Back on home turf now, I am reflecting on the trip. Bear with me and allow me to blather on.
I never could figure out what the typical work day was like. I mean, it seemed that morning rush hour was about 7:00-9:00, and then everything shuts down for about 2-3 hours in the middle of the day, and then evening rush hour seemed to be around 5:00-6:00.
Something I didn’t notice when I was in Italy a few years ago, but I did this time, was that everywhere we went, the wooden shutters were closed on the windows on peoples’ homes, no matter how high up and away from peering eyes and now matter what the weather or how fantastic the view. I saw this repeatedly throughout Tuscany and France. In Switzerland, I didn’t see shutters much at all, and instead people had pretty lace curtains in their windows everywhere (much nicer than shutters, I think). Window covering is something I’m rather sensitive about because where I live, when the sun even suggests it might make an appearance, people close their curtains, whereas I leave them open as much as possible, unless the weather is just too hot that day. I don’t know why I saw this so much in Italy and France, but I found it rather curious.
Trying to speak the local language. This trip my Italian was not up to speed, and let’s not even sum-up my French, but I tried to say what I could in both languages and I tried to say it well. Unfortunately, I suffer from something like stage fright: when I have to speak in a foreign language, I trip over my own tongue, my mouth freezes, words that I know disappear from my brain, the words get all jumbled, or worse yet, any and all languages I’ve ever learned a bit of get intermingled and I end up mixing-up Spanish, Italian, French and American Sign Language. Stage fright even happens in American Sign Language when I have the occasion to communicate with someone deaf, which happens a few times a year when my deaf sister-in-law and her deaf husband come to town; luckily they have a good sense of humor and just laugh at me. But in Europe, the funny thing was that people were more than happy to try speaking English to me. At first I found this disappointing, and I have been told that people often do this because they “don’t have time to wait for foreigners to say what they want”, that may be the case, but after a while I decided that maybe they also wanted the excuse to practice their English on me. One waiter in Avignon (France) even admitted that he likes to practice his English when he can. So, by the end of the trip in Switzerland and France whenever someone spoke English to me, I continued to practice my French, that is, what very little I could. So I’d have these funny interactions with someone where they’d speak English and I’d say “Oui” “Merci” “Bon jour” and “Au revoir” or whatever else I could throw in as much as possible.
Food. Why is the food selection and quality often so much better in Europe? Why is the chocolate better over there? Why is the coffee better? Don’t tell me that it’s because of the location and the ambiance, I don’t succumb to aesthetics that easily, besides, I’ve had great espresso, fresh squeezed orange juice, and panini in gas stations on the side of the highway Italy. Why is it that what is often sold as French bread in U.S. markets it just Wonder Bread disguised as a baguette? Why is that what is sold as a croissant in U.S. markets doesn’t even come close to the real deal (thankfully, there are finally a few French bakeries in the Seattle area that are changing this)? Why are the eggs found in the refrigerated section in the market here, but in Europe they are on a regular store shelf? Aside from cheese, why do we have so many dairy products in the market? We went to markets to find a small bottle of milk, and found milk hard to come by, and in some cases, nonexistent. Could it be that we don’t need to drink as much milk as we’ve been lead to believe? Could it be that maybe Europeans eat sufficient cheese to supplement their calcium intake? Why do we need hormones and genetically engineered food products in this country? Why are restaurants that sell mega-portions and bland-tasting desserts big enough for 4 people so popular in the U.S.? Why is many people’s idea of a good Italian dinner a place like The Olive Garden? Why do we settle for less?