Current Affairs Daily Telegraph: Prague fourth best city for young expat life
Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper has just published a list of the top twenty places for young people to emigrate, and the Czech capital Prague came in fourth. "Beautiful and only a short flight away from Britain, Prague offers all the stability of Europe with not requiring a new language, and it has the best beer in the world," that's according to the Telegraph at least. So is Prague as an expat destination all it's cracked up to be?
There’s an international flavour to this playground in a popular park in Prague’s Vinohrady district – and for good reason. Prague is home to thousands of expats from Europe and beyond. Many come because of work – the city is home to a number of major international companies who’ve outsourced their businesses here – others, including this reporter, because they came for a while and simply stayed, or in my case returned the following year and stayed for good.
Among them is Carole Spiller-Lissi from Switzerland, speaking in her native Italian to her daughter Amelie. Carole came to Prague four years ago with her Czech-born husband Michal, who’s a country manager for a large European chocolate manufacturer. She divides her time between motherhood and freelance management consultancy, and says Prague is an ideal place for a family.
“It’s a beautiful city to live in. Every weekend you can discover something new, some new corner, something really nice to look at. You can have a beautiful life in Prague, it’s a small city but it offers every day something you can do, there’s a huge cultural offer. And for kids it’s fantastic. Czechs are really children-oriented, child friendly. So this is really good.”
According to official Czech statistics Carole is one of 557 Swiss citizens living in the Czech Republic, most of them in Prague. That number is dwarfed by the 15,000 Germans, 3,000 Frenchmen, 5,000 Britons, and 6,000 Americans, mostly expat business people, teachers and students. They form mini-communities of their own; the streets of Prague, especially affluent districts such as Vinohrady, echo to the sound of foreign languages from around the world. Charles Grant works for a large accounting firm which established its regional headquarters in Prague. We met in a French-run cafe to discuss the findings of the Telegraph survey.
“I’m not surprised it’s come so high up in the survey. I think the reason the Czech Republic as a whole punches above its weight financially is because it’s been so successful attracting companies to come and work here, financial investors to come and live here. Here you’re in the centre of Europe; I mean, Vienna is further east than Prague. So there’s a location thing, slightly a climate thing, and if you live in this little expat bubble, you do live in a beautiful old town, in a nice flat, 1920s flat with high ceilings and parquet floors, or you live in a lovely commuter village with this ready-made community around you. So if you put it through that very distinct expat lens, it’s a nice lifestyle. So Prague is geared up to accept people with English as a second language.”
Although as Charles went on to explain, that’s fine for business, but for personal relationships with the locals, expats tend to hit a wall without some command of Czech. Indeed it wouldn’t be unkind to say that Czechs are not, in general, the friendliest or most open of people when it comes to welcoming foreigners – that certainly takes time, and patience, and getting used to, as Carole told me.
“The biggest downside is the closed mentality. What we can observe in Prague – and it might be different outside of Prague – but in Prague it is like that, people are closed, are reserved. You go to a shop and two months after you’ve lived here you’ve learnt that you’re not surprised that people don’t smile at you, either in a shop or a restaurant; you’re not the king as a client, or as a guest. And you have to get used to it. And it takes a long time and even now sometimes I’m really bothered about that, and I just say – it’s just like that, it’s a mentality thing, and you have to get used to it.”
More and more foreigners are, it seems, getting used to it, which is one reason why Prague came fourth on the Daily Telegraph’s list of top twenty destinations for young expats, after Warsaw, Phnom Penh and Bangkok. There’s only one aspect of that survey I’d take issue with – the idea that you can live here happily without learning Czech. You can certainly survive with English, hand gestures and a dictionary, but learning the local language adds a whole new dimension to life in Prague.