Posts tagged ‘travel’

January 4, 2013

Drive Thru II

On our road trip over the winter vacation I saw something I referred to in my last post, not knowing whether it exists or not: the drive thru dry cleaner.

Walking around Bakersfield, CA after a long day in the car I came across one and here is the blurry picture to prove:

The drive thru dry cleaner.  I should have known it existed.  Pic: mine

The drive thru dry cleaner. I should have known it existed. Pic: mine

June 2, 2011

Traveling abroad

Interesting factoid about the US and maybe an explanation why sometimes people here come across as, well, somewhat ignorant when it comes to the rest of the world.

The statistics I am citing is not uncontested, if you search you will find a different data, although likely not dramatically so.  The important point , however, is not whether a particular number is 10% or 15% but that it is not, like 85%.

Anyway, I am talking about passport ownership which correlates strongly (if not perfectly) with travel abroad which – at least in the opinion of this travel-obsessed expat – equals a deeper understanding and sympathy for different cultures and different ways of doing things.

So the number of Americans owning a passport seems to be somewhere between 10 and 25%.  Which means that 3/4 of the American population never even set foot into Mexico or Canada, let alone Laos or Namibia.

The only number I could find for Europeans were Brits, and there the number of passport holders seems to be in the low 70%.

A more interesting question as the actual percentage is the question why the percentage is so low.  The US is a big country and so it is easier not to leave it than, say, not to leave Switzerland ever but still – wouldn’t one think that at some point people would want to see what’s out there?

Cost of travel gets mentioned a lot but to me that is a smoke-screen.  If someone can afford a F-150 truck they can afford a vacation in Mexico.

Some point out that Americans don’t have an “imperial history” and therefore, unlike for example the Brits, they are, as a people historically speaking, not used to travel.  I tend to discard such arguments because, as a people, historically speaking the Americans are also not used to owning over-sized flat screen TVs – and still everybody has one now.  Maybe that is simplistic but on some level valid nevertheless.

There might not be much interest in the rest of the world.  The news, if one can call them that, certainly do nothing to encourage taking an interest in foreign countries.  Unless there is a major catastrophe (tsunamis, terrorist attacks, earthquakes and plan crashes come to mind), or some exciting human interest story (people caught in collapsed mine behaving valiantly) the rest of the world barely gets mentioned.    The impression most Americans get from watching the news is that certain death is looming abroad.

Still, one would hope that the people of the sole remaining self-nominated superpower take a bit more interest in the rest of the world  – which, by the way certainly does not see itself as the rest of the world or the non-US territory.

May 26, 2011

Land of no vacation

Proof what I write about vacation in the US, pic:

Okay, I admit that this is a bit of an overstatement – but only a bit.  We can let the statistics about vacation speak for themselves: The US is the only advanced (however that might be defined) country that does not obligate employers under federal law to offer any paid vacation to employees.  Even the Japanese – long thought of as the hard workers of the globe slaving away in their jobs giving half of their few vacation days to the company –  fare better: they get a mandated 10 paid days off.

Most American employees in fact get some time off, like 2 whopping weeks.  These come with strings attached.  Mostly it is considered unacceptable for an employee to take more than one week off at a time.  Even for that period of time the employer will generally expect the employee to check email, answer them and be available for phone calls.  With most parts of the world in reach for a week-long vacation completely wired even the “I couldn’t get a cell phone signal” excuse doesn’t fly anymore.

The weirdest thing to me is, that a good number of employees defend this and think it right.  Arguments I have read, heard and pieced together run the gamut from “the company sure won’t survive if I am away for more than a week”, “if I leave for that long they realize they don’t need me and fire me”, “we Americans are hard working and the rest of them are slackers”, “we aren’t like the French”  and similarly logical reasoning.

The funny thing is – or actually rather sad – that people seem to think that their relentless working makes them super competitive, when in fact the US was ranked fourth in the World Economic Forum‘s 2010-2011 rankings of the most competitive nations and the slackers in Sweden, with their five weeks of vacation, came in second.

Go figure.

