While Prague receives many accolades for its beautiful architecture and cheap beer its residents have developed a reputation as some of the least welcoming people in Europe. I’d come across this stereotype both in accounts from several friends who’d been there and in articles I’d read. Stories of miserable faces, a hatred of tourists and the worst rip-off taxi drivers in Europe have helped created this negative image.
This was one stereotype I was very keen to explore further. I have written previously on the nonsense of rating countries in order of friendliness (Why a Top 10 Friendliest Countries list is nonsense) and was keen to put this belief to the test in Prague. I cannot accept that anyone can place a quality such as friendliness, happiness or their opposites and apply these to an entire population.
Think about it this way. You probably live in a street or an apartment building. How would you feel if someone from another part of town formed an opinion on your character or personality based on your post code? “Oh, everyone in Albert Road is miserable. I know, because my uncle went to school with a man who used to live there”. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Or how about this one: “I just love the people in St Albans. My car broke down there once and a man pushed it to the side of the road and then a woman made me a cup of tea while I waited for the repair man. It would never have happened in my town”.
It is of course complete nonsense, yet we persist in characterising entire nations based on our momentary experiences with sample sizes of a handful of their population.
There are friendly people everywhere. There are also those in every town or city who will not give us much attention when we pass them by. Sometimes they are wrapped up in their own thoughts, perhaps they are having a bad day (happens to us all, wherever we are); or maybe the local culture is one where people are more reserved and less inclined to talk to strangers. BUT….
Reserved, modest, respectful, serious does not indicate unfriendliness.
There is no doubt that in some cultures we will find smiling faces greeting us more readily than in others: parts of south east Asia and areas of eastern Europe are at two ends of the scale here. Yes, these are real differences. But you can be sure that anyone who takes the time to get to know a fair sample of Estonians/Ukrainians/Albanians will find that they are every bit as warm, friendly and hospitable as the Thai or Lao people that they encounter who will greet them immediately with broad smiles.
And so to Prague. Was it the bastion of nasty, sneering locals that I had been led to believe? There were friendly locals who had a laugh and joke with us; and yes, there were surly waiters who clearly didn’t enjoy their jobs and couldn’t fake otherwise. There were those who returned our smiles when we said hello and others still who couldn’t care less. In short it was pretty much like any other big city. I couldn’t say that Prague was any less friendly than anywhere else I’ve been. But then I didn’t expect to find otherwise.
Have you been to a place that you could really class as unfriendly? I mean, not just in the pushy towards tourists and wanted a share of their dollars way, but genuinely unpleasant? I love to hear if such a place exists.
Disclosure: I was invited on my weekend to Prague (along with wife) by bmibaby and Birmingham Airport