Having only ever been in Prague for brief periods before, I was excited to be offered a job in Prague, and I looked forward to living in the capital for a few years. Now, having arrived, I find myself not knowing exactly what to expect. The Czech Republic I thought I knew so well seems quite different here in the capital.
My first clue that my return to the Czech Republic would not be a repeat of my previous years here came as I began to hunt for a flat here in Prague. I was shown a lovely newly renovated flat around the corner from Vysehrad. It is a 2+KK and in very good condition. It is near to my job and a metro station. I was hoping that it would be just the place for my wife and I... until I heard the price.
When I heard that this flat would cost 11,500Kc per month, I was shocked but still breathing. But when I heard that the owner expected three months' rent as a deposit and that the agent also expected a month's rent as a finder's fee, it was all I could do to keep from passing out. Who has nearly 60,000Kc just lying around so that he can afford a decent place to rent? Certainly no Czech that I have ever known up to now.
"Is this normal for Prague?" I asked my colleagues at work. They did not seem completely surprised by the figures, but I certainly was. In particular, I have never heard of three months' rent as a deposit. One month is enough and is considered normal in the UK and USA after all. In addition, I thought the owner should pay the agent, not me. I was told by several people in Prague that this is normal.
To get a different view on the matter, I asked some friends in the countryside what they thought of this. After I revived them from their shock, they explained to me that, although they know prices are high in Prague, they didn't know the situation was that bad. A friend of a friend just purchased a 3+1 in Ostrava for 350,000Kc so paying almost 60,000Kc just for the privilege of renting a flat in Prague seems extravagant to them.
And that's just the point. There are two worlds in the Czech Republic. The one which I knew up to this point is filled with people who are familiar with the fact that 10,500Kc is the average monthly wage (gross!) and who are amazed to hear that a 2+KK costs 11,500Kc monthly to rent.
The other world is filled with people who don't blink when asked to pay 60,000Kc to move into a flat. This is that tiny layer of society that can afford cars that cost one hundred times the country's average monthly salary. The new rich - not looking too much different from their equally advantaged predecessors, I suppose.
It is not just a simple matter of the 99% poor versus the 1% rich as far as I can tell. Those people who balk at the rent figures are not social welfare cases by a long shot. These are people with houses and (older) cars and a decent standard of living by any measure.
But they simply live in a different world - a different economy, I'd say - than those others who pay 11,500Kc as rent.
Now, it is time for me to choose which of these two worlds I will live in. Do I try to live beyond my means in the luxury flat in the city, or do I try to find something more realistic outside of Prague, from where I would have to commute to work every day?
It is not just about money, of course. If I choose to live in the luxury flat, I will cut myself off from all that is already familiar to me about this Republic. I would live in that world where only a tiny, elite layer of society lives, and subsequently I would lose any insight that I may have into the thinking of Czech society - that other 99%.
Well, I'll keep hunting for flats in Prague for a while, but in the end, I know where my sympathies are. I may just have to resign myself to a long commute, if I want to keep in touch with the real world.