Living as an Expat Englishman in Prague

Old Cathedral (Bombed in 2nd World War), Coventry, Warwickshire, UKAlthough I had lived in my native England for thirty uninterrupted years before moving to Prague, Czech Republic six months ago, this is not my first experience of living outside my country of birth. At the tender age of 18, I left home and family, and emigrated to Australia where I lived for nearly five years. And in my mid-twenties, I spent three years living in a strongly Welsh speaking area of West Wales which is more ‘abroad’ than many English people realise unless they’ve had the same experience.

However, as I reflect on these last six months of living as an English expat in Prague, I feel I have returned to many aspects of the way I use to live during the first 18 years of my life. These were spent in Coventry, my place of birth, the ninth largest city in England with a population of over 300,000 people. Other than 11 months spent living in London, Coventry is by far the largest city I have ever lived in until coming to Prague with its population of 1.3 million.

As a child and as a teenager, if I wanted or needed to get anywhere then I walked, rode my bicycle or caught a bus. For most of that time, my parents didn’t own a car. Because of the wonderful integrated public transport system here in Prague, if I want or need to go anywhere now, I walk a short distance to catch a bus, tram or metro. This is in complete contrast to the previous fifteen & half years where I lived in a small North Oxfordshire village with a population of 420 and almost non-existent public transport. Other than walking to the village pub, to go anywhere else meant jumping straight into the car. Now that self-same car sits for many days at a time without being driven at all.

However, there is one marked contrast between British and continental European cities and that is the nature of their respective housing stocks. Whilst there are blocks of flats/apartments in British cities, only a relatively small proportion of the population live in them. The vast majority live in houses, most of which are privately owned. Prague, like so many continental European cities has many, many blocks of flats in which are housed the majority of the city population. I now live in a second floor flat in a recent modern development. It is quite a contrast to the large four bedroomed detached Rectory that came with the previous job, or the two houses in which I spent my childhood. Do I regret the change? Not really.

There was a major downsizing job before the big move. But now there are fewer rooms to clean and no garden to maintain. And although we now live in close proximity to quite a number of people, we’ve experienced very little noise or disturbance. However in contrast, despite having numerous people living on the same staircase as us, we’ve hardly met our neighbours, let alone got to know them. Czech people tend to keep themselves to themselves.

The other major issue I face is that of language. I work with the English speaking community so it is less of an issue than it otherwise might be. But it does throw up practical issues such as explaining how I want my hair cut! However, whilst I have begun language lessons, I do suffer as every first language English speaker does, from the fact that everyone wants to speak my language. Most young Czechs would much prefer to practice their English on me rather than me try to use my limited Czech on them. Yet if I am to become a more permanent resident rather than a transitory expat, that language has to mastered – somehow!!!

This was posted as part of Golden Prague’s World Blog Surf Day. Please also visit the next Expat Blogger taking part; Michael from http://blogging.gelle.dk

Lit Up Bridge at Dusk, Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic

13 comments to Living as an Expat Englishman in Prague

  • Thanks for the link ­čÖé

    I think the language is a necessity in efforts to integrate and understand a society. It might take a couple of years but I’m sure the reward is equal.

    Best of luck to you in Prague and with your Czech.

  • Ricky I came across your blog from a fellow blogger, Martin in Bulgaria. I haven’t had a chance to read everything but today’s post as part of World Blog Surf day is interesting.

    Born and bred in a small Nottinghamshire village, Oxton, I can relate to some of your comment regarding transport. I have spent a fair bit of my life as a nomad not really enjoying city life and I think I have finally settled here in a nice rural part of Thailand where the folk are welcoming and life is set at a pace similar to my childhood days.

    I am trying my hardest to learn Thai since most people here do not speak or indeed want to speak my native tongue!

    I shall follow your blog with interest.

  • Hi Ricky,
    A good shave will take care of the hair issue (JK). I know what you mean. I once asked for my hairdresser to take off an inch. She understood that I wanted to LEAVE an inch. I stopped her after the first cut…and then had a very avant gard style after that. I started wearing hats.

    Here in Italy, my friends do the same…wanting to talk in English, so sometimes, they talk in english and I respond in Italian, or vice versa. It’s good for fun but not always a good idea if you really want to communicate something.

    All the best,
    Bev

  • Me again Ricky, I got an error with Michael’s blog so I am hopping over to Sher’s blog who was after him. I hope you don’t mind if I leave her link here so others can continue the journey.

    http://sheroffthebeatenpath.blogspot.com/2009/03/living-as-american-in-czech-republic.html

    Bev

  • Hi Ricky,
    Thanks for sharing–this was very interesting reading!

