by Elliot Cromer
What does someone talk about after only two weeks in a brand new foreign country? We’re about to find out. Thanks for joining us here on Notes from Abroad today, folks. Today we talk Prague.
I had a week of intensive Czech language instruction. Now I can say “Dam si pivo” — that means “I would like a beer.” Here in the Czech Republic, it is a welcome fact that beer is cheaper than water. I’ve had a great Czech dish that consisted of potato dumplings, beef, gravy, cranberry sauce and a touch of whipped cream. It was savory and sweet, and man alive, if I would have ever put these ingredients together before then. So good.
There are beggars on the street in Prague, who I felt bad for until my professor in class alerted us to the fact that they are not indeed actual beggars but work for the Mafia. I am not making a word of this up. The Mafia pays these guys off to stand in specific spots in the city where tourists gather. At the end of the day, they give their earnings to the same guy (pimp), who then pays each of them their salary in return. If a real beggar went to one of these attractive tourist spots, they’d have the stuffing kicked out of them. For days I had my empathetic strings pulled by these crippled, diseased and dirty men. Now? I just don’t know.
While the beggars are debatably fraudulent, the pickpockets here are very much real. I haven’t been pick-pocketed, but on arrival we were briefed on some tips to avoid their art form and what they do — it is very coordinated, very professional, and they deserve credit for their cleverness. I don’t actually know jack about any of this first-hand here, folks, but this is some of the most interesting stuff I’ve heard a professor say, and I believe him that it’s real:
On a tram, a group of these hustlers will pick out an unsuspecting tourist, follow them onto the tram and then two hustlers get on after. The two pretend they get on the wrong tram, and as they leave, the rest of the hustlers board quickly. In this flurry of bodies and jostling, the individual victim caught in the middle will not realize his or her wallet has been stolen until the actual pickpockets are off the tram and it is speeding away. Fascinating stuff here.
Despite the pickpocket issue, Prague is actually a safe city. I love it here, and I have only just grazed the surface of its beautiful architecture, cuisine and people. If you come here, please stand in front of St. Vitus’s Cathedral, eat goulash, ask someone “Jak se mas?”, or “How are you?” (pronounced “Yawk-shuh-mosh” — Borat says this all the time). A note here: my classmates and I have been told not to try learning Czech language beyond the survival phrases in our four months. Two different Czech professors have told us this now. It is a ridiculously hard language — very enjoyable — but difficult in its intricate details like I imagine every language is.
I’m living with fellow Kenyonite Josh Wolfson ’15, and grand old [Dylan] “Tuba” [Jones-Tuba] ’15 is here as well. We’re having a blast. The Czech education is the best. I can honestly say that I have a lot more free time this semester, more than any since I’ve started since attending Kenyon. Things will pick up as the time goes on, but with this extra time and no classes on Friday, more energy can be spent traveling — Berlin Film Festival, be jealous, wa-wa-wee-wa.
I want to take a second to say I don’t like travel blogs when I’m back home, because they usually just make me very jealous and sad not to have their authors there with me. Sorry if this entry makes you long for a sexy Euro trip of your own, but hey, life is a long time, and it took me twenty years to get here. I believe you will too! You got to, mate.