Shopping in the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Western-made goods are becoming increasingly available. In Prague, and to a lesser degree in Bratislava, you can satisfy most of your routine shopping needs. But the further you get from these metropolitan areas, the harder it is to find many of the everyday items that you take for granted at home.

Even though the cost of living is much lower than in the West, expect to pay the U.S. dollar equivalent (or higher especially for electronics) for items that come from Western Europe or North America.

Many of the stores still operate as they did prior to the revolution, which means that you may still have to wait in long lines. Under the Socialist regime, “service with a smile” was virtually non-existent. You would simply take what you could get, no matter how slow or surly the service. And even today, don’t expect any such thing as “customer service,” for your waiter to ask you how you are with a smile. As strange as this may initially seem, you eventually get used to it, and will be pleasantly surprised when you do encounter a friendly face. Though most stores have adopted the Western self-service method, there are still quite a few stores in which the person behind the counter gets you what you need. Often times, the cashier will be able to understand a bit of English, but knowledge of some basic everyday Czech or Slovak vocabulary and phrases can help get you through, along with plenty of pointing.

In any case, here are a few hints to make your trip a little more pleasant:

  • Bring birth control from home. You’ll be able to rest assured it’s of reliable quality.
  • CDs and DVDs are usually much more expensive than in the US, so get ready to download those new albums you’ve been waiting for.
  • Medication, even if it’s sold over the counter at home, may require a prescription overseas. Make sure that you know the generic name of your medication before you leave, so you can write it down for the Czech or Slovak pharmacist or doctor.
  • To avoid being yelled at when entering a supermarket, always carry a basket provided by the store (yes, even if you only want a quart of milk).
  • To make your carless trip home easier, bring your own plastic or canvas shopping bag to collect all of your items if you are going around to the neighborhood vegetable market, the butcher, or the bakery.
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