Convenience Stores and Vietnamese People in Prague

Convenience stores in Prague are almost always ‘potraviny’ (food) and / or ‘vecerka’ (night shops). They are often tiny self-service stores that sell just about anything you need; from bread, vegetables and fruit to condoms, Becherovka and Asian delicacies. They are run by Vietnamese people and are quite convenient when you need only one roll of toilet paper or one bottle of shampoo.

However, you should not be surprised if you buy an item that comes from a Lidl or Kaufland supermarket. The owners of the convenience stores often buy family-size packs in these supermarkets and then sells each item individually in their own cornershop at a slightly higher price. The shop owners buy the rest of their stock at Sapa, the Vietnamese wholesale and retail market in Prague.

convenience stores

Convenience Stores

When you have visited a number of convenience stores in Prague, you will discover that they all resemble each other.
* They are all run by Vietnamese families.
* There is often a (bored) teenager at the cash register.
* The decoration and layout of the stores are identical.

convenience stores

The Vietnamese in Prague

Diplomatic relations between Communist Czechoslovakia and Vietnam began in the 1950s.Over the next two decades, small numbers of Vietnamese people came to Czechoslovakia to work or study. During the Cold War and the Vietnam War, a politically motivated emigration flow started. After the fall of communism in 1989, the migrants were no longer politically motivated but were ordinary labour migrants who came to present-day Czech Republic to work under better circumstances than at home. Therefore, it is no wonder that the name ‘Nguyen’ is the ninth most common surname in the Czech Republic.

convenience stores

Migrant Workers

The Vietnamese migrant workers came on the invitation of the Czechoslovak government. This migration was encouraged by the Vietnamese authorities who hoped that the migrants would return home with skills and training, but they didn’t. The first generation of migrants earned their living as vendors in street markets.

In later years, when the cultural programme between the two countries had stopped, they started their own businesses mainly convenience stores for groceries and textile shops selling imported goods from Vietnam and also from China. Today they are still in Prague, their children speak faultless Czech and are fully integrated into Czech culture and even have acquired Czech habits.

convenience stores

Vietnamese Convenience Stores and Night Shops in Prague

The Vietnamese in Prague form a close community. Their ‘home’ is the Sapa Market in Prague. Sapa is much more than a market. It is a city within a city with wholesale and retail businesses, a school, a temple and many restaurants. Here the convenience store owners stock up on goods to be sold in their cornershops. Their stores look identical probably because they set up their shops according to a handbook that seems to be used by all owners of these shops.

Everywhere in the residential districts in Prague you will find Vietnamese convenience stores and night shops, all run by Vietnamese, sometimes more than one shop in close vicinity to another. They do not seem to compete with each other as they are often related to each other. If a customer wants an item which is not in stock, the owner will go to the next door shop (usually a family member) so that he can satisfy his customer’s wish.

Photos Marianne Crone

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