Culture Shock: Authenticity with a side of trdelnik

Trdelnik cooking at a stand on the Old Castle Stairs. Annie Cappetta // Contributing Photographer
Trdelnik cooking at a stand on the Old Castle Stairs. Annie Cappetta // Contributing Photographer

Culture Shock is a blog that analyzes the experiences, from awkward to awe-inspiring, of moving abroad for a semester as junior Annie Cappetta studies in the Czech Republic.

As I endeavor to describe what moving to another country is like, certain adjectives come to mind. Without a doubt, the most commonly used words of my first week of study abroad – by students, professors and program coordinators alike – have been “authentic” and “touristy.”

“Don’t eat anywhere on Old Town Square, it’s so touristy.”

“You need to get some authentic Czech goulash.”

“Czech people don’t actually eat trdelnik, it’s just a touristy thing that blew up, so there’s a bunch of stands now.”

What makes these statements so difficult to discern is that every restaurant, bar and attraction will describe itself as “authentic.” Yet, I have had at least three bowls goulash that seemed to all be completely different substances. You also have to place judgement on whoever is recommending according to their authority and intentions.

As millennials, we care a lot about authenticity, but let me tell you a secret – trdelnik is delicious! No wonder tourists love it. Who wouldn’t love pastry dough covered in cinnamon sugar and crushed almonds slow roasting on a charcoal stove when it’s -5 degrees (that’s Celsius, people) outside? Slather some nutella on the inside or pack in mounds of gelato, and it’s even more delicious!

The reason I’ve heard that Czechs don’t eat trdelnik is that it’s overpriced. But when “overpriced” in the Czech Republic means $8 for a full meal and a beer instead of $4, then bring on any delicious creations of this country, even the touristy ones!

And in the end, isn’t learning to discern for yourself part of the authentic experience of moving abroad? I’ve already eaten goulash in enough restaurants to know which ones have the authentic smoky, slightly sweet, buttery sauce that drowns chunks of supremely tender beef, and which sell pedestrian ground beef stew for double the price.

Junior UPrague student Carlee Grubbs holding a dish of goulash and dumplings at Hostinec U Dvou slunců. Annie Cappetta // Contributing Photographer

The feeling of accomplishment and connection that comes with learning that on my own is one that could not be replicated by strictly following a list of recommendations. When traveling, the only authenticity I’m going to care about is my own. As long as I can eat something that I enjoy and get a feel for the city through organic trial-and-error experiences, I really don’t care what others have to say about the authenticity of my time.