Is it them or is it me? Exploring the quandary of world travel.
PRAGUE, Czech Republic- There are some cities in the world where the streets seem to be paved with gold. The streets of Prague, on the other hand, are paved with dog shit. Literally.
Prague is an ascendant, middle class city, and manifests that onerous intrigue of the middle class: pet dogs. Dog ownership here is as trendy as a face-kini on a Chinese beach — everybody seems to have a dog hovering around their feet at all times, like some kind of contorted mini-them. The dogs go where people go — in restaurants, in bars, in grocery stores, on the metro, onto city buses. “Dogs are people too” here. People who crap all over the otherwise nice cobble stone sidewalks.
While nine our of ten dog owners seem willing to go undergo the undignified routine of publicly picking up their avatar’s warm and wet turds with a plastic bag clad hand, the remaining 10 percent seems to have a little more self respect: they scurry away, leaving the steaming carbon deposit behind for some other jackass to clean up … or step in.
Walking through the streets of Prague in the morning is like strolling through a mine field. By mid-day the sanitary workers usually have most of it cleaned up — they use a special machine that is essentially a giant vacuum cleaner that sucks up the turds with ease — but I still don’t get it: why is it permissible for anything to defecate on the sidewalk?
I don’t have anything against dogs. I just don’t get them. Why do people have them? What do they do? What is their function? Why would someone want to tie themselves down with a useless biological mass that costs money, limits their travels, and is a major factor in what they can and can’t do in life? Why do they get out of it?
“You don’t like dogs?!? Then you must have a really hard time here!” a Lebanese friend in Prague recently remarked.
A couple of local ladies at the next table had three big dogs jumping all over the place inside the cafe. The waitress pet them and got them more riled up. I admit that I was probably becoming noticeably agitated. This was something that I wasn’t used to.
In 20 years of travel I’ve never really seen such integration between an urban society and dogs. But this isn’t really an issue with just Prague but the entire urban world — pets are one of the show pieces of middle class culture, and wherever this culture rises so too does pet ownership. In places like China, where pet ownership in cities is often regulated, dog owners have become rebels raging against the old conservative guard. They are also often the same people who go abroad for university, speak English, and are, for a lack of a better word, internationalized.
The pet dog — groomed and pampered — is the mascot of the new global middle class.
A couple of days later I was sitting outside of a different cafe and this lady apparently felt it was okay for her animal to sit in the shade beneath my table. I picked the table up and moved it a few feet over. The dog returned. I kicked at it. I picked the table up again and moved it over. The dog followed. I kicked at it again. It went away for a moment and the quickly wedged itself between my chair and the wall behind me — in a place where I couldn’t kick at it. So I pushed my chair back and smushed it. It scurried away.
I’m out of step here. It’s not the culture, it’s not the people, it’s not the ebb and flow of fashion and trend, it’s me. I’m the one who is backwards.
This is an important thing to ask yourself when you find that you don’t really jive with a culture or a place. Are they f’cked up or am I? In some places it’s them — there are degenerate cultures all over the world that we shouldn’t make excuses for — but usually the problem is you.
You can be multicultural but you can’t be acultural. No matter what you do you can’t unstick yourself from culture — the shit that you’re taught, what you experience becomes a part of who you are and is fundamental to how you see the world. Ypu are a cultural being, just as programmed, just as scripted, and just as dumb as anybody else.
This doesn’t mean that you should change.
Just realize and accept: if you have a problem in another culture chances are the problem is you.