Smiles, Showers and the Shadow of Communism
When I walk into a store, what do I say? Is it rude to say hello in the English Language? What about saying goodbye in English? What about ordering food? “I’d like to have so and so.” Or I could try in Czech: “Dam si Smažený vepřový řízek s bramborovým salátem.” Whenever I try saying the actual words, the waiters don’t understand me. O.K., I say to myself, then I proceed to point at the thingy on the menu that I want, left with small amounts of shame for butchering someone else’s language and pointing at things as if to demand my food immediately, or something like that. It’s like a blurred line here. Language here can be transitory, it can be highly valued, and it can be confusing. I have these spurts of anticipation, fear of performing some form of appropriation. I remember even after talking to my program director and they said that I can use English here when I go out. But going off and blabbering my English or scorching the Czech language all over people just feels weird. For these reasons, I am afraid to go into a Czech grocery store.
People don’t smile as much as they do in the States. At least, their smiles are reserved for moments when they really want to give a smile. They’re not annexed, it’s just, they are preserved for true emotion. I’ve talked to Czech people who have been to the U.S. and they said that when they were asked “How are you doing?” by people in stores, they don’t just say, “Good,” or “Well,” rather, the inclination is to actually say how their day is going and perhaps a little tidbit about it. So, when you see a Czech person smile at you or ask you how your day is, the measure of sincerity is quite meaningful. It’s great! And if they aren’t smiling at you, it’s probably because they don’t know you and have no reason to give you a smile. An example: the servers will not be all gleeful and try to make you the happiest customer in the world. I’m so used to servers constantly smiling and being (or acting) happy when I’m in the States. It’s like, if they don’t make me happy, their job could be compromised. Here though, I’ve had waiters scoff, not smile ever, be smart asses (and not to be clever), and hurry along the order (my actions were not the direct cause of all these moments and also, these aren’t necessarily bad moments). Their mood may not be a reflection of their actions, but there aren’t hidden emotions. That doesn’t mean a store clerk or server won’t laugh at a good joke or give out a smile. It’s just, the customer service is not much like the States. Personally, I’m into it and it is refreshing.
How do I shower? I really want to know how to shower. I am going to have to learn a whole new way of showering. The shower hose does not rest above my head like it does in a U.S. shower. The shower head is about 4 feet or so above the basin of the bathtub. Luckily, it has a cord and you can remove it and all that stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the people in this country have been doing this for years, but I feel ashamed to say that I have no concept of how to shower in this way. Do I rinse first? Do I sit in the bathtub? Do I use more than two hands? I don’t know. To make the matter more challenging, there are no freaking shower curtains. So, my no good not knowing how to shower in another country’s different bathtub makes me a definite liability for massive water spillage. I have been somewhat tactful in not making too much of a mess out of the situation but it is something that I do miss to be honest. I’m afraid to ask my host parents, so I dunno, I guess I’ll figure it out after a few months.
A more serious note. On a pedestal, just to the right of where I stood when I took this picture, there was a statue of Joseph Stalin, one of the most prominent Soviet Union Leaders in our modern history. He believed in communism. The statue was in installed in 1955 and destroyed in 1962. He was the leader of the Soviet Union when the Soviets liberated Prague from the Nazi’s in 1945 (The United States liberated Plzeň, another Czech city). This state was democratic before the war for around 15 years. Then it was occupied by the Nazi’s, then communism came. Some people were communists, some were not. Some people were happy, and some were not. People lived their lives in a communist state. Communism ended in this state in the Velvet Revolution in 1989. I can’t say I know what that all means, but I feel like it’s something I should try to understand while I am here. None of that takes away the beauty of this city, rather, it just adds to its complexity and it’s art, and to its people, and to its voice. It is a place I want to be, and a place I will most likely come back to.