Who Does What?

Of the places I have been, Ireland and the Czech Republic do pubs better than anyone else, despite massive differences in approach. Both places value pubs with character and a bit of grime, a homey and comfortable place where you aren’t afraid to lean on the tables in fear of getting yelled at by someone’s mother. Their pubs are places where people go drink beer and shots and talk. This is in contrast perhaps to the more gentrified American pubs, where you may order a craft beer, but feel as though you could be ordering a two-toned drink with a piece of fruit floating around in it. And chia seeds. In a jar.

Czech waiters will shush you if you’re too “loud” and might make you sit where they want you to sit. There’s not a lot of intermixing between tables and groups, but there’s a great pub feel to it all. Chatter, discussion, laughter, the satisfying thump of a fresh tankard of beer landing on your beermat. Others gather around tables and one has the correct sense that the pub has been the center of Czech society for a long time.

The Irish will rouse you if you’re too “quiet.” The barman will talk to you as if he’s been waiting around all day just to do so. But he is a careful artist at the taps. The other drinkers will pull you into conversation, instantly begin making fun of you like an old friend. In twenty minutes you’ll leave your belongings with them as you run to the ATM. They’ll somehow get you to start singing. If you don’t laugh gaily in an Irish pub, then you can’t laugh gaily.

Americans do hospitality and pampering. This is no left-handed compliment. We will simply do anything we can to make you more comfortable than you have ever been. I am far more excited ordering food in an American restaurant than I am in a Czech restaurant. This comes straight from the ordering process, which, in an American restaurant, takes place over about three minutes of question and answers in order to fully cater to my needs a that moment. How do you want that cooked? Do you want truffle juice in those mashed potatoes? Would you like me to bring you a fresh beer when your food comes out? I find this dessert goes best after this meal, would you like me to reserve one for you? One gets the impression that their waiter has thought of anything and everything to make their dining experience as tailor made as it can be. In the Czech Republic a similar order would be like this:

Waiter: What’ll it be?

Me: Cheeseburger.

Waiter: OK.

Me: Oh…can I get that medium please?

Waiter (sighing and rolling eyes): I’m not sure; because [enter complete bullshit reason here].

Me: Thank you.

Perhaps it’s an extension of this pampering hospitality that makes the Americans do the heat far better than the Czechs. We Americans don’t like heat. We like cold beer and put ice cubes in almost every drink. We cornered the market on cold and frozen versions of coffee. When the intense heat comes during a Philadelphia summer, we do not like to be uncomfortable for a moment. My dad has a system of fans and air-conditioning in his bedroom that not only requires a sweater to withstand, but also makes conversation impossible. Each restaurant and pub becomes an igloo, to step into a shop is to walk into the arctic. And if it weren’t, nobody would go into that shop.

Japan is the only place I’ve been that does heat better. Last summer in Japan the heat was so boggy and muggy that to step outside was to be doused. Combine that with ten miles of walking in the daytime and you have a seriously overheated Gaijin. However, each restaurant and shop was intensely air-conditioned and before taking an order, a waiter brought a frozen towel for your neck and a bottomless pitcher of ice water.

The Czechs do not buy into this sort of frigid temperate culture. One might suggest that this is an extension of their laissez faire attitude to customer service, but it’s more a cultural thing. The Czechs do not love cold. An open window on public transport in May is a nightmare for the Czech neck, scarves are tightened and collars are hinched up. Shops and stores out of the center are rarely air-conditioned. When we asked the school to provide a portable air-conditioner for test taking students, they regarded us as though we had asked for space ships to bring them home afterwards.

A recent heatwave in Prague is surely the fodder for this post. The one fan I have blows lazily at its own leisure. The weather won’t cooperate. The storm clouds have rolled in everyday only to laugh at us sufferers beneath them, while simultaneously making it more humid and withholding the very juice that will relieve the humidity. The irony is palpable. Or maybe it’s my lip sweat. There is no respite when this happens in Prague, as the malls and movie theaters are, though air conditioned, only slightly cooler than outside. It’s a massive misuse of such a resource.

Perhaps we could instill a cultural exchange program. The Czechs can teach us how to run a true, honest to goodness, no hipster crap pub. And we can teach them how to properly use air-conditioning. In any event, until they can figure it out, I’ll be at the pub. It’s not air-conditioned, but after two beers I don’t worry about the heat anymore.

  1. #1 by Lenka on June 22, 2018 - 3:14 pm

    Ahah. This is so true!! I love the ordering in a Czech restaurant part. I always have the feeling I should be excusing myself for bothering waiters with my “stupid” order.

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