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How to Adjust to Local Life in Prague (or When in Rome)

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You will likely pay more than necessary in your first few days in the Czech Republic, as is the case in most new countries. That could involve over-tipping at restaurants, making unnecessary purchases, frequenting pricey tourist districts, or dining at establishments that cater to Western tastes. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this—I’m sure we’ve all stopped by McDonald’s for some much-needed culture shock—but it’s to your advantage to start acting more like a local as soon as possible, both to immerse yourself more fully in the local way of life and to keep your wallet full. What does “living like the locals” entail in Prague, which is a city I frequently recommend to others?

Here are some bulleted suggestions for easing into Czech society:

First, a courteous Dobry Den is the appropriate greeting to use when entering the great majority of small businesses. If you’re a local, you’ll ‘announce’ yourself with this greeting whenever you enter a small business, such as a grocery shop, pharmacy, bar, etc. If you don’t, people will believe you’re just passing through on a tourist’s itinerary. Even if your Czech accent isn’t great, showing that you understand this fundamental cultural principle will almost always earn you a warmer reception than you would have had otherwise. Say “Na Shledanou” (Goodbye) as you leave.

Second, the practice of tipping. Tipping is not as common in the Czech Republic as it is, say, in the United States. If the total for a taxi ride is 238 CZK, you should tip the driver 250 CZK. The total should be rounded up to the nearest CZK 240 if it comes to 228 CZK. Waiters in the downtown area have the unpleasant practice of asking for gratuities or making big amounts of change out of a bill in coins. If the service and cuisine at a restaurant were exceptional, you should aim to leave a 10% tip. Don’t tip, or tip less, if you were served poorly. Keep an eye on your receipt to see if a service charge has been added. If so, the tip has already been factored into the total and you will not be expected to leave any further gratuity. If the dinner and service were truly remarkable, you may tip as much as 20%. However, you should find that the 10% rule is valid in most circumstances.

Relax your attire. OK, gone are the days when Czech businesspeople flooded the Western European market in purple suits, but with an average working wage of just over US$1,000 per month, not many people can afford to splurge on name brands like Levi’s, North Face, etc. In general, Czechs do have a rather unkempt appearance. Tourists are easily identifiable not because of the cameras and maps they carry, but because of the high quality and/or recognizable labels they wear. Wearing a North Face jacket in a restaurant guarantees you’ll be treated like a clueless foreigner.

Moving the goods. Transport in Prague and between cities often costs more for tourists. Ticket vendors in Prague often overcharge tourists for a ride on the metro or tram because the machines are incomprehensible to them. For example, they may try to sell you a 32 CZK ticket when you only need a 24 CZK one. The same is true for some intercity bus and train lines, especially the most popular tourist routes across the country. A visitor may be overcharged by as much as 100% for a ticket from Praha to Brno, whereas a resident may pay less than 250 CZK. If you’re planning on using the highly-recommended student agency. cz to book train and bus tickets, you might want to bring a local friend along for the ride. Those who plan on making frequent use of Prague’s public transportation system should invest in a monthly pass that allows unlimited use of the city’s trains, trams, metro, and buses for just $30.

5. Go to the supermarket. Don’t ever go shopping in the middle of town if you can help it. Tesco, the British equivalent of Walmart, operates both supermarkets and hypermarkets in highly visible locations across the city. You can save a lot of money (and time) in the hypermarkets. Use the shopping baskets provided when you shop at smaller grocery stores; if you don’t, you can expect to be watched or followed by the locals. Also, be aware that it is not unheard of to get shortchanged in grocery stores and other supermarkets.

Sixth, the act of driving. You must keep your car lights on at all times while driving in the Czech Republic, so keep that in mind if you have suicidal tendencies and decide to drive in Prague, or if you are just fancy getting out of town and think it might be economical to rent a car if there are a few of you together. Trams always get the right of way in Prague. When navigating the city, keep in mind that pedestrian crossings are not required stops. Always yield to the right unless otherwise indicated by traffic signage. The right lane is the primary lane on the highway, and the speed of traffic rises as you move to the left. Expect practically bumper-to-bumper suggestions to move to a slower lane from faster cars coming up behind you if you’re driving in the fast lane.

7. Special protocol. Prague might appear to have layers upon layers of inexplicable social norms. If you want to blend in with the locals, the most important thing to remember is to always walk on the correct side of steps, stairs, and escalators. For example, on an escalator that can fit two people at a time, the right side is for those who are not in a rush while the left is for those who are. People will curse at you and get angry if you stand on the left and block the “fast Lane.” When using public stairs or steps, anyone going in the other direction should use the right side. Always make room on the bus, tram, or metro for a pregnant lady, the elderly, a kid, or a person with a disability. It is also common courtesy to help parents who appear to need assistance while pushing strollers or other infant carriages.

Places to eat and drink number 8. It is common practice in bars for customers to place drinks on the tab and pay for them after they leave. Please remember to double-check your bill each time you pay to ensure that the total is right. It’s best to sit down and immediately decide what you want to drink before the waiter comes to collect your order in a restaurant. While the timing of your order is entirely up to you at fine dining establishments, in casual eateries where a high customer turnover rate is essential to profitability, quickness is of the essence. After the waiter brings your drinks, he or she will ask what you would like to eat. The desert is always depicted as a different category. You will be expected to eat quickly, pay, and leave during the day when restaurants provide Daily Menus so that the next group of harried lunch-goers may be seated and served. There will be raised eyebrows and a frosty reception if you linger around too long.

I’m at a loss for number 9. A Daily Menu or Special, usually consisting of a soup and main, can be obtained routinely for roughly 100 CZK around lunchtime in the great majority of restaurants. However, if you look like a tourist, many waiters will not offer you the Daily menu but will instead hand you the a la carte. The daily menu is a rotating selection of dishes that are typically posted alongside or linked to the regular menu. You may typically find the restaurant’s Daily menu posted outside the establishment. Despite being published exclusively in Czech, The Daily can be understood by anyone armed with a good bilingual dictionary. Denni Menu pro sim (Daily menu please) should be requested if the option is not presented automatically. Lunchtime. cz provides a comprehensive database of restaurants throughout the Czech Republic, along with daily menus.

Don’t give off that joyful vibe. Everyone who visits Prague for the first time agrees on one thing: the locals can be a bit grouchy. Although people are more likely to grin as the week progresses toward the weekend, even the weekend isn’t quite a smile city. If you adhere to the aforementioned guidelines and generally appear as though someone ate your lunch without your permission, you will blend in perfectly. That’s not to imply the Czech people aren’t welcoming. On the contrary. The problem is that they are reserved and reticent in social situations.

These are the most fundamental yet easily overlooked aspects of etiquette. If you stick to these guidelines, your time in the Czech Republic will be more memorable and within your budget.

Enjoy!

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