At home in Prague, for now


"You're in Prague, not home. But home for now!" It was a line in an email I received a few days ago, from someone I met while on vacation recently. He wrote to say that he hoped I'd had a good trip home—or to Prague, that is.

Starbucks morning,  photo: Linda Mastalir
The vacation destination was a beautiful town beside the North Sea, where it rains often, and there are ancient cathedral ruins meters from the sea, the smell of salt water in the air, a great old stone pier jetting out above the water, and there's even a Starbucks in the centre of town. The place had a charm that won me over and I have to admit, I loved starting each day knowing that I could order a Grande caramel Macchiato to-go. As Kristy Ironside explained in her "Letter from Prague" a few weeks ago, the coffee culture in Prague is not quite the same as in North America. As typically happens when you live in a place other than home, you notice the small things, and you start to miss life's little conveniences—like paper to-go cups that don't burn your hands!

I admit, with the weeks of 30+ Celsius temperatures in Prague since June, the endless political maneuvering that has still not produced a new Czech government eight weeks after the elections, and the anticipation of seeing dear friends get married in Scotland, I was very ready for a vacation! And it was great. A reunion with Canadian friends, meeting new people, and somehow that charming Scottish town reminded me of the place I grew up—the west coast of Canada, which will forever be home.

So where does Prague fit in? To the people I know in other places I've lived, it's the place I live now, but it's not my home. I may reside here, and work here, speak the language fluently and enjoy the city, but it can't really be home. They're basically right, but there's also great advantage in being a little different, in always staying a bit of an outsider. A Canadian friend who lives not far from Prague shares my sentiments—he always says that this is a place where you can make a difference, leave a real mark. So long as one has a purpose, any place can be home.

Newlyweds on the pier in St. Andrews,  photo: Linda Mastalir
Of course there are things that test my patience. Like the employees at the office where foreigners must apply for a work permit. They slam doors and are the most unpleasant creatures I've met in a long time. Also baffling: these state employees who deal with foreigners all day long speak not a word of any other language than Czech and post extraordinarily detailed tables of instructions on the waiting room walls, all of which are also only in Czech! (In case you haven't noticed, it's not the easiest language for foreigners to learn). After months of collecting stamps I was fortunate to get my permit without any major scars, though I imagine some of the others without western credentials were not so lucky. The residency permit procedure is a similar story.

So for all the things the Canadian in me would change, I have to say that I'm happy to call Prague home—for now. The remains of Soviet-style corners remind me of the resilience of the locals, of how much this country has changed since 1987, when I first saw its then-grey insides. That seaside Scottish town provided a grand retreat, but it's good to be back, good to be home—for now.