In about a month, I’ll be returning to my hometown and home city NYC, which I haven’t seen for two years. I am so excited!
^^That was where it all started. I went to register for my Czech visa through Fulbright (which has expanded to 30 people starting next year from my year’s 10!), and I was so nervous. I sat there in the waiting room looking at the Czech words written decoratively all over the walls (some famous speech, I suppose – maybe someone can help me out?) and I swore to myself that if I ever returned there, I would be able to read them.
So I guess we’ll see! 🙂
It was also the place where I saw my first Czech film (if you don’t count One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, directed by Miloš Forman), Věra Chytilová’s Sedmikrásky (1966), a truly trippy film that nods at the sadly short-lived creative freedom (“Communism with a human face”) of the 1960’s in Czechoslovakia.
Then my wonderful adventure began. I have been wondering quite a lot lately about reverse culture shock – will anything seem strange to me when I return? The prices, the in-your-face-friendly shop assistants, the enormous portions, the comparative lack of 70-year olds on bikes, the inability to get basically anywhere without a car?
I haven’t been gone that long. But here are some things I know would surprise Czechs visiting NYC for the first time.
Our accents and lingo
You’ve got to learn what a bagel and shmeer is. A bodega and a deli. What does it mean to grab a slice (see below)? You’re not taking the metro, you’re taking the subway. “Howston” is referring to the street which is spelled “Houston” (but not like the city in Texas). What’s south of it is SOHO and what’s north of it is NOHO.
And if you want to survive, you are going to have to learn what “cawfee” is.
Maybe I don’t feel too bad about my own coffee-buying faux pas. Considering I’m a New Yawka originally from Longuyland, I was obviously destined to fail.
In the US, the customer is always right. In NYC, the pedestrian is always right.
I learned the hard way in CZ that if you do not cross at the zebra (American translation: crosswalk) and do not appear to be paying attention to your surroundings, you will likely lose the game of chicken you are playing with the cars.
Sound obvious? To New Yorkers it’s not.
New Yorkers on foot rule the streets and stop traffic to cross, whatever the color of the stoplight. This is not for beginners or the faint of heart, but ours is a pedestrian’s world.
Bonus points if you do it in stilettos.
Hungry and in a hurry? Grab a slice.
One way that Czechs can manage not to break their budget here is by eating all the pizza (and maybe hot dogs, but you knew that already) you can buy at the $1 stand. It’s the only thing that is the same price in Tišnov and New York.
We have the best pizza because we have the best water (anyone will tell you). And the $1 slice is truly… decent. StillbetterthanCzechpizzacoughcoughespeciallytheoneswithcorn.
Meanwhile, if you want fancy pizza in a sit-down restaurant, it might start at $2.50.
Plus, don’t miss Gray’s Papaya for a truly cheap New York eating experience. Their shakes are gooooood.
We know you like Times Square, but…
Do not be the tourist that stands with your phone map blocking all the people who have somewhere to go. You’ll get bumped by 500 people in the span of one minute, and they will not apologize to you because you were asking for it.
New Yorkers have to be better than everyone else. Take food. We all eat food. For example, some people (like the French) eat croissants. Some people (like the police and Homer Simpson) eat donuts. New Yorkers have to eat cronuts, and the line will wind around the block for five years.
Photos: TL Line Logic, TR CBS New York, BL Dominique Ansel London, BR The Telegraph
They even wait in the rain. Personally, I only wait in the rain to get into Soupa in Bratislava. Okay… or Totto Ramen in NYC.
But good news?
Coffee in reusable mugs
We make a lot of waste – I’m not saying no. But health and environment-conscious New Yorkers bring their reusable mugs to their favorite coffee shop, and often get 10-20 cents off their purchase, PLUS SOMETIMES FREE REFILLS.
I have seen reusable mugs here in CZ, but rarely. Usually coffee to go is given in a small paper cup, but then again, those are espresso drinks. Americans need their filtered coffee in large amounts!
And I hate to say it, but most elitist cawfee-drinking New Yorkers would never touch something like this, which is rampant in CZ train stations especially.
Sometimes, you just gotta have your hot chocolate deluxe.
I’ve gotta be honest, I totally and completely buy into this. My favorite farmer’s market is the Union Square Greenmarket.
Again, since we sad New Yorkers cannot manage to have gardens like Czechs (though some have started rooftop beekeeping), we still have to be fancy and get our fresh, organic, and local produce somewhere! No matter what you think of the multicolored tomatoes and carrots, gluten-free pastries (ironically quite popular in CZ cities too…), high prices and elitism, it is truly a great atmosphere and people-watching experience, and the $1 warm apple cider on a cool autumn day cannot be beat.
We do get into nature… sometimes
New York is not just Manhattan, and it’s not just a city either. The state is much larger than most people believe and NYC is a comparatively tiny part of it (by area. It has half the state’s population). If you’re willing to take a two to five-hour drive, you will find beautiful nature and landscapes beyond belief in the Catskills or Adirondacks.
This photo is from a hike on Panther Mountain in the Catskill Mountain Range – 3,720 feet (1,130 m). Just 2.5 hours from NYC.
We are very politically active
Czechs are usually not very patriotic, at least not in the same way as Americans, and tend to hope for the best in an often disappointing political field. You don’t often hear Czechs speaking politics outside of the pubs. On the other hand, New Yorkers are very outspoken about politics and voting, and are typically liberal and progressive.
Photos from a protest in favor of reproductive health and rights, 2011.
Nothing will stop New Yorkers from getting their cronuts in the rain, and nothing will stop New Yawkas from wawking their dawgs where they wawnt when they wawnt. Alec Baldwin was still walking his dogs during Hurricane Sandy (2012).
If that didn’t knock down New Yorkers, nothing else will.