Pizza No Go



It’s very late on a Saturday night. OK, very late by Czech terms. Around 10:30 pm. The pubs are closing, the city’s doorways are dark. It’s Prague.

We make a fundamental Saturday decision: let’s order a pizza.

If you are American, you are saying to yourself: uh, yeah, so?

If you are Czech you are saying to yourself: who in his right mind would order pizza? And after 6 pm?

If you are an American who understands how things work in the Czech Republic and the various issues involved with this seemingly simple transaction, then you saying to yourself: oh man, this is gonna go downhill fast!

We go onto a delivery website where you can order food from dozens of restaurants aggregated for convenience. But if you know the Czech Republic, you know that the road to the lavender-scented oasis of convenience is almost always laden with insurmountable inconveniences.

The troubles start immediately in various slapstick comedy ways. The card isn’t accepted at this place. That place is only take-out after 9 p.m. (even though it says delivery and it’s on a, you know, delivery site), this place deletes all of our information and order after we forget to check the box saying “no utensils,” we try again, but by then (14 seconds later) it’s closed.

All the while the featured restaurants on the site literally disappear one by one. They are closing, because it is so (Czech) late. We scan the site now with growing unease, this was such a good idea a mere half hour ago, when we were leaving the pub. The pub that had a menu filled with edible delicacies that we eschewed in lieu of pizza. And now we just want someone to bring us pizza on a Saturday night. Simple pizza.Convenience. It’s one of the major differences between the U.S. and the Czech Republic. In America, getting food, drinks, groceries, customer service, and assistance are so convenient that we can do it with essentially no thought whatsoever. For a big chunk of my life ordering a pizza was not only not a decision that had to be made, but basically second nature. I could do it underwater, with one hand tied behind my back, amid sharks and Bjork music, and I’d still manage to get extra sauce for the cheese sticks.

In the Czech Republic, convenience is just starting to become a concept that people sort of laterally understand. This is likely in part due to Czech westernization, the appearance of American and other foreign companies, the population of thousands of western expats, and a growing demographic of young Czechs who have traveled or lived abroad and realized that being able to get stuff they want easier is pretty awesome.

But still, neither side really understands the other. Americans are baffled when they are forced to deal with an infernally frustrating situation in which they become infernally frustrated because of the infernally frustrating Czech customer service representative who seemingly went out of his way to make sure he couldn’t return a sweater that had a hole in it. What is wrong with these Czechs!

At the same time, that Czech customer service representative is baffled by the astounding arrogance of the astoundingly arrogant American who wanted everything just so, as if the entire world revolved around him, his piddly problems, that sweater whose receipt I couldn’t read clearly, and his astounding arrogance that I needed to do something about it just before my lunch hour. What an arrogant American!

And I’m now used to it. I almost never expect a simple chore to go as planned. I fully expect an issue to be found, a problem to arise, a reason that things can’t be done. And I will admit that it has knocked down my astounding arrogance a notch or two in the last eleven years. As a matter of fact it has made me slightly more patient and better able to roll with the punches. Because when you are forced to roll with a decade’s worth of punches, you just get better at it.

But not when it concerns pizza, which is the staple of the instant gratification diet. You don’t even need utensils or a napkin. You can eat it out of the box it came in. It’s so easy. Unless you are trying to order it in Prague on a Saturday night barreling towards Sunday morning.

We finally give up on the delivery site and go through a pizza place that has been making pizza in Prague “since 1993, 24 hours a day.” They deliver. We get through and order a pizza and four beers. We celebrate. I hold my breath when they call to confirm the address and the order. I expect it to blow up somehow, but everything seems fine. The woman is friendly and patient with my late night Czech. It’s almost midnight, the pizza will be here in an hour.

We put on a movie. When the pizza arrives, it’s a train wreck. Instead of four cans of beer, they bring three, two of which are punctured somewhere and emitting a light spraying noise. We put them in the sink and spin the cans around until we find the pin-sized holes. We pour them. They are warm. It’s OK. We haven’t lost hope. The delivery man was very friendly, we hold onto that.

For some reason they put pickles on our pizza. Sweet gherkins. 16 million New Yorker voices cry out in terror. The pizza is so bad that it destroys a famous adage regarding pizza and sex. And yet, we are almost satisfied. But still, a place that has been making pizza 24 hours a day since 1993 really ought to have gotten better at it. It’s 1:20 a.m. What began at 10:15 as an idea, has ended up as a calamity 3 hours later.

Next time we’ll eat at the pub.

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