Saturday, June 16, 2012

Okay, Europe – here’s your report card. You may say “Bryan, who the h-e-double-hockey-stick are you to give us a report card, and why should we care?” And those are excellent questions, but not relevant to my purpose, which is to frame all world events in terms of how they affect meeeeee. So you can see where I’m coming from on that.

In any event, there are a lot of things here to make fun of, o...r praise, or both, so let’s get going…

First of all: you have a pretty cool thing going, what with all that history and culture and buildings and food and mountains and stuff. We thoroughly enjoyed it. So good on ya there.

Second, and more importantly: the light switch goes inside bathroom. You wanna have the down position be for “on”? Fine, sure, whatever – but switches should go where the lights are.
Here’s a great idea: let’s put all the switches for the entire house on a single gigantic panel next to the front door! Do you know why we don’t do that? Correct, because it would suck. The bathroom light thing? Same concept.
I’m actually curious about what feature of having switch in the hall you find so awesome -- which activity that you perform in the bathroom is enhanced by the potential addition of darkness, provided by someone outside the room?
Or is it that one shouldn’t be able to go to the bathroom without waking everyone in the hotel room?
Or that you should have to guess which is the hall light and which is the bathroom light until you have them memorized?
Get back to me when you have answers, Europe – in the mean time, put the d*** switch in the same room with the light. You’re welcome.

With that clarified, here are some official grades/commentary on the rest of your stuff:

RENTAL BIKES: Big cities with racks and racks of easily-identifiable bikes for rent for a few Euros. Awesome. A+.

THE METRIC SYSTEM: Definite win. The USA (aka Luddite-ville) not only has failed to get with the program (ie, a system that’s easier and more intuitive), some Amerikins are silly enough to make fun of the metric system, or somehow feel superior because they have to divide everything by fours or twelves or eights or sixteens. Basically, when it comes to measuring things, we’re a bunch of hillbillies.

NICE PEOPLE: Now granted, we mostly dealt with people in service or tourism industries, so they’re bound to be at least a little bit invested in politeness, but even when we used our terrible French or Greek or Italian or German on random people in the street, they were unfailingly polite and helpful. A.
Note: in Venice I watched a couple of cops approach a homeless man begging in a plaza. I expected to see them roust him rudely from his spot, but they merely greeted him, shook his hand, and gave him a few coins. Just like at home. Not.

SPEAKING ENGLISH: Unbelievable how many people speak at least a little English. Again, it’s probably to be expected in the tourism industry, but it was also true of random people that we engaged with. When they didn’t speak any English (or spoke it poorly), they were often apologetic about it, kind of like saying “Really sorry I failed to learn your language better in preparation for your arrival...” A.

SPEAKING MULTIPLE LANGUAGES: A-. It’s true, Europeans do tend to speak more than one language. Here’s a joke:
What do you call someone who speaks multiple languages? A polyglot.
What do you call someone who speaks only one language? American.
Har. But here’s my point. It seems to me that while many (most?) Europeans speak more than one language, many of them seem to only speak one language really well, with proper grammar and a good accent. It’s not like everyone is completely fluent in 3-4 languages. So that’s whatever.
Europeans sometimes do a thing when needing to communicate with strangers, where they run thru languages until they find a common one. I’ve always thought that was super cool, and guess what? I got to play the game, twice! Well, I played it more than once, but I mean successfully. It went like this, both times:
Me: English?
European person: Non. Francais?
Me: Non. Espan~ol?
European person: Si!
Us: [many words in Spanish]
After which I felt impossibly cosmopolitan and accomplished. :-)

HOTEL INTERNET: Most of our hotels had free internet, which was nifty, but more often than not it was too weak to pick up reliably, at least above the first floor. D.

SECOND FLOOR BEING LABELED THE FIRST FLOOR: I’m tempted to argue that what we in the USA call the 1st floor (ie, the Ground Floor) is a more legitimate first floor, and what you Yurrupers call the 1st floor is actually the second floor. But I realize that if we reserve the right to label the Basement “B”, and the ground floor “1”, then you should probably be able to label the Basement “B” and the ground floor “0” if you want... Pass.

LATE ROOM CLEANING IN THE HOTEL: It was awesome that the maids didn’t come knocking on the door at 8:30am, and every half hour thereafter. I like being able to sleep late while Deb is downstairs presenting a paper or whatever. A.

TIPPING (OR LACK THEREOF): It was actually kind of nice to have the service built into the price of the meal – the service was decent anyway (maybe not as faux-friendly as at Applebees, but decent), and because we did tip a little extra, we got excellent service from that person thereafter. A-.

CASTLES: Your habit of wantonly and randomly having castles everywhere is awesome. Good job on that. A.

