Posts tagged ‘behavior’

July 24, 2015

Different Rules for Dining Out

Now that I have been back in Europe for a while traveling different countries I noticed – or rather re-noticed – that there are substantial differences in the rules for dining out.  There are two in particular that I want to point out, one at the front end of the restaurant experience and one at the back end.

Dinner rules here and there. Photo: (c) Tina Baumgartner

Dinner rules here and there.
Photo: (c) Tina Baumgartner

Let’s start with getting a table.  There are two ways of doing so in the US: you call and make a reservation or you get in line. The first is easy and logical but sometimes one forgets or the restaurant does not take reservations.  The second is quite different from my experience here in Germany. In the US, at least in California every restaurant, including the fish&chips place by the beach and the fast food restaurant have an orderly process. You go up to the hostess and ask to be seated.  If she can’t seat you your name goes on a list and that list gets taken care off starting from the top as patrons leave the restaurant and vacate tables.

Sometimes there is no hostess but there is a list and people take it upon themselves to put their names and the number of people in their party on that list – in the right order, without cheating and without trying to skip the line.

Then one waits, patiently or not, that doesn’t matter, until one’s name is called.  Sometimes one just hangs around the front area of the restaurant or one is given a buzzer thingy that one takes along while browsing the shops in the mall or whatever. When it buzzes and blinks the table is ready and by that I mean it is ready for you to sit down and order: no half-empty glasses and partially eaten dinners are lingering.

In Germany there are also two ways of getting a table: you call and make a reservation or you outrun your competition for a table. What you do not do is stand patiently at the entry and wait for the next table to become available.  I mean you can do that but what will inevitably happen is that somebody else, who came long after you, has been pacing the place to get a good pole position.  That art starts with keenly observing the room to see who is close to being done and has asked the waiter to pay up, then one hangs out near that table and as soon as the first person at that table as much as lifts half a butt cheek those skilled in the art (everybody) grab that chair, plunk down and declare victory.

Meanwhile you have politely waited and taken a few steps towards that table as you see the patrons stirring but by the time you get there the whole posse already sat down, pushed the dirty glasses and plates aside, opened the menus, started discussing their wine selections.  And they certainly have no intention to leave the table to you.  In fact any such inquiry will be met with blank stares.  Securing a table in a busy German restaurant is a full contact sport.  I find it rather strange by now but if you want to sit down and eat you better play by the rules.

Now let’s assume you got that table and have had your food and a glass of wine and another and maybe a coffee, then there is another cultural difference to negotiate.  In Germany and other European countries I have traveled to now it is time for you linger; maybe have another glass of wine, in the olden days a cigarette or two, a little brandy and since we are all having such a grand old time, let’s have a round of Grappa.  The waiter would never, ever dare putting the check on the table (unless it is past closing hour by now), you call for the check when you are ready.  Then the waiter will come with an itemized list and – unless you are lucky somebody pays the entire bill – every person picks what they had, that gets added up and they pay their share.  In the rare case when an unclaimed beer remains  everybody will contemplate whether they in fact didn’t have three instead of the two they paid for and somebody is generally found pretty quickly who agrees to pay for it.  This I find a rather civilized way going about paying.

In the US the waiter will put the check on your table before you have even finished your last bite of dessert, sometimes before you even ordered dessert.  You can, of course, say that you want dessert and then the check disappears and the dessert menu appears.  Once you half-way through that triple chocolate cake the check will reappear.

Once you are done eating you are expected to pay and leave.  You want some more wine – that’s what the bar is for.  One simply does not linger once one is done with dinner.  It is time to pay up and leave.  I once observed a German couple getting totally outraged by the rudeness of the waiter who put the check on their table while they were finishing up their omelet.  “Honey” I wanted to say “they don’t mean to be rude, it’s just how it is done here.”

Then comes the paying part and this irks me to this day.  The waiter brings an itemzied list of everything consumed and expects that one person pays it all or the patrons figure out among themselves who pays how much.  Smart phones with calculators help some, but often it isn’t the math that is limiting.  What makes it infinitely more difficult in the US is that you need to add both taxes and the mandatory tip which people forget or sometimes “forget”.  So in the end there is never enough money in the pot and everybody feels that they paid their fair share along the lines of “I only had a sandwich for $8.50, I put $10 in so that should be enough.  Well, no, not in California at least, you need to add at least 25% for taxes and tip, so $11 would be closer to the truth.  The higher the bill the larger the discrepancy gets.

