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Spring 2014 - Day 1: FIRST IMPRESSION

by Michelle Polacinski, Binghamton University

CIEE Film Studies - Screenwriting track

January 23rd

Hello. I made it. I am alive – so far. I woke up in the middle of the night of sleeping through my jetlag <3 and now I can’t go back to sleep. Yayyyyyy -_- So here I am and this is what happened on my first day.

So the plane rides were cool, partly because I watched Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 on the flight (it was pretty good, adorable, but not as good as the first one) and also because I used British Airways which means that everyone had an awesome British accent. On my flight, they served me food I surprisingly wasn’t allergic to and complimentary South African red wine. I also had an entire row to myself probably because a lot of people didn’t show up or couldn’t make a connection flight due to the snow storm. Even still I could not sleep on that plane. Speaking of the snowstorm, I thought we were all going to die on that plane. Boston was a windy, blizzard-y, cold wonderland that I fantasized would resolve in plane crashes. I thought this until I saw all the flight attendants smiling and the pilot explained that they were spraying chemicals onto the plane to keep snow from accumulating.

After a few miserable flights and meeting a nice girl named Charlotte from Rhode Island in a vacant Heathrow, I finally arrived, exchanged my money, and painfully made my way through an airport of people who basically only spoke Czech. No worries yet. I found my CIEE staff people and we made our way to our awesome apartments. These apartments are super large by New York City standards. Heck, they’re really nice by Binghamton standards too. Our doors are made out of carved wood. We have orange toilet paper that is orange scented. As it turns out, toilet paper in the Czech Republic is colorful and scented. I actually could not find white toilet paper in Tesco, the scary grocery store we went to (more on that later). U.S., step up your TP game.

Since I could not sleep on the plane at all, my brain felt like shattered glass. I was nauseous and I figured it would be best to take just an hour-long nap. Hopefully, this wouldn’t screw up my sleeping schedule. I don’t think it did, but then again, it’s 3:30AM and I can’t sleep. After my nap, we went to this lovely bar/restaurant about two blocks away from the apartment where I had this amazing garlic walnut pasta and the local beer, which, as it turns out, is cheaper than water at CZK50.000, which, in the U.S., is about $2.50. 100 Czech korunas are about $5 USD and that’s how I’ve been thinking about conversions so far. It’s so hard, having to do math all the time. I was never good at math. I need to use freaking math to figure out the temperature (Celsius to Fahrenheit), money conversion (Czech korunas to US dollars), and the time (military to NORMAL). Ughhhhh mathhhhh. So that’s one thing I dislike so far about living here. However, I think that once I adjust, I won’t have to think about conversions and I will just understand what the temp/time/money is automatically. Like when you finally figure out how to speak Spanish and it just flows from your mouth naturally.

(Damn, I’m craving some of that pasta now.)

However, unlike Spanish or English, I cannot speak Czech at all. In fact, I would feel way more comfortable living in France and not knowing the language than Czech because it is soooo hard. After my intensive Czech classes these next two weeks, I hope I’ll be a little less stressed, but for now, it’s a nightmare. Here are the Czech words I’ve learned so far:

ahoj – hello

ciao – hello/bye

cukr – sugar

pivo – beer

na zdraví – cheers

víno – wine

voda – water (which totally sounds like vodka…so I need to watch out with that)

slunečnice – sunflower

I also learned that if I use the English -> Czech translation app on my phone, it automatically says, “Did you mean …” and adds an exclamation point to the end of every word. Seriously. Try it on the Google Translate app. Google is excited that I’m in Prague.

Now, back to the scary grocery store experience. So after we ate dinner, Bara, our flat buddy, showed us Tesco – this grocery store filled with bustling Czechs. In fact, we were pretty sure it was grocery shopping rush hour when we went because there were SO MANY PEOPLE. Usually, I’m super pumped about grocery stores. In fact, I straight up black out when I enter a good health food store for the first time and buy everything new, strange, and organic. Here, even though everything was new and strange, not much was organic, but the U.S. is still worse in that department, so I won’t even go there.

It was chaos.

People bumped into us, muttering in Czech and seemingly flying off to a different section of groceries as if the world was ending and this was the last supply of food left on earth. It was a madhouse and most stuff was labeled in Czech, obviously. I bought a grapefruit, some eggs, bananas, honey (all honey is raw and organic in Prague – I bought honey that came from a forest oooooh), baking soda (which does not come in bulk like it does in the U.S.), and some healthy granola or whatever. Once it came time to pay, we went to a self-checkout area in order to avoid having to talk to someone at the register. I decided to pay with my credit card since I figured it would be easier than cash and my debit card has a 3% conversion fee. I had to dip my card into this machine, kind of like dipping a metro card in the NYC buses. Then this error came on the screen and an employee who spoke little English came up to me, first speaking in Czech and then after realizing I was a tiny American afraid of the beeping machine, tried to explain what was wrong in English. She kept asking me for my pin. Woman, this is a credit card, I tried to explain to her. Eventually, she punched some buttons and a receipt came out even though the machine was still beeping and blinking what I assumed were angry Czech words. She pointed to part of the receipt and I figured that’s where I sign it, so I signed the receipt and she looked at my card for what I assumed was a signature. The back of my credit card says “See ID” on it instead of a signature to prevent identity theft. I thought it was a good idea, but in this particular situation, it was not. I took out my ID and pointed at the signature on it. She laughed at me, whether it was because the photo on my license is ridiculous or just because I was being ridiculous, I was not sure, but it made me feel really bad. She mumbled something, said “pin” and walked away. Bara then came up to me and told me that in the Czech Republic, they have to give a pin. She pointed to a card slidey machine on a different machine that looked just like the ones in the U.S. and said I should have used that one. As it turns out, the machine I used only accepts debit cards . . . I think.

Anyway, that experience killed my spirits a bit – especially when I couldn’t find any sulfate-free and paraben-free shampoo or conditioner in the same store. I knew I should have brought more from the States, but I didn’t think it would be too hard to find some. Blah. Alas.

Prague is a beautiful, old, historic city. Bara explained that the Czech Republic used to be a part of so many other countries including Russia, Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia (obviously). The buildings are a mixture of very old and very modern styles. There’s also a lot of graffiti everywhere (artistic and spray paint), but it’s actually quite beautiful. I’ll take pictures of some of it later. Dogs are everywhere and they are allowed everywhere – even in restaurants. It’s awesome. Smoking is also allowed everywhere and EVERYONE smokes – well except all of us Americans. I’m afraid one or many of us will crack and start smoking cigarettes, but we shall see.

Ugh. Goodnight/Good morning from a still exhausted Michelle.

(Sorry, no pictures yet!)


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