Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 24, 2015
People frequently hear me say that I am easily amused. That may be why boredom has never been an affliction of mine. So while I love seeing iconic sights when I travel - the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Brandenburg Gate, Tower of London - many small things fascinate me as well. After our recent trip to Europe and the U.K., I began thinking about some of these "little things."
When visiting, I am always struck by the fact that there are no parking meters. If the lot is a gated one, the driver is issued a card by the machine at the entrance gate. When ready to depart, the card is put into a machine that looks something like a soft drink dispenser. It indicates how much money to deposit. The card is then returned and it is then used to raise the exit gate when leaving.
But most areas use "pay and display." You put your money in a small machine mounted on a pole located somewhere in the lot. It prints a paper strip with the expiration time on it that depends on the amound inserted. The strip is then placed on the dash where a parking monitor can see it.
Shopping cart management is different too. Big box stores and grocery stores have an area for carts by the entrance and shoppers return the carts after using them. Are they just more responsible than we Americans are? Nope. Each cart is chained to the one next to it in the cart area. A single Euro coin or pound coin releases the chain, but keeps the coin. The coin is returned when the cart is returned and the end of the chain is inserted.
Every food store has an extensive selection of alcoholic drinks, so there are no liquor stores.
Toilets have two flush modes - one that uses little water and another that uses much more. Some have two buttons and the first time I saw one, I wasn't certain why there was a larger and a smaller one. Others activate the small flush with one handle push and the larger with a second. The uninformed may push once and think the toilet is defective. But this clever idea does provide an opportunity to conserve on water.
Sidewalk cafes are everywhere, and as in all restaurants, the bill never comes until you ask for it.A solid white stripe on the edge of a road means the driver has the right of way. Upon reaching an intersection, any driver who isn't certain which is the main road needs only to follow the stripe. The lower-priority road will have a stop sign at the edge of the road or a white triangle painted in the middle of the lane, indicating to drivers on it they are to yield.Most electric and other wires are underground. They are more expensive to install this way, but there is little maintenance, service rarely fails in a storm and it looks much nicer.
When we travel, we need adaptors to connect something to an electric outlet because the prongs are different. This is probably a good thing because in most other countries, the Voltage is 230 rather than our 115. But this is not as important as it once was. With international commerce being what it is today, most electronic devices will work on either.
Since we use the metric system in some areas, but not others, I know what I am getting when I buy a two-liter bottle of Coke. But how much is 300 grams of meat or how hot is 28 C? (About 10 ounces and 82 degrees F)
Most of these differences are just that - a different way of getting a needed job done. They amuse me because they open my eyes to alternate ways of doing things I have become accustomed to. And some of the differences I like a lot - sidewalk cafes, being able to buy wine with my groceries, no advertising signs along major roadways, getting kissed on the cheek by a man when meeting, poppies growing wild, the sound of a cuckoo.
Others I don't care for - stores that are closed on Sundays and fiddling with adaptors. Even though husband Art does all the driving, I get nervous with other things so close because of the narrow streets.
Yet other differences cause me to scratch my head. Why are there so many packages of fajita spices in the Mexican food area of a grocery store, but there is no chili or taco seasoning? Why are pink toilet seats so popular in some places? How do French women master the art of simultaneously exuding a sense of poise and confidence while looking fashionable and sexy? Why does a French croissant taste better than any I have had elsewhere? Why are British fish and chips so good - particularly those sold at some greasy shop I'd never think of going into at home?
Some differences we like so much we have brought them home. I've always loved bacon and eggs for breakfast. But now I always feel a bit cheated if I don't have some fried tomatoes with them, as the Brits do. Art loves the English version of the beret with the short brim in the front, and he wears one through most of our cooler weather.
Occasionally, we'll even bring something home by accident. When asked a question or to explain something that is a bit involved, a Frenchman will sometimes give a sort of exasperated look and expel air between his lips. It is as if he is saying, "This will take some effort!" And after our recent trips to France, I've noticed Art is now doing that too.
For as long as I have known him, Art occasionally sings a song he told me was written the year I was born. It's a love song, but somehow the title fits how I feel about these differences that add so much to our trips. It's called "Little Things Mean a Lot."
Left: Art checking out the sausages in the Metz covered market while Katie provides the photo bomb; middle: my beloved poppies growing along a wall made of stones; right: we never seem to tire of the sidewalk cafés.