Another bad method is “going Dutch” where the bill just gets split by the number of people and everybody pays the same whether you had a small salad and water or the Filet Mignon plus appetizer, dessert, wine and a cocktail.   This works if you go out with your three best friends and everybody is conscious of not charging the others too much.  At your colleagues large birthday party – with a bunch of people you don’t even know – this spells disaster.  Especially if the Filet-Mignon-cocktail people need to leave early (oh so busy) and don’t leave enough money to cover their part.  After falling for this like a sucker one time I decided to never attend such large birthday parties again.

So, in the end, each culture could learn from the others.  The Americans do the getting the table part better, the Germans the paying up part.

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December 28, 2012

Drive-thru Nation

I never thought that eating while driving was a good idea.  I also always thought it was a rather good  idea to actually park your car, get out, walk 30 feet to a door, walk in,  order your food, sit down (or the other way around if you choose to not go to a fast food restaurant) and eat it without spilling ketchup all over yourself because you are eating that double burger with extra cheese and the curly fries with one hand while maneuvering a big ass truck (or a Honda Civic or anything in between).  Alas, I seem to be in the minority as some recent observations have confirmed.  We are all used to the Drive-thru fast food joints, all the big names of this world and slowly getting use to the drive-thru upscale coffee places (yes, I am talking Starbucks) although I am still wondering why I would want to pay almost $5 for a medium (they call it grande) Frappuccino and then not enjoy it because I am  negotiating Los Angeles/Bay Area/Toronto/add other places as appropriate traffic.

The latest, and I have seen it several times now including today, is a Drive thru drug store, like Walgreens, or Rite Aid or one of those.  I am waiting for Drive thru Safeways, and Drive thru fine dining (you’d get a complimentary linen napkin and probably one of those self-heating containers to keep the bisque warm ), for men only I could envision a Drive thru haircut place, I assume most women would not go for that one, but one could definitely drop off dry cleaning in a Drive thru kind of a way.  Why hasn’t anybody thought of that yet?  They probably have and I am just too out of touch to have heard about it – yet.

Drive Thru - so very convenient.  classbias.blogspot.com

Drive Thru – so very convenient. classbias.blogspot.com

What I still don’t understand is the appeal of all of that.  Is the act of getting out of the car so inconveniencing people that they avoid it at all cost, although we are reading constantly that even a little exercise every day helps a lot in terms of health outcomes or do people love sitting in their cars so much that they don’t want to get out ever?

One thing, I believe, Drive thru anything is often not: faster.  The Starbucks this morning had a line of at least 5 or 6 cars whereas we were the first in line inside.  I remember distinctly one time when, on a road trip, we went to have lunch at a fast food restaurant and on our way between tour parking spot and the door had to cross the Drive thru lane.  We almost got run over by a driver too focused on deciding between the tantalizing meal options so I remembered the car.  When we came out, after ordering food and eating it, sitting on a chair with a table in front of us, washed our hands in the bathroom, and walked out, that driver was just ordering his food at the Drive-thru window.

So much for faster.

I think it comes down to the word I have learned to hate: “convenience”.  Getting ones butt out of the car and walking a few steps  is so not convenient so people much rather sit in the car longer to avoid that hassle.  How sad is that!

November 9, 2012

Of Cows and Curtains

I just returned from a business trip to Australia and so a blog post about an Australian

can’t be far.   This specific one is about Queensland, the subtropical north-eastern part of Australia where my travels always take me.

No DST here! pic: au.totaltravel.yahoo.com

In late October, when the rest of the country goes on daylight savings time, Queensland doe not.  Queensland keeps its regular time with the comment that there is nothing wrong with it (true) and that a subtropical climate does not require that (well, maybe).  The reasons you hear when questioning that inconvenient habit (for travel to other states  it means to get up at 3:30 am to catch a 5:00 am flight to be in Sydney for a 9:00 am meeting) is that it negatively impacts the cows resulting in less milk.