April 24, 2011

Restaurants, part 2

This morning we were sitting in a restaurant near one of America’s big tourist attraction – Yosemite National Park – having breakfast.  The crowd was pretty international but from the look of it mainly Europeans,  a few Hispanics and of course Americas.   On the table next to us was a German couple.

After dinner drinks are the norm in Germany, pic:

We had just settled in and finished half of the food we had gotten from the buffet when the waiter came and asked whether everything was fine.  We nodded and mumbled something affirmative between two bites of French toast and he produced our check from behind his back and put it on the table with the usual “whenever you are ready” or something to that effect.

We hardly noticed.  Then he did the same with the German couple and the woman got all upset, felt kicked out and insulted and commented in German to her companion that this wasn’t the first time somebody had treated them in this very rude way.   I almost intervened to tell them that this is the way things are done here.  It isn’t rude or unusual, you aren’t being kicked out you are simply spared the inconvenience of having to ask for the check.  In the US, unlike in Germany for example, you go to a restaurant, you order, eat, pay up, and get out of there.  No lingering at the table for another glass of wine or beer.   You don’t have to rush and wolf down your food but after you have finished your food and dessert you leave.  If you want to have another glass of wine you either get it at the bar or you go to a different place, like a bar and get it there.

In Germany and certainly any number of other European countries I have been to like Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Spain that is not the rule.  You eat, then you finish you wine, decide, get another glass, talk, laugh, have another and (until not too long a go) smoke a cigarette or two or three.  You might not leave for an hour or more after dinner is finished.

Not so in the US – just different customs, has nothing to do with rudeness, it is just the way it is.

February 12, 2011

Metering lights

This is another of those Californian traffic things that a lot of people – foreigners and those from other parts of the US – don’t know: metering lights.  Like car pool lanes, metering lights are used to regulate the traffic on freeways.  In the case of car pool lanes once the cars are already on the freeway.  The metering lights regulate how fast cars get on the freeway.

Metering lights - improving traffic flow. Hopefully. Pic:

These lights are to be found on many freeway entrances and they only have two settings: red (mostly) and green (occasionally).  The cars that want to enter the freeway stop at the red metering light and wait for green.  Unlike the usual traffic lights the green phase is very short and only one car is allowed to go per green.

This way the flux of additional cars onto the already congested freeway is limited.  Metering lights are only in use when traffic is heavy.

Of course, metering lights can be combined with with car pool lanes: cars on the car pool lane get more frequent green periods than regular cars, but still only one car is allowed.  Here is a short article about the effect of metering lights on traffic flow.

January 24, 2011

Traveling and doing business in Europe, intro

Europe: large and diverse! pic:

Here are some pointers for Americans traveling to Europe – for fun or business or both.  Some might seem intuitive, others not so.

First and most important: not all of Europe is as same.  (Some) Americans tend to think about America as this amazing diverse place and of Europe as this block of like-minded countries.  Ain’t so.   People in Sweden are very different from people in Sicily, in language, habits, traditions, values, and customs.  The food they eat, their pastimes, preferred sports (ice curling in Palermo anyone?), their predominant political and religious convictions (or lack thereof), their architecture, and taste in interior design, etc. are all very different.

The same is true for many countries in Europe, they might be more similar than they are to say, Korea or even the US but that still doesn’t mean that what works in one country will also work in the next.

Generally, Europeans do not take kindly to the notion that they are all pretty much the same.  It is particularly offensive with small countries neighboring bigger ones.   One sure way to offend a Swiss or Austrian is to call them Germans or imply that they might as well be.

Another unfortunate blunder I have seen even highly educated people commit is to confuse European countries with one another.  A Swiss is not a Swede – both start with S, that is it.  Neither is a Dutch a Danish – despite the D and that both come from small countries up north.

A number of blog entries about different European countries will follow starting with my home country of Germany.

