Czech Deck: playing cards (not just) for expats feature local tips, useful phrases, fun facts, Prague hotspots

Alysa Yamada has been living in Prague for almost eight years now. Like many young American arrivals, she first landed work teaching English. She later got into website copywriting and UX writing – and now has launched Czech Deck, a set of playing cards illustrating some of her favourite aspects of Czech culture, along with “fun facts”, day-trip ideas and some key language phrases.

I began by asking Alysa Yamada how she came to settle in Prague.

“I moved to Prague in 2014, so it’s been almost eight years. I came from Portland [Oregon], actually, which is where I finished my university studies. But I’m originally from Hawaii.

“I just wanted to travel around Europe for a bit, I’d say around three months. So, I learned how to teach English and just got a feel for Prague and the Czech Republic in general. And I decided to stay.”

And so you did a TOEFL teaching course, or something like that?

“Crush your opponents when it comes to Czech trivia. Digest local inventions, traditions, and fun little quirks – we've got you (and your entire team) covered.”

“Exactly. I took the TOEFL course on how to teach English and started teaching here in Prague. I did that for a few years.”

Tell me a bit about those early days – was there much of a culture shock, or pleasant surprises about life here in Prague?

“Oh, definitely! There were a lot. But that’s the cool part about it, too. In the early days, I was just soaking in experiences with people, friends and colleagues…

“I guess the biggest shock was I kind of feel like I’m going back in time, compared to the States. It’s pretty cool, though!

“There’s a lot of pros and cons to everything, I guess. But there’s a lot of history here, and a lot of things that are still developing – which is cool to watch, as things progress over the years.

And how do you yourself transition from teach English to copywriting and UX [user experience] writing?

Alysa Yamada | Photo: archive of Alysa Yamada

“I was teaching English for many tech companies and others around Prague in general, and people would ask me if I could help them with a website, with English texts, with proofreading and things like that.

“So, slowly I was introduced into this whole landscape of website copywriting, and I loved it, and started getting into more detail and found my way into UX.”

Alysa Yamada also loves travel, pub quizzes and trivia nights – activities stymied by the coronavirus restrictions. After some weeks into last year’s lockdown, the Czech Deck idea started to come together.

The playing cards, she says, combine four elements (unique things she’s learned about Czech culture and traditions, fun Czech trivia facts, tips for Prague hotspots and day trips that she would give to visiting friends and family).

Each suit in the Czech Deck – diamonds, clubs, hearts and spades – has its own purpose. In a way, she says, she liked the idea of adapting her UX (user experience) writing skills to come up with short, fun and useful brief descriptions for each card.

Photo: archive of Alysa Yamada

Now, about the cards themselves. It was during the lockdown last year due to the coronavirus that you started working on them. Can you recall the moment the idea came to you?

“Well, it wasn’t exactly one moment. I think it was a fusion of different moments – and then bam! I thought, maybe we should do this. I like playing games, I like playing card games and board games, and I just though, ‘Hmm, why isn’t there something Czech related?’

“I’d been collecting all these experiences over the years, and I thought, ‘What if I put all my ideas into a deck of cards?’ Something easy to play, that we can take around with us – something I can give to my own family and friends who are visiting Prague or interested in the culture in general.

“Absorb Prague's most interesting spots and share them at your next game night with friends. Then explore them in real life.”

“Each suit has their own purpose – so, diamonds are for day-trip ideas, hearts are for hotspots in Prague – which are my personal favourites, and the clubs are for fun facts, and spades are language flash cards of Czech phrases.”

And did you do all the designs yourself, work with a group of friends or – how did the actual cards come to life?

“I sat down and sketched every single one, with pencil and paper, and had help from a friend to digitise them.

“It’s mostly a solo project. I got help from an online platform and then looked around for someone to publish them. It’s a half-half thing. Part was done in the U.K. and the other half here in the Czech Republic.”

Photo: archive of Alysa Yamada

Did you get a lot of input or feedback from Czech friends or other expats living here? Was there a draft set of cards you tried out?

“Well, my partner at the time, I’d ask him for advice and tips, making sure I had all the diacritics correct.

“I think that was the hardest part for me, making sure I got the accents, spelling and the pronunciation correct. For the flash card portion, for the useful phrases, there are pronunciation tips there.

“But, yeah, I showed them to a few friends and they loved it. I only made 20 at the beginning just to see how it would be, if people would like it. And it really took off, so I decided to make this a long-term thing.”

Could you give us a few examples of what are on the cards? Maybe starting with the diamonds…

“So, on the diamonds, for example, I have Kutná Hora – these are day trip ideas for outside of Prague, so in the Czech Republic in general. There’s a Unesco-listed chapel there known for its unusual interior [‘the bone church’]. There’s a bunch of skeletons in there – I recommend it.

“Another one is Bohemian Switzerland [České Švýcarsko], which is a national park with giant sandstone formations. So, just a bunch of place that I like and would recommend to friends and family.”

“Clubs are fun facts – so, there’s one for pivo, which means beer. And there’s some random facts under it: It says that Czechia has 450-plus breweries and the highest consumption per capita globally, and beer is often cheaper than bottled water. And there’s a picture of beer mugs clinking.”

“And for hearts, this is Prague attractions, for example St. Nicholas Church, and on the description is says, ‘This the most impressive church in Prague – because even Lincoln Park filmed a video next to it.”

Photo: archive of Alysa Yamada

I’ve learned something new – I didn’t know that. And lastly, spades…

“Spades. So, these are the language flash cards. This one asks, ‘Mluvíte anglicky?’ The pronunciation is in brackets, and directly underneath is the translation – ‘Do you speak English?’”

And are you carrying around a pack or two with you, wherever you go these days?

“I do, yeah, just in case. If I get bored at a train station, with friends, I like to have it.”

And you find it’s a good icebreaker? I’m imagining you in a train carriage with some strangers, breaking out the cards and seeing what happens.

“I’ve never done that, but it’s an awesome idea! Why not?”

Photo: archive of Alysa Yamada