Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On differences

It's a rainy Wednesday morning here in Lisbon do I decided to take an extended breakfast and do some writing.

I've been trying to jot down some notes on things I notice since being away from the US.
This will come as no surprise to anyone who has visited Europe or even knows anything about the culture. The dining experience is so much more relaxed. In certain ways, I love this. There is not the pressure to get up and leave as soon as you're finished eating for fear that your server will begin harboring hostility because he/she can't turnover their table quick enough.
I've rarely been checked on during my meal, either. Perhaps just once but I think this is because I'm obviously foreign and maybe they know my 'standards' are different.
Something I'm not so keen on: the lack of flowing water. At home, I drink a lot of water. Water, coffee and wine is pretty much ALL I drink. Here, there is no obligatory water glass on the table and if you want some, you have to pay. If paying for water helps a struggling economy, ok, I get it.
In public I don't think I've seen one water fountain, either. So it's not like I could fill up my bottle if I was exploring and thirsty. Is America obsessed with hydration? In certain ways I definitely think yes. Not a bad thing to be obsessed with but clearly other people make out just fine without that compulsion.

If English is your first language, consider yourself very lucky. Most people I've met on my travels, from all realms and statuses, are some level of bi-lingual.
It's amazing, really. Having taught the language, I know how difficult it is to learn, let alone become even a somewhat fluent speaker. This never fails to impress me about the people of other nations. As often as possible, I have been asking people if they speak English before speaking to them, my own brand of politeness and avoidance of assumption. But, someone within the last few days told me that English is a world language. It struck me as curious, yet outstandingly true, to hear this from someone whom was foreign. Because think about it, an Italian traveling in Turkey is going to speak what language to his hotel employees? I've heard people, with differing accents on each side of the conversation, both using English.

On machines for transit tickets and ATMS, when you need to select English as your language, you know what flag it shows? The Union Jack. In Turkey and here in Portugal that was the way. As open-minded and multicultural as I'd like to consider myself this still surprised me. Shame on me to think it would have been the American flag.

One last thing for you to ponder -- apparently in some countries flushing your toilet paper is not the norm......

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