Czech Republic: It’s a Family Affair

This is the eighth installment in a series of essays by globe-trotter Kevin Nguyen, who is currently studying at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. Kevin’s family arrives in Prague, and he finds that the usual annoyances are not mediated by glorious architecture or goulash.

Getting your haircut is a scary thing, especially when the barber doesn’t speak English. I’m three months overdue, and with my parents arriving later today, I’m faced with no other options than the Czech salon up the street from my dormitory. I shrug, tell the barber to go for it, and pray that she doesn’t think that “trim” means “Eurotrash mullet.”

“Aren’t they going to think I’m your girlfriend?” Katie asks.

“Nah,” I answer, “they won’t jump to conclusions.”

That’s probably not true.

Katie is the most attractive of my friends, and subconsciously or not, she’s the first person I want my family to meet. I’m not trying to trick my mom into thinking that I’ve got a girlfriend. It’s just that, for some reason, I want her to think I have good-looking friends. I know for a fact that she’ll make a comment later when Katie is not around though.

I knock on the door. The room they’re staying in is named after Antonín Dvořák, and there’s a little caricature of the Czech composer above the room number. The Aria Hotel is music-themed, with different artists adorning each suite, room keys shaped like G clefs, music notes adorning every hallway, a restaurant named Coda with live music, et cetera. The accommodations are pretty swanky, and after my dad answers the door, he explains that after twelve hours of traveling, including a layover in Amsterdam, my mom and sister Olivia are taking a nap. I tell him that I’ll return in a couple hours when they’re better rested and ready for a tour of Prague.

My mom comes out before I leave, drowsy and apologetic for appearing in front of Katie in her night clothes.

“Oh, this is so embarrassing. I’m in my pajamas.”

My mother’s sleeping outfit isn’t something unpresentable, like a baggy t-shirt or gym shorts. It’s a matching silk, pinstriped pajama set. Katie assures her it’s not a big deal, later commenting that, “her pajamas look nicer than the clothes I’m wearing now.”

When I come back around 3:00 p.m., my family is groggy but ready to go. My sister gives me a big hug.

As predicted, my mom enthusiastically comments on Katie’s appearance.

“You know, Katie is very pretty.”

I think this is my mom’s way of saying tap that.

“She has a boyfriend, Mom.”

“I’m just saying.”

Tap that anyway.

I take my parents on a loop through New Town, Old Town, and back to Mála Strana, where the Aria Hotel is. Throughout the tour, I’m pointing out famous buildings, dropping bits of trivia I’ve picked up here and there. For dinner, I take them to my favorite restaurant in Prague, Restaůrace U Parlamentu. It’s a clean, cozy place nearly next door to school that serves traditional Czech cuisine on a student’s budget. At my suggestion, everyone orders goulash. My thirteen-year-old sister will spend the next three days talking about how great goulash is.

Walking back to the hotel, we run into Iain, another student in my study abroad program. He meets my family, and says that his mother is also in town this weekend.

“It’s great that our folks are impressed by our knowledge of the city,” he laughs, “even though we’ve been here for maybe half a semester.”

Iain raises a good point. How much do we really know about Prague after living here, as American students, for only a couple months? Not much, but just enough to impress our family.

The next morning, we take the tram up to Pražský hrad (Prague Castle). My dad snaps a photo of every square foot of the castle. Unfortunately, the weather is cold, dismal, and when it starts raining, we head back to the hotel.

In the afternoon, I take my family to Wenceslas Square. My mom tells me I need a new pants, because the pair I’m wearing are too short. This is, apparently, a very serious problem that I’ve never noticed before.

It’s been a while since I last shopped for jeans, but I long for a time when I could find a pair that didn’t look like they’d been through a washing machine full of acid, white paint, and knives. Add to that my very specific, difficult-to-find size — 28 by 32 — and the fact that Europe is currently obsessed with rhinestone patterns on men’s pants, our search yielded no contenders for purchase.

As generous as offering to buy me new clothes is, I can’t help but feel a little frustrated with our pointless pants hunt.

“My pants are just fine, Mom.”

“No, Kevin. You look ridiculous.”

Much of our conversation comes back to complementing the hotel. As much as we’re reluctant to admit it, one’s accommodations can really make or break a vacation. My dad explains that he picked the hotel based on user reviews on

“I knew we had a winner when one of the reviews was from a professional hotel manager, who said that Aria Hotel was one of the best places he had stayed.”

My dad is fairly computer savvy, but he still gets really excited when he’s able to do things online. He proudly explains that he got their room upgraded to the Deluxe Suite for free by saying it was their anniversary. (This visit is in no way related to their anniversary, which is next month.)

There’s a stale, half-eaten chocolate cake that reads “Happy Anniversary” in the room.

“The cake wasn’t very good,” Olivia says. “Can we get goulash now?”

My mom answers no, and Olivia returns to playing World of Warcraft and instant messaging her boyfriend.

On the last day, we take a tour of the Municipal House, an ornate theater and the city’s most prominent example of Art Nouveau. After dinner, where my sister orders goulash, we attend a classical music concert at St. Nicholas’ Church in Old Town Square. My dad sits apart from the rest of us, as to get a better angle for picture-taking.

We return to the hotel. Olivia gives me a hug, and my dad asks if I need anything before they leave. I tell him that I’m all set.

“Are you sure you don’t need anything?” my mom asks. “Here, at least take this money. This should last you a while.”

She hands me 300 Kč ($15), probably thinking that it’s a lot more money than it is.

Their taxi to the airport drops me off back at my dormitory. I say my goodbyes, and tell them that I’ll be home in a month.

I settle in with the new books my parents have brought for me. The thing with family is that it’s easy to miss them, but it doesn’t take long for them to grate on your nerves. I’m relieved to return to my messy room, which remains untouched by my parents’ judgment and criticism.

Putting clothes away in my closet, I suddenly realize how short my pants are.

Read more from Czech Republic.

Kevin Nguyen is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. His only marketable skill is an above-average knowledge of European geography. He has been useless since the introduction of the atlas in 1477. Reach him by email or follow his Twitter account.