The Unshopping List Part 2

Sadly, I have a couple of additions to The Unshopping List.

The Wild Card

“When in Praha…” (another motto from my recent trip) I came to terms with the sad fact that the city centre of Prague is rather expensive, and most places include service in their bills. We didn’t realise this at first, and while we were still getting used to the currency, we tipped generously on top of that. When we thought about it, we didn’t like this system. I had read about the tendency of vendors in the city to try and swindle, and bully money out of you, and that you just have to stand your ground. When we felt we’d had particularly bad service one day, we put this to the test. We considered doing a runner before the food even came, after the waiter simply said “What d’you want?” in an aggressive tone, huffed and puffed our menus away and left us in the dimly-lit side room of a rather more grand building they had lead us through. The food arrived luke-warm, even cold, and was pretty bland. We ate in silence except for whispered pleas for freedom to each other. When we saw that we were expected to tip, we were not chuffed. But unfortunately this didn’t hold any ground. “Tips are optional, aren’t they? This is how much it cost, and then we tip how much we want to?” my friend asked in pure innocence and with well-meaning, masking what I could not about our feelings regarding the same waiter’s general attitude. Apparently not. We were asked to come and see the chef, or rather “Come with me”, with a point to the dark back realms of the building. I don’t think so. This man was big, bald, walked like a gangster strongman, and had been angry since we entered. Eventually, the less confrontational of our number put the tip down, and we made a hasty exit and shrugged off the bad vibes. So, “when in Praha,” don’t go here:

English: Restaurant of cock

The guy outside with the menu may be friendly enough, but the ones inside are most decidedly not, and the food is nothing special, so certainly not worth the unpleasant atmosphere. Don’t bring them business.

The Tragic Hypocrite

Photo courtesy of Google Images

I have always been a fan of the Nought-e food company in York. Sadly, the other day, it was ruined for me. I popped in for lunch from work (it’s close, tasty, reasonable and they have lots of options so I hadn’t gotten sick of it yet) and was awaiting my sandwich order, when something pretty heartbreaking happened. One of the servers (who I was told today is actually the manager) was chatting to another customer, presumably one she knew, because she referred to someone as “that Chinky boy.” That is an immediate one-strike offense in my book, and thus struck the cafe off from my list of acceptable places to give money to. What is most upsetting about this is probably the kind of hypocrisy it takes for a company whose founding premise is producing stuff that is ‘good for you’, to hire someone who is publicly racist. And just for context, no it was not a joke, and no the man wasn’t Asian himself. So she had no hint of an ‘excuse’ within visible reach. If someone knows this girl (dark hair, glasses, apparently the manager, Northern accent and very chatty) and knows that she isn’t racist and would like to correct what must have been a misunderstanding on my part, I would be more than happy to revoke this belief. As it stands, I have removed myself as a regular customer because I simply can’t stand and listen to that kind of talk. And a fifteen-minute lunch break is not the time to actively fight racism. So I will peacibly avoid it, and urge others not to encourage them either. If you hear any racist cashier comments, please boycott the shop, make it known and let them hear why. I feel this strongly about the way people think. I have heard so many racist comments and perspectives since I have lived in York that I am becoming embedded with my own racist bias against the city itself. I’d have been less appalled if she’d used the words ‘cunty fucksticks’, although I don’t think I’d recommend buying food from vendors who used this term either; unless such language was a running theme in some kind of evidently quirky style, as in the offensive birthday cards at … Give the dog a bone. And before you start, being racist is a little more than being ‘naught e’ – the name doesn’t get them off.

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A bit of soul searching

Recently I went on my first holiday without family, and with friends. Specifically, two fairly new friends whom I didn’t know a whole lot about, but knew I liked them enough to want to know more. Being at this sort of mid-twenties crisis of wondering who I am and where I should be laying my priorities these days, I figured this was a solid foundation for just what I needed – new experience. And I was right. It was totally refreshing.

We went to Prague. This wasn’t even my idea, and I wasn’t even initially invited. I just hopped on the wagon spontaneously, (I say spontaneously; my heart has been dying for something like this for years, and I was actually promised a trip to Prague about two years ago, which then fell through along with the boyfriend who had promised it – so I had been waiting for Prague for a while) and I’m so glad I did. It was ultimately satisfying to just let go and say ‘why the fuck not?’ for a change (from my usual bedroom-bound, cat-loving, Pride-and-Prejudice-fuelled comfort-zone-feast of a dwelling.)

