By Damon Dominique
As with most of my travel adventures, this one starts with me in another European airport with a bougie name. This time it’s the Leonardo da Vinci airport in Rome and I’m here loitering around various gates that are not mine so I can observe and people-watch the people coming and going to each destination. It’s interesting to see how habits or behaviors change depending on the destination. Just as my internal philosophy lecture is beginning, the intercom chimes and I hear
Flight 5188 to Prague is boarding.
This is the moment I’ve been waiting for since that ridiculous Nicki Minaj Instagram video where she ever so famously proclaims “you bitches can’t even spell Prague.” And could they? Nip Tuck is playing in my earbuds and it’s in moments like these that make me realize I’m nip-tucking the dead weight in my life to do me. Solo in Prague.
Upon my arrival in Prague, I felt somehow freer. It’s funny because in Indiana, in the United States, where I grew up, people are set on this idea of the US being the freest country in the world – that we have freedom and choice, and for that, they wouldn’t want to live elsewhere. Then you go to cities like Ljubljana, Budapest, or Berlin – cities that have been extremely marked by their history in the mid to late 1900s and you see a shift to liberalism and this idea of being so free to do what you want as long as you’re not hurting anyone. In my Uber to my Airbnb ($10 btw), we pass a few people walking barefoot in the street, couples openly carrying beers in the street, women in parks sunbathing topless – or even one who was breastfeeding openly – and nobody batted an eyelash. To Americans, we’d be shocked at such “crude” behavior, but really what’s so wrong with any of it? I mean, I’d rather be “crude” than a prude.
What I’m actually shocked by are the extravagant displays of detail. This is what I feel is missing when you grow up in the States. For being such a young country, we simply don’t have buildings older than a few hundred years. In cities in Europe, you almost become jaded by the number of painted ceilings and jagged church spires. Even the tiny details that often go unnoticed, like the skeleton key to open my front door, the stapled down rugs over decorative tile flooring in the stairwell, the crown molding. Buildings were designed with taste and thought (not just functionality) and these are the little moments of my day that make me feel like I’ve truly arrived somewhere foreign.
From my experience talking with locals through an extreme Czech-English language barrier, I learned that many locals are basically blasé about this attention to detail. To them, Prague is old and stuffy, whereas to me, it’s so different than what I’m used to. When checking into my Airbnb and saying “It’s… so beautiful. I feel rich?” Jan, my Airbnb host, stopped me and questioned, “It’s too much, no?” I explained that I grew up in a town, specifically in a double-wide in an Indiana trailer park, where the only “fancy thing” to do is go to the Homecoming dance or make Friday night dinner reservations at Olive Garden. That unlimited soup and salad combo tho? My host, who uses this AirBNB as an office, was surprised. It was cute.
My first stop was Cafefin, where I walked in and realized I literally don’t speak one word of Czech – and that feels messed up. Like, I can at the very least learn hello, good day, thank you, goodbye. Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that the people are super receptive in the Czech Republic – well, at least when it comes to restaurants. On the street or in the club, I’ve noticed that approaching complete strangers and asking a question is something that feels like a no-no. Almost like a why are you talking to me? attitude. I’ve had many conversations about this with my friends who travel a ton and we’ve all had similar experiences abroad. In the States, in a club for example, for you to feel so confident and go out of your way to make the first step of talking to someone is seen as bold and brave. You’re not letting anything get in the way of your anxiety and you don’t live with regrets.
At Wanderlust club in Paris, I went up to five different groups of people, because I was feeling very outgoing and yeah, a little drunk, and not one of them was interested in my conversation. One French friend said if someone did that to him, ça fait vraiment chien en chaleur – a dog in heat. Like you’re so desperate for a friend, or you can’t control your desires. Then again, this was the same friend who went home with a guy that I introduced him to because he was too shy to make the first move. In these former communist countries, I’ve had a similar experience, and maybe I’m projecting when I say it may be due to the fact that because these countries were under communist rule, that approaching random people and/or oversharing your life with strangers is something you just didn’t do, because you didn’t know if you were talking to someone who could get you in trouble.
Anyway, in my first Uber around Prague 4 (the city is divided into districts), I’m curious about the Prague club scene and ask my Uber driver:
“Do you know of any good raves?”
He responds “Yes.” with no follow-up.
“Ok, could you recommend me any good raves?”
He recommends the two biggest clubs, Epic and Duplex, but after seeing posters on poles around town and on billboards near the highway, I only figured they would be the kind of places just built for raging tourists waiting three hours in line to see some cool DJ in town from Rotterdam.
Instead, I went to Cross Club – supposedly one of the coolest places in Prague and I admit, I felt like I was in the Matrix, or as my friend Cassy, who is also visiting Prague, described it “steampunk maze.” I agree, except for the upstairs which felt like a college cafeteria. Y’all it’s 11:30 pm, why are the lights so bright? The outside looks like a steel apparatus, where tables are set up on various floors in the style of a Biergarten. Tonight was Drum and Bass night, which I thought, to my disappointment, would be like Brazilian drums and hip-hop bass. Instead, I found purple-mohawked punk rockers in the basement bobbing to metal and yuppies at the bar trying to feel less stuffy in a suit. I’m too sober for this. I order a rum and orange juice – which provokes a puzzled expression, and of course a scene, where I’m yelling, and he’s yelling, over the raging “Drum and Bass.”
You mean vodka?
The drink is vodka orange juice? You want screwdriver? Rum and orange juice is not a…
I pay my $4 for the rum and orange juice, and as I grab my drink, he says “Tip not included.”
