The very first city I had the privilege of visiting was Budějovice, which was the Czech version of a small town roughly 100 miles south of Prague. I was there to meet my friend Melissa who would accompany me on the first leg of my journey. I figured it would help to have a personal navigator along the way.
When I arrived in Budějovice, I quickly received my first dose of European “magical X’s” which were displayed on several road signs and markings. I couldn’t really make any sense of them at first glance. They just looked odd to me. Not really thinking any more about it, I made my turn onto the next street. However, it didn’t take long before I alarmingly realized what these signs actually meant. I could now see that the ‘X’ was covering an arrow on the road sign confirming my gut-wrenching suspicion that I was driving down the street in the direction of oncoming traffic. Luckily, the roadway was desolate at the time so I was able to safely correct my error without any imminent danger. I just assumed that any road markings or signs would be completely changed or removed while under construction like back home in the U.S., but clearly, I was wrong! However, looking back at it now, I guess the markings did make a little sense (LOL).
When I reached downtown Budějovice to pick up Melissa from the train station, I decided to park the car and take a leisurely stroll at a nearby shopping district, which resembled an American shopping center. I figured I could kill some time and find a quick bite to eat while I waited for Melissa to arrive. As I explored the area, what did I happen to stumble across…a McDonald’s (LOL). Despite being practically everywhere back in the U.S., I typically never ate McDonald’s unless I was with my daughters, Leah and Phoebe.
I must admit that coincidentally running across a McDonald’s overseas had sparked my curiosity, so I decided to go ahead and see if it compared to the restaurant back home. Boy, was I wrong! Our McDonald’s paled in comparison to this one. This was undoubtedly a high-end version of the American fast food chain. An entire pastry station with all kinds of international goodies was directly to my left as I entered the doors. This was more like a Panera Bread restaurant instead of McDonald’s! There were also two sets of four individual self-serve kiosks where customers were gathered to place their orders. I noticed only one staffed cash register at the counter so I figured I’d just go ahead and place my order up front like I was accustomed to doing back home. As I scanned the menu, it didn’t take long for me to notice the huge price difference. These prices seemed super expensive for a country considered by Western standards as poor. The meals were roughly $8 to $9 USD without any ketchup included with your order…like NONE! No ketchup was just absurd based on what I was accustomed to back in America (LOL).
I placed my order and politely asked the cashier for a few packs of ketchup only to receive the response, “That will be 15 cents USD per pack.” I just looked at the young man, puzzled and thinking to myself, “I really can’t even get ONE free?” I chuckled and replied, “OK, you got me. Funny joke on the American.” However, I quickly realized that he wasn’t joking at all. There’s no doubt that McDonald’s is getting one over on the citizens of Czech – BIG TIME! Then I thought, “Well, maybe we really are getting extra conveniences back in America that we simply take for granted.” I settled for paying an extra 30 cents USD for two packs of ketchup, and when my order was up, I grabbed my food and sat down to eat.
Like most people, I finished my drink before actually finishing my meal so I headed to the counter to ask for a refill only to be surprised by another surcharge (SMH). “OK, this again,” I thought to myself. After the last incident, I just knew the price would fall somewhere between 25 cents and $1 USD…WRONG! This lady told me that I would be paying full price for an entirely new drink! I looked at her and said in a brazen tone, “You guys are definitely getting the short end of the stick over here. We don’t get charged for any of this stuff in America. I mean ketchup and a refill are both included with the meal (LMBO).”
Nevertheless, I paid for my refill and headed back to finish up my meal. I seriously thought that would be the last shocker of this entire experience yet that was not the case. As I proceeded to throw away my trash and make one quick pit stop to use the restroom, I realized that I certainly I wasn’t in Kansas anymore (LOL). I could not only see a charge station TO USE THE RESTROOM (OMG) but also an entire recycling area for my trash. Yes, even discarding my trash in Czech would apparently be a task (SMH)! Everything was recycled here, including any leftover food which was used as compost, so I had to sort it all out and separate the paper, plastics, and food.
Overall, I wasn’t mad about the experience. I mean, it was enlightening and I had a new level of respect and gratitude for the extra conveniences I previously took for granted back in America.
Jonathan Dryer: The Unofficial Traveler.