When I first decided to move to Prague I was an English major in a small college town in Northern California. I had been reading quite a bit of Czech literature and had a friend who had a great experience teaching in Prague. I initially decided to move to Prague for one month, take my TEFL course, and then travel Europe and return to the United States. Two years later and I am still in Prague teaching and working with the people I had met when I first moved here.
I had never spent a serious amount of time in another country before moving to Prague, so I assumed things would be quite different but I wasn’t sure exactly what those differences would include; now, I am quite desensitized to the differences between Prague and California but one or two things still stick out:
When I first started teaching, I had a conversation class with a group of adults. It was in a little town outside of Prague, and it was nice to get to get out of the bigger city and see the farms and lakes, etc. The class was a conversation class, and I was happy to get along with the students so well. I was invited to go on a trip to the spa town Mariánské Lázně in the west Czech Republic, close to Germany. My student’s aunt was a tour guide there and it was an amazing trip, until we went to the aunt’s house for dinner.
In California, at least in my experience, if someone wants you to take off your shoes before you come into the house, they will tell you, but other than that it’s not usually a big deal. In the Czech Republic, it is a big deal. I walked into the house without thinking and turned around and saw my hostess staring at me in something like horror, and my student smiled and tried to usher me back and explain that you really must always take off your shoes before entering pretty much anyone’s house. Needless to say I was embarrassed, as I had tried very hard to remember all of the Czech faux pas. But my hostess understood and after a few beers with dinner (roast duck and dumplings) she not only forgave me but insisted that we must celebrate her forgiveness with Becherovka, a type of herbal liqueur which is quite strong, although I did not know that at the time (I certainly know it now). In the end, it was a valuable learning experience, and since then I have much better manners.
One other difference (where I again embarrassed myself) was during the first Christmas I spent in Prague. I was talking with one of my students and asked if his to kids were excited for presents. He shrugged and said, ‘Well, my daughter, she’s five, so she still believes in all of that and she’s very excited. But my son, he’s nine and he doesn’t really believe in Jesus anymore.’
I was taken aback for a moment. ‘You mean he doesn’t believe in Santa?’
My student looked up and said, ‘No, no. Santa is an American thing. In the Czech Republic the baby Jesus brings presents at Christmas. But my son doesn’t believe in Jesus anymore. I suppose it’s time to tell him anyway, I don’t want his friends to think he’s… funny.’
Another student nodded solemnly, and said, ‘Yes, well, he IS nine. You can’t expect him to believe in Jesus forever.’
Here I should explain that in the Czech Republic more than half of the country identifies as atheist, so the atmosphere here during the holidays is a considerable contrast to what I was used to in America during Christmas.
‘So,’ I said, as I had never heard of this before, ‘at some point you have to sit down with your kids and explain that Jesus isn’t real?’
‘Yes, yes,’ he said, looking at me like I was a little slow. ‘Usually around the time they’re nine or ten.’
‘They always find out eventually anyway,’ the other student pointed out.
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