I have to pay for what?

During my first weekend in Prague, I went on an academic trip and we made a stop to use the restrooms. I remember reading a sign on the door that said “5 Kč to use the restroom” and saying aloud, “you have got to be kidding me”. At first, I thought the sign was for show and I wouldn’t have to actually pay, but I was wrong. When I got to the front of the line, there was someone at a counter collecting money before I was able to use the facilities. I couldn’t believe I had to pay to use the restroom.

Photo: Kristýna MakováPhoto: Kristýna Maková In New York, I’m usually allowed to use a restroom for free. If I walk into a fast food restaurant like McDonalds, when I go up to the cashier, and ask to use the restroom- their response is usually to point me in the right direction, or hand me a key to use it… without asking me for money. Yes, there are some places where you have to be a customer to use the restroom, but it’s not common. In Prague, more times than not, if you’re at a fast food restaurant, you must purchase something in order to get a code on your receipt to unlock the door and use the restroom. If you don’t have enough money to purchase something, you’re out of luck. Call me cheap, but I think there should be a discount card for restrooms in Prague so you don’t have to buy something every time you want to use the bathroom.

One of the hardest things that I’ve had to get used to paying for is water at a restaurant. In New York, when I get a drink, I usually ask for water with ice and extra lemon wedges. It’ll come to my table in a cup and the best part about it is that I can get free refills and the water is free. If I ask for water in Prague, I have more options. It comes in a glass bottle and I’m given the option of sparkling or still. When it’s delivered by the waiter or waitress, it’s poured into a small cup at the table. If I’m feeling brave enough to ask for tap water, I can get one of two reactions- I will either get a confused look from the waiter and end up receiving a glass bottle of water or the person will glare at me and proceed to get me a small cup of lukewarm water- no ice, no refills. To me, getting water from the tap seems like it’s no big deal but in Prague, it seems like one of the worst things I could ask for.

Paying for a restroom in Prague and paying for water are two things that make the city culturally different from New York. If you’re not used to this, next time you go to a sit-down restaurant and ask for water or go to a fast food place and try to use a restroom, don’t expect either one to be free. Inside your head, you’re allowed to say to yourself, “I have to pay for what?”, but you’re better off paying for it without making side comments because you don’t really have a choice.