4 Reasons I Couldn’t Wait to Leave Prague

Sep 13, 2018    /    most popular posts, stories & photos

I wanted to love Prague.

With all my heart, I wanted to.

I’d read about how it had the most green space of any European city. I’d heard it was wildly affordable. It’s so cute, everyone cooed. And the photos seemed to agree.

So when Chad said he wanted to be in big cities with tech scenes and networking opportunities and communities full of young professionals, Prague was the first place we decided to try.

Which is why it came as a pretty crushing disappointment when we both were ready to leave after only a few days of our two-month stay.

Were there things we liked about the city? Sure there were. My happiest days were at the farmers markets, and there’s a pretty sprawling park up north. The old town area near the castle is cute, and the food tour we took was fine. The writers I met up with were super nice, as was our landlord, our tour guide, and the folks at our favorite restaurant.

But overall, Prague wasn’t my place (or Chad’s) and by the time August started winding down, we were counting down the days out loud each morning.

Just four more days. We only have to make it four more days! Three more days! Two and a half!

There were plenty of reasons for this and these were some of the biggest:

1. It’s a classic big city.

So, here’s a thing I know about myself: I don’t like big cities.

I don’t like the crowds and the noise, the cars and pollution, the apartments all bunched up together, the streets hemmed in by six- and seven-story buildings like you’re walking through a maze. I don’t like the litter or the way summers are 10 degrees warmer or the feeling that I’m far far away from nature and space and real quiet.

And maybe it should have been obvious that Prague would be like any other big city. I probably should have known.

But for some reason, reading about how the city has the most green space of any in Europe made me think it would be different. Greener. Quieter. More manageable.

And the truth is that it wasn’t.

The parks were there, sure, but so was the litter in most of them, so was the ever-present car noise that I could still hear even as I wandered down the walking trails. So was the construction noise that seemed to follow me across town, work on a building here, work on a road there.

Does this make Prague a bad place? Not at all. But does it mean I was sorely mistaken in thinking it would be different than other big cities? Yes, yes I was.

About a week in, I started wishing we could leave, and I almost cried with relief when we went away for weekends in less city-ish places like Karlovy Vary and Bohemian Switzerland.

2. I felt unwelcome.

Slip into the forums and Facebook groups for Prague expats and international residents or the Google reviews around town and you’ll find a disturbing trend: stories of nurses hanging up on patients when the patient asks if the nurse speaks English, stories of vets refusing care to an animal because the visitor bringing the pet in doesn’t speak Czech, stories of businesses charging double or triple for non-natives.

I think I encountered this twice, myself, in two months in the city. It was one of those things that was hard to judge. Was I charged double because I spoke English or for some other inscrutable reason? I wasn’t really given an answer, so I can’t say for sure. But I can say that it felt wrong and I felt unwelcome. And I can say that when I went online to see if there was any basis for these feelings, I found mountains of stories more blatant than mine. People being hung up on for asking about English. People being told straight up that they weren’t going to be served.

And, hey, I guess if that’s how Prague wants to do business, more power to them. But I certainly don’t want to participate in a system where the square of dirt I was born on or the language I speak makes a difference in the service I receive. I find it deplorable when the US does it, and I find it equally deplorable here.

And obviously it’s not every nurse or every vet or every hairdresser, but it’s common enough to raise some alarm bells. And I’ll be damned if I spend my time or money in a place where a doctor might refuse me service or a vet might let Luna die because I haven’t learned every world language.

3. There’s a heaviness to the city.

This is a tough one to put my finger on because it’s so intangible. But for me, places have a certain feel to them. New York feels frenetic. The US right now feels anxious, simmering. The Swiss Alps feel expansive. And Prague feels heavy.

Perhaps it’s the fact that Communism wasn’t that long ago and the city is still finding its footing? Perhaps it’s generational trauma from the war?

