Categorical List of Embarrassing Travel Moments

Today I’m thankful for: full disclosure, rolling with the punches, Czsnacks

I have been fortunate enough during my escapades abroad to not (yet) have experienced any insane travel disasters—I haven’t had my passport stolen, or been victim to identity theft, or eaten bugs without my knowledge (though my housemate Sam did that at a street food market a few weeks ago, but on purpose). I’ve had the opportunity to travel and take classes with so many different types of people, and every morning here I wake up knowing that the day is 100% not going to go how I think it will. There is most definitely some predictability in the unpredictability of living abroad.

One thing I’ve come to terms with since living in Prague is that generally speaking, we don’t even realize how easy it is for us to decipher our own cultural codes until we are forced to spend energy doing so elsewhere. The Czech Republic is a relatively young country in regards to its fresh emergence from communism, but it remains one of the oldest cultural and historical centers of Europe. This apparent contradictory mix of old and new—not to mention the insane influx of tourists in the last few decades—has made for a wild period of acclimation for this American student.

Henceforth, here is an incomplete and PG-rated list of some of my more embarrassing moments since arriving in Prague in January!

Transportation

  • Full disclosure—I did not understand how to read public transit schedules for many weeks and just sort of hopped on various modes of transportation and hopped off when I recognized my surroundings (Prague suburbs are confusing!). This strategy was successful about 4% of the time.
  • Back in February, fellow off campus Whittie Anna and I got stuck on an empty city bus in Copenhagen (the bus driver left us to change shifts with another driver and locked the doors behind him, knowing full well that we were inside). We tried banging on the windows of the bus for about 15 minutes and legitimately started panicking until another guy came to save us. We barely made it to brunch on time to meet up with fellow off campus Whittie Zan!!! The horror!!!
  • One of the first times I took the tram back to my homestay in Prague, the door closed on my butt and quite literally threw me onto the sidewalk in front of a group of men. My Czech still was (and is) minimal, but I could definitely hear them laughing because I was an “Americanka” (duh, American girl). Oops.
  • That time I sat in an empty metro train for fifteen minutes until I realized that it was the last stop, and the driver thought I was nuts.
  • That time earlier in the semester when the snow became so bad in Prague that public transit was delayed, and I became so lost that I called a taxi to take me the five minutes home, and I cried the whole time #culturalgrowth
  • The time that I made it all the way home from the CIEE Study Center without looking at any maps or transit schedules was right up there in terms of my feeling of accomplishment with graduating 8th grade or passing pre-calculus in high school—sure, it might have been a necessary thing to do, but still, I did it!!

Food

  • See my interaction with Martín at a restaurant in one of my earlier posts from March
  • One time I spilled soup on my lap during a semi-formal dinner with my host family, begging the question—which stung more, the hot liquid or my shame?
  • I can neither confirm nor deny the amount of “aperitífs” and “digestifs” I’ve consumed with my host family and become more, shall we say, tired than I anticipated (in a safe familial space of course)
  • Thinking headcheese was cheese, until I ate it!!
  • Ordering food and then realizing I ordered too much food (see featured photo at the top of this post).

Language

  • Every time I speak Czech
  • Visiting other countries for the weekend and accidentally speaking bad Czech because I’m trying to use my “foreign brain”
  • Every time I call to make reservations or appointments anywhere
  • Every single time I speak Czech ever
  • Every time. I speak. Czech.

Miscellaneous

  • Forgetting my credit card in the slot at grocery store because I was too focused on stuffing my bag with all my Czech snacks (called czsnacks. Just kidding, that’s not a thing! They are just normal snacks!)
  • Trying to open the fridge from the wrong side, every day, every time, despite the fact that I’ve lived at my homestay for almost an entire semester
  • One time I coughed too loudly at a very quiet bus stop and received some looks—is that considered embarrassing?

Of course, there are plenty of other moments not suitable for this blog at the present time, but the general sentiment is that these were the types of culture-shock-related encounters I expected upon studying abroad for a semester. The moments I didn’t really put any thought into were the overcoming of these more embarrassing situations, like the triumph of finally understanding public transit, the excitement that comes from eavesdropping on a conversation in Czech and kind of maybe understanding some parts of it, or the exhausted-happy feeling at the end of a day when I did things I never thought I’d do—like go out dancing on a weeknight, or travel solo to a new country, or feel like my little room in my Prague suburb is my home.

