Yeah, ok, it’s been done before and it’s going to continue. As the fish come into the block all fired-up and self-contained with chips as big as their lives on both shoulders.
As the vets regard them with suspicion under stifling masks full of smile and twinkle. It makes me ill, it makes me boil, it gives me such a f*cking thrill. You’re no better than anyone else reading this, I’m no better than you think I am or am not. It’s so tired, it’s so wasted. Whether it fills you up with love, hate or indifference is really of no consequence to me.
The only coffee option at my local was Turkish coffee. Otherwise it was instant cappuccino, which doesn’t really qualify as coffee. I went for the Turkish. Buddy and Nan ordered cappuccino. Then Buddy asked me, “How can you drink that sh*t? They don’t even use the Turkish method here.”
“Buddy,” Nan said in hopes of restraining her man.
Here we go, I thought. Buddy’s a veteran expat – oops, sorry, Buddy’s a long-term resident here in Prague. I won’t get into his contempt for the term expat. The tale of the Turkish coffee is enough of a springboard for this round of commentary.
I, along with a lot of other people, know that what Czechs call Turkish coffee is not Turkish coffee. I’ve heard a couple of variations of the proper way to make Turkish coffee, I believe they all involve some kind of drip method, but I use a coffee maker at home, or I drink instant if that option is available and filtered or espresso are not. I have to be desperate (like I was that morning) for what Buddy insists is, “Czech coffee. It’s Czech coffee, goddamnit, why don’t they call it Czech coffee?”
“Buddy…” said Nan.
“Ah, well, whatever,” continues Buddy, “I can’t stand the sh*t whatever they call it.” Despite the fact that he was obnoxious and utterly ignorant of his surroundings and the people who populate it, I liked Buddy. Buddy was a chunky American boy of 23 with big white teeth and a receding hairline. Nan was his girlfriend. I liked Nan too, still do. She’s a French-Canadian 20-something girl with a gymnast’s solid petite physique and a Mary Lou Retton smile. Yes, I like Nan very much, despite that smile.
“So, I was at Radost last night.”
“Why?’ I asked, ‘You hate that place.”
“Yeah, I still do, but it was DaDa’s birthday, remember?”
I lit a cigarette and hummed. I was still pissed at DaDa for forgetting about my birthday the previous month. Well, maybe she hadn’t forgotten since we had broken up the week before my birthday. I guess I wasn’t pissed. I moaned.
Nan sent a small shot of sympathy my way with her smile. Buddy went on, “Anyway, the place was full of… expats.”
“Buddy… ” said Nan.
I suppose I hadn’t had enough coffee because I said, “Yeah, so? You’re an expat too, Buddy.”
Buddy’s cheeks coloured slightly and his lips pursed for a fraction of a second. I could have timed a duet with his next line, “I’m not an expat. I… am a long-term resident of Prague,” Nan coquetted.
Buddy slurped his cappuccino and echoed Nan, though without the playfulness, “am a long-term resident of Prague.”
“Chrissake Buddy,” I said, “it’s not like a f*cking title. Or do you have business cards stating your residential status?”
“Is it well-paid?” asked Nan.
Buddy mumbled something into his coffee, took a sip and said, “You two know what I mean. You’ve been here for a while. Miles, you’ve been here, what, four years? Nan and I have been here three. We speak a bit of the language, we know the culture, we’ve got friends in Moravian villages.”
“I don’t have any friends in Moravian villages,” said Nan, “Does that make me an expat?”
Buddy shook his head. All of a sudden I didn’t feel like having this conversation. I watched him and Nan debate. It was like watching a well-known rerun on TV. He whined about the crowd at Radost, at the Globe, at Akropolis, at Jo’s Bar and Christ knows how many expat bars. Well, it sounds a hell of a lot better than long-term resident of Prague bars – how f*cking penitential. I used to be the same way. For a couple of years.
But then I started to realize just how Cosmo this place has become. Transient, fresh and pulsing. The city I’m from doesn’t have any of these gathering spots famous for its expat crowd. If you’re from North America, does yours? If so, where is it?
“F*ck, just the way they try to order,” said Buddy,
“Or the way they try to flirt with the waitresses. I saw one guy write ‘I am the gash inspector. Show me your gash’ on a barmaid’s arm and she just giggled. Then she asked me what it meant. I translated it for her. Oh, man, the look on her face! “
And Buddy laughed. Then his face turned serious. “And if I hear…”
“Buddy.” said Nan.
“If I hear another f*cking trust-fund baby chirping, ‘oh, and it’s like soooo cheap! I can’t believe this beer only cost like thirty crowns… oh, let’s see, like, that’s like… hm, how many crowns to the dollar? That’s like a buck a beer! Buck a beer night every night, wooo!’ If I hear that one more time…”
“You gonna bust ’em one right in the chops?” asked Nan in feigned excitement. “Easy, Chief Mad Cow, easy,” I added.
I laughed with Nan while Buddy kept moaning. About the stupid conversations he overhears in the bars, on the trams, in front of all the sights. The umbrella-following herds, the boys in search of clubs where the chicks all wear black. The lust, the ‘lost souls,’ the overindulgence. It got really boring after a while. I stopped liking Buddy so much.
Despite the fact that he’s got friends in Moravian villages and that he appreciates a good tripe soup, Buddy b*tches about the Czechs as well. About the way they walk and turn unexpectedly and come to a sudden stop right in front of him on the sidewalks and in the streets. About their infidelities, about their lackluster service industry. And so on.
I got up to leave. “Where you going?” asked Nan.
My hesitation to answer gave away the fact that I hadn’t bothered to think of an excuse before standing up. “Home,” I said, “I think I’m coming down with something.”
“Oh, bullsh*t,”‘ said Nan, “just drink something fruity with vodka and order some garlic soup.”
“Yeah,” said Buddy, “C’mon, we’re supposed to go to Hapu tonight, remember?”
Another expat bar. Another night of watching Buddy watching everybody around him, listening to the conversations and waiting for the moan at the end of the night, on the way home. Perhaps getting into a conversation, because he’s surprisingly approachable, then taking the piss out of another newbie, or b*tching about the pretense of someone who’s been here longer than he has.
Uh-right, sounded promising. Then I realized that I’d pretty much have Nan all to myself. And DaDa was supposed to show as well, so I could wish her a happy birthday. Buddy wouldn’t really be there.
I nodded to the waiter and ordered a screwdriver and a bowl of garlic soup.