I’m not qualified to really speculate, but what I can say is that for me there’s a feeling I just can’t shake here. A depression. A heaviness. And as someone with her own depression to deal with, a city that feels soaked in it isn’t the healthiest place for me to be.

4. People in customer service were intensely irritable.

I was on my way to the laundromat and I needed change, so I stopped into a grocery store and bought a sports drink. I handed over my big bill and the woman behind the counter asked if I had something smaller.

She asked in Czech, but I knew what she was asking. I said no.

Thinking I didn’t understand, she asked in English. I said no again.

Then, with the kind of fury usually reserved for someone who insulted your mother, she whipped the bill around, slammed my change down just out of my reach, threw my receipt in my general direction, and started checking out the next person in line, putting their groceries on top of the change I was scrambling to collect.

This kind of rage-over-nothing just kept happening to me throughout my stay.

One day it was the cashier mad about a big bill (the ATMs here, by the way, only give big bills, so I’m not sure what other option the cashier thought I had). Another day it was a tea vendor who refused to even try to speak with me. Still another day (though this one was outside Prague) a waiter yelled the f word when he brought us the wrong order. Everywhere we looked there were outsized responses to small inconveniences, many of them (like the big bills) outside our control.

And look, I understand that sometimes tourists might be harder to serve. Speaking in a combination of German and English words and pantomime isn’t an ideal scenario. Dealing with a person who doesn’t know your culture’s norms might take a few seconds longer than someone who does. But throwing things and screaming are reactions I haven’t really seen before. They’re so aggressive. So outsized. So unnecessary. Especially when I’m doing everything in my power to be pleasant, to use the few Czech words I’ve learned, to say thank you over and over again.

Frankly, it was exhausting. And I just don’t want to be in a place where so many people employed in sales and customer service are so angry all the time. Especially when my mental illness gives me my own outsized, internal panic reaction to being shouted at.

And so by the time we boarded a tram then a series of trains bound for Budapest and then Romania, we were both more than ready to be out and hopefully never return. For some, Prague may feel like a fairy tale. And that’s great. But for me, it was really a lesson: I still don’t like cities, no matter how much people might rave about them. And though there are exceptions (I do love me some Paris), it’s always best to do a quick trip through first before committing to such a long, long stay.


Every time I write about a place I didn’t love, the hate mail comes rolling in. If you’re feeling outraged, please keep a few things in mind before you leave a comment:

1. We don’t all love the same places (and that’s okay). My experience doesn’t erase yours and yours doesn’t erase mine. Me disliking a place you love isn’t a personal attack on you or your taste.

2. There are lots of complicated reasons a place is the way it is. I don’t always get into those because all I’m doing here is telling you about my personal experience. History texts are a great place to dive in if you want to try and understand where mindsets, patterns, and context come into play.

3. A three-day vacation spent in Old Town is different than a two-month stay in a local neighborhood. This is probably why I’d heard so many rave reviews before I came here. If we’d passed through for a long-weekend, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with Prague the way others seem to, but I also would might have thought the irritable customer service was unusual and I may not have noticed the xenophobia. Don’t forget that when I’m traveling, I’m usually really living in a place for awhile and that’s a very different experience than a weekend away.

4. Disliking a place isn’t the same as hating its people. Do I kind of hate the lady who let her dog pee in our building’s hallway over and over again? Yeah. Do I definitely hate the creepy old guys who put their hands on me on the trams? Absolutely. Am I not a fan of customer service people who fling change at me? You betcha. Do I think they reflect all Czech people? Of course not. So don’t try to turn this into that.

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21 Comments
  • Greg Turner
    September 13, 2018

    Thanks for being brave enough to provide your honest opinion and explain your reasons. It is what I want from any blogger. We loved our three day stay in Prague and plan to return. Your post does address a concern I have about our future travels as we weigh the cost savings of a month long booking against the fact we are committing to a month in an apartment or city we have never seen. Maybe a week or two is the better plan with a return for a month to those places we love.

