When you live in a foreign country, especially somewhere you barely understand the language (let alone speak it) you tend to settle in a strangely comfortable spot of expecting little to no interaction with strangers. Combine that with a culture where people are much more reserved and tend not to make small talk, you find yourself keeping to yourself most of the time. Besides short interactions at restaurants, cafes, and the supermarket (all of which are usually conducted in English), I tend not to speak to people I don’t know. However, I have certainly had a small (and surprisingly pleasant) handful of conversations with strangers regardless, most of which propped up in the most unexpected times.
For example, a couple of times, two to be exact, I found myself speaking to strangers in the butcher’s shop while attempting to order “kureci prso”, or chicken breast. The conversations were short but were also certainly appreciated and actually quite enjoyable. Not only did they help me order what I want, but also talked to me a bit to pass the time in line. Due to my limited knowledge of Czech, it can be quite difficult for me to communicate to the butcher what kind of meat I want. Pointing and guessing what meat is on display and spontaneously ordering it hasn’t served me very well– one time I actually ended up with a duck leg instead of a filet of chicken, which I realized only after cooking it and discovering that it tasted off. Perhaps it’s due to silly blunders like these, combined with my poor attempt at speaking Czech that strangers like them tend to help me out.
But what is even more interesting, is that the majority of strangers who speak to me aren’t Czech citizens, but actually tourists. Countless times I’ve been stopped on the way to school or back home by lost strangers trying to find a certain building or street. I find this pretty funny, because, to be honest, I probably know the area not much more than they do. I usually take the same route every day, and when I don’t, I tend to get lost (thanks to my lack of directional sense). Each time I’ve been approached by a stranger seeking directions, I have had to pull out my phone to help them search up their destination, then direct them according to the instructions given by Google Maps. Perhaps in only two instances have I been able to give anyone a quick answer without using my phone, simply because the place they were looking for happened to require just a 180-degree turn for them to find.
Most of the encounters I have had with strangers are always short, unexpected, and have never been initiated by me. While I sometimes wish that I could talk to more people and spark up a small conversation with strangers, I’d still say that I’m the type of person who prefers to stay in their comfort zone. Which, to me, is my small, introverted bubble that prefers to float along the streets of Prague with headphones, music, and a wandering mind. It’s funny that I can’t seem to cross that line of becoming more extroverted, to be that one person who chats up the person they happen to be next to on the subway. Maybe it’s the environment and culture here at Prague, maybe its just me.