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.

In America and most European countries, students would take part-time jobs to save up some allowance or to pay their university tuition fee, whereas in the Arab world, most, if not all was given to us. We only worked unpaid internships related to our field of study and would get our allowance from our parents. Everything was provided for us – cars, gifts, etc.—until we graduated.

Despite this fact, there was something quite reckless about my American colleagues. One of them lost his phone, while another got mugged. Funnily enough, one friend fell asleep on the tram and missed his stop. But they were so nonchalant about all of this, it was very refreshing.

At a wine tasting of Moravian grapes. Photo courtesy Paula Naoufal
At a wine tasting of Moravian grapes. Photo courtesy Paula Naoufal

Of the many European cities I’ve visited, Prague truly captured a part of me. I would definitely consider it one of the most beautiful cities in the world, whether it was its architecture, historical landscape, organized civilian life, its exquisite scenery or its amusing nightlife. I found the Prague charming.

One thing that caught my attention was the Czech love for beer. The locals would even have beer for breakfast instead of water. Some places even served beer that was cheaper than water. With regard to water, I was fascinated that the Czech and the Americans drank tap water, which is not possible back at home due to contamination and unhealthy conditions. At the same time, my American friends were surprised that they had to pay for water occasionally.

An additional perspective that astonished me was the tipping etiquette in the Czech Republic. Tipping was not necessary and most of the time neglected. Other times, staff received very little tips. Back in Lebanon, tipping was not mandatory but by etiquette we always paid around 15-20% or we would be looked down upon. Then again, the customer service at home is astounding. Most places have great service and they care about the customer’s satisfaction, though that was mainly because of the large competition between local venues.

In Prague, that was not the case since there was little competition. I found that many places did not care much for customer service. I actually got yelled at for asking for ketchup. Sometimes the service would be slow and if we were to complain about an issue, they would ignore the situation instead of apologizing and presenting an offering of some sort (dessert is the most common form of apology in Lebanon).

I thought the locals were a bit stingy at first. At times I would say DobryDen to the locals, which is the formal way of saying hello in Czech and I would not get an answer. Some would smile and look down while others would converse with their company and ignore me completely.

I initially took things personally, but later on, I realized after asking several locals, that this was not intentional and that is how they were. Some people attributed it to living in a post-communist state, but it turned out to be that everyone was just keen on minding their own business. Unlike in Lebanon, people would not stare at you.

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