    • gigigriffis
      September 13, 2018

      For sure. For the most part, I love booking longer stays since it’s so much more affordable, but I think my new philosophy is when in doubt, book short. I know I like small places, so I’ll dive in and book longer stays in them, but when it comes to bigger cities, I’m going for short stays before committing myself from now on.

  • Ali
    September 13, 2018

    I don’t really even like Prague much as a touristy weekend getaway city. The old town is gorgeous, but mostly in the early morning hours when no one else is around. Beyond that, there are too many people, too many drunken stag parties. I’m much more of a city person than you are but I’m really starting to dislike cities where all the tourist attractions are so concentrated in one section of town, making it feel like the Disney version of the city. I’m so sorry you had such a bad experience in Prague. I hope you have lots of small towns in your future!
    Ali recently posted…How to Pick the Best Carry-on LuggageMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      September 13, 2018

      Yeah. Since we were outside the center mostly, I didn’t notice the tourist throngs as much. But even the center didn’t live up to its hyped up reputation for me. I should have listened to you when she said you thought I wouldn’t like it!

  • Lynne Nieman
    September 13, 2018

    I love your honesty, Gigi. We don’t all love the some places. And that’s okay. I had some clients who didn’t love Florence — which I’m a fan of. But I got where they were coming from. And I’m learning from you as I’m planning and moving toward a location independent life like yours. Like you, I’m not really a city person. So as I think about spending time in places, I know that even a month in a big city may not work for me. Stay true to yourself and keep being honest. I find it refreshing!

    • gigigriffis
      September 14, 2018

      Thanks!

  • Lis
    September 13, 2018

    I really appreciate you pointing out the heaviness bit. When I visited Prague I felt something similar. I was SUPER excited to go. Then I arrived and felt/thought “oh something here isn’t quite right for me” and was a bit let down. It’s good to know I’m not alone. Like we always say not every place is for everyone :-).

    • gigigriffis
      September 14, 2018

      Yeah. You’re definitely not alone. Chad and I both felt it and when I started talking to friends, one of them said she’d felt it as well.

  • Carole Tucker
    September 13, 2018

    Your honesty is refreshing. I’ve just spent 3 months in Bulgaria. The scenery and hiking were amazing but the atmosphere was depressing. I wanted to leave from the day I arrived but financially that wasn’t possible. I realise that Bulgarians are battling economically and the country is struggling but this depressing feeling permeates the country’s core and passes it on to anyone who visits and tours for a few months.

    For people who are just passing through and visiting the sights, they probably don’t notice the atmosphere because they are there holidaying for a week. Again, thank you for your honesty. There are very few people out there who will give a true account of a journey for fear of the social media response.

    • gigigriffis
      September 14, 2018

      I’m sorry you had to stay through that as well!

  • bzb
    September 13, 2018

    Excellent points, and extra points for honesty – that’s why I read your site :-)

    Wondering, though – I know you’ve spent time in Switzerland, and you’ve written glowingly of certain areas outside the main cities, but I’m wondering what experience you’ve had of Basel? I feel as you do about cities generally; but for some reason, I fell in love with Basel. Hard to explain :-)

    Thanks!

    bzb

    • gigigriffis
      September 14, 2018

      I’ve only been to Basel a handful of times and always very briefly. I never felt very enchanted by the city, but it’s always hard to judge from such brief stays.

  • Robert B.
    September 13, 2018

    Wow, Gigi, I’m sorry you had such a bad experience, especially being trapped there for two months!

    Thanks for posting your very honest review of Prague. I’m US-based, but I’ve wanted to go there for years, probably for a short vacation. I’ll still do it, but I will look a bit harsher at the city thanks to your review.

    I can take or leave big cities and their noise, trash, and bustle. I’m not expecting a lot of personality, given the impersonal nature of such places. I’d expect more of Prague given its reputation for being cosmopolitan, but if it wants to be known in the same dismal category as a Russian provincial capital, that’s their citizens’ choice to behave that way. I don’t have to come back.

