Sometimes it’s hard to explain why life in Prague is so much easier, fulfilling, and happier. I think it’s probably because there is not just one big reason, but a lot of little ones. Europeans show their own happiness and share it with others constantly in how they interact with people.
I’m not sure if this is a US thing or a Miami thing (which is a marginally worse version of the US), but everyone back home is flaky as hell. Because of that, I’m basically wired to expect people to bail on me at the last minute. If I make plans in advance and then I don’t hear from someone for a week, I’m conditioned to assume they’re just going to pretend it never happened. But people here show up when they say they will. And I realize I probably sound like a crazy person to them for always confirming plans, because I don’t want to show up somewhere and get ditched. But I never am, because you can trust Europeans to be where they said they’d be. And they’ll be there on time.
This translates to businesses as well. You know how Comcast technicians give you a 48-hour window when they’ll show up at your house? What kind of flagrant disrespect for our time is that? And why do we put up with it? People here keep their appointments, and they’re profusely apologetic if they’re even a few minutes late. It’s a matter of consideration, and Europeans are nothing if not considerate.
Men and women can be friends
In my experience, men in the US only make a real effort to hang out with you if they’re trying to fuck you. It doesn’t matter if they’re old enough to be your grandfather, if you’ve been friends for years, if you work with them, if they’re married. Women are either the object of some conquest or they’re irrelevant. It’s only a matter of time before your close guy friend declares his love or tries to stick his tongue in your mouth. Then it’s all “Woe is me, I’m being friendzoned” and #metoo.
Because of this, I’ve never had a close personal friendship with any man who wasn’t dating one of my best friends. Until now. If a group of 4 or 5 guys invites me out for drinks here, it’s because they want my company, not because one or more of them are trying to get in my pants. I never have to be on my guard around them or brush off awkward advances. And that’s awesome because men are great friends. We can all just have a good time together as people. And at the end of the night, they’ll still all walk me home out of respect and kindness.
Nightlife is safer for women
Obviously there are bad people everywhere, so it’s important to always be alert and aware of your surroundings. But by a wide margin, I feel far safer going out here than I do back home. If you go out with casual acquaintances in the US and get too drunk, at worst you’d be taken advantage of and at best, they’d decide it’s not their problem because you’re not close friends. But here, even if you just met a friend of a friend, they’re far more likely to be helpful and kind, simply as a matter of public decency. And they’re probably not out here trying to roofie your drink. Date rape is a far bigger problem in the US than it is on this side of the Atlantic.
In addition to interpersonal safety, I’m probably not going to get shot by a semi-automatic rifle anywhere here, like I might in a US nightclub, concert venue, mall, movie theater, school, or office building. Cause you know… gun control.
They don’t talk about politics
The Czech Republic actually just elected their own version of Donald Trump – a populist businessman whose shady dealings are already under investigation. His party won by what is considered a landslide, 29%, because their election has more than two parties. But unlike the US, where no one can shut up about politics (myself included), their political decisions are personal. Politics are not a social thing, because people generally form their own opinions without needing Breitbart News and a handful of douchebags from high school to do it for them.
I’ll be honest, even when I talk to people who share my political opinions, I get pissed off. It’s really an unpleasant topic of conversation. And it’s exponentially worse if you’re talking to people who disagree with you. Thankfully, I have no idea how anybody I know in the Czech Republic voted, because that doesn’t come up in regular social situations. And thank God for that, because I’m embarrassed to discuss my own country’s dumpster fire of a government.
They don’t talk about work
You can tell exactly how much of a person’s life is devoted to work by what they discuss in their free time. And in the US, people talk about work constantly. If you’re meeting for the first time, one of the first things they’ll ask you is what you do. And when you get together with friends, work is a huge part of the conversation. So on top of being miserable at work, we sour our social lives by complaining about how miserable we are at work. Because work is our whole life. Who has time to do anything else?
By contrast, the only time I’ve ever heard anyone talk to me about their job in the Czech Republic is when they thought their boss would be pissed about them taking 6 weeks off to go on vacation. I have a very limited knowledge about how my friends make a living and they about me, because let’s be honest, no one cares. It’s not that they don’t work, they just make more time to do the important things in life like walking their dogs, taking their kids to the river to feed the swans, and having a cold beer. And when they do, they talk about how they’re brushing up on a language or studying to get their motorcycle license and of course, their next trip. These people travel more than I do.
They perform random acts of kindness
Europe has taught me the subtle but important difference between being nice and being kind. In the US, people ask you how you are or how work is going to be nice, even though they don’t actually care. But take a ride on the subway in New York or the highway at rush hour, and you’ll see not-so-nice. That’s because America is the land of “me first.” Everyone thinks their own needs and desires are more important than everyone else’s. So all those nice words and well wishes go right out the fucking door if they have somewhere to be.
Europeans may not always be so nice; eat at any restaurant in Paris and you’ll see that. No one in Prague makes small talk with strangers “just to be nice.” But if an elderly person walks into the train, three people will give up their seat. If a mother is hoisting her giant stroller onto a tram, someone will grab one side and help her. And if you look lost on the street, someone will offer to give you directions. It’s not routine and meaningless niceness, but actionable, palpable kindness. Sure, Europeans may come off as standoffish or even rude, but if you’re in need they’ll offer to drive you to the hospital instead of sending you thoughts and prayers.
I may not live here forever (though that idea is looking better and better), but I hope I’ll permanently adopt these simple European habits. Because those are truly the little things that make life happier.