Living as an expatriate in a foreign country can be very exciting, but also stressful at times. As an American living in the Czech Republic for the last 11 years, I have experienced many cultural differences. Throughout this time, many Czechs have asked me why I prefer living here instead of living in my own country, and the answer is somewhat complicated. To start, there is no such thing as a perfect country; there are good and bad things everywhere.
Some of the ways in which life in Prague is better than life in the USA include: a transportation system far superior to that of any American city, and far more affordable; a superior health care system in terms of health insurance coverage; a markedly lower violent crime rate; a society that minds its own business and does not care about what everyone on their street is getting up to; a society which does not allow its children to become spoiled maniacs who behave badly at every opportunity; and a breathtakingly beautiful city with fairy-tale architecture that makes any American city look drab and dreary.
Some of the ways in which life in Prague was difficult to adapt to included: many extremely aggressive drivers; a very complicated and unwelcoming visa system; police officers who turn a blind eye to crime happening directly in front of them; extremely expensive electronics (computers, etc.); extremely expensive rent for foreigners; communication difficulties (this isn’t such a big issue today, as far more Czechs speak English now than 10 years ago); terribly rude customer service in shops; unbelievably long lines in the supermarket, post office, doctor’s office, etc.; and blatant, unabashed corruption when doing business.
Despite the excitement of living in a new country, the first few years as an American expatriate in Prague were very difficult in terms of assimilating. Looking back, this was probably due to spending a lot of my time with other expatriates, primarily from the UK and USA. During meet-ups, many of them would spend all of their time complaining about life in the Czech Republic and comparing it to “better” things in the UK and USA. If you intend to stay in a foreign country and assimilate properly, it is difficult to do when surrounded by such people. Eventually, I ditched the expatriate crowd and started spending my time with Czechs.
Once I did that, my outlook changed completely, and I started to become more tolerant of things which had frustrated me before. I don’t *enjoy* standing in line at the post office for 40 minutes but, like Czechs, I have accepted that this is not going to change. I no longer have to get visas, which also made my life here much, much easier. In short, I’ve stopped caring so much about what is different, and just learned to accept what is. This is key to assimilating into any culture, and assimilation is very necessary if you intend to make a foreign country your permanent home.
When people ask if I plan to return to the USA, my answer is no. I did consider it but, after serious contemplation, I realized that going home to the USA would lead to even greater culture shock than what I’d experienced when I first came to Prague. There are things about my home country which I now see in a different light, and these things would frustrate me greatly if I went back. A good example of this would be everyone’s rush to get everything done “yesterday”, without ever taking holidays, without ever taking time to just relax, without being able to afford health care if you become ill, and with violent crime of incredible proportions.
In addition to this, the American government is a gigantic mess (when they actually choose to work). Czechs often complain about corruption in the Czech government because it is obvious, but there is just as much, if not more, corruption and abuse of power within the US government; it is just better concealed and spans across many continents. Nevertheless, it is there, and I choose not to live in a country that suspends large parts of its own constitution in order to wage war on countries that cannot fight back.
Perhaps that makes me sound like I am anti-American, and certainly I have been accused of this by some of my compatriots. On the contrary, I am not anti-American, and I am proud of my heritage. My country has done great things in the past and has contributed great things to the world. However, it has also done very bad things, both in the past and the present, and this trend does not seem to be changing. Sadly, many of my compatriots are too naïve to see this. The Czech Republic is not perfect, but I think Czechs have got their priorities straight, whereas Americans have lost sight of what is really important in life. It is for these reasons (and more) that I choose to call the Czech Republic home.