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In Prague, simple tasks often become great hurdles. Perhaps you have thought to yourself, "This should NOT be this difficult." Language barriers aside, certain items found easily elsewhere simply do NOT exist here.

Your exasperation that you can't find what you want is overwhelmed by your perseverance and down-right stubbornness.

I remember looking for metal washer once. Just a simple metal-ring washer with an inside measurement of 15mm. A washer for the door hinge of a door...here....in Prague. An old building granted, but what building isn't in Mala Strana.

"No problem," I thought to myself. My Downfall.

I purchased washers designed to perform the express task at hand-raising a door about 5mm up off a newly installed floor to prevent scratching-at what many consider the best hardware store in town. They measured small but the lady assured me they were especially made for door hinges and besides, they didn't have anything bigger. They were in fact too small. So I popped into a local plumbing supply store on my way somewhere else... (I'd write this part in Czech but it would be too embarrassing)

Me: I need something like this only bigger.

Him: Well what is it?

Me: I don't know how you call it...

Him: (Inspecting it more closely) Well it looks like a "Metal Washer"

Me: (excitedly) Yea, that's it! I just need something exactly like it but larger!"

Him: (Pushing the washer back across the counter as if it were poisoned) You need a hardware store, there is a good one up the street.

Me: Thanks.

After a half an hour of walking up the street I arrived at the hardware store. A reputable store, with several outlets in town. There, I showed a crazily-excited-post-middle-aged man with a wandering eye, my washer, and explained I was looking for one bigger.

He said the one I have is the largest made and that the one I already have is THE washer for door hinges. He suggested I use a little oil and maybe it would slip over the hinge. Seeing my dismay, he got really excited and said if I really needed it I could get a blow-torch and cut it, and then wrap the cut-washer around the hinge. I got a little scared, heard my mobile phone ringing, and split.

It was my buddy, having just arrived from the states. "Why don't you just pop down to Home Depot man." He offered, "The got all that sh*t." If only it were so simple. Perhaps trying to earn a living getting "simple" things done in the Czech Republic is just asking for trouble, but it certainly isn't boring. Home Depot my ass. I cut the bottom of the door off.


BECAUSE PERCEPTION IS REALITY

Me and my neighbour see things differently. That's not to say we disagree or argue, which would be difficult as I don't speak Czech and he doesn't speak English.

It's called a Foreman, an apt name as it coughs and wheezes into action every morning, smoking its way off down the street to work. But my neighbour doesn't see a Foreman, he see a Ferrari, broad shouldered and muscular; a car with neck snapping acceleration that goes around bends with the precision of a rollercoaster.

We went to the DIY store a while back, my neighbour and I. After a good natured mime session outside our block I understood he needed an extra pair of hands to help load some big items.

"Do it yourself!" I said, joking.

He didn't understand me of course, and ushered me into his car with a grin. I sat in the sagging front seat with an escaped spring burrowing into my buttock, and with a noise like the clatter of dropped pots and pans the engine started and off we lurched. Half way down my quiet residential street, the rump of a reversing car broke ranks with the rows of parked cars on the right, and swung out into the road towards us. This is what I saw anyway.

My neighbour saw something different. He saw the shrinking gap on the left side of the road and accelerated towards it. At the last minute the reversing car jolted to a halt, leaving just enough room for our crate to rattle through the space in a cloud of kicked-up gutter debris.

My neighbour turned to me and smiled, tapping the side of his head to indicate insanity. Who does he mean? I thought; the other driver? Himself? Me??

We see things differently, you know.

I reached around for the seatbelt, but with a volley of Czech and a dismissive wave of the hand my neighbour indicated this wouldn't be necessary.

As I searched for the clip I realised even if it was necessary, it wasn't possible, as the clip was no longer anchored to the floor, but hung uselessly from the belt buckle on my right. I stared at the hard, cracked, plastic dashboard in front of me as we descended to the screaming lanes of cars at Muzeum and it started to rain, the clouds coughing and spitting a slimy layer of phlegm onto the cobblestones.

The windscreen wipers smeared the drops into the bird sh*t and dust making a soupy white film that blurred everything outside. My neighbour saw things differently though. He obviously possesses some kind of cataract penetrating vision, as his Ferrari/Foreman barrelled its way up the broad vista at ever increasing speed and decibels.

After a time, he slowed marginally, and with a flick of the wheel we swung off the highway and through the chicane of slip roads into a timber yard. Me and the Foreman waited in the muddy car park, both smoking anxiously, whilst my neighbour went off to find another foreman.

He reappeared carrying a large sheet of plywood, and together we manoeuvred it onto the roof of the car, followed by several long planks and a large steel box. After lashing all this down with some light gauge twine the car resembled a third rate aircraft carrier. The steel box weighed heavily on the left side of the roof causing our vessel to list worryingly to port as though recently torpedoed. It looked like our ship might capsize and sink at any minute. My neighbour seemed happy though.

As I said, we see things differently.

The weight of traffic slowed down our return to Vinohrady. I could tell my neighbour wasn't so happy about this as he snarled and cursed through his crusty beard. This was some relief to me however, as I was sure the slightest blast of wind under our flight deck would flip the car onto its back and leave it like a stranded turtle, wheels spinning and kicking in frustration as it tried to right itself.

The cause of the delay soon became clear as we approached the blinking blue lights up ahead. A snake of six cars sat hunched end to end in the middle lane, the broken noses dripping a glittering bloody mix of broken red and white glass into the road. A group of sheepish looking drivers were being shepherded out of the road by two policemen. My neighbour again made the head tapping sign and then shrugged his shoulders, taking his hands off the wheel and holding them palms upwards to underline the gesture.

Fortunately there wasn't enough distance remaining to our destination for the Foreman to get up to any kind of speed, especially not with our cargo as we trundled up the hill to Vinohrady. Outside the apartment building we unloaded the car, and it creakily righted itself as each item was removed. My neighbour thanked me with a broad smile and I also smiled as I shook his hand, but for different reasons.

I've been in his car several times since that first occasion; to and from garages, stations and beer halls; but I've come to realise we'll always see things differently. For him, Tram tracks and no entry signs are useful overtaking zones and short-cuts.

Where I see the black and white stripes of a zebra crossing, he sees a killing zone; tempting doddery old ladies, flustered mothers, foolhardy youths and other pedestrians away from the safety of the path and into the jungle of the street. He blasts these innocents away with his horn. Or maybe it's me who recognises them as killing zones, and my neighbour just doesn't see anything at all. He certainly doesn't see motorbikes, unless they're parked up and gleaming in the sun.

Despite these differences we get on pretty well, my neighbour and I, and the other day he even lent me his car to collect a friend from the station. As I cautiously backed out of the parking space into the street and slowly inched my way into the traffic of Vinohrady, checking the mirrors frequently, I caught a glimpse of my neighbour standing, arms crossed, smiling and shaking his head.

Yes, we see things differently, me and him.

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