Since when did tipping in bars become so popular? And I agree the States is the worst with it. If I make a good video on YouTube or write a compelling article, should I ask for a tip? No? That’s just the service I was contracted for. My employer should be paying me correctly, not pocketing the cash and expecting the customer to feel guilty and obligated to pay the employee a living wage. And then for my Cross Club bartender to feel so shameless that he reminds people tip is not included, especially after a bizarre interaction is… confident, to say the least? I almost admired his no f#cks given/I’mma get my money attitude.
When I got into Roxy – yes, we left steampunk maze for touristy, yet still worthy nightclub – I realized I had no cash, and despite it being almost 2019, clubs are still out here trying to claim less on taxes, to the disadvantage of all of us, who are just trying to get points on our credit cards.
Every traveler understands the equation you have to do before you arrive at an ATM outside your home country. I’m here for five days, and my bank charges $5 on top of this Czech ATM fee which is $3, and I’m out and about for the night, so I don’t want to take out too much in case I get mugged, so I guess I’ll take out the equivalent of $40 and hope for the best?
This club, despite what people will tell you in Prague, is packed, has high ceilings, and plays exactly the bouncy-techno beats I was looking for. To many Prague locals, it’s known to be a club you go to when you’re fresh out of high school or college – and I can confirm I was dancing with 18-year-olds from Slovakia, a 19-year-old from Paris, a 20-year-old from Dresden. Then there was me and my 27-year-old friend showing them Euro young’ns how to dip it low and pick it up slow.
In my typical outgoing American ways, I wanted to talk to everyone. Again we could reduce this and say it’s so American to want to talk to everyone. Or we could say that I’m in a foreign environment with a lot of other foreigners, so how could you not want to talk to other people? I talked to two girls from Seoul, two best friends from Prague, and one English dude who mumbled as I walked by ‘Why does no one speak English here?’ as if the Czech Republic owes it to him that everyone speak English in a country where English is not an official language.
That was my cue to go to my next stop: Club Termix.
Being in Ubers around the world is a cultural experiment in itself. The Uber driver, who noticed I was going to Termix, a gay club, was a little taken aback, nearly scoffing. Prague is said to be the, ahem, gay porn capital of Europe (who comes up with these superlatives…), but despite that, gay culture is not something that feels accepted. It’s like if you’re not in a friendly alternative, vegan café, you’re better off not mentioning that you’re gay. Almost like a don’t ask, don’t tell, but maybe if it’s dark enough in the steam room policy. I knew not to take it too personally, and instead, I told him to turn up the volume to Sean Paul, Just Gimme The Light. My night was not over. Sorry dude.
I took a shot in honor of my unforgiving Uber driver and made my way to the dance floor, where the cutie mcdooties were out in their white tees and ready to two-step. After one karaoke remix of I Will Survive, I figured my time was up, and as I walk out of the bar, a guy stops me. His name was David, from France. I teased him by saying that there are more French people than Czech people in Prague and that the reason Prague is considered the “Paris of the East” is only because these Frenchies are coming in hoards. He laughed, then said let’s go, in his ever-so-French intonation – emphasis on the “gO?”
At 5:30 am, you make questionably bad decisions, but I’m constantly living in a state of “well why not?”, so we turned right out of the club, walked up a hill, and laid down in Riegrovy Sady, the nearest park.
The sun is coming up and I’m lying in this park with a complete stranger who I’m actually vibing with. I’m the biggest sucker for a melodramatic moment, that many would write off as being too cheesy. I love that shit. These instances that are “too much” for some people are exactly what my inner trailer park self wants. It’s so far from what I grew up with, so yes, something as cheesy or dreamy as watching the sunrise from a park in Prague is exactly my idea of how I’d like to end the night.
I look around and realize we’re the only crazies in the park right now. The sky is light blue and the breeze is just perfect. This is all just perfect.
And that’s when his phone rang. It’s his friend who “got locked out of their apartment.”
I try to be accommodating, but in my mind, I’m like, this is straight out of an early 2000s rom-com where if your friend calls and you respond with “oh you need me to come open the door?” that it’s really just code for “yeah this date sucks, and I need an excuse to leave.” He talks on the phone for ten minutes, and when he hangs up, he tells me he needs to go let his roommate in. Ok fine. No problem. Then he repeats “But stay here? You stay here and I be back. Stay here. Right here between tree and other tree. I be back 15 minutes. Stay here.”
I waited for David for 45 minutes. 45 M-I-N-U-T-E-S until my self-worth decided it was time to pick my grassy ass off the lawn and… start calling him.
First, I called his phone, paying 20 cents per minute from my American plan. When he didn’t pick up, I called his WhatsApp number, using an enormous amount of data that I’m also paying for. When he didn’t answer, I texted him (paid for that too) and said in my thankfully fluent French (to make sure he 100% understood):
“mec si tu peux pas ou veux pas revenir, ya pas de problème, mais dis-le-moi pour que je gâche pas mon temps.”
“dude, if you can’t come back, or just don’t want to come back, there’s no problem, but please just tell me so I’m not wasting my time.”
To this day, I never got a text back, and I never saw him again. After one sunrise and one Facetime with a friend back in Los Angeles, I walked home and realized I’ve never related more to a SZA lyric:
Why you bother me when you know you don’t want me?
Adventures of an American abroad. Confused, more and more each day. These hoes ain’t loyal.
Originally published on Shut Up and Go.
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