Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tales of the road: part 5

Monday February 1, 2011

There used to be a big name in radio, a guy called Paul Harvey, who would relate a story of some bizarre, usually abhorrent behavior in a foreign culture, and tag the story with the line "It's not one world." That was his code for saying white, Protestant, American culture was different and inherently better. Saner, logical, and just simply right.

In fact, it is, in so many ways, one world today. We've long lived in a universal Coca Cola and Levis world, but it goes so far beyond that now the sheer universality becomes boggling. For example:
  • Eating nachos in an Irish pub in Brussels
  • Watching "Jaws" on TV with Dutch subtitles
  • Following up nachos in Brussels with an Asian noodle dish served by an Irish girl in Brugges, in a bar with a Hindu theme
  • Meeting Mohammed on the TGV, a young man with Lebanese/Greek Cypriot parents who grew up in Kuwait and completed a degree in finance at Michigan and is now in a graduate program in London, and was on his way to celebrate in Amsterdam
  • Seeing little rural homes in Belgium from the train with their satellite dishes, junk cars and clutter of plastic kid's toys in the yard, and it all could have been Tennessee or Sheboygan or Fresno just the same
  • College girls on the train talking about One Tree Hill and How I Met Your Mother and half a dozen other American TV shows
  • European cats are just as indifferent as American cats
The takeaway for me: Paul Harvey was wrong and we are always more alike than we are different.

That said, there are lots of little things that are different in this part of Europe:
  • The Red Light windows of Amsterdam as neighbors to a pre-school and a renaissance church
  • People in coffeeshops rolling ginormous joints at 10am
  • Everyone speaking three or four languages comfortably
  • Getting a decent glass of wine for $4 everywhere
  • Intelligent grafitti
To that last point, an example or two, noting particularly that some grafitti here has an encouraging, rather than threatening tone, such as:
  • "MFA Angst!"
  • "Life's what you make it!"
  • "Believe life, not God"
  • "You're not Icarus, you'll make it."
This afternoon I met a 64-year old Indonesian-Dutch Army veteran of twenty years. He told me about getting a three-hour interrogation at the Houston airport when they learned he was born in Indonesia. He was on his way to visit his sister who lives on a farm in southern Arkansas. He told me what a good life that is.

So in the end, it's not a matter of better or worse, it's just that it's just one world.


Pat said...

Happy travels Barry! I enjoy your angle on your European vacation! Keep the pictures coming.

Betty Rhodes said...

You made my day this morning, reading about your travels, your attitude, really good stuff. You are a delightful human being!