Friday, April 11, 2008
Reflections on Return from Europe
My wife and I just returned from our first ever trip to Europe and it was awesome. We spent two days driving the English countryside, three days taking the underground around London, and two days walking Paris. I will probably have a few more observations to make in coming weeks but here are some fairly random reflections on the experience:
~ London just may be the cleanest city I've ever seen. Strangely, however, there are very few garbage cans. One time I saw a lady picking up a speck of "rubbish" (as they call it) with a long claw-like mechanism, so I'm assuming there are either people like her working all over the city or else Londoners are just really clean people.
~ Tourists are morons (myself included I am sure). The fine people at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris are kind enough to open the doors to the public for free. The sign on the door says no flash photography. The chapel spaces ask for quiet so people can pray. Instead you have a wall to wall sea of people in there and you've got flash bulbs going off everywhere you look, noisy people walking right in and around those sitting in prayer, and a basic trampling of one of the most beautiful churches you will ever see in your life. Did I take pictures? Yes (flash off). You can't help it. Did I walk into some of those chapel spaces? Yes. You can't help it. Was I a tourist? Yes. But as I sat there in the chapel with my wife we marvelled on the total lack of reverence and respect shown by so many and I admitted that if I were in charge of the place the riff-raff would not be allowed. Then I realized that the people of Notre Dame are more gospel than I am. It was a humbling place to be.
~ Nudity is pretty normal in art. I think you see roughly the same amount of nudity per minute at the Louvre as you might on contemporary television. Somehow it seemed more appropriate though. Not sure why.
~ Driving on the left (sitting on the right side of the car) is hard, but you get used to it. What is more difficult is getting used to the roadways and road signs. You don't realize how much you take your driving habits and sign shorthand for granted until you are having to interpret another society's signage and navigate different intersections. As a road sign flies toward you, you really only have a second or two to figure out all that it is telling you. I think the signs there are pretty simple, but I will confess I did a couple loops of a few traffic circles just trying to figure out which off-ramp to take, and several times still got the wrong one. Having said that, I liked there system better. I would just need more time to get used to it. It is more collaborative than ours. Here we have stop lights and can't imagine how one person could go without another person stopping. There you all enter the traffic circle and get out where you need to. You stop for a moment but not very long. You are always moving. There is a lot of collaboration going on. It is really cool, actually. Does it betray a different, and better, philosophy of life? I don't know. It would be cool if it did.
~ The BBC is superior to North American news stations. We heard so much more about international news there than we do here. We also heard more about issues and less hype. Watching CNN in the American airport was an exercise in wasting time. Watching the BBC in our hotel room felt like education.
~ Canadians are indeed the politest people in the world. I won't say Londoners or Parisians are impolite, but you do notice less apologies and overall thoughtfulness in those places in comparison to what you get used to in Canada.
~ London is very multicultural. I felt like I heard more languages there than I ever hear in Canada. I don't think it was just the tourists either. You heard other languages just as much as you heard English. Even the English felt like it needed translation sometimes. The slang is so different than over here.
~ It is great to experience other cultures. I hope I will be a better person as a result. More about this in the future. Right now I'm still relishing in the wonderful experience of sipping coffee in the streets of Notting Hill (pictured above), having a croissant in the place where croissants were born, and walking the historic streets of London, Oxford, Paris, and so on. What a treat. Would go back in a second.