One of my pet hates is waste. Wasted food, wasted paper, wasted time, anything. It gives me the willies. Also being a bit slow (I promise I’m not lazy or arrogant, I just have a kind of echo-effect going on in here) and lethargic a lot of the time (pray gods this is temporary, or I’ll never find my real self – I refuse to believe this is it because who wants to never get truly excited…?) I think I am a bit of a paradox, like the OCD sufferer who’s also “bone-bastard-idle” from the Smack The Pony dating videos… This makes for a balancing act between getting everything I want to do done, and giving myself the time I need to do it in to feel a) not worn out and b) like I’ve not wasted my time. I impose a sort of trap on myself that is likely to set off, at my own hand, if I ever fall short of these meticulous rules.

Anyway, I think I did a pretty good job this time. Being three very different young women, all quite independent and comfortable in certain aspects, we formed a complementary kind of coup that meant we covered a lot of ground in very little time, and each got a rather varied experience out of a short trip and saw things that we might not have if we’d been making all our own choices. Being respectful, free and open-minded, we managed to ‘cram’ (although we managed not to wear ourselves out, but only carried on until we felt we’d taken in a satisfactory amount for the day) in a fair bit of culture and viewing before our time was up. I sawalmost as much of Prague as I wanted to; I came home happy, and I would definitely go again.

What struck me overall about Prague was the conjunction of beautiful and diverse architecture with the evidence of living history about the place; there was a kind of gritty-pretty air about it. According to our Bohemian Walking Tour – a six-month-old project we heard about through our fantastic hostel, and through which we gained a Bristolian (of all things, given my background) tour guide for a day – Prague has been through a lot, and the economy has only started to pick up with the tourism boom in the last few years. The evidence is on the face of every building. Grand classical structures stand in the fantastic landscape, almost defaced by the appearance that the city bears a great weight on its shoulders. Not only dirt and dilapidation but graffiti are a staple part of Prague’s aesthetic, making it no less fascinating but instead adding character to an already quirky and established place.

Even the fact that Prague was home to Franz Kafka is enough richness of character for me, and the Kafka museum is certainly something to write home about. I think, aside from the British National museums, this is probably my favourite and I would highly recommend it for any fans of his writing. The creativity that has gone into the design or the building and the presentation of concepts and history is brilliant. It was a toss-up that one of my friends even came with me, but afterwards she was so moved as to buy herself some of Kafka’s works, and to post several quotes on her own blog. Not that that’s surprising, of course, because he was an amazingly intricate, provocative and beautifully clever writer. I have trouble even describing its effect on me, but for want of better words; what he does with language is beautifully precise and precisely beautiful. It is ultimately satisfying and articulate.

Anyway, enough praise for the already-discovered; in my naive, sheltered literary existence I am easily overwhelmed and ill-equipped to discuss.

Apart from the Kafka museum, we saw lots of the city on foot thanks to the tour on our first day, including (only the outsides of, which was my only disappointment) many landmarks – several castles, some hills, a giant monk-ridden library, and some other stuff I’ve already forgotten. Oh, and Bohemia Bagel. A reasonable, ok bagel cafe that one friend got obsessed with, probably because they had average veggie options (unusual in Prague, where salty meats and rich sauces run riot.) The food was one telling sign that I couldn’t live here. Although I eat like a teenager, I aspire to a healthy life, and I think my mind, in its soul-searching mode, said no to the tastes it encountered out in Prague. I’d like to remain open-minded and think that if one made the effort, one might supermarket/home-make their way into a healthy eating, plain-tasting life here, but I’m lazy, and this city would not make it easy for me.

We made a point of finding the giant faceless crawling babies, said perhaps to represent the artist’s (the same genius who erected two men pissing into a pool shaped like the Czech Republic) views on communism, perhaps communism in a certain context. Perhaps just some giant motherfucking faceless crawling babies. Seriously, like, the size of elephants. Nailed to the TV tower, and dotted about other areas of the city.

There were also lots of dogs, apparently there’s a much higher dog-person ratio there than the UK, and that set off my slathering obsession just a little bit more. One thing I am ashamed of is that I didn’t make the time to learn the language before we went. Although we didn’t need much of it at all in our three days, I really would have liked to have it in my toolbox anyway, not only because it sounds more mature to actually know something of a country you have visited. We did learn one word that we liked very much, and that became our motto for the whole trip: děkuji (“thank you”.)

And along with all the tickets, boarding passes and other mementos, I still have Google Translate on my phone, and it’s still set to ‘English > Czech’.

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