    I completely relate to what you’re saying about learning Czech…and then everyone wanting you to use English!! My pharmacist has even asked me to use English in his shop so his shop assistants can practice their English! :0) I’m also learning Czech–and I am in the same boat…just able to speak very basic Czech right now, but hopefully this will improve over time!

    Thanks, Bev, for leaving a link to my blog here!

    Have a great day!
    Sher :0)

  • @all
    Michael from http://blogging.gelle.dk left a comment on my blog that his web host is down, so lets hope and pray that it gets sorted out soon and he can participate!

    @chaplain
    I take public transport anytime over romantic village life, great post btw, I agree Czech people are a bit reserved first, not like Spaniards who nearly “interrogate” you as soon as you turn up in the neighborhood ­čśë

  • Hi Ricky,

    I’m so glad I found your site after Golden Prague instigated the new circle of aquaintences that are going on.

    I enjoyed reading your account of life in Prague, but don’t you think the down sizing in accommodation makes more sens$ not only economically, but athestically? I agree with the language that is always going to the be the bone of contention in any country with their own native tongue to learn – You just have to keep trying.

    I must say Coventry to Prague is some transition, forgive my niavity but I only know that the Pop gouro King comes from there with their painted doctor martin boots! lol

    I have added you to my blogroll as a result on my experience with your blog and will now be big brother! lol

  • Roz

    Thanks for a very interesting post. I was interested to read that you lived in Australia for 5 years. All the best with learning Czech – I know it’s not easy, especially when every replies in English!

    Best wishes,

    Roz

  • Isn’t that the truth about the locals wanting to speak English? I can’t decide if it’s because I’ve done such an awful job butchering the local language or if they are excited to have the chance to practice their English. Okay–I know it’s me. Haha!

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. Cheers from sunny (at least today!) England ­čÖé

  • Ricky

    Firstly, a big ‘thank you’ to all eight of you who visited my blog and left comments. I shall try and return the compliment in due course.

    Michael: – I agree with you entirely about the importance of learning the language even though I work with the English speaking community. It is as I said, the only way to move from being a transitory expat to being a more permanent resident.

    Mike: – Welcome to my blog! I do miss certain aspects of living in the countryside such as the amazing wildlife that passed through our garden & knowing who our neighbours were and being able to talk with them. But I am very much enjoying life in a big city. It is helped by the fact that I can walk from the flat & be in beautiful countryside within a few minutes as I live very near to the beautiful ┼á├írka valley with woods, wildlife and waymarked footpaths.

    Bev at Romancing Italy: – I loved your story about your experience at the hairdressers -:))) Do you still wear the hat or has your hair recovered? Regarding language, I tried when visiting Austria 18 months ago, to reply in German even when people spoke to me in English. But each time I still got spoken back to in word perfect English by people thrilled with the opportunity to use it.

    Sher: – As with Bev – I sympathise!!!!

    Golden Prague: – Thanks for the compliment about my post & for arranging the World Surf Blog Day which has given my blog so many visitors-:))

    Martin in Bulgaria: – Hi big brother! And thank you for adding me to your blog roll. I found downsizing wonderfully liberating for the most part. I’ve commented on it previously in my post entitled ‘Economic Crisis & Spiritual Challenge’.

    Roz: – Thanks for the best wishes with the language. I going to need all the help I can get -:)) Yes – lived in Australia (mainly in Hobart) 1970-75. I guess a lot has changed since then.

    Just a Plane Ride Away: – You might appreciate my post entitled ‘Divided by their common language’, if you are having problems being understood in the UK -:)

  • Hi!
    Keep up the effort to learn the language! I know the locals will appreciate it. Back in Malaysia, foreigners who have taken the time to speak Malay are immediately treated more positively – “here’s someone who cares about being here”.

    (Sorry I’m a little late doing the World Blog Surf Day rounds!)

    Cheers,
    *lynne*

  • Hi Ricky,

    I’m catching up with the World Blog Surf after a busy week starting our first vegetable growing here in Greece.

    We too are enjoying less driving and less rooms to clean in our ne lives. I can sympathise with the language challenges as we find exactly the same. I do have a couple of people who are insisting I speak Greek, but they jump in too quickly when I hesitate, so I need to train them a bit more. Keep it up, it’s worth it when you are actually understood, even if the reply does come in English sometimes!

  • […] written previously about the wonderful integrated public transport system here in Prague. It consists of buses, trams and the metro. They do all interconnect and allow access to every part […]