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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Thanksgiving Abroad

If I were in the United States at this time of year I’d be spending this week curled up in my parent’s living room, spending time with my friends and family, and helping (or hindering) my parents as they prepare for the event of the month: Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving in the United States, despite its problematic background, is a time for families to come together, share thanks, and eat copious amounts of food. While I don’t have a large family outside of my parents and brother, I have grown up using this holiday as a time to reconnect with friends new and old, and now that I’ve moved halfway across the country for college that time is even more important to me. However, this year is different. Instead of traveling from Denver to Vermont for Thanksgiving, I’ll be spending the week in Aix en Provence!

While it can be hard to be away from my family home on Thanksgiving, I’m lucky to be able to have my family visit me during the holiday week. My mom, dad, and brother all arrived on Monday to spend the holiday with me and my friends, bringing a piece of the holiday to me! While they spent much of their week here taking in France and enjoying their holiday, their visit for me was about connecting with and spending time with my family. Rather than a turkey dinner complete with mashed potatoes, stuffing, and typical Thanksgiving side dishes, my family enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner of steak tartare, escargot, and charcuterie…. maybe not traditional, but certainly no complaints.

Although my 2022 Thanksgiving experience was a far cry from the typical American Thanksgiving, it could only be considered more special for it being celebrated in France and still surrounded by the people I love the most. However, holidays abroad can be challenging for many reasons, and there were still many things to miss about the classic American experience.

Although I had my family with me, this was the first time in a decade that I had not celebrated Thanksgiving with my close family friends. Since leaving for college, spending time with the people closest to me has become rarer and rarer. Missing one of the only times of year that we can all be together makes the distance feel farther, and I’m sure many other students abroad are feeling the same thing. Not being in your family home for a holiday can increase feelings of homesickness, especially so late in the semester.

No matter how you spent your Thanksgiving this year, whether it was home or abroad, with family or friends, eating turkey or not, it is a time to be grateful for the good that we have. This year I’m grateful for my family, my friends (near or far), and especially for this amazing experience that I will never forget. With that, I wish you all the happiest Thanksgiving and start to the holiday season!