The Expat Strikes Back


oh-youre-an-expat

About this much…

Yesterday, I read an article on Expats.cz titled 17 Expat Behaviors that Czechs Find Rude. In the interests of becoming a better expat in my adoptive country, I eagerly read on.

Plus, it was after lunch time and I wanted to look busy.

Many of the list items struck me for one reason or another. Whether a point was hilariously relatable, reminded me of something funny, or indicated that the writer interviewed Czech people who have never met an expat or another Czech person in public.

In any event, here are some reactions to that article.

Respect the Menu!

Keeping to the traditional menu is something I agree with. Americans, at least, are notorious for altering menu items – substituting, ordering without an ingredient, etc – in order to get exactly what they want – a great American pastime. If you have ordered a meal behind an American in Prague, you know what I mean.

I once watched an American order Svíčková with no sauce and the resulting conversation with the dumbfounded waiter. This was mainly because the entire draw of eating Svíčková is for the sauce. It’s sort of like ordering a cheeseburger with no meat or cheese.

As a person who waited tables and tended bar in the U.S for many moons, I can agree that this expat trait is damn annoying. Stick to the damn menu.

We are Gastronomical Heathens

Another bit of gastronomical aggravation for the Czechs is when expats touch their dumplings. While I have never done it, I have seen the look of horror on the waiter’s face when a visiting American friend picked up a dumpling and dipped it into his guláš.

Priceless.

I thought I was going to have to administer CPR.

Give up your Seat, Young Expat

According to the article, Czechs (evidently) find one rude behavior of expats is that they don’t give up their seats to an older person on public transport. While I agree that would be rude, I must say that most people (Czechs and expats alike) do seem to offer their seat to older people. And if not, in my experience it seems to be either young women or younger boys, not expats.

I question the validity of this complaint. The seating hierarchy is drilled into every expat’s head from before arrival day, it’s about the first thing we hear about in terms of riding public transport. So, in general, I think we follow it. I have been riding public transport in Prague for 11 years and have yet to notice a rash of expats holding onto seats as if they are Taylor Swift tickets.

Let me out!

Apparently, Czechs are annoyed because expats don’t get out-of-the-way to let people off when the metro or tram stops. Huh? In the first place, Czechs have a tendency to stop immediately after stepping onto the tram, so exactly how far can they be from the door to begin with? Secondly, when I have to burrow through a barrier of loitering passengers, it’s a multilingual wall: English, Spanish, Czech, Russian, Klingon (gotta love nerds).

One thing they often have in common is that their noses are buried in a phone, but to blame this on expats is sort of a reach.

Keep your Expat Voice Down!

OK, I admit it. Expats can be loud. Anyone who has lived in Prague for more than a month has rolled their eyes at the loud American students nearby talking about how “cultural” Prague is and how much “they are finding themselves here.” If you have lived in Prague for more than a month and have not heard this, then you are the offending culprit. So stop.

But is it that expats are so loud or that Czechs are so quiet?

I might roll my eyes on the tram at those Americans, but it’s because they are the only people speaking and not glaring through the window in quiet hatred. The expats usually aren’t shouting, they are simply the only people making audible noise in the tram.

This goes for pubs, too. For a country that has a wonderful tradition of pub culture, the Czech Republic has some of the quietest, can-hear-a-pin-drop or a-mouse-squeak pubs on Earth. More than once I have elicited angry stares and even a “shhh” while having a conversation at a reasonable volume with a friend in a pub.

Put on a radio? Or a television? No chance. That might only provide entertainment.

Czechs might be annoyed by loud expats, but it’s only because we’re interrupting the bleak, soul-crushing silence they hold so dear.

Get out of the Way!

One point in the article complained that expats get in the way on the streets, which proves that the writer needed to fill space at the 11th hour or that the Czechs she interviewed for the article have spent their lives in trenches at the bottom of the ocean.

Because Czechs accusing expats of this is bullshit. Again: Bull. Shit.

Getting in the way is 100% Czech behavior. The Czechs possess the ability to get in others’ way to such a degree that you’d think they’ve done postgraduate work on it. I am sorry to be so direct, but the Czechs are the most spatially oblivious people on the planet.

It doesn’t matter where, either: on the street, on public transport, in hallways, on lifts.

One old Czech babička can somehow take up an entire 9-foot wide sidewalk. Czech people walk through doorways without looking and just stop in the middle of the sidewalk. They get onto trams and stop dead inches past the door. Czechs walking on the street will get text messages and abruptly stop walking to read them, which has almost resulted in accidental intercourse with people walking in front of me. The most favored place for Czechs to have long conversations, or just to hang out and think, is in doorways and the most favored place for Czech teens to hang out is on stairways. I cannot count the number of times a Czech person has stumbled into me or directly into my path. It is an uncanny nationwide phenomenon.

So I seriously question the sanity or self-awareness of whomever came up with this complaint. It’s simply not true.

In Agreement

Though I (obviously) disagree with some of the observations and complaints listed, there are certainly some I agree with. Expats should speak Czech to Czech people and we should make learning Czech more of a priority – myself included.

I also cringe when I hear expats say things like “This is so much better in (enter country here).”

We have all done it. But we should remember that we are guests in this awesome country and lucky enough to live among these wonderful people, so to constantly complain or compare with our home countries is rude.

I recommend doing what I did – get a cat and vent to her.

And for God’s sake, fellow expats, take off your shoes, look people in the eyes when you cheers them, don’t open any windows, and under no circumstances refer to the Czech Republic and Eastern Europe in the same sentence.

Whether you are Czech or an expat, I am curious: What expat behavior do you find rude?

  1. #1 by PJ on September 10, 2015 - 12:51 pm

    Czech spatial awareness might be worth studying by scientists. I’ve been bumped into by people when I was standing against a wall waiting for a metro. It was unbelievable. I do agree, that I never thought about the shoe thing until I came here. I think the worst expat trait is the need to encourage people to drink absinthe. I still think Absinthe is a joke played on foreigners by the locals

  2. #2 by Adam on September 10, 2015 - 3:11 pm

    I don’t remember experiencing the spatial awareness issue when I was there – but I mentally added thousands to my secret death list in Korea, for behaving in exactly the spatially oblivious ways described.

    I did notice, however, that I never saw any Koreans bumping into each other, cutting each other off, or causing any delay to each other, which made me wonder whether they were all keyed in to some unconscious rules that I was unaware of.

    Do Czechs annoy each other with this, or magically circumnavigate each other?

    As for annoying expat behaviours, I don’t mind people comparing dic- sorry, countries, because that’s one way that people can think about how to improve their homeland, whether they are the native or the expat in the conversation. As long as it doesn’t stray into overweening arrogance, it can be fairly constructive.

    I do get annoyed about loudness and drunkenness though. Admittedly, I have been *that* person at times. It probably doesn’t help that a large proportion of expats are the early 20s, suddenly free, finding themselves kind of people who behave like this anyway.

  3. #3 by Lee on September 10, 2015 - 5:24 pm

    > while having a conversation at a reasonable volume with a friend in a pub.

    This is where I can see culture clash happening. Damien, my friend, your idea of ‘at a reasonable volume’ is at a very different level from most humans. And lets be real here, if your conversation makes you laugh at any time, then I think even expats would be like “Wow! Loud!”

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