SCOOTERS! I applaud your contribution to the environment, and I admire your almost complete disregard for traffic laws or your own personal safety. Frankly, I’m amazed that the streets of Europe’s major cities aren’t strewn with the bodies of scooter riders and their little machines. My only complaint is that when we all stop for a light, you come buzzing up between the lanes and surround the front-running cars like a bunch of bees, and it’s hard to get going again without running over you. Which we almost kinda feel like doing, to tell the truth. B.

SMOKING: I used to say that Russia is the smoking section of Europe, but a friend corrected me and said that “Europe is the smoking section of Europe”, which turns out to be true. What’s with you guys and the cigarettes? The Mediterranean Diet and all the red wine in the world isn’t going to stave off lung cancer forever. Smoking is bad for you – perhaps you’d like to read up on that, in between all your scooter riding and having castles, or whatever. F.

TINY LIFTS: I get that a lot of your buildings are old, and lifts are a retrofit. Still, I think even Dracula would find some of them uncomfortably small (get it, because he sleeps in a coffin…) In any case, it does encourage one to take the stairs… B.

PATTERNED DRIVING: Slow drivers on the right, fast drivers on the left. Fantastic! Wonderful! And everybody gets it! (If you don’t get it, some guy in a souped-up Audi drives 3 millimeters off your bumper at 140 kph and flashes his lights, so it doesn’t take long before non-European drivers do get it…) It warmed my heart to see, Europe. Thank you. A.

SHAVING LEGS AND UNDERARMS: I’d heard stories, Europe. But thanks for (mostly) getting with the North American program on this one. A-.

CLEANING LADIES WANDERING AROUND IN THE MEN’S BATHROOM: This was a surprise. Not that I care either way, but I think it’s ridiculous that we get so uptight about that kind of thing in the USA. It’s not like she’s actually looking at anything, or cares to. B.

SPORT BIKE DRIVERS IN FULL LEATHERS: Did someone tell all the guys on crotch rockets that it’s illegal to ride in anything but a full, matching set of leathers? It’s like an amateur street race on the A7…

MEN DEB DOESN’T FIND ATTRACTIVE: Nice job on being skinny and scruffy, European men! It turns out I was the only attractive man in Europe, or so Deb says… :-) A+.

WOMEN’S ATTRACTIVENESS: I had the idea that Europe was populated primarily with supermodels. Turns out, not so much. There was the occasional pretty 20-something in Venice, but Deb was far and away the hottest woman to be seen. And the only one I looked at anyway :-) D.

COGNATES!: This romance-languages thing is awesome. Spanish, Italian, French, and even German – once you know a few words in one of them, there are cognates everywhere. Very handy, thanks. A.

MONEY: Your bills are cooler, and the 1- and 2-Euro coins are awesome. Why are Americans so resistant to dollar coins? Canada has had loonies and two-nies for ages, and they’re an isolated, desolate backwater – surely we can do at least as well as they can.
My only gripe is that the Euro bills are so wide they won’t fit in my wallet. Please see what you can do about that before our next visit. A-.


CHEAP MEDICATIONS: Paid 10 Euros for what would have cost $80 at home. Something is wrong with this picture. A.

LESS VIOLENCE, MORE NAKED PEOPLE ON TV: So strange that American TV shows all manner of horrible violence, but we all come unglued at a minor wardrobe malfunction (my children were watching! Now they’re terribly scarred!) Please. A.

PUBLIC TRANSIT: Not always completely intuitive to use, but pretty darn good all the same. A-.

TOLL BOOTHS: Inconvenient and expensive to drive thru, but a very efficient way to directly tax the people who get the most use from the item. A-.

ELECTRICAL OUTLETS: I don’t mind that you use big round prongs instead of small flat ones. In fact, I think your plugs stay in the outlets better than ours do. But if you want to be considered a civilized place, you’re going to need a lot more of them. People have a lot of electronic s*** nowadays -- one outlet per room just doesn’t cut it. C-.

BIDETS: Those of us who enjoy having a clean backside thank you. A.

TWIN BEDS: Two twin beds pushed together is sort of like one big bed, but not exactly. If you advertise a kingsize bed, it shouldn’t come with a big crack down the middle that you fall into in the middle of the night because the two halves slid apart on the tile floor. C.

RANDOM ENGLISH ON T-SHIRTS: It’s kind of flattering that you would choose our language to put on clothing, but it would be way more awesome if the words made some kind of sense. “Athlete To Score – 10!” sort of seems to have meaning, but the exact message is a little obscure. Many are worse, like “SMILE TO MOST BANG SKILLFUL” or something similar. B.

PUTTING THE KEY CARD IN THE SLOT TO TURN ON HOTEL ROOM POWER: I admit that this does help one keep track of the hotel key, but on the whole it’s a little annoying. Do you really have a problem with people sneaking in and turning on lights? On the other hand, I guess it’s a pretty good way to reduce electricity usage. B.

