Cultural Differences

During my time in Prague, I have noticed some things that are common here that I don’t think are very common in the U.S.

Grocery Store Norms 

I’m lucky in that I have a Lidl store that is only a five minute walk from my apartment. Lidl feels really similar to shopping at my local Aldi back home, however if you have never shopped at one, you might be surprised when you go grocery shopping while abroad. 

I normally do not use a shopping cart since I usually only grab a few items at a time. But, shopping carts at Lidl require you to insert a coin in a little slot to unlock the cart from the other carts in the row. This incentivizes people to properly put the cart away because if you lock the cart back up at the end of your shopping trip, you get your coin back. It is a strange concept to understand at first, but I think it is a neat idea that prevents people from leaving their carts haphazardly in the parking lot like I often see in the U.S. 

Another interesting norm at Lidl is you pay for your grocery bags or bring your own re-usable bags. If you are at self check out and need a bag, you scan the bag first and then scan your items. If you are at the cashier, it is easiest to load your items on the convoy belt and then place the bag on top so the cashier can scan it first thing. This bag preparation is important because not only do you pay for the grocery bags but you also bag your own groceries, the cashier does not do it for you. I personally have enjoyed growing my collection of reusable bags while abroad, so you can wait and purchase a bag once you arrive so it doesn’t take up space in your suitcase. 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/196712350@N04/shares/9qQ1c5p9Rr – just one of the many re-usable bags now in my collection

Student discounts are a very common thing

The U.S. obviously does student discounts but I’ve noticed that it is a widely held practice in Prague. You are considered a student in Prague up until the age of 26, where I feel that the typical age in the U.S. is around age 22, so you can get discounts for longer while abroad. So far I have been able to get student discounts for museums, bus/train tickets, restaurants, and even my Czech phone plan. 

On that note, Charles University gives you the option to have a standard student ID card that you get for free or you can purchase an ISIC student card for around 200 CZK. The ISIC card is really neat because it still shows proof that you’re a student but it also allows works throughout the EU (and I even managed to get a student discount at an attraction in London, so the card seems to work all over). I would consider purchasing the ISIC card just for the flexibility it allows you. 

Water and the vast majority of public toilets are not free 

I knew going into my study abroad experience that toilets and water at restaurants was not free, but it was still something I had to get used to when I arrived. Fortunately water and public toilets are pretty cheap and an easy way to use up coins, but I do appreciate the free water and public restrooms in the U.S. more now since the concept does not exist in many European countries. 

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Czech Cuisine

I enjoy trying new foods and the Czech Republic has a lot of unique dishes. The food is quite heavy and filling, so people typically drink beer at lunch to aid in digestion. I question whether there are actual health benefits to drinking beer with your meals, but beer is super popular in the Czech Republic, so maybe they are on to something. In any case, here are some of the dishes I have enjoyed so far.

Palačinky (Czech pancakes)

Palačinky directly translates to pancakes, but most people agree that they are similar to French crepes, so you can call them either pancakes or crepes. What I find unique about Palačinky is that you can order them as a savory meal rather than only a dessert crepe. One of my favorite versions of Palačinky was spinach and cheese filled. It was a delicious breakfast to go along with my cappuccino.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/196712350@N04/shares/2Au77M3M56

Svíčková (Braised beef in a vegetable sauce served with bread dumplings)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/196712350@N04/shares/t45Tx92on5

I went out with a friend to one of my favorite cafes, Café Louvre, and randomly chose this dish to eat for dinner. When it arrived to the table, I remember saying “Why is there whipped cream on top?”. It wasn’t until the next day when my professor was teaching us about Czech dishes that I learned that I had unknowingly ordered a Czech classic. It is hard to explain the taste of Svíčková, since the sauce is very creamy despite being made out of vegetables. Another unique aspect is that the beef is topped with a lemon slice, cranberry sauce, and whipped cream. Svíčková is definitely a dish to try at least once.

Hovězí Guláš (Beef Goulash)

I ate this dish my very first night in Prague. The Czech version of Guláš is thick and hearty. It tastes very similar to a beef stew, except Guláš is always served with either potato or bread dumplings.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/196712350@N04/shares/372er0zs85

Bonus – Czech Lemonade

I don’t know if this style of lemonade is unique to the Czech Republic, but it is definitely different compared to classic American lemonade, so I am including it in this post.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/196712350@N04/shares/y91G03HD83

Lemonade is the only drink I have found that is served with ice. All other drinks are typically served chilled but without ice. Also, I noticed that lemonade here is not only limited to lemons. The picture above was a grapefruit “lemonade” I ordered at a lakeside café, and it was great. Lemonade in the Czech Republic is also frequently made with sparkling water. Some of my friends were slightly disappointed, but I really enjoyed this take on lemonade since I like sparkling water and fresh fruit puree.