PRAGUE — The dance club is pulsing with a string of Spanish language hits. Europeans are mingling and dancing passionately to the songs. Suddenly, a surprise number comes up next in the mix — a medley of songs from the popular movie musical “Grease.” This is the Prague I have come to know and love over the past few weeks. This is a city that appears to be just a few decades behind America in the pop culture spectrum.
For all the humor and quirkiness of the situation, there is a strange comfort that comes with the delayed culture in Prague. Culture shock is cushioned by nostalgic familiarity as restaurants and bars play throwbacks by Michael Jackson and Nirvana on loop while dance clubs throughout the city offer a series of ’80s- and ’90s-theamed nights that are often packed with students.
Does this mean that NYU students are sticking primarily to the more American-friendly spots in the city? For some the answer is yes, but Prague’s affinity for the past is inescapable. Hopping on a metro train or merely walking along many of the cobblestone streets, it is quite easy to note the dated fashion trends the locals seem to be sporting. Oversized and colorful snowboard jackets are a popular staple in the winter wardrobes of the locals. Other skater-friendly clothes that were popular about 10 years ago back in the States are featured heavily in storefronts and on the backs of Prague’s inhabitants. The overall pop-punk vibe of most of the city’s youth pushes memories of rocking out to Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi” to the forefront of my mind, and it is slightly cringe-inducing to recall how popular these looks used to be. These current trends, however, are not exactly visually jarring or difficult to avoid because it took a while for me to even notice their popularity. This could have also been attributed to the Siberian winter the city’s been experiencing since our group arrived. Retro Converse sneakers aren’t exactly ice-friendly.
Many participants in our program do not speak Czech, so unlike the majority of other study abroad sites, we have at least one huge cultural barrier to jump over collectively from the very first day. Orientation courses helped teach us the basics of the language so we can at least read numbers and interact politely with locals. Even though this is a daily complication, the minute I hear John Travolta in a club, I know it is okay to let go and enjoy myself a little more. While I am completely positive that I will never be able to properly pronounce the series of consonants that is called the Czech language, I do know all the words to “Summer Nights” — and that is something a few Czechs and I have in common.
Brittany Spanos is a foreign correspondent. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.