Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Disco Fever

Being abroad has allowed me many insights into international opinions regarding Americans. It’s true, there’s some negative sentiment toward the situation in Iraq, a general dislike/humor factor surrounding our President, and a stereotype that ALL Americans are fat. I’ve also learned that Americans have a “look.” Or that is to say, a stereotypical look. I’ve already heard it, “You’re American? Well, you don’t look American.”

Kostnice Ossuary: chandelier made from every bone in the human body
Okay, stop right there. I want to be clear - I’m not operating from an unlimited wardrobe. I have two pairs of pants (dark jeans and brown dress pants), three pairs of shoes (black, brown and running), and a selection of about 4 shirts you could call “nice (i.e. more than two buttons at the neck).” I have no ties, no suits, and no scarves. I’ve basically got enough to look presentable on about 8 different occasions when you consider switching shirts, pants and shoes around, before I begin to repeat myself. What I’m trying to say is that it’s not hard to look “not-American.”

Coat of Arms
Question: So where do Europeans learn that Americans can’t dress well?

Answer: The disco.

more bones
I visited my first European disco about two weeks ago. I was horrified when I walked in and saw that it was 80s and 90s night (very popular here). There’s not a lot of music I like from the 80s (certainly none you’d find at a disco), and most of my 90s music isn’t exactly “danceable,” either. So when I began to shake it out on the dance floor, I almost fell over upon witnessing the accompanying videos. Each video was like something you’d see on VH1, but worse. I can only guess these videos were the “international” cuts – complete with concert footage - showcasing the best in Def Leopard groupies and Whitney Houston wannabies. And what’s more, nearly ever single non-American person at the disco (as well as my friend Joel) knew every word to every song. Thus, a stereotype is born (and fulfilled).

Kutna Hora
However, a kind young Czech woman, apparently sensing my national embarrassment, took pity upon me and introduced me to her friends. Later, we exchanged information, er, she gave me her phone number (I with no phone), and we agreed to meet the following week. After dinner and drinks, we decided to take a day trip together, visiting the romantic ossuary (chapel made from human bones of plague vicitims – see pictures) and cathedral in Kutná Hora, a small town east of Prague. Her native Czech tongue proved useful as our trains that day were constantly late or even cancelled; the result of the previous nights’ violent storm which covered many tracks with fallen trees. Had I been alone that day, the chances of me even getting out of Prague would have been nearly nonexistent, let alone navigating outside of the city where nearly everyone speaks some English.

Český Krumlov
That was last week. This week has brought new trips with new complications, and potentially complicated an already established one. On Tuesday morning, I boarded a bus in Prague for Český Krumlov, a small town near the German-Austrian border. Normally, the trip takes 3 hours. On Tuesday, it took a bit longer because winter has finally arrived in Europe. As the snow began to fall, the bus began to slow. I was fortunate, however, because the weather didn’t get bad until we neared the town. Once in town, the snow dumped. I actually loved it – it’s been a long time since I’ve seen much of the stuff. The combination of being outside of Prague and being somewhere with snow and hills resulted in a quiet evening, perfect for being alone outside. Everything is muffled; muted. Nature rests. Snow grows on trees as the wind stops, animals huddle together for warmth, even the river seems to move silently. And I walked alone along the twisting cobblestone streets, snow falling, resting here and there in a pub – warmth, company – before continuing, no destination.

It’s peaceful while you’re there – it’s hell when you try to leave. Wednesday morning my bus was cancelled. Seems the 8 inches of snow was too much to handle. Catching another bus to the nearby “big town (České Budĕjovice),” I arrived just in time to buy a train ticket back to Prague. The roads were a mess, and the train offered solace against the cramped, wet, cranky masses. It also took about half the time.

The other issue in my life right now concerns leaving for New Zealand on Tuesday, 30 January. I booked my flight with British Airways, and apparently their flight attendants are a little upset about the company policy regarding sick leave. To demonstrate their unhappiness, they’ve planned an “industrial action,” i.e. a strike, to begin on 29 January, lasting 3 days. The BBC has quoted sources at British Airways as saying the strike would result in “complete chaos, possibly affecting hundreds of thousands of customers.” Niiccccccccceeeeeeee.

This evening BA is reporting progress in negotiations to settle differences, and the flight attendants have agreed to delay the beginning of their strike by one day. This does not help me. I need one more day… Update. Strike is a go. My flight is cancelled. I've managed to re-book with Quantas, my original carrier out of London. However, I'm now flying into Luton airport, which is a 1.5 hour bus ride from Heathrow. I guess it's better than nothing... I'd like to state that I do not recommend ever flying British Airways. They have been less than helpful.

Český Krumlov; day

Český Krumlov; night

Waiting at the train station; snow.

And of course, one of Prague

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