As I sit on the roof of my AirBnB during my last night in Prague, I express my gratitude for the three months I spent in this country. I experienced firsthand the sociocultural aftermath of communist regimes in Eastern Europe characterized by a noticeable distance and suspicion towards foreigners, and an everyman towards himself energy that permeates the city: you feel it when the wifi in a restaurant isn’t working and the waitress shrugs her shoulders, her body language telling you “you're on your own on this one", or when you ask in Czech, if they speak English and they immediately and indefinitely repeat “ne ne ne (no,no,no), signaling the end of any prospects of communication.
In Puerto Rico everyone is (insert every adjective you would describe your grandma with e.i. warm, hospitable, loving), therefore, I was taken aback by the cold treatment in Prague. It took me some time to process why the Czech way of interacting with foreigners made me so angry and resentful. I can’t blame it on the fact that my culture is different, therefore, I refuse to sympathize. I knew there was something deeper lurking inside me that was reacting to this indifferential treatment.
As I sat on this rooftop, everything clicked.
I am no one. I don’t have to be treated with warmth and kindness every time I enter a restaurant. The server does her job: takes my order and brings my food. I am just another customer; she’s probably exhausted and underpaid. Why am I expecting her to fake concern for my well-being? Why am I chastising her for being real and for acting exactly how she feels like acting?
Although Czech's were not as friendly as my Caribbean soul would've liked them to be, I was always treated with respect. At times they were rude, (according to my standards, are they even right to begin with? ), but they greeted me with a “Dobry den” (good morning) upon entering a store, young people always gave their seats to the elderly on the tram, and students wore suits for exams in college (not to say that wearing shorts for tests is wrong, but this gives you an idea of the level of respect they have for their professors). Therefore, because of my stigma against cultures that aren’t as warm as PR, I was judging Czech’s based off my biased, focused viewpoint of what “culture” even means.
I learned a valuable lessons about living abroad: Culture is not to be taken personal. It’s a value system that has taken hundreds of years to develop. It is not meant to attack your personality or your own culture. If only I would’ve known how to distance myself from how I was being treated, not having taken everything so personally, as if their “rudeness” was because they hated me, perhaps my experience in Prague would have been different.
As of now, I am left with the bitter taste in my mouth that I didn’t give them a chance. I judged them too fast. On the flip side, I’m glad I learned this early in my life. I have many countries left to explore, and I know I will visit cities that are far more different than the Czech Republic. Lessons arrive when we need them. Perhaps this is life preparing me for a life lived abroad, or one where I indulge in the warmth of Puerto Rico forever.