First of all, you frequently have to pay to use “public” toilets in Europe. I mean, there are even turnstiles in gas station rest stops in Germany where you have to pay 0.70 Euro to use the pot. They try to make it up to you (I guess) by giving you a 0.50 Euro ticket to use in the convenience store or to apply to your gas charge, but come on. I don’t get it. This Pay-to-Pee routine has been going on since Istanbul.
German toilets don’t have a tank, or really a bowl, for that matter. The best way to understand it is with a picture. I don’t have one, sorry. Anyway, German toilets, their configuration, and what happens when we use them have all been major topics of conversation around here.
I’ve heard that Germans learn English in school earlier than Americans learn other languages, and I’ve heard that more German students study English than American students study a world language. So far, we’ve had great luck in communicating in English all through Europe and even in Berlin. After living in Konstanz for a couple of weeks, we’ve seen how our lack of German language knowledge is a hindrance. People here don’t speak English as well as they do in other parts. We are trying to pick up on some German, but I feel a little unmotivated given that we’re moving on soon. The language barrier is isolating. I remember how vulnerable I felt with one in Beijing three years ago. Thank goodness for apps and for no “German-only” legislation that I can detect.
Relatedly and judging by Google Translate and Wikipedia alone, German is hard to translate into English. The English translations make hardly any sense. Here’s one of the most comprehensible sentences I’ve read: “In good weather, you can admire the Alpine view, especially with hairdryer.”
The grocery store is not a supermarket. I may not have seen a supermarket since England, and that may have been the only one I’ve seen since I left the States. We shop for food every couple of days, and when we don’t cook at home we eat out. So, we are buying food every single day. It feels weird, and somehow right. I don’t know. I’m a little out of sorts by it all.
No dryers. When was the last time we had a dryer? There was one in Malmö, Sweden, but we didn’t use it because we weren’t there long enough to do laundry. Stockholm had one. It was a washer-dryer-combo machine. Was that the only dryer? I mean, we’ve been line-drying so much that I’m not sure. Let me work backwards. Copenhagen - no laundry. Amsterdam - no laundry. London - washed clothes in sink and line-dried on towel warmers. York - no laundry. Edinburgh - I think there was a washer but we didn’t use it. Not sure. Dublin - ah, yes, a washer/dryer combo. Donore - machine wash, line dry. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
I like line drying, but I don’t like hand-washing. I will be fondly reminiscing about machine washing when we leave Europe in a month, I'm sure.
Privilege is no little thing, but it is one of the things that has come to mind as a difference from home. We are so privileged to be traveling the way we are, and I’ll admit to sometimes realizing that I’ve taken our ease for granted. Yet, any travel abroad is a privilege, and many people have it but don’t exercise it. Others use it but don’t recognize it. Still others act on their travel privilege with humility and recognition of its complexity. It’s been a few weeks, but I still remember what Lisbet said to me on the ferry from Denmark to Germany when the topic of the European refugee crisis arose. She expressed that it was hard to feel fully at ease with the travel she was taking (she and her husband were driving their RV to Italy for two weeks of touring) when so many people were risking their very lives because it seemed a surer path to survival than staying in their war-torn countries. Yes, I have the privilege of travel and the privilege of staying home in a safe and prosperous life. Our place in Konstanz is comfortable and easy, but different from home enough to challenge us a bit. That challenge brings the privileges of my life into focus.