On first impression, Czech people can seem intimidating. Service in shops or restaurants is stereotypically abrupt, people rarely smile at strangers, and public areas such as the metro are often eerily quiet. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you'll get a very different impression. For the most part, Czechs are quiet, polite, reserved people—at least until they hit the pub. In general, Czechs also value displays of modesty over showy self-confidence.
But a good sense of humor is valued—and sometimes necessary—in the Czech Republic. As you'll find, Czechs are rarely aggressive or confrontational.
At more traditional Czech pubs and restaurants, it's acceptable to share a table with other people—and for other people to join you, if space is available. If you've finished eating, and want the waiter to take your plate away, put your knife and fork together. Leave them crossed if you want to carry on eating. Table water is not normally provided in restaurants but is sometimes available on request. (But in traditional places, iced water is much less common.)
When ordering drinks at a bar, it's useful to remember that Czechs use their thumbs when counting on their hands, so to order two drinks, for instance, hold up your thumb and your index finger. For three drinks, hold up your thumb, your index finger and your middle finger.
Tip wait staff, hairdressers and taxi drivers. It's common Czech practice to round your bill up from, for instance, 54 Kc to 60 Kc. In Prague, however, wait staff in Western-style establishments increasingly expect Western-style tipping. If in doubt, tip between 10% and 15%, unless there's a cover charge ("couvert"). Normally, you should tell the waiter or waitress how much you're tipping as they prepare to give you your change. If your Czech isn't up to it, however, it's acceptable to leave your tip on the table after paying.
It might seem like a bad idea in a country with the highest per-capita beer consumption in the world, but Czechs tend to get up very early. Traditionally, the working day starts at around 7am and ends at around 3pm. In Prague, however, people are shifting rapidly to a Western-style 9am-5pm routine.
The Czech language is at first jarring to hear and see. Long strings of consonants will confront you everywhere (try practicing Zmrzlina and Knedliky). The first week you are in Prague there is an intensive language class at the NYU Center. The class will help you get more comfortable finding your way around the city, grocery stores, restaurants, and bars!
These are some useful phrases for getting around the city!
Prosím (proseem) - Please, You’re Welcome
Dobrý den (do-bree dehn) - Good day
Děkuji (dyekooyee) - Thank You
Na shledanou (nah skledah-noh) - Good Bye
Nemluvím česky (neh-mloo-veem cheskee) I don’t speak Czech