I arrived in Prague over a week ago, and ever since then I’ve felt like the trains that run non-stop across Europe. Prague is probably one the prettiest places that I’ve ever been. The architecture of the city is intricate and inspiring. The detailing that outlines every frame of each building makes me wonder why we no longer take the time to create such beautiful structures. Then again, I guess back in the day when these buildings were created they didn’t have as many distractions as we do today, and they actually had the time to assure quality rather than quantity. Being in Europe and meeting other travelers who are not only from here but who are from other countries as well, has shown me just how much the American culture accentuates quantity rather than quality, and work rather than play. People here and in other countries such as Australia are given an annual “holiday,” which allows them time to relax and/or travel while still getting paid. Such a concept in America is practically nonexistent. Also, the people here genuinely care about their environment and have so many different systems implemented that reduce their carbon footprint on the world. This is illustrated in the minimal amount of voltage they utilize in their electrical systems, how you have to pay for a plastic grocery bag if you fail to bring your own reusable one, and how you’re expected to recycle and separate plastics from paper and aluminum. Also, the food here doesn’t last as long as it otherwise would in America. Why? Because they use less preservatives and avoid foods that aren’t natural.
I’ve realized that I relate a lot more to the European perspective rather than the American. They are much more socially liberal here, and it’s not unusual to see a monument with men who are pissing all over the outline of the Czech Republic. Sex also isn’t considered a taboo topic, in fact they have posters of it all over the outskirts of the city. They don’t attempt to suppress things here that are really only natural. This is even illustrated in how they maintain the gardens that are dispersed throughout the city, flowers and other foliage here is left uninhibited to grow as it will. To me, this is sort of metaphorical of the overall European outlook on life. You act on your own inclinations, and allow me to act on mine. You be you, and I’ll be me…To each, his own. It’s probably this perceptive that contributes to the fact that Europeans drink more often than Americans, yet drink less than Americans. It’s not unusual for Europeans to hit up a pub after work, however they don’t do binge drinking and even find the idea of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in order to get obliterated in a short period of time incomprehensible. Hence why they drink more often but less than Americans. Europeans don’t understand why American’s find drinking excessive amounts of alcohol while spending copious amounts of cash in order to blackout and not even remember their night enjoyable. To be honest, I don’t even understand why this seems to be the overarching consensus behind the American culture. It really doesn’t make any sense! For this reason, many Europeans find Americans obnoxious when it comes to the local watering hole.
This post isn’t intended to be an overall critique of the American culture however, it’s just that my stay so far in Europe has opened my eyes to the many areas of America which remain naive. For instance, the other day the Social Work program visited a Czech Prison in Prague and I was impressed with what I learned about the Czech’s criminal justice system. Having never visited a prison before I was a bit skeptical of the situation initially, but then we began to learn that Czech has one of the lowest incidences of crime and that criminals are not treated as such, rather they are treated like regular people who have simply forgotten the rules and prison is where they are sent to relearn them. I felt that this perception of prison was not only a very enlightened way of looking at things, but a very beneficial way to reducing crime. Similarly, Czech prisons and people do not support violence and they very rarely have cases of violence between criminals and guards. Why? Because they feel that violence cannot be prevented with more violence. Now, the Czech Republic is still a very new country and they seem to have grasped a concept that the American criminal justice system still has not.
There are many things that I miss about home however, such as the American language and actually being able to understand, and be understood by people. While many people can somewhat speak English in Europe, the fact that there are so many countries within Europe that speak different languages makes me feel inferior for only knowing one that isn’t native. So far the language barriers have been more foe than friend, and I now commend all of those who have had to immerse themselves in a foreign country and learn a foreign language. The things considered socially acceptable across various cultures also makes me miss being able to be friendly with strangers and offer them a smile without it being returned with a blank stare. Apparently Europeans can tell that I’m American immediately because I smile all of the time. Also, apparently staring into peoples eyes when speaking to them is a rarity to some British “lads.” However, if I ever thought that Americans were closed off as a culture, than living in Czech has given me a newfound appreciation for the “Southern Hospitality” that I have been blessed to be surrounded by my whole life. Czech citizens are entirely closed off as a culture, which is understandable considering everything that they have been through as a country within the past 50+ years. Their overall lack of trust and faith in life is highlighted in their blank expressions, and the fact that they are the least religious country in the EU. Being as open and bubbly as I usually am doesn’t seem to be an option when commuting across town, and I’ve noticed myself beginning to accept the same blank expression in an effort to fit in. However, I’ve realized that I can’t let the world change my smile, literally…and instead I should be letting my smile change the world!
Anyway, there will be more writing to come as I struggle to process the excess of amazing experiences that have continued to flood my life within the past few weeks. In my next post I’ll catch you all up on Paris, which is probably one of my top five favorite places in the world!
- How could I forget about Prague? (thesoulshines.wordpress.com)
- Prague: The Undiscovered City (wheredidspatchgo.wordpress.com)
- Summer In Prague (traventure.net)