It appears the Queensland cows are a very delicate breed as clearly the Californian or Austrian cows are not affected by the time change and happily continue to produce milk.  But, of course, we can’t rule that out.

The second in line argument is even quainter and has to do with curtains.  So here the story goes: the typical Queenslander comes home from work and apparently draws the curtains shut immediately to keep the sun out.  Now, this habit will inevitably lead to some fading of the curtains which is only exacerbated when – due to daylight savings time – the typical Queenslander gets home an hour – as the sun goes – earlier .  Just think of all the additional fading that takes place during that hour.

Both arguments, but especially the latter one, strike me as quaint, sort of from the 50s.  My interpretation is easy: people just don’t want daylight savings time and for no better reason than “we didn’t have it before and so we don’t need it now.”

Just guessing, though.

September 26, 2012

NewB vs. Noob

I had heard neither term until recently when my 8 year old son used the word “noob” (also spelled nub).

My assumption was, that noob is like newb is like newbie – somebody who is new to something and still learning the skill (often computer games, especially when dealing with young boys).  However, that isn’t the case, I  have come to understand.   Newbs/newbies are different from noobs/nubs in the following respect:  whereas newbies are new to something and hence not very good at it they are willing and able to learn and improve.  Noobs however, are hopeless cases, they are bad at something – or to use a popular slang term – they suck at something but no amount of training will ever make them good at it.  Lost cases, pretty much.

The term is very much a kid/young people slang term and unfit to be used at the office or in a meeting.  The exception here is newbie which isn’t demeaning or negative and is a somewhat cute term for beginner.

September 21, 2012

Pull Rank

Some people at the office are driving me crazy and despite the fact that I always try to bring about decisions in a consensus kind of way I was getting angry about all the nonsense and was thinking to myself: “This is how it is going to be – and if I have to pull rank I will.”

Ugly and made especially for demonstration purposes by me.

Pull rank is the critical phrase here.  It means that one uses ones position of power to make others do what one wants them to do.  In my case to never ever use pink in a excel data graph in a company presentation again.  Asked too much?  I didn’t think so.  If it isn’t obvious (especially when looked at in combination with the corporate orange), then I have no other option than pulling rank.

Pulling rank is normally not the most efficient way of getting things done – at least in my experience.  Asking politely often gives better results.  However, there are times when it is the way to go and – if used diligently – to get the desired results – and fast.

So I am going to pull rank on that pink thing and while I am at it on purple and an assortment of other colors also, as well as weirdo gradients and shadings, shadows, glows and reflections.
There you have it!

September 19, 2012

Bicycles

Every year I come back from a summer in Europe to find things changed (and prices for staple foods up).  Last year it was the local Borders bookstore that, along with all others in the nation, was about to close and during its last days of “final final everything must go sale” offered mainly fluffy blankets made of shiny synthetics and left over shelving units.  This year it was the inexplicable disappearance of your local chain Mexican food place which we actually quite liked.  We still find ourselves saying on Sundays “lets go to Baja Fresh” to then add “oh, no.  It’s closed, darn.”  (of course we only say darn because of your son, else stronger language would be used).

Ways to go before Silicon Valley looks anything like this, pic: blog.brothercycles.com

This year I came back to a better change: bike paths have appeared.  Nothing like in Germany or Holland but there are bike paths now.  Along busy 4 lane city streets which are pretty much suicidal to ride on, bike paths that suddenly start and just as suddenly stop leaving you to wonder whether you are supposed to just disappear or have a friend with a car pick you up or what.  But bike paths never the less.  And I have actually seen people ride on them: few and tentatively and quite fearful – understandably.  But it is surprising and good.  This is how it starts.  I don’t expect our silicon Valley suburb to ever look like Amsterdam but every little but helps!

September 17, 2012

Much ado about nothing

yes, it is the title of a Shakespeare play – as we all know, at least now but the phrase “much ado about nothing” is also used in everyday language.  There it is used in situation where a great deal of fuss is made over something of very little importance or relevance.

The word ado dates back to Shakespeare who first used it in Romeo and Juliet to mean business or activity which is still the same as the modern day use “a lot of activity over nothing”.

