Kentucky Fried Culture

I Searched for Bohemians, and Found them at the Mall.

By Abhivyakti Chaturvedi

I arrived in Prague for my semester abroad on a Saturday evening in August, right before the sun came down. The drive to our residence hall in Prague 7 in the hinterlands of Holesovice was comfortable enough; I might have been too occupied with the sights to notice the low traffic. It had all the qualities of a fairytale city, as advertised. Maybe I was over-romanticizing it at the time, but I was enamored by the architecture, the atmosphere, even the way the soil smelled.

Outside the fairytale, I couldn’t help but notice the incessant signs for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

KFC is one of three American fast food joints prevalent all over Prague.
Photo courtesy of tomjust.wordpress.com

Released from our obligations that first evening, I was ready to hunt for the storied nights out in Central Europe. This was Saturday evening at around 10 p.m. There was no one outside. It was dark and it was lonely. You could see why Kafka was so goddamn depressed.

Eventually we found a nearby bar with a reasonable crowd, but nothing overwhelming, especially considering it was a Saturday. The one group we ended up chatting with were South African tourists. The following Sunday morning was even more drearily lonely outside. We questioned whether people were at church, but were hastily corrected; this country was largely atheist.

We’d be refreshed to see reasonably crowded streets during the following few weekdays in the Old Town Square area, though would be returning every afternoon to what seemed like desolation. We’d make up half the occupancy at beer gardens and bars, in our neighborhood and downtown, and would be confronted only by other foreigners. I probably didn’t know where to go, and when I did, I clearly didn’t know who to talk to. Locals seemed few and far between. Maybe they were avoiding us in plain sight.

Still, I was sure my initial experience wasn’t representative of the norm in Prague. So where was everyone?

Fast-forward a few weeks to a recent Sunday. Two of my friends and I were taking a tram to Prague 8 to visit a bar with great surrealist cartoons on the walls and a distinct smoky smell, still optimistic of who we might encounter. However, we’d find it closed until 6 p.m., meaning we had 45 minutes to waste away exploring.

If there was an area emptier than our home neighborhood, this was it. We walked for 20 minutes, past walls soaked in graffiti. Not pleasant street art, just an angry, angst-ridden mess.

“There were rowdy teenagers making noise and causing trouble, and it couldn’t have been more comforting.”

We eventually saw a huge complex with signs for department stores, restaurants, and, to capture attention, a dinosaur themed park (I’d later learn this was a mall called Harfa). By now it had started pouring, so we ventured inside.

We’d found the Czechs.

For three floors of packed department stores on a lazy, dull Sunday, we didn’t hear a word of English. There were couples and families sitting sharing their meals. They ate at a restaurant called Kentucky Fried Chicken, next to a Burger King and a place serving frozen yogurt. This was development, globalization, and everything we’d felt we’d missed thus far.

“We are very popular with the young people and families,” explained KFC cashier Aneta Ryba.

Original-recipe chicken from KFC is something worth bonding overPhoto courtesy of kfc.cz

Original-recipe chicken from KFC is a meal worth bonding over.
Photo courtesy of kfc.cz

Beyond the familiarity, it seemed for once that people weren’t afraid to be heard. There were rowdy teenagers making noise and causing trouble, and it couldn’t have been more comforting. A sense of loving life that had yet been missing as we saw it was present here, and I had a fleeting glimpse of not feeling like a stranger in a strange land.

This was a younger crowd, but they seemed more alive than anyone we had seen previously.

“We like to come to these places for lunch almost always because we can stay for some time and relax and everyone likes the food,” said Andrej Slaby, 21, sitting with his friends. “No,” he added with certainty when asked if they ever get bored of fast food.

In the time since then, with more familiarity of Prague, it became clearer that Czechs exist outside of Harfa and are involved in a myriad of pastimes I am only still discovering. Perception being a fickle friend, however, it seemed so that Sunday afternoon.

For three weeks, we were looking for the Czech Republic, while it seemed the Czechs were looking for the rest of the world, from the bottom of a KFC original recipe chicken bucket.

Abhivyakti Chaturvedi is in the New York University Class of 2015. His hometown is Miami, Florida.

Advertisements

Tags: , , ,

Categories: Culture, Fall 2013 Issue Number 2, Food

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

Subscribe

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

%d bloggers like this: