Sunday, September 8, 2013

"I'm With Her"..."Forever?"

SUNDAY, 9/8:

To quote a soon to be famous American (okay, my niece Mallory)—“Wait.  What?”

Greetings from Chicago.  That’s right; we’re back in the U.S., and Customs was even nice enough to let us back in the county.  The “Wait?  What?” comes from the fact that everywhere you look you run into examples of culture shock.  From the air you can see the roads are now lined up on a straight grid instead of gently curving and meandering wherever they feel like, and on the ground all the signs are in English instead of German (more on that, and on Mallory, in a bit).

First of all, we did indeed wake up at 10:15 pm Marquette time last night, and left Munich with no problem at all.  London was fine, too, and was also a place where we had our big laugh for the day.  Getting on the plane in London Loraine was ahead of me, and when the flight attendant asked where I was sitting I replied “I’m with her”.  He then joked, “Forever”?  And that caused something that hardly ever happens—

It put me at a loss for words.

Upon hearing me speechless, my dear wife shot me one of those looks that all married men, especially married men who didn’t have an answer for a question like that, have seen.  It also caused the flight attendant to break out laughing, and then say, and I quote, “Oh, you’re keeping your options open, aren’t you”?  Just for the record, no, I’m not keeping my options open.  My only defense is that I woke up at 4:15 am this morning, if that indeed is a defense.

And I’m guessing both Loraine and the flight attendant wouldn’t think it is.

Speaking of flight attendants, I have to give every single British Airways flight crew we had a big thumbs up.  Not only did they seem to smile the entire time we were flying between countries, but, like the “Forever?” comment, did so with good humor.  For instance, flying into London last week Loraine asked for milk when the beverage cart rolled around.  The flight attendant at that time said something along the lines of “Sure, but I don’t have any Oreos”.  So all in all, a big thumbs up for the B.A. flight crew.

Jolly good show all around!

Okay, now onto a few more observations about what we saw and what we did over there, the first being about the signs I mentioned earlier.  More and more, they look like this—

I’d say a quarter of the signs you see in Germany are either fully or totally in English.  I think I’ve mentioned in here before that almost everyone in the country speaks a little English, and Tony the Tour Guide, who spends a lot of time over there, has noticed that more and more Germans are adapting American attitudes and American language.  The signs are just a small indication of what could be a big change over there in the years to come.  For instance, pizza is becoming a very popular food in Germany; at least the delivery cars are still European in nature!!

As you may remember, one of my dorky habits while sitting in the back seat of the car is to look at all the license plates of the cars that go by.  Each plate has a letter corresponding to which country it comes from.  For example, here’s Germany—

The “D” stands for Deutschland, the German way of saying Germany.  (And if you'd like a bonus fact (and you know you would), the first two or three letters of the plate, at least in Germany, tells you what city it's from, in this case Weissenfels).  Well, when we’re in France, we see plates from a TON of European countries (I once counted 22, in fact), but in Germany, there were several long rides when I only saw plates from five or six countries.  And they were mostly central European countries like Poland and the Czech Republic; it wasn’t until yesterday on the Autobahn that I even saw a plate from France.  When you consider Germany and France are the two major powers in the Euro zone, you’d figure they’d like each other, but apparently the memory of half a dozen invasions over the past two hundred years (from both sides) still lingers in the minds of the residents of the countries.  In fact, when we were waiting to enter the tunnels at Nordhausen Tuesday I said something (jokingly) to Loraine in French, and my use of the language was met by several strange glances from German citizens standing nearby.

Interesting, isn’t it?  It’s almost as interesting as another habit the German people have.  They’re intensely curious about other people, curious to the point that they’ll stare at you for minutes on end until their curiosity is sated.  Several times I had a German person just stare at me in that very German way.  It was a bit unusual, and if you’re not used to it, can be a bit unnerving.  I mean, what did they think—that I was David Hasslehoff’s son, or something?

Just wondering.

A few more pictures to send your way before signing off for the night.  I mentioned my niece Mallory at the start of this.  Well, when Mallory was four she gave me a bookmark with her picture on it, two years later I brought it with me on my first trip over so she could “go’ to Europe with me, and I’ve actually done it every time since.  So here’s Mallory in Germany this trip—

She’s almost 16 now, and while I don’t know if she’d find her “trips’ to Europe as unique as she did at age six, it’s a tradition I’ve continued doing, and plan to keep doing so as long as I have the bookmark.

Just call me an old softie.

Finally, here’s the story of a German icon, and how it (or they, to be more precise) became one of the few non-chocolate and non-cereal souvenirs I brought back.  Back when Berlin was split into two, the residents of East Germany had slightly different “walk” & “don’t walk” lights as did their West Berlin counterparts.  You’d see this guy in a hat when you were supposed to walk—

And this different guy in a hat when you weren’t supposed to walk—

Well, when the wall came down and the city was reunified, almost every single symbol of East Germany was tossed by the wayside.  The one thing residents wanted to keep?  The guys with the hats on the “Walk/Don’t Walk’ lights.  In fact, a whole cottage industry has sprung up around the “Walk/Don’t Walk” guys, including postcards, posters, stickers, and even cookie cutters, a set of which I picked up and plan on using during this upcoming Christmas cookie season.

Oh, the stories I’ll have to tell when people see the cookies!

Speaking of stories, we hope you’ve enjoyed some of the ramblings we’ve posted over the past 10 days.  I know a lot of people enjoy traveling vicariously through us, and we certainly have a blast sharing some of the amazing—and absurd—things we get to experience.  We’re planning on heading over again next year, so make sure that your virtual passport is up to date!  But until then, thanks for reading.  Our trips wouldn’t be the same without you.

(, a bit disappointed he didn’t get his real passport stamped when he came back into the U.S.!