Things I Don’t See At Home: Dumbest Question I Ever Asked

One could say I’ve asked many dumb questions in my life. Former professors could attest to this. One of my famous (but serious) questions occurred in biology class during community college. I asked, “How do birds drink?” I remember beaks, puddles, and tilting of the head.  Well, at least now I know what they’re really doing in those birdbaths; drinking bathwater.

I digress.coffee and water

One day at dinner in Munich, I saw this: a small metal tray with a cup of what looked to be coffee and a very small glass of clear liquid.   I didn’t know if it was coffee with a shot of booze to be added at your own taste – coffee with a chaser – or hot chocolate with some sort of liqeuor. Or what. It just seemed odd.

A few days later, Pat and I went to a café after dinner in Salzburg. He ordered beer and I ordered a camomile tea. And it happened; I got the little metal tray with hot tea and the little glass of clear liquid. I was baffled. “What is this mysterious liquid?” I thought to myself. “How fascinating!”   I looked at Pat and said “Oh wow. This is what I saw the other day. I wonder what it is?” So I felt the outside of the glass. Cold-ish. I smelled it. Nothing. So I took a big leap and dipped my tongue into the glass. Water. Tap water. Huh? What am I supposed to do with this glass of water? Is the tea too hot to drink? Am I supposed to drink the tea, then get all refreshed by drinking the tap water as a chaser?

SO – here comes a waitress to see if things are okay. And, this is when I ask the big question. Waitress: “Is everything going fine?” (or some other sweet version of “Is everything okay?”) Me: (indicating my mini-water) “What’s this for?” Waitress: (looking at me with confused eyes) “It’s water.” Me: “Yes, I know. What should I do with it?” Waitress: (looking at me as if I’ve lost my marbles) “You drink it.” Me: “Oh. Okay. Thanks.”

This poor waitress probably found her fellow servers and told them about the idiot American woman who just asked what she was supposed to do with a glass of water. Then she probably went into the bathroom and banged her head against the wall. As for me, I sat dumbfounded. This, after I was done laughing at myself. And feeling sorry for the waitress. This dumbfoundedness turned into outrage. I thought “Seriously? Are these Austrians mad? They wasted a tray to bring out this pansy-ass glass of water? Why not bring complimentary toothpaste and a toothbrush to go with it? That would be the perfect after dinner spritz-up and spit it out in the bushes type deal.

afro coffee closeThe next morning we went to a restaurant for breakfast – and it happened again. This time it was my coffee that came with a glass of water. But alas, this glass of water was a bit bigger. And ha ha – this time I knew what to do with said water. And – this coffee mug was SO cool. I looked around and noticed four different patterns. It was called Afro coffee. afro coffeeMy mug said “You call it coffee, I call it a lifestyle.” I thought, “Wow, my girls would really like these. When the waiter comes by I will ask him how much they cost.” I thought that was better than “Wow, these are really cool…. Will they fit in my purse?”

So, the idiot that I am (apparently when it comes to items involving drinking liquids) asked said waiter the obvious question: “How much would it cost to buy the coffee mugs?” Long story short: it would take an act of God to acquire these mugs as the maker of the coffee supplies them and it would probably cause the restaurant to shut down if they sold me two of them and then all tourism in Salzburg would come to an end and then the world would stop spinning.

No cool coffee mugs for Dawn. Idiot.

Last night we ended up at the “dumb question” cafe. Pat had more beers and I had more tea. Again came the tray. Again came my Dixie-cup of water. This time I told the waiter about my waitress faux pas from the previous night. He explained that if I wanted a bigger cup of tap water, they’d charge money for it. Baffling. It’s cheaper to buy beer.

coffee pic

Things I Don’t See At Home: Where Do I Stick This Ticket Shania?

ubahn ticket

My U-Bahn ticket from today. I did time stamp it, though nobody ever checked it.

