Are the people in Prague really unfriendly?

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

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

22 Responses to “Are the people in Prague really unfriendly?”

  1. Prague unfriendly? Allow me to disagree. My parents are diplomats who were assigned to live in Vienna for 2 years followed by Prague for 2 years. In both cities, I visited them and spent about 2 months of summers, allowing me to make a reasonable comparison. After that, I definitely think that Prague is way more social and friendly than Vienna, at least.

    I didn’t like the passive-aggressive thing that the Viennese have: in supermarkets, when I am blocking the way, say my cart was in front of a specific produce they wanted, they never said “Excuse me” or anything that would explicitly notify me that they want me to move. They just assume I would sense it. But when I didn’t, or when their patience ran out, they’d just act irrational mumbling some German while obviously making a face that is meant to convey that they disapproved of my ignorance.

    Prague on the other hand, I found the people one of the most generous when it comes to apologies. A little brush on the shoulder from a stranger while walking on the street brings out a small apology. Not only that, they’re alive socially, they dance on the streets when a cafe blasts music that is danceable, for example. I never saw that in Vienna, whose overall impression I had was that it’s a bastion of social stiffness.

    There was one thing though that my Czech friends complained about, and that they told me they were irritated at. It’s these groups of British young lads who sometimes you can hear from a block away, obviously drunk and obnoxious, and I did see locals visibly upset and irritated when a bunch of them are present. Aside from that, I don’t think Prague is unfriendly at all.

    March 14, 2011 at 12:19 pm
  2. Thanks for the comment Jeruen and for sharing your positive experiences of Prague. I found the people of Prague to be as friendly as anywhere else.

    I particularly sympathise with the opinions on British young lads. Rest assured, much of us Brits who travel to Prague and elsewhere in Europe find those groups equally obnoxious and unwelcome.

    March 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm
  3. I think this theory goes up for every subjective human characteristic. When I traveled to Albania last year, all of my friends thought I was not going to survive. Albanians are thieves and murderers don’t you know?
    Come on!
    Even though I try not to believe any of those prejudices, I must admit that I wasn’t feeling 100% save when I arrived in Albania. Wrongly, it appeared, Albanians are among the nicest people I’ve ever met and I haven’t felt unsafe for a single moment (unlike in Paris or Brussels…).

    Anyway, it’s a common prejudice in western Europe that eastern Europeans are unfriendly and rude. Just like the Spanish are lazy, the English are ugly and the Dutch are all potheads.

    March 14, 2011 at 6:14 pm
    • Jan Novak #

      Excellent comment. But I disagree, when you throw Czech republic and Albania on the same pile. It´s nonesense to compare Czech republic and Albania. After all, Czech republic does not belong to Eastern Europe.

      March 20, 2012 at 9:04 am
  4. I agree with you that people in big cities are busy and could easily come off as unfriendly anywhere in the world. Everyone always says Parisians are unfriendly, but even as an American there I found people to be extremely gracious and helpful when we lived there. I always made an effort to attempt the language and this may have helped me. Whatever the reason, my experience was a good one. Someone told me yesterday that people in Buenos Aires aren’t very nice, so that’s the next city I’ll be looking to mythbust.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:46 pm
    • Gabriel #

      Dont worry about Buenos Aires, trust me, people here love to chat and make friends with foreigners, and learn about their culture.

      March 25, 2012 at 8:38 pm
  5. I had a serious accident in Prague many years ago now when I walked through a glass door, lacerating my right hand. I had just arrived and the city was booked out for a music festival so what happened? A stitched hand and no accommodation. Well, a nurse allowed me to stay in her empty flat and when I left to go to the airport, a doctor who had treated me at the hospital, took time off to come with me to carry my suitcase and cameras. While I carry the scars on my hand, I keep a good memory of the kindness shown by Prague citizens at that time. Thank you.

    March 14, 2011 at 10:11 pm
  6. You have a good point. It’s unfair to class a whole nation as “unfriendly” just because one waiter was rude to you.

    I haven’t been to Prague yet but I’m probably going there this summer, so I guess I’ll see then what my experiences are!

    Most often people will treat you the same way you treat them, and if you expect them to be rude or friendly you’re looking for the clues and evidence to justify it.

    March 15, 2011 at 2:17 am
  7. I agree that stereotyping any group by the interaction with just a few is complete nonsense; however, it is important to note the effect that some simple actions can make.

    When you go out in the world you represent more than just yourself. You represent your country, your family, maybe your college or favorite sports team if you wear their t-shirt, etc. . . If someone goes out and acts like a moron then some other moron may come out of the experience and say all Americans are morons or all people from Tennessee are morons or all New York Yankee fans are morons and pass these observations on to others. You represent more than just yourself whenever you walk out the door, so one must always act in an honorary fashion.

    March 15, 2011 at 3:00 am
  8. My experiment shows that police officers of Prague are nice people (more than those of Poland). A few years ago, we were lost in car . Indeed, there were almost no road sign. We requested from police officers the way. Those led us until our destination!
    So people in Prague are friendly for me …

    March 15, 2011 at 9:36 am
  9. Great article! I couldn’t agree more. We found the people of Prague to be more guarded than those in Western Europe but we chalked it up to being caused by their unfortunate days under communist rule. We had no idea if that was the case or not but it did help us rationalize a few bad experiences. A lot of times travelers and tourists expect people to bend over backwards to make their holiday wonderful but as you point out, people everywhere can have a bad day.

