To and Fro — The U.S. and the Czech Republic
By Gabriela Knutson
A walk down two memory lanes.
My favorite things:
The United States
Beaches, large iced coffee, Amazon, window screens, Netflix
European-style coffee shops, town squares, fancy McDonald’s, Milka chocolate
(No DisneyWorld or big rollercoasters or window screens)
I was sitting in a McDonald’s next to the highway in Hradec Králové in the Czech Republic, making a brief pause on my way to my Czech grandparents’ house. I thought to myself how different it was from the McDonald’s in the United States— how fancy and expensive it was compared to its counterparts in the US.
Everyone knows that Europe has a lower drinking age, weights and measurements system, and several languages. What you may not know are the little oddities (and some big ones): that Czech people don’t like to pay with credit cards, that they really love their beer, that they are also racist.
Here, I’m zeroing in on some of the differences between the CZ and the US, and the positives and negatives of my two favorite countries in the world.
I am a bilingual student with dual citizenship in the Czech Republic and the United States. My mom is Czech and my dad is American. I am currently studying in upstate New York, but I’m visiting my home in Czech Republic for winter break. (And I refuse to call it Czechia.) For all of my life, I spent half of the year in the US and half of the year in CZ, because my parents wanted me to experience both cultures. So what might this back-and-forth lifestyle look like?
1. Imagine living in a place where you don’t have to use your car for weeks
In my hometown of Dvur Kralove nad Labem, and many many other countless towns in Czech Republic, I could walk from my home to my brother’s school, the grocery store, the tennis club, gym, or soccer stadium, a fancy restaurant, and an internationally-acclaimed zoo, all in the span of an hour. It’s actually great and so very convenient for families, because their children can walk to school, and to extracurricular activities after, and then back home later; all while their parents can stay at work, not needing to worry about their child.
In most places in the US, this would be impossible. If I wanted to go anywhere in the US, I would have to get on a highway. CZ has highways that are about two lanes on each side, but US highways can go up to five or six lanes. Of course, this is due to the population size, but it’s still crazy to me. I have a friend that can’t even leave his house to go to the gym without getting on a highway every single time.
Public or mass transportation is sometimes an expensive concept in the US compared to the Czech system. In the Czech Republic, like in most countries in Europe, you can get anywhere with buses, trains, trams, or metros. And it is shockingly cheap. Tonight, I can visit my friend in Vienna by catching a bus to Prague, and long train to Vienna for only 400 Kč. That’s almost 350 kilometers (217 miles) for $18.84!
2. What if your country didn’t have a giant military force but you still felt safe?
I feel 100% comfortable walking down the street in most places in CZ. Parents don’t have to worry about their children as they walk to school. People don’t feel the need to own guns to feel safe. Our crime rate is low and police force strong. Statistics from NationMaster.com have confirmed that the US has 98 percent more crime than CZ, and CZ has 85 percent more police officers. The murder rates, violent crime rates, and rape rates per 100,000 citizens are also much lower in CZ.
3. Everything is cheaper in CZ, except water.
The cost of living in the US is three times as high as in the Czech Republic, as NationMaster.com reported. Even in the most expensive places in CZ, a person from the US would think that the prices are cheap.
The one exception is water. In Czech restaurants, water is more expensive than most beverages. You don’t get a glass of water just because you sat down in the restaurant. You have to order it and pay for it. And do not even try to ask for ice! Ice does not exist here. A smarter purchase would be the world-renowned Czech beer instead; your choice.
Also, don’t try to pay for your 45 Kč ($2.12) water with a credit card. They might not have a card reader, and it is also not the Czech way. Czechs generally pay for their items with paper cash, instead of a credit card, which is the common way in the United States. I catch myself spending much more money in the US because of this.
4. I always wait to go to the doctor in CZ
That is because my mom plays tennis with the local doctor; he never has too long of a line, and I can walk there and back in eight minutes. And it is the same whenever I need to go to the dentist, gynecologist, chiropractor or physiotherapist. If I tried to go to the doctor’s office in the US, I would have to drive there, wait in a long line, go to a doctor I have never seen before, and pay extremely high prices. No, thank you. I will wait until I come back to CZ in the summer to get my wisdom teeth removed. My aunt does really great dentist work.
5. Foreigners might not laugh at traditional Czech jokes
In the Czech Republic, we choose a different type of humor, and it usually insults ourselves, everyone around us and their mothers. I am not saying this is the right way, but it is the culture that we have been raised in. You get used to it.
6. We don’t talk about racism as an issue, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have it
Acceptance is a luxury that Americans have fought for, and one that the Czech Republic has not really gotten to yet. There are century-old presumptions towards people of color. The general population of CZ is not really accustomed to seeing people of color. Citizens see certain things as “the Czech way” and people do not want change. The general population, no matter how high class or low class, will look at people of color as different, lower, or strange. The entire continent of Europe is changing its views and opening up its arms, but CZ is lagging behind.
7. We finally have a law that bans smoking in restaurants
It’s been too long in the works. CZ has a pervasive smoking culture, one that is hard to shake. When the ban was put into place in May 2917, the whole country protested. Instead of sitting in bars and restaurants, people all over the country stood outside in protest, where they were free to smoke as many cigarettes as they wanted. These protests have died down since then, but people are still unhappy.
Unfortunately, Czech Republic has one of the highest rates of children smoking in the world. Especially in small towns, young children will even start smoking cigarettes when they’re 14 or 15 years old. I’ve seen it myself, and it is quite sad.
8. There is no need for university scholarships when tuition is free
Everyone has a bachelor’s degree in Czech Republic, because it is so cheap. There is little to no tuition at Czech universities. Students usually live in cheap dorms and travel home by bus or train or the weekends. I am studying in the US on an athletic scholarship, because I could never afford the cost of American universities otherwise. But in CZ, studying at university is not barred for anyone, even people of lower class standings, because it is so affordable.
Czech universities mandate that you choose your major immediately. At an American university, you take general education classes as a freshman, and you have up to two years to decide what major you want. In CZ, students must choose their college major when they are already in their junior/senior year of high school. On the other hand, Czech students have 13 years of education before that, compared to the 12 years of US schooling.
My heart has always belonged in two places at once. All my life I have been traveling between my two homes, and I would never want it any other way. I can clearly see both the negatives and positives in each country, and I always miss the other country when I’m in the other. If I’m in the US, I will always miss Czech cooking. If I’m in CZ, I will always miss the carefree, light-hearted atmosphere and humor of the US. It’s an endless cycle, and even though I know I will have to choose only one home country in the future, I will always keep both countries in my heart.