Although Prague serves as a welcoming home to many foreign students and expats, if you try to scale its walls unprepared, you may find it somewhat difficult. These few tips can ease you into your first experience with the city. As Franz Kafka (who was born in the Old Town of Prague) once put it: “Prague never lets you go… this dear little mother has sharp claws.”
1. You don’t need a car in the city, or even outside of it.
Unless you plan to move heavy furniture, this is a pure fact. The public transport is efficient, often on time doesn’t cost nearly as much as other European cities (approximately 165 dollars for a YEAR of public transport isn’t a deal, it´s a steal) and the combination of trams, buses and metro runs to virtually every corner of the city. The only difference during the night is that the underground shuts down after midnight, but the trams and buses just switch to their “night versions” and continue to operate. One last thing – when you ride an escalator and don´t feel like walking, stand on the right side and let those in a hurry pass by. It seems like a little thing, but it might save a few sharp looks.
If you embark on an adventure to other cities and areas nearby Prague (which describes all areas, because it´s a small country), you can always catch a Student Agency bus or a train that will take you to any number of medieval castles, mansions or vineyards to satisfy your wanderlust.
Don’t forget to validate your tickets before you use any public transport though. If not validated, it might cost you a hefty fine as the public transport controllers are not a rare sight in the city centre.
2. Remember your manners. Really.
As a visitor you might get a general pardon, but as a permanent resident you must learn a few simple rules. Czech people might not seem too obsessed with politeness, but certain manners are automatically expected and you should remember them if you don’t want to be suddenly surrounded by a sea of disapproving stares and frowns.
These are some of the most important ones:
- If you see an elderly person on public transport, it is considered customary to let them have your seat. Same goes for pregnant women, people with broken limbs, etc.
- When you meet a person for the first time, a firm handshake and straight look into their eyes is a must.
- When you enter a public building, a store, or a doctor’s office, a greeting is expected. A simple “Dobrý den/Hello/Good day” will do just fine.
- You are expected to have a certain class. That means, when visiting some of Prague´s many theatres, concert halls or an opera, you need to dress up. A shirt with a blazer or a full suit for the guys, and a nice dress or a gown for the ladies usually does the trick. Jeans, shorts and t-shirts don’t. By the way if you are guy a hat indoors is also a huge faux-pas.
- When you visit someone’s home, take your shoes off. This might come as a shock to certain nationalities, but it’s what we do here. You leave your outside shoes with the outside dirt in the hallway. Your host will provide you with slippers, don’t worry.
- You make an appointment at four o’clock, you should be there on time. Perfect planning and time obsession is our thing. It doesn’t matter if you are five minutes late – you are late. So plan ahead of time and don’t be late.
3. Czech people look grumpy all the time.
Don’t be bummed out by it. Americans smile, Italians shout, Germans are well organized, Czechs look grumpy. It sounds like a nasty stereotype, but it’s true. Czech people may seem distant or cold or like they are always in a hurry. It’s obviously not true, Czechs have this facade on the outside, but once you get to know them (usually over a glass of nice beer), they quickly drop it and become really good friends that you can rely upon and who won’t hesitate to get you out of any dire straits you may find yourself in. If you want to speed up the process, try to learn some basic phrases like “thank you”, “please” or “good day” (“děkuji”, “prosím” and “dobrý den” respectively). If you are really bold, you may try to learn the language. You’ll probably find it challenging, but we welcome you to try.
Another thing about Czech people is their sense of humour. Sometimes dark, sometimes pitch black, always full of sarcasm and irony. That’s who we are. Grumpy sacks of bitter laughter. Deal with it.
4. We have a pretty amazing food.
We really do, just try it. Since you are living in Prague and Prague is a real capital of the country (in the Hunger Games kind of sense), you can get any type of cuisine around here, including Japanese, French, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican, and so on. However, the fact that you can live solely on your favourite ethnic dishes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try our local specialities. Czech cuisine is quite rich with many heavy sauces, potatoes, dumplings, soups and all types of roasted meat. It has that general feel of “grandma’s cooking” – very satisfying and an official member of the clean plate club.
Try “Svíčková”, a roasted beef double boiled in heavy cream with dumplings and cranberries. Or a roasted duck with red cabbage and potato dumplings. Just try it, you won’t regret it.
In recent years it has become less challenging to eat outside if you are a vegetarian. You can find many vegetarian or even raw or vegan restaurants for very affordable prices. Same goes for the supermarkets. Czechs are just now discovering that there is much more to eating than eating cheap. But a nice dinner for less than 10 dollars is still quite a normal thing. And don’t be shy to try the local bakeries, butcher shops or farmers markets.
5. Have a beer. Smoke outside.
You are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy, come have a beer (no offence to Kansas beer production intended). Czechs like to boast about their beer culture and it’s true we drink a lot of it. Anywhere, for any occasion (even the lunch break is fine) and ladies included. Czechs have the greatest consumption of beer per capita in the world and the variety you can find anywhere around the country is basically limitless. The one specific beer type you should definitely go for is the Czech Pale Lager, namely Pilsner, but don’t feel limited. Behind almost every corner in Prague lurks a pub or a beer garden and the beers still costs about 2-3 dollars, even in the centre.
If you just need that cigarette with your drink, have it outside. With an exception to specially designated places, private clubs and such, the smoking inside is prohibited by law.
Our legal drinking age is 18, so have an ID ready, because bartenders will ask for it if you are sporting an overly juvenile look.
6. Take a coat and think about your layers.
We used to have quite stark winters. Now with the global warming going on, the snow rarely appears and stays largely in the mountains. Surprises do occur, however, so you better be prepared for some cold weather. Even -15 °C on a sunny winter day can happen.
7. You don’t need to live in the centre.
If you are not looking for a dormitory but rather for a rented or shared flat with some of your mates, don’t be afraid to look outside the city centre. Prague is relatively small in comparison to other big European metropolises like London, Paris or Berlin. And via the public transport and metro, you can cross it in less than 40 minutes. The city parts like Karlín, Žižkov, Dejvice, Holešovice, Letná or even Vršovice or Vyšehrad may seem far-away but that’s not true, and they are much more affordable than the core of the city.