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Thursday, October 30, 2014

12 Doses of Culture Shock for This American in Europe

When you move away from your country and customs and social norms, you expect a bit of culture shock in whatever new country you are visiting. Sometimes that culture shock is an amazing new experience and you wish your home country would adopt that custom. Sometimes the culture shock is so offensive that you can't possibly condone it and you try to avoid it while in the new country. And other times, the culture shock is just what it is, you get over it, and over time you just learn to accept it as a normal way of life.
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Here are 12 doses of culture shock this American has received while living and traveling around Europe. Of course, being an American, most of these revolve around food.

Carbonated ice tea (canned/bottled)

When I moved to Germany, I ordered an ice tea at a restaurant. I was confused when I saw bubbles in my drink, and once I drank it, I realized that it was carbonated. Fluke? No. Traveling around Europe I've discovered many of the countries serve ice tea, exclusively with bubbles. There is no ice tea "without gas" option. However, in the supermarkets and stores you can get regular ice tea.

When I was in the US, I never even knew it was possible to carbonate tea. After living in South Carolina for several years, I became a sweet tea fanatic. The method of making it is simply filling the container half full with sugar, and then adding tea. Sometimes people add lemon, and sometimes people need an insulin shot. But, in all my years of sweet tea-in', I never had it carbonated.

Misleading "American" adjective

While playing basketball in southern Belgium, some teammates of mine invited me over for some food. They assumed that the American would want filet americain. So, I say sure, and dig in. After the first bite, I am confused as to what I'm eating and why it doesn't taste as delicious as I hoped. Well, that's because filet americain is raw American beef. Raw, as in uncooked. Not sure why it's raw, as I've never met an American who eats their beef that way, but that's what it is.
Another time, while eating at a restaurant, I know to avoid the filet americain and I get something else. After a delicious meal, the waiter asks if I want coffee and I agree, but he asks what kind. There is more than one kind? Looking at the menu, I decide, why not, let's try a café americano. That is straight black coffee. Milk and sugar aren't even offered along side. Unless you work at a missile silo in South Dakota, most Americans put cream, milk, sugar, and other things, with just a smidge of coffee.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

15 Things This American Notices While Driving in Europe

I've driven all around Europe, but mostly Belgium, Germany, France, and the Netherlands, and there are some things that I've gotten used to, and some things that still just don't sit quite right with me. Most of it is not really bad or good, but just interesting and different. So, without commenting on driving in the U.K., which will take its own article, here are 15 things this American notices while driving in Europe.

1. Higher speed limits

It didn't really click until I went back to the U.S. and I was in Maryland, on a very nice 13 lane interstate highway (kidding, it was only 6 lanes), there were no potholes and the road was well maintained, but the speed limit was 88kph (55mph).  Most local highways in the EU are between 90 and 100kph (56 - 62mph) and on the major highways its 120 or 130kph (74 - 81mph). In southern Belgium, you are cruisin' at 120kph and dodging huge craters in the road. On the world famous autobahn in Germany, there are many sections where the speed limit is "as fast as your car can go", inviting the 200kph+ (124mph) crew out to play. There are few things more emasculating than a smart car flying by you on the autobahn. In most EU countries, the neighborhood speed limit is 60kph, which is almost as fast as some U.S. highway speeds.

2. Lane courtesy, everyone move to right

In the U.S. we can pass on either side. Here, people must pass on the left. It's an unwritten law, and the guy doing 190kph behind you will ride all the way up to your bumper and flash you and have his left blinker on in the left lane, encouraging you to get over to the right. However, most people know to get over before all that happens, and it actually works quite nicely. When I'm in a rush, I know I can jump in the left lane and everyone in front of me going slow will get out of my way.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Madrid, Spain: Una Segunda Vez

Synopsis: Making my second trip to Madrid. The Spanish Air Force is hosting an air show this weekend, in celebration of Spain's National Day. We call it Columbus Day in the US, and the two holidays have the same origin and have changed over the years. I will meet up with some friends down there and celebrate the holidays.

Trip Overview:
Day 1:  Early ride from a friend to the metro, then to the bus station, then to the airport. Hop on the plane and someone next to me is farting on the flight. Not like 10 or 15 times, but the whole two hours! Still would take that over cigarette smoke, anyday. 

Metro to city center and I walk to Cat's hostel, which was recommended by Aga, who I met in the hostel in Riga. Cat's hostel is much bigger than the one I stayed at in Riga. Weather is decent and once I step into the hostel, a torrential rain ensues. I have a bit of a headache, so I hang out for a bit and relax.

Once the rain calms to a slow drizzle, I walk down to the Prado Museum for a visit. It is pretty impressive, yet smaller than the Louvre. I get an audio guide which has lots of interesting info but at times is a bit long winded. I walk both of the main floors. The paintings are quite interesting, from noble dwarfs to hermaphrodite statues to obese children to only two painting with black people in them (outside the wise men paintings) to only 10% of the paintings with women who aren't naked. Most interesting artist I see is Hieronymous Bosch and his "Garden of Desires" painting. I, a non-art lover, spend over three hours in the museum. 

Meet Aga at Cat's hostel and we go out for dinner and discuss how she got a teaching job in Spain. Afterward, she walks me back to the hostel. I decide to go grab some snacks for tomorrow and walk over to a nearby Carrefour Express. I walk back to the hostel and join the 10 other people in the Moroccan themed courtyard, and surf the web. Not long after, my headache from earlier starts to kick back in and I decide to call it a night. Of course, staying in a hostel, people come into the large rooms throughout the night, making as much noise as humanly possible; but it doesn't bother me much. I sleep in a 19-person room, and it's in the attic, so despite the incessant rain, it is hot. 

Thoughts: Airplane taxied for at least 15 minutes once we landed in Madrid. Almost spent as much time taxing as we did flying. Walking through the Prado museum, thoughts on art that we "regard" from back in the day:

  • art dudes (and probably all dudes in that time period) were marrying girls up to 6 years under 18, and it was acceptable. 
  • they painted so many naked women, but our culture is now overly sexual?
  • everyone painted Christ. So clearly the painters were trying to make some money, in addition to artistic expression. 
  • painting naked children was clearly not an issue in that time.
  • "art" is pretty much whatever people are willing to pay for, like music and antiques.

The Moroccan-themed courtyard in Cat's Hostel
So few people come out to play in the rain
Wish I was a student again, so I didn't have to pay full price for everything

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