I hail from the East Coast. When I lived abroad, in Prague, it suited me just fine because Central/Eastern Europe is very similar to the NorthEastern US in terms of atmosphere and attitude.
When people think of Europe, they often think of Western Europe – which is world’s apart, just as the East Coast and West Coast here in the States are. People often asked me if I had easy working hours, because they had this image in their head of Europe & long siestas, short working days, long holidays. Well, let me put it to you this way: when I would ask my Czech students (all working adults) what they did in their free time, every singe group would laugh and ask, “What free time?” I would start work as they did, teaching classes at the beginning of their work day, around 7 – 7:30am. Many days I would end with them as well, around 7pm.
As for the Czechs themselves, as people – I get angry when I hear people complain, the usual annoying stereotypes about how “cold” and “unfriendly” they are. The truth is that Czechs are some of the warmest people you’ll ever meet, they simply take time to get to know you. With the flood of (irritating) American and British tourists sweeping through their city every day, they simply don’t feel a need to act like best friends with every one of them. In fact, many of them would tell me that they saw Americans as insincere, always smiling no matter what.
In any case, I made huge efforts to learn the language, to not be part of the American Expat crowd in Prague – many of my closest friends were Czech. I also made friends with my students, who would invite me out to the pub, to their weddings, to hang out. In short, my defense of Czechs has always been: when a Czech becomes your friend, you know they really mean it.
I feel similar about North East coasters. We get a bad rap. I bag my own groceries at Trader Joe’s, because… well, because I can. My mother taught me to do courteous things like this. Because there’s a massive line of impatient people waiting their turn and I can either bag with my own perfectly good arms & hands, or stand there and make everyone wait another 5 minutes. Plus, I simply LIKE to do things for myself.
Well, wouldn’t you know… once, a Trader Joe’s cashier actually chastised me. Said something about being in a hurry and having patience.
I was not amused.
Then a few weeks ago, I was in line to pass through security in St Louis, heading home after a few days’ gig. As I approached the x-ray machine, I noticed that there were no plastic bins left. After waiting a few minutes, it didn’t seem that there wouldn’t be any arriving any time soon. The few people in front of me noticed, too, as it was their turn to dump their stuff onto the belt. Two of them just stood there looking confused and, just as I was about to march over to another line to grab some bins, a classy-looking business guy in a long, wool coat, shiny black shoes and an expensive-looking scarf marched over to the other line and returned bearing a very tall stack of bins. The people between us smiled in relief and just at that momen, a security guy came striding over, carrying a few bins himself. He’d seen Mr. Wool Coat bring bins over and asked him, loudly & with a friendly grin, “Are you from New York?” Mr Wool Coat blushed and nodded. I laughed, everyone around me laughed. The security guy chided him in a friendly tone, something about being impatient. Once he’d passed, I leaned over and said, also rather loudly, to Mr. Wool Coat, “People from the North East just know how to get stuff done, is all.”
And oh, that fickle crowd, just wanting to be entertained, laughed along at that, too.