The first thing you notice about Kačka is her smile. And it’s the first thing she gives me when she comes in off the dusky street into the soft lamplight of Costa Coffee. Kačka is one of my good friends in Prague and she had agreed to sit down for a proper interview over a couple of lattes. She takes the seat opposite me across a small, round table with our coffees and a complimentary Czech magazine which we both ignore.
“If you put this on your blog, will I become famous?” she asks with a playful grin.
“Most likely not,” I say, honestly. “Not that many people read it.”
“I want to be famous, Mary,” she says with a tone that suggests if this interview doesn’t lead to a red carpet she may not grant a second one. “What are you going to ask me anyway? Are you going to make me sound like your crazy, weird Czech friend?”
I laugh and promise to be fair. She takes a sip of her latte, clutching it with both hands. There’s a fishbone ring on one hand and her fingernails are brightly painted. She looks ready for an interview.
“Like a full sentence? Or just eight words?” she asks. “Outgoing – spontaneous – cheerful.” She stops and grins. “I guess I shouldn’t be too complimentary of myself. Let me think – crazy? And trusting. I trust people and haven’t had any bad experiences yet. Friendly – adventurous. What are we at, six? Seven?”
She leans back in her chair to think. Her T-Shirt says ‘Hot Chocolate, Sofa and TV – Perfection.’
“I don’t know what the word for this is. I know what I want to do but I still don’t have the guts to do it. Like last year when I wanted to study at the Hague but in the end couldn’t make the move. It’s not that I didn’t want to, I just chose the safer option. Maybe I just wasn’t ready? I don’t know what the word for that is. Does that still make eight?”
What are some of your hobbies?
“Traveling,” she says before I even get the question fully out. “And not just traveling, but adventurous traveling.”
She sets her face onto the palm of her hand and lets it stay there while she thinks. Laughing she admits, “Going to cemeteries. I’ve been to cemeteries in the Ukraine, Sarajevo, Istanbul. The one in the Ukraine had two young people, married, who died in some accident. Their graves were decorated with hearts and things. It was really romantic and beautiful. In Istanbul we were just above sea level and you could see everything. Gorgeous.
Breaking into universities to attend lectures,” she adds. “I did that in Turkey.”
She pulls her hair back, tucking it behind her ear before resting her chin on her hand again.
“Fairs. Anything with roller coasters. The wooden roller coaster at the fair in Stockholm is supposed to be the highest in the world, but I was only 15 when I went, so maybe it would be a little less cool now.”
Do you think you’re a typical Czech girl?
“No,” she says decidedly. “I have lots of friends from abroad. I think a lot of Czechs are shy to speak English but that changed for me when I was traveling. I think I’m friendlier to strangers than most Czechs.
“Czechs are hardworking but not all of them are very ambitious. It’s hard to generalize because not everyone’s the same. Don’t get this wrong, I’m proud of being Czech, I just don’t think I’m like most young Czechs. That doesn’t mean I’m better or worse – just different.”
What do you think of Americans?
It takes a while to get her to stop laughing and give a straight answer.
“Loud, over-excited, friendly even when they don’t mean it. Maybe a little shallow? They don’t speak foreign languages. Really self-confident and really good at public speaking. Like, even if they don’t know what they’re talking about, they just sound really good.
I’m going hitchhiking to Berlin with some American friends over Easter break, actually. It should be really fun.”
We talk about Berlin and Kačka admits that she usually gets along really well with Germans and Scandinavians. “Too bad the beer in Scandinavia is freaking expensive.”
She tells me that beer is an important part of the weekend ritual. Friends start in a hospoda (pub) before going to a concert or over to someone’s house to bake international cuisines. Finally she says, “Really, I just like to be with people who like to do stuff.”
What are your four top life goals?
“First, to be happy and not regret things. When I’m an old granny, I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that I was freaking awesome when I was younger, that I traveled places and did things. So second would be to travel as much as possible. I want to visit all of the continents. You can come with me when I go to Antarctica,” she adds, laughing.
“I want to find someone to share my crazy life with – someone crazy enough to put up with me. But it doesn’t matter when I find him. Sooner better than later, but I’m not in a rush.
“Four? I want to stay in touch with all the amazing people I’ve met and to meet new ones.”
What do you do to feel happy when you’re upset or sad?
She tosses her blonde head back with a laugh and says immediately, “Eat chocolate.”
Then her head comes down to her hand again and she says more thoughtfully, “I do something unusual. Go on a trip to a new city, explore something new. Or do something crazy and fun like bungee jumping.”
What is the best thing about living in Prague?
“You’re asking the wrong person,” she giggles ironically. “I like Prague. I grew up here, it’s home, and I’ll always be happy to come back, but I’m not planning to live here.”
She finishes her latte as I scratch out notes. When my pen stops she says, “If you live in Prague and you’re not just visiting, the best thing is finding all the hidden places in the city. There are so many cool pubs and libraries. Prague is also really international with lots of students and tourists. It’s not a boring city to live in.”
She looks at me and I can tell she’s already planning her next grand expedition.
What are you doing for the Easter holiday?
“I’m going to Berlin!” Her excitement level spikes as she talks about her trip and the people she’s pulling together for it. She tells me her family will be out of Prague for the holiday and she doesn’t really celebrate it anymore.
“When I was a little girl I hated this holiday because all the boys got to go around collecting chocolate eggs and I had to stand at the door and wait for them,” she says, referencing the Czech tradition of boys getting eggs and chocolate from girls by whipping them with be-ribboned rods. “So then I decided to go get eggs from people too, even though I was a girl, and I guess they let me because I was so cute. They wouldn’t now. I’m too big. So we’re going to Berlin instead. What do you do in America? You look for bunnies in the garden or something, right?”
It takes us a minute to clear up the misconceptions about American Easter traditions.
Is there anything else you want to add?
“Don’t be afraid and do whatever you want to do, no matter what society thinks. Like that Steve Jobs quote, ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish,’ right?”
She smiles and blinks.
“Now can I ask you questions?” she asks me.
I chuckle and nod.
“Do you like Prague?”
“Are you happy?”
“Not always,” I say. “But I always have joy.”
“Is that because you believe in God?”
I nod again. “Happiness is circumstantial. Joy found in the promises of God is lasting.”
“Can I come to your wedding?”
We both burst into sad laughter.
“If that blessed occasion comes to pass, you shall be invited,” I promise her. “But only if I can come to yours too.”
We pack our things and leave the cafe. The street is finally getting dark and the trams glide alongside us like great, red ships in a rippled sea of cobblestones. The metro tunnels are packed but our car rocks through the underground with plenty of standing room and the occasional empty seat. Kačka is still trying to think of good interview questions for me.
When we get to my station I wait on the platform with her for her next connection. This is where we part ways.
“Okay,” she says, looking at me squarely. “Do you think Prague has changed you?”
“No,” I say. “Well, maybe. I mean, I’ve definitely changed in the past two years. But I don’t know if that was Prague or just time.”
“Would you have changed in the same ways if you were in San Diego? Or Madrid? Or Dublin?”
“No,” I smile. “It’s been different in Prague.”
“Of course it has,” she says, happy I’ve finally come to the right conclusion. “Everything in our life affects us – the people we know, the places we go. We are constantly being shaped by the world around us.”
She stops abruptly and we glance at each other, simultaneously sharing the same thought.
“I’m so freaking philosophical right now!” she yells excitedly. “This has to go in the interview!”