Today I’m thankful for: Zanna, Martin, a Hungarian man named István
Who is Zanna? Who is Martin? Who is István? Read on to find out!!
The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of firsts. I had the opportunity to be hosted in Copenhagen for a weekend by my amazing and travel-savvy Delta Gamma sisters from Whitman (as well as one of my best friends from home), and then five days later they made the trek to Prague to visit me! I transitioned from hosted to hostess, and the ability to show two of my best friends my homestay and around “My” city has really reinforced both as home. Peep some pictures here of Anna and Zan (also known as Zanna) in these cities by their personal paparazzo (me).
side note: In case anyone is on the fence about visiting…I have a quick and historical walking loop memorized, complete with a trip to the 10th century fort Vysehrad, aka the place where I have most of my classes (?!) and a pit stop for gelato. I am a great and food-oriented hostess. Please come 😉
One of my favorite parts of this past weekend was the meal Zanna and I shared at Lokál, a Czech restaurant chain that is NOT to be missed. Even though Prague has more McDonalds and KFCs than home, probably, Lokál is less chain-like than those two and more like the authentic feel of Dick’s Burgers in noattle—just with fresh daily specials (goulash & dumplings, anyone?) and set in a giant, smoky beer hall. Zanna and I ordered a variety of Czech dishes, including beets and beef and beer, and shared them all (below).
Right as we were about to finish our second plate of dumplings, a Czech man suddenly scooted onto our bench (the tables are set against walls lined with benches) and started making fun of us.
“Why are you…doing this?” he said, gesturing to our plates and looking kind of skeeved out.
“Eating Czech food?” I said, my mouth still full. “Oh, we’re American.” Like that single phrase explained away our cultural idiocy.
The man, who we later learned was named Martin, just laughed and shook his head. “No, in the Czech Republic, we do not share food like this.” He looked at our hands, which were guiltily scooping up the last of the goulash with bread dumplings. “Also, we do not dip like this. We use forks.”
We were truly too stoked about our meal to be embarrassed, but we thanked Martin for the cultural heads up and talked to him for the rest of the evening about movies, Trump, and why on earth Lokál didn’t serve authentic Czech desserts (“They’re trying to scam tourists by pushing Italian profiteroles! We don’t even have a national dessert!” Martin explained, equal parts excited and enraged).
Martin blew us a kiss on his way out of the restaurant later that night. The three of us were so excited to have been culturally enlightened while eating the best homemade sausage and mustard maybe ever.
Talk to a Czech person in a casual setting outside of my homestay (where I usually only wear pajamas): check/Czech. Thanks Martin!
The final person to whom I owe my deepest and most heartfelt thanks this week is a man I may never meet again. He is a Hungarian man named István who gave me The Best Haircut Experience of My Young Life earlier this week.
(Riveting, I know, but bear with me! This story gets even more tolerable!!)
The first time I tried to cut my hair in a foreign country, I was seventeen, on my way to Senegal for a month, and was convinced I was going to be “too warm” in West Africa with long hair—because my shaggy brown mane was, undoubtedly, the deciding factor of my happiness quotient there, not my attitude—so I tried to cut it with nail clippers in the bathroom at the Paris airport.
A moment of silence for my physical appearance and mental state during those tough ten minutes under those fluorescent lights.
I was determined to make my Prague hair-related experience a more positive one. After an awkward phone conversation with a woman who confirmed that she had a free appointment and no, she did not need my name, I took the metro and a tram to a hair salon that apparently did not exist, then walked past four more hair salons, all of which were filled with older women getting their hair dyed a particular shade of red that is very popular here, and all of which claimed they had no room for me.
Just as this was all starting to feel a bit biblical, I passed by a motion detector in an alleyway I was catching my breath in (there are so many miles to walk here, guys). I walked by the little motion detector again, a bell chimed as if I were entering a pharmacy, and a door that had previously blended into the brick wall clicked open. A door clicking open in an empty alley in downtown Prague? Sure! I opened it, walked in, and a man sitting in a reception area looked at me quizzically. No, this wasn’t István. I made a stupid “haircut?” motion, said the word salon, and he rolled his eyes because I was indeed sounding silly and pointed me down a hallway, which led to—
—a salon!!! The very salon that I originally made an appointment for, and could not find!!
(I promised the story could only get better!)
Imagine my delight. I walked into the beautiful, empty, mirror-lined space, where the receptionist told me they had no openings. After talking to her for a moment, showing her my recent calls to the salon as proof that I had tried to be proactive, and basically looking more desperate than was necessary for a simple haircut, she told me to wait a moment.
Enter István: tall, spiked up hair, dad-aged, tattoos, muscular, clearly interested in the power of the universe.
He looked at me for a moment, then moved very quickly towards me and shook my hand. “I am István, and I am Hungarian,” he said (I thought he had said Esteban until I realized maybe that wasn’t a super Hungarian name). “You need me.” It was not a question, just a simple statement, and I nodded while he stared at me, sizing up my bone structure and my sweaty hair mess from my hair quest around the city.
“I have no time, because I have another client,” he said, gesturing to an older woman who was eyeing me from her corner chair as she waited for her hair to finish bleaching. Oops. “But for you—I sense your…” He moved his hands around my face. “Vibes. What do you want—short? We go short.” I was so overwhelmed and so relieved that István had entered my life that i just nodded and followed him.
The next fifteen minutes—seriously, only fifteen minutes—he made me sit down, pose, stand up, twirl, and make different movements near and around his station until he could really sense my vibe and I felt like Lizzie McGuire. “Today is a good day for change,” he said as he literally kicked my several inches of hair into a giant hair mountain near the wall. I nodded, almost crying with pure joy because this man was apparently changing my gosh darn life.
Walking out of that magical and well-hidden salon, I felt a sense of accomplishment right up there with when I rolled my R’s for the first time in 3rd grade Spanish class and when I graduated from middle school. It did not make me feel completely adult—I mean, all I’d done was pay someone to let me sit down and make me feel pretty—but it did make me feel like a functioning person, which is a big deal to a) a middle school girl and b) a 21 year old woman studying in the Czech Republic who happens to know no Czech.
Like Martin, István blew me a kiss upon his exit. Our goodbye involved him literally running away to attend to his abandoned client, who was clearly PO’d because, I’m sure, the bleach was beginning to burn her scalp.
Thank you, István, sojourner of my soul. Thank you, Martin, who used an odd pick-up insult? to talk to some hangry American girls at a restaurant. And thank you, old friends and new friends, for continuing to solidify this venerable and breathtaking place as my home for the coming months.
Na shlednaou, and I love you!
(next week: I go to a spa in the countryside and Mom comes to town. I know. It’s tough to live here).