almost a diary, Europe, traveling

I’m in Prague this weekend…

… and I really think I should be allowed to vote in the EU accession referendum the Czech Republic is holding today and tomorrow, given the apparent lack of any exitement for the community the people over here show quite visibly. I was wandering around the city all afternoon and late evening and all I saw was a single, lonely EU flag – at the tourist information center.

almost a diary, traveling

Gluecksbringende Schluepfer.

(Yes, there is a reason for this title.) I know it’s been a while but I went to Freedom for some days in order to drink almost all of the wine that is no longer being shipped to the US – although, let’s face it: The demographics of US consumption of expensive French wines make that Bordeaux-Boycot a rather empty threat at least as long as long as French wines are not legally banned. I wonder what the legal department over at E&J Gallo is working on right now…

Anyway, even though this blog is only “almost a diary” and I am actually a bit in a hurry to leave Freedom with the next available train, I feel obliged to write something about meeting the lovely Gentry Lane in Paris yesterday for I discovered that a few hundred of you, my gentle readers, are reading these lines because Gentry told you to read about Young Werther’s plans to rule the world (which, by the way, do not actually exist – just to reassure possible readers from various intelligence services – I’m not trying to capture your market. Neither do I wear blue and yellow suits or regularly threaten girls to kill myself if they do not kiss me…).

Well, I am only too happy to corroborate her claim of looking ten years younger – even though I never thought she looked ten years older. And the German word for “lucky panties” is, of course, “Gluecksbringende Schluepfer”, which in some way, does sound like an oxymoron, in my opinion…

So for once, there is a real reason for importing an anglicism into “The Awful German Language“, which, quite honestly, is not all that awful after all. Just ask Gentry.

almost a diary, compulsory reading, Europe, Germany, oddly enough, traveling, USA

My New Ralph Lauren Sweater.

So via Blogdex, I found this hilarious article published by USA today called “Ugly sentiments sting American tourists”.

I suppose it was pretty tough to write this article. You can literally sense how the evident editorial intention to publish yet another “peaceful American tourists tortured to death by mad and naked European pacifists”-peace made the newspaper’s European correspondents look desperately for something anti-American to write about. Their effort wasn’t too successful, even if you insist to count Bush-policy discussions as anti-American torture, as the article indicates –

“‘I am certain that a number of American visitors will be asked about the U.S. administration’s policy on Iraq. But if indeed there have been some unpleasant encounters, I strongly believe that they are few and far between,’ says Patrick Goyet, vice chairman of the European Travel Commission in New York. ‘Furthermore, speaking as a European and for the vast majority of my fellow Europeans, I consider any such behavior idiotic and embarrassing.'”


But the best part of the article is a bullet point list by Bruce McIndoe, CEO of iJet Travel Intelligence that tells American tourists how to behave when in Rome. Well, we all know what the obvious answer is, but let’s have a more detailed look at Mr McIndoe’s propositions.

Avoid American fast-food restaurants and chains.

Believe it or not, but McDonald’s and their competitors do not just cater American tourists in Europe. Like it or not, the deconstruction of traditional European eating habits is advancing rapidly, even in France, although they don’t like to talk about it for cultural and marketing reasons. So Starbucks has just announced to open more than 200 branches in Germany. And I had my last McBurger last Monday night. Remember “Pulp Fiction“? It was a “Royal With Cheese” – basically the same, but with subtle, metric, differences.

Keep discussions of politics to private places, not rowdy bars.

Well, it’s never a good idea to go to a rowdy bar anyway, if you aren’t a cowboy yourself. I seriously wonder what kind of etablissement Mr McIndoe had in mind here. What exactly are “rowdy bars”? There are hardly any cheap-western-movie-style saloons in Europe, should that be of any help. But wait, he might be concerned about the significant amount of Irish and English Pubs where it’s definitely a lot easier for American tourists to talk to Europeans as most interaction is in English….

Take a rain check on wearing clothes featuring American flags or sports team logos.

Damn. I just bought one of those Ralph Lauren US-flagged sweaters and I am not even American. And I did not even buy it for any ideological reason. And when I recently wore it during a generally leftist (read: European left, not its kinder, gentler, liberal US cousin) theatre company’s performance I was actually a bit stunned that no one cared at all. Seriously, the American flag is not something only Americans would wear in public in Europe.

The same goes for baseball caps or university logoed sweaters. If all the Germans who wear Georgetown or Harvard sweaters with Yankee baseball caps actually knew those universities and had any real idea about the baseball team whose logo they promote, Germany would have certainly fared a lot better in last year’s international secondary education assessment. But I will tell you, should I ever feel safer not wearing my Ralph Lauren sweater.

