My favorite thing to do is to people watch and Prague is a people-watching gold mine. My current spot is at the tram stop in Ujezd. Truthfully, I find incredible joy in watching frantic tourists run as fast as they can to catch the number nine. Something about their energy, the desperate and disheveled chaos they reek of, makes me chuckle to myself.
Many times, I’ve people-watched on the tram. My favorite part is eavesdropping on English speakers’ conversations. Usually they’re lost, and part of me feels like I should step in and say something to help, but the other part of me thinks if I stand there with an expression of vague discontentment on my face, they’ll mistake me for a Czech and won’t ask for directions.
I do my best to blend in with the Europeans. This has backfired on me a few times, though. On days I look too Czech, I get approached by lost Czechs asking for directions.
At this I employ my camouflage defense mode: taking a long, uninterested drag of my cigarette and averting my eyes. The Czech illusion pursues, and the question-asker often shakes their head with a smile and leaves me alone.
People watching can be dangerous, though. If you make accidental eye contact with too many strangers, one is bound to say something to you. The other day I was walking to the tram stop with my friend Owen when this exact thing happened. I had made accidental eye contact with an old man at the stop; I was probably smiling because I’m American and I really can’t help it. Given this, he saw an opportunity to approach my friend and I. Of course, he began speaking to us and we couldn’t understand him, so we tried explaining to him that we only spoke English. Undeterred, he kept on talking and gesturing at us and at one point introduced himself to us as “Dimitri” and shook our hands.
He kind of held on to my hand for a second too long, so I politely yanked it back and crossed my arms. The second he put his hand on my shoulder, I regretted doing my makeup that morning (as I look like a little boy without it) and I cursed myself for having damn good taste in dresses. Dimitri kept his hand on me a few minutes longer than I would have preferred, but as soon as he took it away, Owen stepped between us and whispered for me to start backing up. Of course, I did as I was told and we both escaped by a close margin from Dimitri the Crackhead.
Another fun type of person to watch is “the baby.” Babies are very interesting creatures. I have never had a baby, but there is photo documentation that I was once one, so I have lots of experience on this topic. Babies on trams like to cry for no reason, that is a general statement that I think most people would agree with. Babies absolutely have it made. Do babies have to pay for their own food? No. Do they even have to use a toilet? No. Do they pay taxes? I’m pretty sure that’s illegal. Babies crying on the tram makes no sense to me, because they don’t even have to give up their seat for elderly women like the rest of us.
Besides babies, I like to watch couples on the tram. This sounds extremely weird, but I would like to counter-argue that ignorant assumption with the fact that I’m an anthropology student, so I get a pass for this one. I’ve noticed couples in Europe are extremely unaware that they’re in a public space. I can’t tell you how many make-out sessions my innocent eyes have come upon in the most disgusting of places. Burrito Loco, for example. Absolutely putrid to begin with and for some reason, the metro! Personally, I’m more focused on not falling down a one-hundred-foot-long escalator. It seems imminent.
Anything underground kind of sketches me out. Humans weren’t born to be underground. It makes no sense. From a real estate point of view, it makes a little sense, but morally? Very wrong. The metro is another good place to people watch, but only if you don’t blink. Everyone moves so fast there, if you blink, you’ll miss a whole herd of entitled teenagers wearing Supreme fanny packs. Worse yet, you’ll miss a tourist being pinned down by the metro stasi. I will caution you, though, as the artificial metro wind will quickly dry out your eyeballs. In extreme cases of dry eyes, one must find a one-armed violinist playing Vivaldi on the street corner. A real tear-jerker. But don’t give him any money because then everyone will think you’re a tourist.