. Many Czechs use these cottages as a retreat on the weekends, especially during the summer.
In the USA, second houses are a luxury granted to those who can afford a second mortgage. But even if people have them, they rarely spend beyond their allotted vacation time in them. I’d love a pied a terre that I could escape to and be inspired in, or even just a nice place to really break from routine and go off the grid for a while.
8. How to party.
Aside from the beer slugging, Czechs party like it’s 1999 — seriously, every club and bar I hung out at had a penchant for Chumbawumba,and Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.” Places like Cross Club and Karlovy Lázně have more foreign clientele, and that’s where more up-to-date music is played, but any decent Czech DJ knows that a throwback to the ‘80s and ‘90s is the only way to get down on the weekends. Maybe it’s nostalgia for the end of Communism, or maybe they aren’t as interested in Drake, Lil Wayne, and Chris Brown, but when an entire room is rocking out to Limp Bizkit’s “I did it all for the nookie” for non-ironic reasons, I have a better time than trying to “twerk” along with Miley Cyrus.
Photo: Kristofer Trolle