I spend a fair bit of time on public transportation here traveling to the different schools I work at. Some days it adds up to 2-3 hours. It has its moments of interest. It also has its moments of annoyance. Generally, between reading the news, a book, listening to music, or simply watching the people around me and the city, time goes quite quickly.
One of my favourite parts of Czech life is that no one speaks on public transportation. Ok, let me re-state: mostly no one speaks on public transportation. There are occasional groups of children or tourists who will be talking on the metro or tram. However, generally, it is silent. It's silent even during rush hour when people are literally packed into the metro like sardines. And still, no one says a word. Some people are reading the metro newspaper (a free daily newspaper found in all metros stations). Some are reading something else. Most just sit and look unhappy. I'm not certain they are unhappy, but they don't look overly happy.
At first, this silence thing was really foreign to me. Now, I notice when a group of people are talking. Immediately, I think "they're not from here" or "must be kids." Wow...I sound like an old lady!
During my first month in Prague, my good friend Gillian and I were on a tram exploring the city. We were talking in normal voices about our days. A man in front of me, turned around and kindly asked us to be quiet. We of course were shocked by this at the time and did our best to stay quiet until we exited the tram. It really wasn't a big deal, but it made us laugh of course. We thought about riding the bus in San Francisco (my friend is from the Bay area) and how that would have NEVER happened.
For Christmas, I went to Germany. I remember boarding the bus and immediately knowing who was German and who was Czech. The Germans were talking and having a good time and the Czechs were just sitting silently. I even recall thinking, "wow, would they just shut up so i could sit in peace already?" Clearly, I'm becoming a little Czech.
This morning - back to work after over a week off from being sick - packed like a sardine on the metro, the silence reminded me of all these wonderful moments. I'm still dying to find out what everyone's thinking about...but clearly, I'll never ask!