    But regular lousy and downright rude service is just unforgivable. And that’s due to some quirk in the culture, not just hiring the wrong wait staff in a particular restaurant.

    And xenophobia I can understand in Central Europe–it is everywhere to some degree once you leave the traditional Western countries–but to let that attitude spill over into commercial retail transactions is unforgivable. That’s just a business waiting to file for bankruptcy. I hope you gave those places a good, honest Yelp review; that will help other English-speakers avoid the place.

    Thankfully Europe is a big place, and I know your next place has to be better.

    • gigigriffis
      September 14, 2018

      Very true. We felt better pretty much immediately after leaving Prague. We spent a couple days in Budapest, which we enjoyed (though always hard to make a real judgement based on a couple days) and now we’re in Romania for a couple months. So far, no one has thrown change at me or yelled the f-word during our meals out, so already an improvement. :)

  • Sonja of Montecristo Travels
    September 14, 2018

    I get it. We can’t all love the same thing. I loved Prague. Was there for month – but lived in the old town. We had a wedding to attend and friends on location. I loved how it didn’t have that horrible “Napoleonic” grid system, but had maintained it’s chaotic medieval street chaos. I loved how our dog was welcomed everywhere … including some churches and museums. I enjoyed the vegan options around … and more.

    But I get it … people love NYC … I don’t I avoid it like the plague. That frenetic energy you mention isn’t a good match with my anxiety. So I get it. It’s not a one size fits all for sure. We need more people being honest about how they feel. I can’t stand cruises, get bored to tears in Mexico … etc. That’s the beauty of our world. Options!

    • gigigriffis
      September 14, 2018

      Yep! I think living in the center probably makes a big difference, too. Most of the issues we encountered were outside the tourist area. The scariest thing to me was just the possibility that I could rush Luna to the vet and be denied service.

      • Aubrey T
        September 14, 2018

        As a veterinarian, I’m absolutely horrified by that. Refusing service to a patient because their owner doesn’t speak English in the US would end in a vet losing their license and likely getting sued. And it goes completely against the veterinarian’s oath I had to take. I’m astonished that vets can get away with that in any country, honestly, or would even consider doing that, as very very few of us would allow an animal to suffer or die if we can do something about it.

        • gigigriffis
          September 14, 2018

          Right?!? I was so horrified. It’s not the animal’s fault their owner does or doesn’t speak a language!

  • Andrei
    September 16, 2018

    No offense but telling a story with a rude cashier does not make sense. That can happen anywhere in the world, it’s just someone who’s either having a very bad day or unfortunately it’s the way she thinks to work with customers.

    Welcome to Romania, I hope you enjoy your stay here.
    If you choose to visit Bucharest do not choose busy city center, get a place near big parks where it’s much quieter (Herestrau, Titan, Tineretului) otherwise you will have same issue like in Prague.

    • gigigriffis
      September 16, 2018

      Hi Andrei,

      The point was that stories like that happened to me all the time in Prague. Rudeness was a lot more common (and a lot more aggressive) than anywhere else I’ve ever been with the possible exception of Barcelona (customer service personnel were extremely rude there too).

  • Lauren
    September 19, 2018

    I had no shortage of angry people when I visited Prague as part of a group in 2011, all directed at English use, so I’m glad someone else has had that experience so I’m not just overreacting. Even when two of my friends were speaking French to each other, an angry man approached them and shouted “English go home!” As a group of 6, we stopped to take photos in Wenceslas Square, as everybody does, and a man exposed himself at us and shook his fist muttering about tourists. It was the winter holiday season so there were markets and everything, what did they expect? Scam artists targeted me on the subway on the way to the opera. There were some nice things, like the mulled wine on a cold day, the rooftop bar by the amazing church downtown where you could watch the clock chime, and the opera itself was awesome. However, the attitude of most of the people was a real turnoff. I was only there for 48 hours and that was plenty.

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