Keep your passport out of sight.

Indeed a good idea. But mostly because it really is a hassle to get a temporary one abroad.
Keep cameras, video equipment and maps tucked away.

Right – very interesting point. Sure, there are places where its safer not to be to easily identifiable as a tourist. Just like in Miami, a few years ago, remember? So this is good advice for all tourists if they choose to visit places they should rather not. But if this is an advice specifically aimed at Americans in Europe it does come across a tad bit arrogant – there are cameras and video equipment in Europe. We also have mobile phones, T-mobile hotspots and even ones with at affordable rates…

Soften your speech; Americans typically overshadow their hosts in the volume department.”

This, I have to agree, is partly useful advice. Some American tourists do overshadow almost everyone in the volume department. That is particularly true for shrieking female undergraduate students. Strangely though, it does not hold at all for all the Americans I know personally…

I wonder what Mr McIndoe’s ideas for blending in in the US would be? Maybe you, my gentle readers do have some suggestions?

almost a diary, oddly enough, traveling

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover? Certainly not in Amsterdam.

You certainly know that the idea of not judging something/someone based on appearance is only partly useful.

Covers usually do transmit a significant amount of information about the book’s content. But we also know that looks can deceive, especially concerning human beings. That’s why the headline of this entry can be quite handy: it reminds us to remain open to the fact that the information we receive by decoding the cover does not necessarily convey the correct social rules of interaction. So we have to remain vigilant.

In Amsterdam looks are sometimes almost as deceptive as the fly-over-country-bank featured in Michael Moore’s latest film, Bowling for Columbine. You think it’s just a bank. But it’s actually a bank – and a licensed gun store. In Amsterdam, where a large portion of GDP is made by directly following the idea of making love, not war, people don’t buy guns. They buy porn.

And that’s exactly why you should be careful about looks. A lot of souvenir shops in Amsterdam are conventional souvenir shops only on the outside, featuring the usual displays of postcards, t-shirts and disposable cameras. Inside, their range of products features a slightly different kind of ‘typical’ Amsterdam memorabila.

The kind labelled with a significant number of Xs…

almost a diary, traveling

English in Amsterdam

Let me briefly remind you of the fact that you will be socially slaughtered and then eaten (most likely without your consent) should you ever attempt to talk in English to a French person without any previous attempt to clarify whether he or she is able and willing to communicate in the aforementioned language (you should also add a “Monsieur” or “Madame” at the end of any question you ask a stranger, should you actually expect an answer).

Most of the times and in most of the countries I have ever been, asking if someone I want to talk to in English is able to speak is not only a matter of politeness and respect but the most natural thing to do as not everybody will actually be able to speak English.

But in the Netherlands, things are slightly different. When I ordered coffee (and yes, it *was* coffee) in Amsterdam on Saturday, I suddenly wondered whether it is actually more impolite to ask if a salesperson does speak English than not to ask, as asking does imply the assumption the person could not be *able* to speak English in a country (ok, I’m in Amsterdam, not in Gouda) in which everyybody speaks English.

When I asked some Dutch people at a party what their preference would be, the result was mixed. Some prefer to be asked, some don’t. Should you now ask me for a generalised recommendation, I would say – don’t ask, but be *very* polite in language and tone.

Given the special nature of the service sector in this town, there are a lot of impolite English speaking people on the streets. They, too, will get their coffee, of course. But they won’t get the waitress’s smile. And seriously, given the temperatures here this weekend, such a smile can provide life-saving warmth.

almost a diary, traveling

Trains. Again.

As much as I like trains for sleeping reasons (see earlier entry), I hate their operating company, Deutsche Bahn AG. Not only are they about to increase prices for spontaneous travellers like me by I-don’t-know-how-many-thousand percent on Sunday but they are clearly conspiring against their customers.

I am sure this has happened to all of you who have used a German train in the last 10 years: The one time that you hope a train will actually be five minutes late, as they usually are, it is on time and you miss it because this one time only you’re not on time – as you usually are.

Usually you have to wait for trains. And you do wait. All the time. Wasting days of valuable lifetime on a random platform earning money for the operating company by watching the advertisments they put on for entertainment. But does that mean the one train that arrives on time train would actually consider waiting for you (or even those suctomers who (for good reason) usually add five minutes to the time indicates on the timetable? Only a minute? Only once?

