Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Joys of Living in a New Culture...

Well, I have been in Prague for a few weeks now, and it has been such a neat, yet challenging, experience. Each day I learn a new skill at work, a new trick to survive in another culture, and a little more about myself. Looking back the past few days, I realized how my needs and values have changed from just a few years ago. It must be the years I have added to my age that I now want the “comfort and warmth” of life familiar. It is not, at least not yet, a feeling of homesickness, but I do realize the benefits of being able to communicate and express oneself, both verbally and physically.

Not being able to communicate is such a huge obstacle that many do not realize unless in the situation itself. For example, the other day I was in need of pair of shoes, and so I found a nice pair on sale at the local market. After waiting in a lengthy line to pay, I smiled to the middle-aged cashier, who of course did not speak English, and handed her my credit card to pay. Well, when I signed the receipt she become angry and took my credit card and would not give it back. She tried to explain something to me, waving her hands in the air above her neck muscles tense with excitement, but to me she was speaking Greek. So I became nervous, somehow knowing I did something wrong, as all the hurried eyes behind me, still waiting in line, fell upon me in a look of disgust. In my mind, I could hear the people saying patriotically to themselves, “Learn Czech, you’re in the Czech Republic.” After a few drops of sweat and the help of the next cashier, I signed my named again on the receipt just as it is printed on my credit card, “SEE ID.”

I could feel the connection in my brain, when I gained the knowledge to avoid this situation again by changing my name to “SEE ID.” Thus, now all the stores in the Czech Republic know me by “SEE ID,” though I confess, I rather liked my birth name. Well, I also learned another survival trick from this little event that lasted maybe 5 minutes chronologically but 5 hours psychology. This trick is to always pay at a cashier who is under the age of 30 and is more likely to speak English if needed. So, I learned two small, but useful skills to maneuver here in Prague, but at a cost of course. The shoes were on sale, more than 50% off, but they rang up at full price, and the money I lost from not speaking up was well worth the time to leave the scene and hide.


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