NOT PICKING UP DOG POOP, EXCEPT FOR SWITZERLAND, WHERE THEY PROVIDE BAGS IN THE PARK: Yes, I get that it’s poop, and you’re French so you’re too good for that kind of thing, but this is the sidewalk. Or the park. Pick it up, it won’t kill you. D-

CREATIVE BEGGARS: I’ve never been to Cairo or Calcutta, which I hear have the most pitiful beggars in the world, but I’ve seen some pretty sad stuff in Russia and the Ukraine. On the whole, the beggars we saw on this trip were the youngest, most creative, most able-bodied people I’ve ever seen ask for money. One perfectly normal-looking teenage kid just walked among stopped cars with a cup – no sign, no message, no reason, just a smile and “hey, I’d like some of your money”. A Russian woman in Barcelona had pinned a nametag on her jacket and written “AIDS” on a tin can – she informed us she was collecting money “for AIDS”. Barcelona also had a deaf guy who sold pictures of the hand-alphabet, just like at home, plus a guy who stopped by our outside-cafe table and simply said “I’m hungry.” I offered him our pizza, which he folded in half and stuck in a paper bag, then gave me a fist-bump and disappeared. In Venice there were women in black shawls, and young gypsy-looking girls who both seemed to have perfected that sad-eyed, cringing, bent-over, hand-extended look you might see in a cartoon of someone asking for alms. Venice also had the kid with hair covering half his face – shaved short, but thick and brown, just like his scalp hair. In all other ways he seemed completely normal and healthy; it didn’t seem like much of a disability – it made me wonder if he faced discrimination such that he wasn’t able to find work. Marseille had the woman who made a big speech, ignoring my protestations that I didn’t speak French, then at the end switched seamlessly to shouting abuse at me as I drove off. No grade, just interesting…

MUSIC CONCERTS: We found them in every city, just had to look – usually they were in the churches. People seem to have mostly stopped attending the cathedrals for mass/etc, but they seem pretty enthused about the arts… A.

A HUNDRED WAYS TO FLUSH A TOILET: Seems like somebody would have decided what’s the best way to do that, and standardized it, like maybe when you created the Eurozone or something. In any case, it was kind of fun figuring out each new way to do it. B.

NO PAPER TOWELS: Those air blower things suck, except maybe the new gray “air blade” things (or whatever they’re called). Sometimes you need a paper towel, like if you’ve rinsed your face. Try it, you might like it. D.

ADJUSTABLE SHOWER HEADS: Very nice. And compared to California with its water-saver shower heads (the work of Satan), the volume of water was great, too. Of course, compared to California shower heads, a person spitting while they talk would seem like excessive moisture, so perhaps the bar is low on that. A.


ROAD SIGNS: I think the fact we arrived with minimal trouble everywhere sans GPS and with only a couple of maps is a testament to their effectiveness. The same basic pictograph to indicate you’re on the way to the Autostrade/Autopista /Autostrasse/Whatever the French call it, which I’ve forgotten now. A red line through the name of the town to indicate you’re leaving it. Electronically-posted speed limits, which can vary by lane, traffic conditions, and time of day. And cetera. It would be nice to have a few more how-many-klicks-to-[city name], but other than that, things were pretty good.
TRAFFIC LIGHTS: Not so much on those. They were often small and difficult to spot. Lots of intersections didn’t have them. OTOH, it’s nice to have the arrow on the light so you can control traffic by lane, and it’s really cool to have a yellow light indicating a coming green as well as a coming red.

ORANGE PAINT FOR TEMPORARY CONSTRUCTION LANES: Cool. Makes a lot of sense: you can leave the old lines there if necessary, and maybe even use a different paint that will come off easier when it’s time to change back…

YELLOW LINES VS WHITE LINES. This is a huge fail. Yellow vs white seems to have no significant meaning in Europe. This is a thing you guys could learn from most US states: yellow means oncoming traffic, white means same-direction. Easy to stay in your own lane, easy to identify one-way streets. Sometimes it was impossible to tell what lane went what direction. I suppose since in many countries the lane markers were more along the lines of a vague suggestion anyway, it’s not as big a deal, but I sure missed my yellow & white markers...

BLUE FOR PARKING: Parking lots and parking spots are almost always blue. A NO PARKING sign might be just a blue circle with a red slash thru it (ie, don’t do the blue thing here). Very handy. A.

ROUNDABOUTS: Awesome. Quick, easy, intuitive, lower accident rates.

HOOKERS AT THE ROUNDABOUTS (COSTA BRAVA ONLY): Seems very efficient – no more stopping in the middle of the block and backing up…


So there you have it, Europe. Mostly your stuff gets “Exceeds Target”, but you have a few things to work on, also. So keep up the good work, and hopefully we can check back in soon...