Here are a few examples for the usage of the phrase:

Much ado about nothing at that maeeting, pic: wvu.acm.org

“What was that important home owner’s meeting all about?”

“Somebody had repeatedly parked in the wrong parking spot upsetting some people terribly.  Much ado about nothing if you ask me as there are enough parking spaces.”

“Why was Shirley so upset yesterday?”
“much ado about nothing, really, she couldn’t find her favorite necklace and convinced herself that the cleaning lady must have stolen it, but she found it in some box in her jewelery drawer – as always.”

It is a useful phrase that expresses mild criticism and a certain weariness and tedium with the behavior of the people who create much ado about nothing but isn’t strong or insulting enough to be avoided.

September 15, 2012

Upper Hand

This phrase is read this morning in the newspaper in connection with the current unrests in Libya, Egypt and Yemen.  It is an interesting one, actually quite obvious what it means in the context of most sentences – to have /get /keep /regain the upper hand means to have /get /keep /regain a dominant position, the position of power, the advantage over.

The little guy on the right has the upper hand – at least so far.

The phrase is used widely, in sports a team can have the upper hand over another, in war or in politics one group can have the upper hand over the other and at home mom has the upper hand – at least that is what I tell my son.

The origin of the term seems to go back to a game:  a player grabs a stick with his/her hand the next one puts his hand on top and the first one on top of that and so they go until they reach the end of the stick.  Whoever manages to squeeze in the last hand wins.  Apparently this method was also used – or maybe is -on playgrounds for selection of impromptu baseball teams, the captain who has the upper hand gets to choose the first player for his team from the group of kids wanting to play.

August 30, 2012

Guy’s guy

I just thought about an old friend and how to best describe him and the term “guy’s guy” came to mind.  That is definitely one worth explaining.

This guy really doesn’t look much like a guy’s guy, pic: ryansingercomedy.com

So a guy’s guy is a heterosexual man who prefers the company of other man and favors  in masculine activities.  Playing rugby is definitely a guy’s guy activity, so is cutting down trees, fixing up old cars, many forms of extreme sports, notably those which require lots of strength and power.  Ball room dancing – despite the fact that requires a lot of endurance, is not a typical guy’s guy activity.  Another important aspect is that to be a guy’s guy the guy has to be admired by other men.

The gy’s guy opposite is the “Ladies’ Man” – any major achievements in ball room dancing are more likely to make you the latter, building a barn with your bare hands and a few tools over the weekend will definitely make you more of a guy’s guy.

Another expression saying pretty much the same thing is “man’s man”.

August 9, 2012

In Defense of Californias Elementary Schools

I have pretty much given up blogging about the California school system and it’s shortfalls, specifically the political correctness which often lies like a sticky blanket on everything that should be fun from candy to a good playground fight.

Mobbing is nasty, pic: http://www.recognizeabuse.com/bullying/what-is-mobbing/

 

Today, though, I have to raise my voice in defense of the political correctness and mollycoddling which surprises no-one more than me.  I have spent the last four weeks with my family in my native German town.  My parents live in a small, save cul-de-sac with kids my son’s age around.  “Perfect”, I thought to myself, “‘precious only son’ will have some buddies (or should I say mates) to play with and I will get to do – whatever.”  What I never even considered was the fact that the lovely little neighborhood brats would gang up on my child, whose only crime it is to be a stranger

 

with the occasional strange idea about how German language should be used.  Five of them mobbed him, were absolutely nasty from the first moment on, stole his toys, refused to include him in their games, shoved dirt down his shirt and similarly nasty stuff while their parents sat by looking and saying smart and enlightening things like “that’s just how kids are”.

Now I hate to say this but where we live every parent would be mortified by such behavior and every teacher would call a conference with the parents if they observed such despicable acts.  Kids would be impressed upon that mobbing is unacceptable and that message would be delivered in no uncertain terms.  Kids learn in Kindergarten to be open and tolerant of others.  This is part of the curriculum.  Does it always work and do we have a bunch of little angles floating three feet off the ground in California?  No, of course not, but at least a serious attempt is made to train them from an early age to be caring and inclusive,  call it mollycoddling if you like but at least it isn’t mobbing and indifference.

I am very glad, I have to say, that the first day of my son’s third grade will be in a political correct school in politically correct California.