One thing I told my students last year was they’d be really confused sometimes while travelling. This was one of my “mommy lectures” –  inspired by one of my students’ memoirs about getting off a bus at the wrong time. He was on a MegaBus to Penn State and didn’t know the Grand Old State stop consisted of a pit stop at the local Wal-Mart. He was expecting the columns of Old Main and the roar of the fight song. Instead he got a drop-off on the side of the road and a long walk back to campus.

I’ve been on subways in many cities. The common denominator among them: you buy a ticket or card of some sort, then stick the ticket or slide the card at a turnstile. Not in Germany. You just buy a ticket and get on the train. No turnstile. It’s just you and the honor system. It’s just you and the honor system until the uniform brigade shows up in your subway car and asks to see your ticket. Pat and I saw one lady get busted. I think they wrote her a ticket. Sounds like a reality show in the making: U-Bahn-ers Gone Rogue…. in dirndls.

peugeotSpeaking of the U-Bahn (subway), there was one station we couldn’t get out of. Sure, I’ve been confused inside many subway stations. Sometimes the underground mazes go on forever. But Pat and I just wanted to get out. We found the Ausgang (exit) sign and started walking. We ended up near a bunch of S-Bahn (above ground) train tracks. No exit in sight. We finally found an exit at the very back of the station. Of course this was near the parking lot of a grocery store we’d been looking for all day. A store called Kauf-something. And – that grocery store was still nowhere to be found (sign but no store). At that point we just had to figure out how to get back to the hotel and Pat just had to pee in the bushes.chevy

porscheWas Ist Das Auto?

We’ve seen lots of cars on the autobahn that you don’t see at home: the Frenchie cars like Citroen, Renault, and Peugeot. For some reason, the pink carPeugeot logo looks like an awkward lion walking like Frankenstein. Of course there are loads of Mercedes, Audis, Porsches, and BMWs. If I were someone who really cared about cars I’d be in a constant state of drool. Me? I see an American car with some odd name and say “A Chevy Matiz?! A Ford Mondeo? Where in hell did they come from? Where are all the Honda Accords?” Well, I can tell you. They ain’t on the autobahn.

green bmwAs we are driving we are listening to lots of German radio. I do remember this from when I lived here: lots of American music cool bmwmixed with German stuff. And for some unknown reason, they love them some Shania Twain. Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Shania Twain too, but it’s just odd. Perhaps it’s because she owns a chunk of Switzerland and it’s just next door?

ugly mercedes

Ever seen an ugly Mercedes? Here ya go.

Well, at least today I didn’t use the men’s bathroom. Man, I feel like a woman.

Things I Don’t See At Home: Unisex Bathroom that’s Really Just the Men’s Room.

herren

Oh! The Men’s Room!

Yeah.  Well shit.  I just used the men’s bathroom.  My clue was the “Herren” sign on the door I saw on the way out.  Perhaps my first clue should have been the long-haired guy combing his hair at the sink upon first arrival.

Pat and I had met a woman for lunch yesterday at a lovely placed called the Literature Haus in Berlin.  After a lovely sea bass entree, I went downstairs for a lovely afternoon pee. I saw a door with the international bathroom signs:  the stick man and stick lady with a skirt.  “Aha – a unisex bathroom!” said my feeble mind – I’d experienced this before.  “This is Europe,” I thought to myself – “anything goes – coed naked saunas, Coke without ice, beans for breakfast,” so I went through another open door and saw the guy combing his hair at the sink.  I didn’t make eye contact.  My general impression was that it was a guy with a mullet or a very homely woman.  My other impression was “Dang, this place really smells like pee!”  So, I peed – and as I washed my hands I noticed a bunch of urinals in this unisex bathroom.  I thought “Seriously? It’s a real free for all around here – women have to be subjected to men at the urinals and vice versa; men have to pee in front of women?”  I turned to leave, and as I did I saw the open door I’d gone through.  It said “Herren.”  “Men.”  As I kept walking into the hallway, I saw the poor guy who had been combing his mullet.  He was probably waiting for his woman.  His woman:  the one who can read.

