American student: In a Czech taxi cab

Photo: Kristýna Maková

Upon arriving to study in Prague, I was warned that the taxi drivers weren’t especially friendly. “They hate Americans and speak no English,” said my friends who had studied here the previous year. I was prepared for the worst.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
Night after night, I went to the bars and clubs with my friends and, to and fro, we piled ourselves into the cabs. I was always volunteered to sit in the front seat because, coming from a Czech family, my peers believed I somehow magically knew more about the city than they did. Nervously, I sat alongside the Czech drivers, behaving as respectfully as possible in hope they would not snap at me.

It was a night I had perhaps had a few more beers than usual that I climbed in beside the driver and began to speak to him. I had my first Czech language exam in a few days, and thought to try a few words out on him. To my surprise, the driver actually enjoyed talking with me, laughing when I tried to pronounce the Czech word for the number “four.” Back and forth, we traded phrases, and I arrived home feeling somewhat accomplished.

Since then, I have volunteered myself to sit up front with the cab drivers. I have met one who is a part time professor and speaks six different languages fluently. I have met another who moved here from Canada, and is taking his family to visit his home country for the first time. I’ve met some who love to blast music in their cab and sing along to American pop, while others simply explain how they love the peace and quiet of driving at night. Many are clearly educated, and have lives that extend far further than their five-seater offices.

Coming from the United States, where there is a glass wall between the drivers and passengers, being able to talk to the cab drivers is a true luxury. Many have told me great stories and both impressed and inspired me, giving me a true Czech view of the city I am currently calling home. And, while some nights I don’t remember my rides as clearly as I do others, I have learned perhaps the most in the taxicab.