Waking up for the first time in your new home in a totally new city is always going to feel awkward. You still haven’t quite worked out where you are on the map, how to buy travel tickets, whether it’s OK to drink from the tap, and whether the bread you found in a supermarket nearby was supposed to be as hard as a rock. Waking up in your new home in Prague, with the Book of Mormon for a pillow, in a converted warehouse flat that tries to be a country cottage, where lifts don’t have doors, where it’s quite cool to wear sunglasses in a mall, and where trams that are supposed to exist, just don’t: I guess that’s more than awkward.
So what do you do to combat the unfamiliar? Particularly if you’re worried these feelings may encourage you to stalk English speakers (even if they are the odious kind who move to a new city once they’ve run out of things to complain about in the old one), or, worse, start frequenting the only Irish pub and going to erasmus parties. My advice: you sit down in a Starbucks with a coffee and a Czech magazine. The latter will remind you that you are actually doing something worthwhile on your year out. If you feel like your language is a bit ropey, buy a kid’s magazine. There’s a range to chose from: “Lokomotiva Tomáš”, “Simpsonovi”, or “Garfield a pøátelé” to name but a few. All familiar faces, and the foreign twist is limited to the speech bubbles alone. Or if you want to raise the bar a little, try a prepubescent girl’s magazine; because, really, how different could they be over here?
I spent 29 crowns on “Top dívky” (Top Girl) today, expecting to find out why Miley Cyrus’ Czech counterpart likes to wear purple, how to get my dream boy to talk to me at break time, and where I can find a bra that’s smaller than a double A. Instead, I now know which make up to use in case I had plans to transform a fairly pretty 11 year old into a baby prostitute, and that Megan Fox is really successful because she’s super slim and looks good in her knickers. From the photo-romance story, I can discern that ugly girls get cheated on, whilst the pretty ones will have lovely boyfriends who take them on holidays but still treat them like they’re a bit soft in the head. If I were a fat 13 year old, I’d now have a pretty extreme diet plan at my disposal, and if I were a skinny one, I could have joined the group of girls photographed to go with the article “We love our bodies!” Most disturbingly, if I were on the sex offender’s list and looking for a date, all I’d need to do is flick to the magazine’s “lonely hearts” column, and give Bara a bell (She’s 10 and is looking for a boy between 11 and 12 who likes Hannah Montana).
There’s a lot wrong with girls’ and women’s magazines in the UK. They continue to remind their readers that, frankly, if your nose is a bit off centre or if you’re a bit wider than you’re supposed to be, you might as well just never leave your house. But at least they pretend to say otherwise – a picture of an airbrushed, emaciated model is at least coupled with an article that advises us to be Fearlesss! and Confident! An article on how best to please men is printed alongside an article about how, actually, being independent and career driven is kind of OK too (even if we all know that it’s just a bit sad, really). The mindset towards gender that is reflected by both countries’ girls’/women’s magazines, shows just how much is left to be desired in this so-called “post feminist” world. But at least in the UK, it’s all relatively subliminal. Over here, the magazines might as well just employ people to stand at school gates and shout out, “Be sexy and skinny, or die alone”.