The Commies Are Gone, Y'all

If you ever visit Prague, don’t expect them to be happy to see you.

We just spent a week in “The City of a Hundred Spires” last month, and while the Czech Republic has a lot to offer, “service with a smile” isn’t one of them.

Molly’s personality doesn’t allow her to interact with another human being without asking their name and how they’re doing. This usually brightens the day of Target cashiers, post office workers and the guys flipping the stop/slow signs during road construction.

But the Czechs were less than enthused about this line of questioning. She was always met with suspicious looks or blank stares and an awkward pause before they’d mutter, “I’m fine,” and walk away.

On our first day in town, we were assessing lunch options, thinking we’d explore some authentic Czech food. But after perusing the menu at several restaurants, most of which consisted of goulash and mystery meats, we opted for a local burger joint instead. It was called MeetBurger (the burger meetpoint!) and all of the staff was wearing Jack Daniels t-shirts, which made it seem like a place that would be friendly to Americans.

So we walked in. And we stood there. And stood there some more. We weren’t sure if we were supposed to sit down or wait to be seated. I meekly approached the bartender and asked if we should seat ourselves, to which he curtly replied, “You can wait…you can sit.” I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant.

We eventually made our way to a table and sat down, hoping we wouldn’t be scolded. The waitress walked past us at least seven times before even acknowledging our existence, but eventually food was ordered and served. For the record, it was an excellent burger if you ever happen to be in the neighborhood—just be prepared that it’s going to be served with some very spicy fries and definitely no smiles.

My favorite example of Czech hospitality came at the end of our tour of the castle of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Our tour guide didn’t end the tour with a “thank you for visiting” or “I hope you enjoy your stay in Prague.” She concluded with this:

“And now you will see the main hallway where the tour began. At the end of the hallway is the door. Goodbye.” And she was gone.

Every time I’d mention the Czechs’ dour approach to life to our fellow Americans on the trip, they’d all say the same thing. “Well, it’s a former communist state, you know. People in communist countries are always like that.”

Yes, I’m aware that they were once part of the Eastern Bloc under the thumb of the Soviets, but that ended 30 years ago. Most of the people we interacted with would have been too young to remember that era, if they were even alive then.

But it occurred to me that I see people in my office almost every day who are holding on to something from their past (often the distant past) that affects their financial decisions and behaviors today.

The lady who has nearly a million dollars but still exhibits hoarder tendencies because her father’s bankruptcy when she was young forced her to grow up in poverty and something inside of her makes her think she’ll eventually end up there again.

The guy who got swindled by a financial huckster in the 90s and still can’t fully trust anyone to help him with his money.

The couple that’s been married for 20 years, but still keeps all of their finances completely separate because they both had spouses in previous marriages that couldn’t be trusted with money.

The woman who “doesn’t believe in the stock market” because she saw her brother lose everything in the market many years ago and she’s avoided it ever since.

Issues like this are buried deep in your psyche and aren’t going to be magically cured with one visit to our office. And that’s ok, it’s understandable if you can’t shake some of these mindsets overnight and you need some time to work through them.

But at some point, it’s time to recognize that the commies aren’t in charge anymore. It’s ok to smile.