It has been an eventful couple of weeks for me. For only the second time in my life, I was what you would technically refer to as “abroad.” All that means is that I spent two weeks in Germany and I can tell you it is a different world from my life in the United States. Some things better and some things worse were the result of my observations during this vacation, but I’d like to share with you some signs which told me I was definitely not in the United States.
First, there is the bathroom. I know I’m not in the United States because I walk into a bathroom only after I agree to pay and then pass through a turn style. In addition, I have only paid and used this bathroom after a search of several blocks to find one. When I am in the bathroom, I have to worry about having two levels of flushing and I go through the stress of wondering if I pressed the right one! When it’s easier to hold it, than to go through the stress of the “WC”, then I know I’m somewhere other than the United States.
I know I’m not in the United States when I feel compelled to begin every conversation with “Do you speak English?” To the credit of the German people, they are remarkably conversant in English, but inevitably, my question was answered with “Ya, a little bit.” A little bit was anywhere from those few words to a fluency in English that put mine to shame. Just once, however, I did run into a woman who could speak no English. Since she was the clerk in the train station and I was lost…not in the United States… this was a problem.
And this brings me to another thing that tells me I’m not in the United States. I traveled a lot by train. In Europe, the train is a popular method of getting around and the people there are very easy with it. I find it unsettling that I must find the proper train and I will be allowed to board without anyone checking my ticket. Tickets are not collected until after the train leaves the station. I spent most of my train trips in a panic that I was on the wrong train and on at least one occasion, that was the case. Then, there were the others in even worse shape than me. “Pardon me, do you speak English?” I was approached by one worried passenger, ticket in hand. Then, before I answered, she continued, “Do you know if this is train the 1501?” Not wishing to appear as ignorant as I really was, I smiled apologetically, pointed at myself and said, “Sprechen da Deutsch.” That’s something I definitely wouldn’t do in the United States.
I know I’m not in the United States because of the “Nos.” By this, I mean things that I am used to that they don’t have…no water, no ice, no hurry, no air conditioning, no fans, no window screens, no chocolate and sugar sweets. The last one was the worst. I would have given a great deal to go into a store anywhere and see a KitKat on the shelves. As it was, I couldn’t find anything that was recognizable and the ingredients were all in German. Add to that the fact that soda came in 8-ounce bottles and was referred to as “German coke,” and you’ll see the dilemma for a sugar freak like me. However, on reflection, the Europeans may have this one right.
No water and no ice go together. Water also came in small, 8 ounce glass bottles (or the European equivalent).And if you were not careful to ask for “still” water, you would end up with a mineral water that was as pleasant for this spoiled American to drink as Alka-seltzer! They use ice in nothing. For me, I’ll forego the liquid if I can still have the ice. For two weeks, I looked for water everywhere, suffered with no ice, and sweated out what little liquid I had in the heat, since there were no air conditioners. Now, I have long said the United States keeps air conditioners ridiculously low, but NO air conditioning was not pleasant either! Windows in hotels opened and contained no screens. This bothered me, but I’d rather battle bugs than have no air moving.
My final clue that I was not in the United States had to do with restaurant dining. Food was abundant and very filling. So much so that I could seldom finish a plate. When the waiters would retrieve it they would shake their heads solemnly at me and intone, “Not guut?” They also didn’t believe in a speedy conclusion. They would clear the food and leave you sitting there…and sitting there…and sitting there. Apparently, we in the United States finish our food and leave the restaurant too quickly. There, people linger over coffee or drinks or cigarettes (the summer means all dining is out of doors). Anytime I grew impatient and asked for the bill, they all looked so sorry for the boorish American with no appreciation for what a quiet time over the table could offer…they were right.
And of course, no conversation about being in Europe is complete without talking about paying that restaurant bill. Cash only…they didn’t like credit cards—in fact, they trouble swiping them when they would use them. Not only cash, but in the smallest common denominator. Each waiter carried their own cash pouch for paying the bill and they encouraged you to pay in as close to correct change as possible. In fact, one young lady went so far as to look in Roy’s wallet as he opened it to get money out and request specific bills.
There were many ways in which I was charmed by the German people I met, but there is a definite difference between their methods and those in the United States. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to use the bathroom for free and then sit with my tall glass of still water on ice and have the air conditioning blow directly on me. Because I am now in the United States!