I went upstairs and sat back down with Pat (hubby) and Nathalie (his business associate – she’s German).  I told them about my escapade into the world of men.  Poor mullet guy.  Nathalie explained that there aren’t any unisex bathrooms in Germany.  Good to know. I must have been in France.  And I am sure I was in one in NYC in 1984.  Damn clubbing days.  During my giggling fit, Pat told us about his visit to Amsterdam bathrooms (airport) where the women clean the urinals right next to where you are urinal-ing.  But that’s Amsterdam.  That’s a whole other story:  the women at airport security always get to second base with me but always skip first.

food

Our dirty plates and empty glasses

Another thing I’ve noticed, no matter where I’ve been eating in Germany, is the really different table service.  I don’t want to say it’s slow as if that’s a negative thing – but it’s certainly slower.  For example, in the U.S., one barely finishes the last morsel of food before the server removes the dirty plate from the table.  Not here.  You can finish your entree and the plate will sit.  Indefinitely.  A few nights ago my leftover trout grew an exotic fish fungus right before my eyes.  Meantime, empty beer glasses are another familiar scene.  Again, in the U.S., one has only sucked the head off a beer before the server is pushing another.

My guess is the prompt service provided to U.S. diners leads to better tips.  Fast beer and quick coffee = better tip.  And the constant clearing of dirty plates is an implicit way of saying “C’mon, you’re done eating – chop chop! Don’t want dessert?  Don’t let the door hit ya in the ass on the way out.”  And then the server deposits the bill at the table and says “Whenever you’re ready” which really means “I’ll be back before you’ve had time to check  your teeth for spinach.”

I had a long chat with a German man tonight (another business associate of Pat’s).  He said a 12% tip is automatically included in your bill here in Germany.  He said they will never bring your check until you ask for it.  When you sit down at the table to eat, the server assumes it is your table for the night.  They don’t expect the table to turn over. I am guessing they make less money overall – even though they make $8.50 Euros per hour.  Adding another 5% tip is fine if you’d like.

I admit I did enjoy the slower dining pace.  It’s not that it was a new experience, but for some reason I noticed it this time- probably because I was ready for dessert – and that fungus-growing trout was giving me the evil eye.

 

Things I Don’t See At Home: Pope Selling Shoes

pope shoe Today we left Hamburg and drove to a city called Luneburg.  It’s quaint and old looking.  And cool.  But before we left, we went to a mall.  I took some pics and made some observations.

The first observation at the mall was that if you just sat there and watched folks go by, you may think you were in the U.S.  Things looked pretty similar:  McDonald’s, a food court, lots of stores, many levels.  They even had a Build-A-Bear Workshop.  The differences:  first off – the female gestapo stationed outside the WC.  I got the feeling that I damned well better drop  a Euro onto her dish before or after my visit to the tankless toilet.tankless terlet

Another diff – no obese people.  I noticed many people jogging and riding bicycles yesterday as we walked through Hamburg.

Another really cool thing about the department stores that I remember from the old days (1984) was that department stores have really cool grocery stores in them.  So we picked up a plug adapter for our computers…. and groceries.  How great is that?  You can buy a dress, heels to match, a six-pack of Beck’s, and a hunk of cheddar.  We need to work that deal at Macy’s.

I noticed a bunch of teen-ish guys outside smoking.  Nearby, at their table sat bottles of beer, Coke bottles, and Hollister bags.  Another thing you won’t see at a U.S. mall:  teen-ish guys drinking beer.teen beer

dog in mallDogs.  Dogs at the mall.  No need to leave Gunther at home. No need to leave Gunther in the car.  Just bring him in.  He’ll tell you exactly how your rump looks in those jeans.

After dinner in Luneburg we went window shopping.  Shoes.  The Pope and shoes.  I’ll have to go back there tomorrow when they’re open.

luneburg

Luneburg – across from our hotel.