This is meant to be a pun on Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel, Brideshead Revisited. I don’t know if it was a good punning choice because – and I don’t like to admit this – I’ve never read Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel, Brideshead Revisited.
The Good, The Bad, The Clichéd
Has the “Hey did you know I lived in Prague?” bit stopped being funny yet? Oh, it was never funny? Well, anyway…
Did you guys know that I lived in Prague last year? Well, it’s true. I spent a full sixteen months in Mother Prague’s claws before returning to Sheffield to find and exact revenge on the man who killed my father.
Not true; but it sounds better than the reality, which is that I had to come back to finish my undergrad degree or face >£20,000 of debt. I will still have to face >£20,000 of debt, but at least I will be a graduate and therefore – in theory, at least – several percentage points more employable.
My transition from Prague to Sheffield can be illustrated using the same terms I’d use to describe my legs: not all that smooth, but fine for the autumn. Here’s a run-down, a sum-up, a drive-around my experiences over the last couple of months.
There can be no denying it: Sheffield and Prague are very different places. Aside from lots of trees, lots of pork and an aggravating bus system, there’s very little uniting these two cultural capitals. Sure, you might be able to imagine Sheffield cutlery on the same dining room table as Bohemian glassware, but outside of this dinner party of the mind there isn’t a huge overlap to cling on to. Moving back to the UK after having become acclimated to Czech culture presented a few challenges.
I’ve mentioned this on this blog before, but Czech people love to stare. Man, there’s nothing they like more than good old peep at passersby. At first I found it uncomfortable to catch people gazing at me like I was a beautiful and unusual specimen, the likes of which had never been seen before in Central Europe. (That’s not to say I wasn’t a beautiful and unusual specimen, the likes of which had never been seen before in Central Europe, but I expected people to keep their awe to themselves.) It didn’t take long for me to get used to the constant peering.
A few months in, I was no longer surprised by people’s unabashed looks, and didn’t even baulk when they didn’t drop their gaze if our eyes met – a habit which had shocked me at first: in the UK, if you’re caught gawping at someone, it’s pretty much high treason not to blush and look away or pretend you were actually really interested in the brickwork just behind whoever caught your eye. I was roaming Prague like an absolute pro by the time I had to leave country, looking at people in the faces day in, day out. Sure, my eyes might have watered from returning my peers’ stares, but other than that I was golden.
In the UK, it feels like people conceive of public places differently. There’s more of a sense of personal privacy, which is why it felt like such an invasion when I first noticed people looking at me in the way I look at my dog when she burps. People in the UK like to feel as if there’s no one else on the street. We tend to act like strangers don’t exist, or like they’re just objects to be navigated like bollards with legs. Not to say this doesn’t have its advantages – it’s nice to be able to block people out – but sometimes it makes me feel like I’m invisible, like I don’t take up space in other people’s worlds. Sometimes it’s nice to be a bollard and to be surrounded by other bollards you don’t have to interact with, but it is – naturally – a bit dehumanising.
There have been a handful of other cultural differences to contend with. Part of me thinks I’m too much in my head, and these differences aren’t as pronounced as my mind is telling me.
Uni isn’t the best, and I’m feeling like my milk frothing skills have evaporated – not that they were ever that impressive at the best of times. But! There are lots of bright sides to look at. I love my flatmates and their friends, and that makes coming home feel cheerful rather than a trudge. Lots of people have made extraordinary efforts to make me feel welcome and included, despite my (if I do say so myself) fucking irritating neuroses.
Entering into an already established friend group has been an interesting experience. Being nervous around lots of new people whose relationships I don’t understand has made me feel more like an observer than a participant, but this particular group has been overwhelmingly kind and open. I feel like it’s OK to be a bit of a stony presence around them when I’m feeling anxious.
On balance, then, good things!