With two weeks left in the semester, I can definitively say that I’m doing it! I’m going with the flow, embracing the fumbles, and eating the Czsnacks—what more could I ask for?? (Besides all my friends & fam to be here with me…I miss you!)

Na shledanou for now,

Mary

Czech Easter!

Easter is a big deal in the Czech Republic. Just like in the U.S., Czechs paint eggs as a fun way to get into the springtime spirit, whether they celebrate the religious connotations of Easter or not…but have you HEARD about the Czech tradition of Easter flogging? No?! Better get busy reading, then!!

On Easter Monday last week, I was awakened by my Czech brother Adriano. He dragged me out of bed and downstairs into the kitchen for “a celebration,” which involved me in my pajamas getting comically whipped by my male host-relatives. The whipping, of course, is all in good fun, and is one of the oldest traditions in the Czech Republic. Every Easter Monday, boys and men across the country make pomlázkas, which are sticks made out of braided pussywillow branches and decorated with ribbons. I had heard about this Easter men-whipping-women business when I first arrived in Prague, but I was pretty confused as to what this actually looked like.

As it turns out, there are several steps:

  1. I bend over.
  2. I am (playfully?) whipped upon the bottom with pomlázkas by every male-bodied person in the room (think trick-or-treating on Halloween, with male relatives stopping by your house on Easter morning to whip the women) while the men sing a song that roughly translates to wishing the woman well in terms of her fertility and youth in the springtime.
  3. tl;dr: If you are a girl or woman and you are not whipped by a man with a pomlázka on Easter Monday, you will not be fertile or youthful for the upcoming year. In the words of Adriano, “You will be dry and sad.”
  4. Once the men finish singing songs after the whipping (my host mom and host grandma were also whipped—it doesn’t hurt!), each woman is expected to gift the men with eggs we have decorated. See some pictures of my decorated eggs below, including one of Adriano with his pomlázka.

 

This is just a quick informational post—finals are starting up here already and things are getting so busy!—but in case you’d like to read up about more Czech Easter traditions, you can do so here.

My favorite Easter tradition that remained the same here in Prague: a delicious, pastry-heavy breakfast!! 🙂

Weekends, alone time, puberty

Today I’m thankful for: weekends, alone time, puberty

This marks the first weekend in over a month that I haven’t been traveling. This morning, I slept in for the first time in weeks instead of stumbling out of my room at zero dark thirty to catch a flight, or a train, or a bus! It is so nuts—I have been doing more traveling in the last two months than I have in my entire life combined (including family road trips, middle school overnights, reunions, vacations, and walking to Taq).

Traveling constantly is so different from taking one or a few large trips each year. There is some security that comes with this constant state of impermanency, the nomadic lifestyle of the study abroad traveler—security in the sense that this too shall pass. If something is amazing, then you get to experience it; if it’s not, then it will be over soon. Going with the flow has never been so necessary or so easy!

Although it has been incredible to be in such a central location in Europe with the means to explore so many different countries, there is beauty in being able to lazily wake up at 10am and make small talk with my host mom over a giant cup of coffee. Weekends have flown by when I’ve been on the move, and seem to teeter on at a pleasantly slow pace when I’m at home…which is Prague. Home! Czech Republic! Same diff! Incredible.

I’ve had the chance to take some time to myself this weekend and, in a delightfully meta thought experiment, reflect on what that actually means. Alone time when you’re studying abroad is rare, because the #FOMO (fear of missing out) is even more prevalent here than at school. How many people get the opportunity to explore Europe with virtually no responsibilities other than keeping yourself alive and going to school? You have to grab the bull by the horns/goulash by the dumplings/beer by the pint and go with the flow and seize the day and practice all the other empty cultural idioms to really get the “most” out of this experience. Right?

When I came home for dinner earlier this week, my fifteen-year-old host brother Adriano was ranting about the terrible day he had (a little girl had stomped on his prized white sneakers, ) and he talked and talked until he was out of breath—about how “dumb” this girl was, about how he had to clean his shoes, about how much they had cost, etc. Finally, he slumped over the table and declared, “I hate puberty.” I burst out laughing—honestly, how could you not—and knew that I would have missed this oh so special moment had I been traveling.

….and now for some PICS!

Since my last post, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet up with fellow off campus Whittie Maya in Budapest, and then travel to Amsterdam with off campus Prague-based Whittie Molly and some friends last weekend for the start of tulip season!

On a bridge in Budapest

Maya!

Keukenhof Garden with Molly & Co.

Enjoying some frites in Amsterdam

More adventures to come!

Na shledanou,

Mary