Three Cultures, One City

When a Lebanese woman attends an American study abroad program in Prague, it makes for an unusual but rewarding cultural collage.

The author and her new friends at the Icebar in Karlovy Lazne in Prague. Photo courtesy Paula Naoufal
The author and her new friends at the Icebar in Karlovy Lazne in Prague. Photo courtesy Paula Naoufal

Mainly, they were impressed that I could speak four languages. And they were even more fascinated by the sounds that my language exclusively produced. Many of my friends found it weird that Lebanese people mix Arabic, English and occasionally French words in the same sentence.

After a week in Prague, I discovered more and more differences and similarities within all three cultures. It’s interesting how one thing could be so mundane to one culture, yet so otherworldly to another.

One thing my friends found really weird is that I asked for disposable gloves to eat my chicken wings. They had never heard of that before, and I had never eaten chicken wings with my bare hands. Despite the differences, we enjoyed that meal particularly because we immersed ourselves in each other’s habits.

Food wasn’t the only place that our cultures varied. For instance, the other students wondered about my restless lifestyle. My day would consist of going to class at 8 a.m., then sightseeing for a few hours followed by partying till the morning. That was my everyday schedule for a month.

A night out to see the ballet with her American friends. The author is last on the right. Photo courtesy Paula Naoufal
A night out to see the ballet with her American friends. The author is last on the right. Photo courtesy Paula Naoufal

Staying in a country for more than a month meant I needed to save money and not spend recklessly. I found it difficult at first, but hey what’s a little practice? I did however, try to cook by myself and eat at home to save money, but that never worked. I always ended up eating out or making myself some unimpressive easy-noodles.

My five roommates, and yes, there were six of us in our apartment, always tried cooking in our flat. The others would sometimes succeed and other times ruin appliances and set things on fire.

This led to the next difference I observed between my fellow American colleagues and me. I liked spending extravagantly, whereas they really valued their money (whether they earned it themselves or not). I noticed that that was one of the major differences between the American world and its Arab division.

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