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EU > Czech Republic > Prague

Tourism in Prague (II)

Prague, CZ (View on map)

Life is full of worries and obligations. Going on holiday serves as a popular strategy for people to clean up their hard disks. For some obscure sociological reasons, all these people looking for relaxation come together at locations that are even more crowded than whatever they are used to at home. What consequences do their intentions have on the life of others ? or more precisely: how do inhabitants of Prague feel about the way foreigners have taken over the city centre?

Barbara (19):

`I like the Dutch and the English, but I could do without the Italians, the Swedes and the German tourists in town`
The politically correct answer, as formulated by Petr (30) is that Prague serves as the Czech showcase to the world. `Prague is the richest city of the country, and we owe much of it to tourism. The incoming flood of tourists has also lifted the level of services to standards that are exceptionally high compared to other cities in the Czech Republic. The public services sector only came into existence some 20 years ago, but it has developed quite rapidly between then and now. Compared to other regions in the Czech Republic, Prague has better hair dressers, better hotels, better infrastructure.. It has low unemployment rates, it`s a safe city and it attracts a very diverse public. Prices of living may have gone up, but it is still affordable for young skillful people to live in the centre of Prague.`

In spite of Petr`s optimism, the general reproach made to mass tourism is that it has driven all original inhabitants and authentic commercial activities out of the city centre. Most of the shops in the old city centre are now souvenir outlets that are owned and run by non-Czechs. Prague has become too expensive for Czech people to actually rent apartments in the old centre, and many inhabitants of Prague will even try to avoid having to go to the city centre at all.

`On summer weekend days, it`s almost impossible to get from one part of the old town to the other. Look at the crowds on Charles Bridge. You can hardly get through`, Jakub (32) says. `It`s imaginable though. Prague is a beautiful city located within 2.5 hours of flying time from any big European city. It has the reputation of being an inexpensive destination, which also oftentimes attracts `inexpensive tourists`. I can get embarrassed at the sight of young German girls who get sick on the street, a habit that also seems to be quite common among young English male visitors. Maybe the fact that beer is cheaper than water does not help them stay sober. On top of that, they probably drink a lot of different drinks throughout the evening. Czech people are more likely to drink just beer, which does not have the same destructive effect.`

Jakub explain that only very few venues in the city centre are still suitable for locals. `The local pubs lie a bit hidden and it`s hard to find them. I don`t like to go to the places were all the tourists go. They are too expensive and too noisy. The tourist restaurants are heavily overpriced and many of them serve lousy food. The souvenir shops sell stuff that has only little to do with the Czech Republic, but apparently it`s a very big industry. No need for a Czech person to go check it all out though.`

With Czechs slowly moving away from the centre of Prague, the entertainment targeted towards locals is also taking place peripheral parts of town. Daniel (27) explains: `The city expands in all directions, with huge entertainment `factories` being built at the city borders. These institutions have everything: shops, cinemas, bowling, games, pubs.. everything associated with the new consumer lifestyle and everything that is needed to avoid either having to spend time out in the open, or to look for something to do in the city centre.`

`Another way for people to amuse themselves without staying in Pragus is by visiting their family cottages. Many inhabitants of big cities have small cottages within a 20-minutes reach of their homes; a tradition of communist times when people had no possibility to travel abroad. Whenever the city gets too crowded, or whenever they feel like doing some gardening, they will escape the city for a few days and leave it to the tourists. That is why there are so many traffic jams on Friday afternoon. Most of them are caused by people trying to reach the surrounding countryside.`

Daniel has mixed feelings about mass tourism in Prague. `In a way, it has become normal for me and sometimes it`s even pleasant to see so many people from so many different places. Tourism confirms that Prague is a beautiful city and whenever I have friends from other countries stay over, I actually enjoy mixing in with the crowds. On other occasions, I can get annoyed by how busy it sometimes gets and how tourists seem to have taken over. Still, I do find time to see the beauty of Prague on quieter moments: in wintertime when tourists find it too cold to stay outside for a long time, or sometimes in the early evenings when the streets can be relatively quiet as well.`

Daniel tells me about a recent trend among Italians that make them very unpopular in Prague. `Small groups of Italians enter souvenir shops to steal merchandise. There have been many reports of such incidents in the media over recent months. The English are also annoying. They shout a lot but they are usually quite harmless.`

Marcela (30) is originally from Bratislava but has lived in Prague for the last 10 years. `Tourists like Prague because it`s not too big and not too small. And more importantly, it`s an `architectural jewel`. Unfortunately, it also attracts a lot of people who us locals would have wanted to stay away. I personally dislike the way Italian people are noisy. Especially when they are on the subway. As if they have never in their entire lives seen a subway before. I actually like the people from far Asia. They are quiet, harmless and they behave well. Quite a big change from the English coming to Prague for their stag parties. Those just drink and keep others awake during the night because of their love for screaming, you wouldn`t see Japanese people do the same.`

Barbara (19, photo) thinks that the English boys are alright, `because they are cute. `Maybe they are drunk most of the time, but so are Czechs so what`s the difference? ` Barbara is more concerned about the Italian boys `because they are ugly and want to have sex with everybody`. Barbara doesn`t like the many Swedish tourists and she particularly dislikes German tourists. `The walk with their noses up, as if they are the best in the world. Apart from that, they also smell bad. It`s always easy to recognise them. Tourists in general are quite annoying. They make everything go slow. The advantage is that they pay tips in bars and restaurants. Maybe they think it will get them better service or something, but obviously it doesn`t.`

Frank (35) is renting out apartments to tourists. He points out that Prague is benefiting a lot from tourism. `Many people depend on tourism through their jobs in the hospitality branch. Also for me, it`s business so I can`t be annoyed about it. Contrary to some other people, I don`t feel like tourists are spoiling the city. Wherever you go, you will find good people and bad people. Stag parties to me mean risky business, in payment terms as well as in the way people leave the apartments when they leave. Fortunately, the Czech crown is getting stronger. The rising costs of staying in Prague or getting to Prague may also help. It will drive the worst tourists to go for destinations further East, like the Baltics. We now get a lot of working class Englishmen staying over. They have more money to spend than middle class Czech people, but it`s obvious that their behaviour is less civilised than that. But they too contribute to Prague being a flourishing city with unemployment rates that are ten times lower than in some other cities in the Czech Republic.`

Jan (25) has another reason for not judging tourists. `When I leave Prague on holiday, I myself become a tourist too, so how can I blame anything on the ones who come to Prague?

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