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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Reality Czech

Why had culture shock not hit me yet? This was a question I had continuously asked myself throughout the trip. I had traveled enough to know that the five stages of culture shock - exhilaration, crisis, initial recovery, final recovery, and reverse culture shock - were bound to happen to me, at least in some degree. This was why I was surprised to find myself in the exhilaration stage throughout the duration of the trip. Maybe we had not been traveling for long enough? Or maybe traveling to various countries caused the cycle to start from the beginning? These thoughts were always in the back of my head, and it wasn't until I least suspected that the crisis stage hit me at full force.

It was not as bad as crisis stage
 could have been, and it did not last long. But those 20 minutes filled me with such an unbearable amount of confusion, anxiety, and insignificant feelings that I almost could not bear it. Where did this meltdown occur? In the cereal section of the supermarket.

We had just arrived to the Czech Republic and decided to grab groceries for the next day. My task was easy, to find some cereal for breakfast.

I skipped off merrily (still in exhilaration stage, I don't normally skip... much) and looked up at the isle signs to find cereal.

I skid to a stop and stared dumbfounded at the sings. Utter confusion fogged my mind as I tried to comprehend the Czech language. The word I was starring at was covered with accent marks and resembled a cactus more than a name of a food. It was then that I realized I knew nothing of the Czech culture. I had not even seen movies about the Czech Republic to begin to think of what the typical food choice was for this area. I could be staring at a word that meant meat, or sausage, maybe even ... dog?

I was standing still for too long, and the city people who were in a hurry began to push me out of the way. I began to get anxious as some began to say things to me in Czech. Were they yelling at me? Were they trying to help me? I had no idea and suddenly the confusion became too much. My head was spinning from trying to take everything in.

Tears began to form unwillingly and blur my vision. I might as well have been blind as well as deaf and illiterate to this foreign language.

Just before my breakdown could turn from bad to worse, I heard my sister call my name. I stumbled to the next isle and focused my eyes on what she was pointing to.

Suddenly I gasped, my crisis stage had gone as quickly as it had begun! This isle could have been filled with blocks of gold to compare how I felt to what Cindy had discovered. Everything became clear as I reached for the treasure.... peanut butter.

It is amazing the things we crave when we are away from home. In every country we had been to thus far, peanut butter was not available. The lack of it made Cindy and I crave peanut butter and jelly sandwiches more than ever. Now that I held the jar in my hand, my homesickness was relaxed for the moment.

I had to remind myself that just because I did not know the culture, Czech people were not strange, they were not yelling at me, and they were more similar tome than at first glance. After all, if they eat peanut butter too, they much be pretty awesome.

After I recovered from that crisis stage, learning about the culture and seeing the landscapes of Prague & Vienna was exhilarating once again. We figured out that Prague was a mixture of three cultures - German, Jewish, and Czech. Some things that distinguish their mixed culture were their beautiful crystal creations and wooden figures. I could pick out the crystal stores from yards away, because a rainbow of colors would always reflect onto the street where the sun hit the crystal.

The wood stores were my absolute favorite, however. In these stores, the doorway was decorated with wooden puppets that hung down and greeted the tourists. The Pinocchio puppet seemed to always be the favorite, hanging right in the center of all the stores. Every time I saw these toys stores I would rush inside. Cindy, however, waited outside most of the time... she has a puppet phobia.

The wood stores were around
 every corner in the little alleyways we walked around in. The alleyways reminded me of Disney 
World, only lacking in happy mice. The stores were each a different bright color, the floor was made of cobblestone, and some doors were so short we had to crouch down to get in.

One particular alleyway let us to, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of Prague, St. Charles Bridge.

On either side of the bridge was the most peaceful view of the old city. The dark water of the river was speckled with people in row boats and confused swans trying to attack these boats. Along the river's coast stood houses that looked more like small palaces.

As peaceful the view looking out from the bridge, was how hectic the life was while walking on the bridge. Tourists and Czech people hurried across occasionally stopping to take in the view. Little shops were set up on either side of the walkway, where people were selling beautiful paintings and souvenirs. My favorite artists were the one who drew people's portraits as caricatures. I accidentally laughed out loud when I saw one old guy being drawn with exaggerated features... he didn't think it was so funny.

In the middle of a bridge, a band was playing a type of music I was not familiar with. The men played the banjo, french horn, violin, and cello. This strange mixture was actually pretty upbeat and catchy! 

In a very different setting in Vienna, instead of calm scenery and crowded alleyways, we visited one of the World's best Zoos! I was surprised at how close you could get to all the animals at this zoo. The craziest part was the lions cage, where you were literally inches away from the bars.

Even though Czech culture was very different from ours, I still found it to be really interesting after our stay in Prague and Vienna! Hopefully crisis stage will never hit me worse than it did in Czech, but as long as every place I visit has peanut butter, I should be just fine.

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