You should not make sweeping generalizations about people or places but these thoughts occur regardless. Stereotypes can be harmful but with enough taste and good intention, can be hysterical. I must admit that I am easily amused by jokes based on stereotypes as long as they are well-meaning. Naturally, as I planned the Prague portion of my trip I would hear generalizations about the area. So I am going to review my encounters in the city and find truths to these stereotypes.
Prague Is Cheap
So I hoped, and was the main reason I stopped in the Czech Republic in the first place. And it didn't disappoint! Those with a meager budget would thrive in Prague. My lower-end hostel only cost 20 USD per night, pints of quality beer about 2-3 USD and entrees at decent restaurants hovering around 10-12 USD. Longtime travelers complain about how prices have increased as the destination became more popular, but I was happy. It was a good respite from the mauling my funds would take in Amsterdam.
Czechs Speak English
Yes, all Czechs that tourists like myself needed to interact with (food service workers, staff at train/subway/bus terminals) spoke English well. I had my doubts due to past experiences: I was told that all Hong Kong residents spoke English but on one occasion, was reduced to making hand gestures at vendors on Kowloon.
Czech Cuisine Is Lacking
A difficult criteria to judge because it is totally subjective. Everyone's palate is different and perhaps the best venues of Czech cuisine were situated far from the tourist areas. But from what I sampled, it was "okay" and no, I did not include the desperate Subway snack after landing. I tasted the trademark "goulash", a stew served in a bread bowl, dumplings, sausages, and another type of beef stew with potatoes. All these dishes were good and would make great comfort food in the winter, but will not rank among my favorites. My taste buds were not introduced to any new flavors but again, I would crave dumplings or goulash on a harsh winter night.
|Simple beef and potato dish (bottom) and dumplings with berry sauce (top)|
The Beer Scene Is Exceptional
True! The Czechs pride themselves as one of the first groups to develop beer centuries ago. It is easily accessible and once again, quite affordable. The king of beers in Prague is Pilsner Urquell, and I had about 4 or 5 pints during my stay. I even joined a beer tour and had the opportunity to sample the local selection. If the cuisine of Prague was the letdown, the brewing scene was certainly a redeeming factor.
|The staple, Pilsner Urquell at top right, and at a beer tour|
Customer Service In Prague Sucks
This stereotype extends far beyond Prague but applies to former communist regions in eastern Europe. I guess the lack of a free market economy in the past did not foster an environment for customer service? I found that in a group setting or tour, service was top notch and comparable to what you find in the US. The only spotty customer service I experienced was when alone and only once was someone gruff or short with me. Another instance was at a dive, I wanted a pint and was not acknowledged and I left after 10 minutes. Lastly, during my final meal in Prague, I had to wait 10 minutes to get a drink, an additional 10 minutes to order and another 10 to get my change. Long waits happen especially if your server is busy, but I was the lone patron. You also have to consider my ethnicity. I am not accusing Czechs of being racists but they do not encounter people of my descent often and may treat me differently.. it's human nature. So with isolated cases, we can reserve judgement on that later and like the food criteria, you will have to see it for yourself.
|Does the region's communist past manifest itself in its customer service? |
Likeness of Lenin at a communist themed bar
Thanks to travel bloggers, I had an idea of what to expect during my stay. I was able to shed the miserly spending habits temporarily, never dealt with language barriers and sampled the thriving beer scene. And although my palate was not challenged with exotic spices or methods of cooking, everything tastes good when you spend all day walking. The Czechs were kind enough and I believe the service industry will progress. One should not take stereotypes as the end-all-be-all. Get to know the individual or place and see for yourself, although there are some truths to these generalizations.