Tuesday, 17 May 2016

A Unique Species - Homo Touristia

You can't live in Prague and not notice the tourists. I went to school in the centre of London in the 1970s and tourists were very much a part of life then, but even that experience hardly prepared me for what I have encountered here. As London became more and more cosmopolitan during the 1980s and 90s we used to joke that if you asked anyone directions in the street they'd probably be able to tell you, but they wouldn't be able to do so in English. Here in Prague, they probably wouldn't be able to tell you, because they've only just got off a plane.

Old Town Square in Prague at midday under the astronomical clock

After a year here, I still struggle to get used to the sheer volume of people walking around in the centre of town. Even getting out of my apartment on Smetanova Nabrezi can be a challenge on a hot day. But what really strikes me in Prague is the behaviour of the tourist in my natural habitat. It is a small wonder there isn't more pavement rage. There are various sub-species of Homo Touristia.

  • The Map Reader - probably 50% of the tourists I encounter have a little paper map which they get from the hotel or the tour guide. Or maybe a slightly bigger map that comes with a guide book. Prague is not the easiest place to navigate I admit. In my first month, it once took me five hours to get home to Namesti Miru from Dlouha. In my defence, it was snowing, power failures had knocked out the pubic transport system, and we had been in the pub for the best part of six hours after a long day at the office. But around both the Old Town and Mala Strana, all roads eventually lead to the river, or up to the castle, from where it's easy to get your bearings. The sad thing about the Map Reader is that they spend more time looking at the map than seeing all the amazing sights all around them, and they miss that fantastic experience of getting completely and utterly lost but not caring about it because it's part of the fun
  • The Phone Gazer - the Phone Gazer is the hi-tech version of the Map Reader, but cheats even more by using GPS and Google Maps on their mobile device, having directions listed for them to follow, and still managing to get lost, because they never learnt how to tell left from right
  • The Umbrella Gouger - almost the most lethal genus of Homo Touristia is the umbrella gouger (the most lethal is the Map Reading Umbrella Gouger). The problem with tourists using umbrellas is that they simply cannot see you, therefore you don't exist, and therefore they can't hurt you. Unfortunately, having your eye poked out by an umbrella does hurt. A lot
  • The Abrupt Halter/About Turner - this sub-species used to be found primarily in super markets (and at the tops of escalators) but has now spread to just about everywhere in Prague. I'm fairly certain this behaviour is related to the absence of spacial awareness in the species, but it's characterised by someone stopping dead in their tracks and optionally spinning around 180 degrees in order to walk right into the unfortunate person who was previously behind them
  • The Pavement Hogger - pavement (or sidewalk to my American friends) hoggers hunt in packs and fulfil the universal law of nature that a group of people will expand to fill the maximum about of pavement and will not allow anything past (or even around)
  • The Segway Leader - despite regular rumours of their imminent demise, the segway tour is still a popular activity in central Prague. To be fair, the tourists in this case aren't the real issue, although a tourist on two motorised wheels is even more dangerous than a tourist on foot. The really dangerous sub-species are the young enthusiastic leaders who dot and dart around the place like they own the place - very few of them seem to be from Prague however!

Tourists are big business in Prague and it is a 24*7 industry. They are here to stay and you can't avoid them, but at least this little guide will help you understand who and what to watch out for.

Happy hunting!

Postscript - last night we went to watch the procession for the Navalis (celebrating Saint John of Nepomuk) on the Charles Bridge. It was a very spiritual event, but many of the tourists on the bridge saw it as a major inconvenience and were pushing, shoving and jostling in the wrong direction against the flow of the pilgrims. Not a pretty sight...A little respect for local traditions goes a very long way.

This town ain't big enough for both of us!


  1. Not only in Prague - generally people are too busy to live. They take pictures rather than look around, pictures which are on their phone and no one wants to see. They post the pictures on Facebook - if there is one, someone clicks like, but frequently, I see people posting 57 pictures of their week-end or holiday or party and no one looks at them (except, possibly, someone who was there with them, looking for pictures of themselves). Beyond that, people don't understand what is going on in the world, because they don't have time to read an in-depth article, they survive on TV news; TV news runs 24 hours a day, but doesn't have time to give the story, they can only show sound-bites and move on to something else.

    It is time to teach the world to look, smell, listen and live.

    1. You're right Peter - and I am guilty of some of the things you mention - but I hope my life is a bit more rounded and appreciative of the amazing world out there. We tend to see things with the same eyes and therefore assume nothing changes - but even today I looked across the river and saw something different from usual - I don't know how long it's been there - but something is going on with the Prague Metronome - there's a big face appearing. Somehow I doubt it's Stalin making a comeback!

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