December 28, 2010

A little bit of Mexico

I am in Mexico and so I have been looking for a Mexican proverb with an English translation and came up with this one:

Leopard not changing its spots!, pic: © Lori Martin |

“El que es perico, dondequiera es verde”.  In a direct translation that means “a parrot is green no matter where it is”.  The English equivalent is the following proverb:A leopard never changes its spots”, also possible” the tiger cannot change it’s stripes”

Basically that expresses the somewhat fatalistic attitude that people will never change.  It seems to be used mainly to express the idea that people won’t change for the better or make drastic adjustments to their habits and attitude, especially as they get older.

It is a fairly friendly and non offensive saying implying slight resignation mixed in with understanding for the fact that people tend to not change their basic nature.

Here are some examples:

Guy to his friend: “I want to climb Mount Everest, do you want to come with me?”

Friend: “You know that I don’t like risky adventures like that and never will – a leopard never changes his spots! So no, you’ll have to find somebody else!”

Girl to friend: “My fiance is very conservative, I wish he was a little more liberal.  Do you think I can change him?”

Friend: “Honey, a leopard never changes its spots!”

December 25, 2010

More travel expressions

Some more travel related expression used in the US.

A tall frosty one on the road doesn't happen much anymore. pic: © Ksenia Krylova |

Let’s start with one that is related to air travel and pretty widely known and used even in other countries: red-eye flight.

Red-eye flights are those departing late at night getting you to were you want or need to be the next day, fatigued and with red eyes from lack of sleep.  The expression is often shortened in spoken language and so somebody will say: “I took the red-eye out of LA last night to get to DC in  the morning.”

Red-eyes are very common in a country with four time zones.  Less popular, at least now, I am under the impression that this used to be different back in the days is the habit of having “one for the road”.   This expression refers to having one more of something, but particularly one more (alcoholic) drink before one hits the road.  These days we all know how dangerous dunk driving is and if somebody has “one for the road” they are much more likely to be referring to a cookie or a glass of OJ (orange juice) than a martini.

December 17, 2010

Travel related expressions

Travel is fun.  At least it used to be.

Air travel and in particular domestic air travel has become almost unbearable here in the US:  gone are the days of generous helpings of microscopic pretzels, or tiny packages of peanuts, gone the days of blankets, pillows, and of whole cans of diet coke.  We live in the era of BYOF (bring your own food), buy unhealthy snacks with fancy names such as the “Traveler Delight Deluxe Indulgence” (I made this name up) at steep prices, or just don’t eat.

If your cold, there is always a blanket to be purchased and if you are thirsty they’ll offer you a small cup filled 90% with ice cubes and 10% coke.

With that complaint out of my system let’s focus on some travel – most not air travel – related expressions:

When you start your trip by car you “hit the road”.  No actual hitting involved.  An example would be” “it’s getting late, kids, and we need to drive all the way back to San Francisco.  Let’s hit the road!”

A typical Sunday driver? pic:

When you are the driver, the last thing you want to have to deal with, aside from snow, torrential rains, traffic jams, screaming kids, and an empty gas tank in the middle of nowhere is a “backseat driver”.   These guys (mainly man, really) are passengers who critique or criticize your driving and constantly tell you what to do or what you should have done or should never do, or could have done better in that situation.

Oh, and the there are the “Sunday drivers” – very same thing as the German “Sonntagsfahrer”: drivers who driver very infrequently, are therefore inexperienced and scared, drive way too slow, swerve all over the road, and make you do crazy things to get by them.

On second thought, maybe air travel isn’t so bad after all.

December 7, 2010

Off the beaten track

Off the beaten path - and beautiful, pic:

The concept of “off the beaten track will look particularly interesting and familiar to Europeans, as many of them – though not all – like to travel off the beaten path or track.

If you travel off the beaten path you avoid populous, much traveled regions in favor of fairly unknown and less traveled places.  The expression implies: less comfort, more exhausting travel with a marked absence of 5 star hotels, fancy spas, high-end restaurants, people who speak one’s language, and air conditioning.

One the positive side – at least positive for some –  it implies that you will actually get to meet some of the people who live where you travel, learn something about them, share their food and have an adventure or two in the process – which reminds me of that night in an all male exchange student dormitory in Beijing …

Next time you trek though some jungle of visit a village after riding in a Jeep for five hours or more you know where you are: off the beaten path.