Being an American abroad can be intimidating. Not everybody will understand your language, you will be a minority, and you will not have everyone catering to your every want. Apparently, coming from a country known as “the melting pot” of cultures does not make it easier to adapt to new ones outside the United States. Some Americans do not adapt well and can often mistake Europeans as rude if they are not treated like they are used to back home.
“I see Americans who act very disrespectful and think they can just walk right into places and be treated like they are better than everyone else,” said Katrina Ritchey, an American AAU exchange student.
American AAU student Kenley Gassaway said Prague was a very appealing study abroad destination because it is beautiful, centrally located for travel around Europe, and cheap. However, AAU student Nicole Hornaday worried how she would be treated as an American in Prague before coming here.
“One of my friends who had recently visited Prague told me to be prepared for people to be rude to me because I am American,” she said. “He told me that he asked for tap water at multiple restaurants and that each server seemed annoyed by this and gave him terrible service.”
Nicole added she also had a friend studying abroad in Paris who said she had to learn how to speak French if she wanted to receive good service. “Since living here in Prague for a few months I have noticed that this is just a part of their culture,” Hornaday said, “but it did concern me and make me question whether or not I would be treated differently simply because I was American.”
America prides itself on hospitality and customer service, so it takes some adjusting to realize that no offense should be taken if someone does not go out of their way to offer help. Veronika Sinkulova, a full-time Czech AAU student who has been living in Prague for 15 years explained a little bit about the Czech culture.
“Czechs like their own space, they like their everyday routines, and if something comes and disrupts it, it makes them uncomfortable,” said Sinkulova. “So when someone comes and needs help, even when it is a Czech person, the majority will not usually help. It is horrible, but it is very much about the Czech nature.”
Lindsay Porter, another AAU student, said she was offended when she went into a local store and was refused service by the Czech worker because he did not want to speak English. “I walked in and tried to be so nice, and he yelled, ‘No English!’ I tried to communicate what I wanted but he did not want to help me,” said Porter. “And then he just got on the phone and started talking, so I left.”
Porter explained that she usually tries to begin conversations with the Czech greeting “dobry den” but that sometimes she does not remember to do so. This time she walked in just saying ‘hello.’ “He might have helped me if I started by saying ‘dobry den’,” Porter admitted, “but he was unnecessarily rude.”
AAU student Natalie Martinez remembered a similar incident. “I was at Tesco and I asked one of the employees where I could find cinnamon. I showed her the word in Czech, which I had translated on Google Translate. She just looked at it, shrugged her shoulders, and walked away,” said Martinez. “The next second I saw her walking with another customer helping them look for something.”
Sinkulova explained that it is not only Americans but tourists in general who are treated this way.
Americans should consider that often Czechs are required to learn English in order to adapt to tourists, which is not always an easy task. “They should know that we try to speak English for them,” Pavel Novak, owner of a small Prague market, said. “I don’t speak good English and it is hard when an American comes in speaking fast and I cannot understand.”
Many Czechs learn English from a young age because it is important if one wants to be successful in such a heavily touristed area, said a Czech AAU student who wished to remain anonymous. “We do not really have a choice,” said the student. “Just as Americans and others have pride for the country they come from, so do Czechs, but since most people do not speak the Czech language we are almost forced to adapt ourselves to the English-speaking culture in order to get a good job.”
The student suggested that Americans should try to understand and respect that by learning English, Czechs are stepping out of their culture to make tourists feel more comfortable.
Most AAU American exchange students interviewed said they realize the importance of showing respect and feel embarrassed when they notice other Americans walking into Czech stores acting “demanding and entitled,” as exchange student Natalie Thompson put it.“Maybe I have been that obnoxious American who has walked into a place expecting them to speak English to me, but I always try to at least say hello in their language to show respect for their culture,” Thompson said. “Some people may not even realize that they are doing it but I think Americans need to be more considerate about how they are acting.”
American Katrina Ritchey shared a simple piece of advice for all travelers.
“I remember reading a quote before studying abroad and it was how you have to remember that these places were not meant to be comfortable for you but to be comfortable for the people who actually live here,” she said. “It is not your home, it is their home, so it is your duty to work with that person and make yourself comfortable with them.”
“People here are more cold,” Sinkulova concluded, “but if you take the effort and try harder than usual to get closer to a Czech, you will be rewarded with opened arms and endless love.”