Certainly not. So now I’ll have to wait for two hours (and 10 additional minutes, as usual), which is how this entry came about.

almost a diary, traveling

Bonn. It’s scary

Actually, I had written this entry right after the last one on tuesday. But somehow it got lost in the digital Nirwana. So here is a shortened version. Don’t bother to complain qbout spelling mistakes as I am currently in Paris, typing on a French keyboard. But you’re actually not entitled to that piece of information until you have read the next entry. So for the time beig let’s imagine it’s still last Tuesday…

Bonn is scary. For those of you, gentle readers, who don’t remember, whqt Bonn is, here my brief executive summary: Bonn is a medium sized city situated on the left bank of the Rhine river, south of Cologne. But far more mportant than what Bonn is, is what Bonn was – the Capital of the Federal Rpublic of German (until 1991) and seat of the German Government (until 1999). I was there for the last time on the 27th fo September 1998. That was the day when Kohl was voted out, and Schroeder became Chancellor; that was in a time gone by, a time in which Bonn was the center of German politics.

When I jogged through the squre lile of doll-house-like abandoned I somehow sensed for the first time how much has changed since then. Actually, Germqn politics have not changed a lot, to be honest. But the atmosphere has. The difference cqn really be summarised in the difference between Bonn and Berlin. Just a few meters from the former Bundestag building there is well done museum about post WWII German history, the “Haus der Geschichte”.

And while it is not actually about Bonn, it somehow was. And while I think the permanent exhibition is going to be expanded as time moves on, it somehow feels indicative that the exhibition “current challenges” ends with the government moving to Berlin. History has left Bonn. It is now being made somewhere else. And Bonn is hurt by this probably more than by the governmental exodus (for which the town is being generously compensated).

almost a diary, traveling, USA

Ground Zero. Again.

I hate it to write entries twice. The first version of this one was killed in the lovely Apple Falgship Store in Soho earlier this afternoon by my failure to honour the subtle differences in operating OS X (Ctrl & C resp. V on a PC is Apple & C resp. V on a Mac – you better keep that in mind…). So here we go again.

Today, on the way to the Staten Island Ferry I went to see Ground Zero. I wonder how many pictures of construction sites I had taken until today. The answer is probably – none. The construction site is massive. But if you’d take away some of the surrounding buildings built after the WTC, the pictures I took today would probably look quite similar to those taken during the early stages of the Trade Centre’s initial construction back in the 1970s. A visitor from outer space would certainly not understand why thousands of people would be lining this particular construction site at any given time. But everyone living on this planet knows why they honour the thousands of innocent people who either jumped or were buried under countless tons of concrete, steel and broken glass when the twin towers crumbled after being hit by two planes hijacked by Al Quaeda terrorists, on September, 11th, 2001. Everyone living on this planet knows what happenend, what was there and what is no longer.

But isn’t it interesting that empty space can mean so much? Isn’t it good to know that the meaning people attribute to the New York’s deep scar is much stronger than that of the supposed incarnation of materialism could have possibly been?

At Ground Zero, there’s a billboard attached to the scaffolding of one of the surrounding buildings. It says something like ‘the importance of things is not the size of the act, but the size of the heart’. Normally, that’s nothing but a cheesy line. But to those standing there, it does mean something. And to them, it’s true. But then, somewhere in the Middle East, there will probably be another billboard. Stating the same cheesy line or – the same truth. Next to a picture of Mohammed Atta.

And while it’s obvious who’s right and who’s wrong when you’re standing on Cortland Street – if this world can’t solve it’s bad case of heartache, it does not take much to predict that many more innocent people are going to die.

traveling, USA

Me & NYC,

It’s sunday morning, and I am sitting in a coffee shop on Tompkin Square Park in New York’s East Village writing my first blog entry from abroad.

Actually, there’s not a lot to be said as of yet. Yesterday night, I drank my first beer out of a paper bag, in the middle of Williamsburg Brdige, with an amazing view on lower Manhatten and up the East River. Then there was this strange homeless person telling us for about 20 minutes about how he had figured the 911 events out – conspiracy theories are always funny. If I had a digital camera, I could regale you with his appearance, but I don’t, so you’ll have to wait. Drinking beer out of a bag was a must-do in the US, of course. I had not yet done that. I really wonder why I did not do that in 1998.

I haven’t been to Ground Zero yet, but I will certainly do that at some point. Life here seems so detached from the 911 events, I can hardly believe it. Two Australians I talked to yesterday told me they hardly noticed anything even last Wednesday. But there are tons of flags and postcards. All the street-painters now have cheesy WTC paintings on stock. All the fire vans feature a waving US flag now. But that’s it.