    March 15, 2011 at 11:25 am
  10. pam #

    I’m dead certain that we take away the same impressions that we leave. A country is as friendly to us as we are to her. Of course we have to make some adjustment for cultural norms, and yeah, those Central Europeans can seem, well, frosty at first or that Vietnamese manner rather brusque. But being kind and open so often rewards us with the same in return.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:14 am
  11. Thanks for the many thoughtful comments and insights. Great also to hear both Christine and Matthieu sharing positive Prague experiences: Matthieu sums it up perfectly in saying ‘people in Prague are friendly for me’. That’s it, isn’t it? We can talk about how friendly/unfriendly people were to us directly. But it’s when we try to extend those individual actions to the behaviour of an entire population that our reason goes out of the window.
    And as Pam says, a country is as friendly to us as we are to her – the principle applies of course to individuals in the first instance.
    Enjoyed all of the comments – thanks to everyone for taking the time to share.

    March 18, 2011 at 10:17 am
  12. Prague Teacher #

    Some of these points are valid, some are speculation. I taught English in Prague for two years and the truth of the matter is that Prague people do appear to be miserable because they do not smile, but that doesnt make them bad people. I was told by a few Czech friends not to smile or people would think I was weird. I didnt listen because I was excited to be in Prague, but they were right because people did look at me weird when I would smile as though I was breaking the law. It’s rare to see the people of prague smiling… Also, Czechs who dont speak another language will make no effort to help you if you cant speak Czech. I found this to be a problem many times for me, but once again, this doesnt make them bad people. It’s a common courtesy to try to speak the language of the land you are in and not hate someone because they can’t speak your language in their land.
    So they have miserable faces, ok. They may not help you (if they dont understand you) ok, but every nation, every country has its problems. If you are ok with the lack of smiling (not a deal breaker) or can get past the language barrier, then you will realize that Prague is not the bad of a place to visit or live

    January 27, 2012 at 3:18 am
  13. koray #

    They really don’t smile, which irritated me at all times. Even the waiters and waitresses are so unfriendly. They get angry if you do something unpleasent or against the rules. They do not speak English intentionally. On trams or metros none of the checz people validates their tickets whereas the tourists are the only target for the control inspectors. Wxchange offices are real traps for tourists.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm
    • I had no idea that the people were unfriendly. Granted when I visited Prague, I was younger, but we had the best time. The architecture was gorgeous, the history was fascinating and the people that I met were wonderful. We sang songs with the locals in the pubs (hummed really since we didn’t speak of word of Czech). The best part was the proprietor of the inn where we were staying actually made us a birthday cake on the 4th of July! It was a hoot! The cake had the blue field and dots for stars, but the stripes were the best part. Unfamiliar with the 13 colonies, she must have had 30 red and white stripes. It was a pin stripe cake! And I have to mention the dark larger spoiled me and now I can’t drink the swill that we call beer.

      April 16, 2012 at 5:12 am
    • Jan Novak #

      You observed, that “on trams or metros none of the czech people validates their tickets”. It is true, because they have usually permanent card (so called “tramvajenka”) which is valid for one or two months.

      April 30, 2012 at 9:06 am
  14. Zam #

    I have lived in Prague for several years working as an English teacher. I have many Czech friends, and know countless Czech acquaintances.

    Let me be very blunt: Czechs are very cold, surly, negative people by nature.

    Its just this way! I will make no effort to be nice, politically correct, or go into the worn out cliche about “you can’t stereotype a nationality blah blah blah”. Yes, you can. We all do it. All the time. Yes there are exceptions to national stereotypes. But nonetheless each nationality has traits or characteristics.

    To futher reinforce the rightness of my position: even the Czechs I know personally are always bitching about how negative, nasty and rude the Czechs are to each other! Its not me making this observation, but native Czechs.

    Hungarians bitch about Czech negativity…..so do Slovaks (who are generally a bit more cheerful). Germans too.

    Where does this surly, sometimes nasty Czech pessimism come from? I really don’t know. But its there. Staring you in the face every time you get onto the metro. Its there in the classroom, the the student looks like somebody just told him his mom died, and he’s looking at you in the face, evidently miserable and depressed saying “good morning” with a dour, miserable expression. No enthusiasm, no happiness, etc.

    Anyways that’s my opinion on this topic. Czechs are a miserable lot. And many of them will very openly admit it if you get to know them.

    May 24, 2012 at 1:44 pm
    • papsy #

      I have lived in Prague for a year and since then hbeen back several times for long weekends. It’s true, the vast majority of czechs are sad faced and its pretty common for waiters and bar staff to be rude and unwelcome towards customers. Shame as its a great city…can’t have it all I guess.

      June 12, 2012 at 7:13 pm
  15. lulu #

    I’m just ending a week in Prague. I’ve been surprised at the mirth and liveliness shown by a lot of young people on the metro and trams. Other than that, my experience with strangers in public spaces here was similar to my experience in other large cities…a few rude folk, most people either polite or neutral, and a few folk who appear genuine and pleasant.

    It was difficult to tell if the ticket and sales clerks at the Kafka museum were unfriendly or just kafkaesque ;-)

    October 21, 2012 at 5:54 pm
  16. Vickey #

    I went to Prague in the summer of 2011 and I thought the people were fine! No different than any other country. I’m sure most places have stereotypes of unfriendly people and I’m sure there are as we are all different. If you go there looking for the stereotype to be true, then your more than likely to find it to be true!! lol

    January 22, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Who are the world’s loveliest people? « Grumpy Traveller - March 14, 2011

    [...] on the topic. Sorry Andy – didn’t mean to steal your thunder. It’s worth taking a read of Andy’s piece – his point that “Reserved, modest, respectful and serious does not indicate unfriendliness” [...]

css.php