Not all trailing spouses/partners are women, but being a man does not make it any easier. Adjusting to life in Prague, children and all, from expert expat Chris Gardiner.
All your friends and family will be thrilled that you are going to live in Prague. If you are British, then many of them will already have visited, and many others will tell you that they have long been planning to come…
Those who have already been will tell you about the wonderful architecture, the history, the culture, trams, the low prices for shopping, eating & drinking and how everybody speaks English. Some of those who have been part of the regular traffic of low-cost flight “stag” or “hen” weekends will doubtless have other stories!
Prague is a wonderful place to visit for a short time as a tourist but what is it really like after the initial euphoria has worn off, the boxes have arrived, the children are at school and your partner has been sucked into a sheltered corporate world serviced by young, well-educated and charming multi-lingual local staff? After all, the Czech Republic is now in the European Union and on the way in from the airport you noticed the huge Tesco & IKEA, and Marks and Spencer and Debenhams are both in Wenceslas Square.
The answers are that like in many expat societies you will find a range of reactions from those who have been in much tougher places than this, (with graphic details about plumbing & gastric problems), to those who are “loving it” but who run up huge phone bills on long-distance calls to those they left behind. It’s fine to have an emotional “dip” and feel lost just struggling with the intricacies of daily life.
EU membership has made things a bit easier for EU citizens who move here, but most older, poorly-paid, poorly-motivated public officials do not feel much benefit from recent changes and do not speak English. As with many officials in former Communist countries, the rubber stamp rules: it’s in their desk drawer and may stay there without liberal amounts of help from local translators, lawyers and fixers who have learned quickly what “market value” and “supply and demand” are all about! Eventually most things are possible, but do not expect that you can do things on the phone or that the necessary offices are open to the public Monday to Friday – and forget getting anything done on a Friday in summer!
Weather and Disaster Relief
Winters are not too cold for too long, and summers can be lovely with endless sunny 25-30C+ (80- 90F+) days, but like everywhere, weather patterns are less predictable and the August 2000 floods were caused by several days of torrential rain. This disaster brought out another side of the hard-to-get-to-know-well Czechs as they acted quickly, were very well organised, and thousands volunteered to help everybody affected by the floods and were generous with their time and money.
There were few examples of the exploitation of others’ misery which many of us have cynically come to expect. So well-organised was the response that hourly text messages with useful information were sent to all mobile phones by local Town Halls, but this did not satisfy some expats who complained that they were only in Czech. Perhaps this would be a good time to learn a few handy words in the local tongue: “Sandbags”;“Flood”; “rescue”; “I’m on the roof”; “can’t swim” etc.
House Hunting and Transportation
There is a large and varied expat community scattered around the city with many families choosing to live away from the central Prague 1 & 2 apartments and opting for houses in the Prague 4 & 6 districts near to many of the international schools. Public transport is safe, cheap and good with an integrated system of trams, buses and metro. However, it is not so wonderful the further you get from the centre – something to check when you are looking for a house.
Since July 2006, Czechs’ appalling driving behaviour has improved dramatically with the introduction of new laws with a penalty points system and draconian fines, but bad manners still rule! Parking in the centre is difficult but not so at the many out-of-town shopping centres which are sprouting all around Prague.
Shopping and Markets
You may buy most European products here, and there is even an enterprising young British farmer / butcher who is producing English-style back bacon and sausages to an enthusiastic expat audience. Although pork and dumplings rule, vegetarians can also easily survive and even eat some nice food in many restaurants.
Being a scattered expat community, some people may find it hard to make new friends but the main international schools encourage parent participation and school gates are always a good place to network. The International Women’s Association of Prague www.volny.cz/iwap is active and offers a good source of information and activities – tough if you are a male spouse / partner! There is a thriving English-language expats web site www.expats.cz which is invaluable for all those “where can I get…?” questions in your early days.
Czechs are not easy to get to know but it’s well worth the effort, as is learning at least basic Czech which is always appreciated even if, in Prague, you may well be answered in English. Outside Prague, however, some Czech is vital, particularly with older people and in shops.
Prague is a nice place to live but make the most of your time here and explore the rest of the country with its many lovely towns and villages. Celebrate the fact that you really are in the “Heart of Europe” and only a few hours from several interesting countries. There are good road and rail connections plus many low-cost airlines operating from Prague’s modern and busy international airport – and you will soon learn which taxi companies are honest!