There is a whole other world out there for those who choose to travel across an ocean and visit another country. From different electric plugs and voltage to dealing with liters and kilometers to the way toilets flush, core rules that govern our lives in the United States are completely different. This summer my family was able to visit Switzerland, Italy, and England.
It was our first trip to Europe. Each of these countries has their own natural beauty. But the way each country does things sure opened up our minds.
In England the steering wheel is on the right side of the car and they drive on the left side of the road; it is a good thing I never tried my hand at driving in London. In Switzerland, you drive around numerous traffic circles called “roundabouts” instead of stopping at stop lights. I am not sure what rules are in place for driving in Italy. From our week in Italy, it appears to me that there are no rules in place for motorcyclists.
What I do know is that if you pull up to a gas pump in Switzerland or Italy, they pump the gas for you. One effort I made to pump my own gas in Italy offended the station employee who I think told me (I don’t understand Italian) to get away from the pump and let him do it.
In these foreign lands, it seems that everyone drives a small car. It is just a way of life. I have never seen most of the cars that were on the road in Switzerland and Italy and many of the cars are made by companies I have never heard of before.
My excitement of seeing gasoline posted at $2.00 in Switzerland was short lived when I was informed that it is sold by the liter. The cost in U.S. dollars was over $7.50 a gallon. Then, when we crossed over into Italy, I was real excited to see gas advertised as $1.52 a liter until I realized that it is sold in Euros, not Swiss Francs. The cost in U.S. dollars was over $10.00 a gallon. At one point it cost us $136 to fill up the tank. I don’t think I will complain any time soon about our U.S. gas prices.
I have never seen more tunnels than I saw in Switzerland, with more being built everywhere we traveled. The stop lights in Switzerland and England turn from red to yellow to green. This is an interesting concept; it gives the driver a chance to get ready to take off with a drag racing type spirit.
Switzerland’s five franc piece is a coin. So if you buy a one franc item and hand the cashier a ten franc bill, you get a pocket full of change. It is pretty much the same with Euros and British pounds. Although they do use five euro bills and five pound bills, they use two and one euro and pound coins. My pocket was always heavy with coins. So, in each country, if you are buying something priced at three francs/euros/pounds, you will likely be handing the sales clerk coins, not bills. Just a different way of doing things.
A plus with these countries is that you pay only the price posted on the item you want; taxes are included in the price. So if you want an item priced at four euros, you give four euros and no percentage is added on for tax. Because of this, after spending a week in Italy, I had only seen a single one cent euro.
One major difference that still amazes me is the absence of ice in Switzerland and Italy. Switzerland, with its high altitude, is cool enough in July to not notice its absence, but Italy is extremely hot in the summer and as one hot day after another clicked off (I can’t tell you how hot the temperatures were because they use celsius, not fahrenheit), it became a quest for me to find ice.
In these hot summer days, how was a big guy like me to cool down without ice? In Venice you can pay about $5. U.S. equivalent to buy a 16 ounce bottle of refrigerated Coke which would be gone in a heartbeat. I didn’t much want to do this.
I stumbled on a Burger King and decided that if I am going to spend this type of money for a Coke, I will buy the biggest size they have and ask the young lady behind the counter to give me an inch or two of ice so it will be “ice cold.” My excitement level rose when I could see an ice machine down the hallway at the back of the business. When I got to the front of the line I asked for the super size Coke (at over $6 U.S.) and asked her for a couple of inches of ice so I could sit and savor an icy cold drink. She informed me that they do not put ice in drinks and then filled the cup about on inch short of the lip with borderline cold tap Coke.
Finally, in Florence, I decided we would go to a grocery store in a suburb and I would just buy a bag of ice and a two liter soft drink bottle and finally my quest for an icy drink would be over. I asked the cashier at the front of the store, if they had ice. Not speaking English, I had to ask her a second and a third time. She nodded and pointed to the back of the store. I was on cloud nine as I headed to the back of the store.
I got to the frozen food section and low and behold, no ice (I think she thought I said ice cream). I stopped one of the men who worked at the store and asked him where the ice was. To bridge the language barrier and to be sure I was communicating clearly I walked him over to the Coke display at the front of the store and pointed at the ice in its picture. His response rocked my world. He said in broken English, “There is no ice in Italy.”
I decided my quest had been brought to an end. If a fast food joint won’t add ice to my drink and if the grocery stores don’t sell ice, my mission appeared hopeless. I wasn’t sure if I could make it three more days in the summer heat without an ice cold soft drink, but somehow I survived.
I think I’ll take a break from writing, put some ice in a glass right now, and have some iced tea..
My challenge to you today is twofold. First, recognize that the American way of doing things is not the only way. We have each adapted to our own routines, yet they vary significantly in other lands.
Second, and more important, don’t take for granted what we have as Americans. Whether it is ice in a drink or less expensive gas, there are many day to day things that we each take for granted. Enjoy the simple things each day and appreciate them according.
Just a thought...
Rick Kraft is a motivational speaker, a published author, and an attorney. To submit comments, contributions, or ideas, e-mail to email@example.com mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 850, Roswell, New Mexico, 88202 - 0850.