The trappings of a culture

Our summer travels have provided some interesting food for thought. What is it that gives a culture its defining characteristics? Sure there’s music, art, architecture, and religion, but I think there are other things that provide hints about a people and their world.

Street signs – I don’t know why, but I get a kick out of street signs in other places. Take for example the level of detail on some ‘watch out for pedestrians/school children crossing’ signs – the graphic artists went all out and included briefcases, purses, and ponytails. That’s just cute. I also like the Polish ‘car shower’ sign. The ‘residential area’ signs in Barcelona paint a picture of familial bliss. And I swear the cows on American ‘watch out for cows’ signs are way fatter than the cows on Polish signs. The logical follow-up question – are the cows themselves fatter too, and what kind of conclusions might be drawn from the answer?

Taxis – The taxis, taxi drivers, and taxi rides in a place reveal a lot about city planning, economics, energy policies, and general satisfaction with life. Are the taxis big or small? Well taken care of or rather dilapidated? Human-powered or engine-powered? Are the drivers controlled or fearless (or potentially suicidal)? Most of the taxi rides in my life have been unworthy of a story, but there were two times when I could appreciate the ‘skills’ of our driver only after I was safely standing on my own two feet again – once in Miami, Florida and once in Lviv, Ukraine.

Grocery stores – I like to eat. By extension, I like grocery stores. And because I also like to travel, I like grocery stores in other places. What people eat and how they package and present their foods says a lot about how they treat their bodies. Is food revered, or is it merely an annoying necessity? Are there more fresh or pre-packaged foods? How big are the stores and packages? The typical grocery stores in Düsseldorf are definitely smaller than back in Arizona. Thankfully the packages are too – I already have to work hard enough to cart everything back home on my bike.

Bakeries – Following the same logic about grocery stores, and considering the fact that I could be classified as a bread addict (or carb whore, as Toby likes to lovingly call me), I love checking out the bakeries in other places. Everything about a bakery appeals to me – the warm, doughy smell, the carefully arranged assortment of breads and sweets, the bustle of people coming in and out to buy their daily bread or just a snack for in between. It’s hard for me to leave without something in the hand. An added bonus at nearly every bakery in Germany – you can almost always get a fresh sandwich to go. Fast food, but better.

10 thoughts on “The trappings of a culture

  1. Like the way you have explored different topics related to Travelling. We here also like writing about our travel experiences. Really like the overall look of your blog as well.

  2. I always love checking out signs in foreign countries, too, especially street signs. Sometimes there are so many pointing in so many different directions that it can be a bit confusing. I love taking photos of those.

  3. I love the little pedestrian girl with the balloon; it makes one want to stop more readily than a guy with a briefcase. And I’m with you with respect to the bakeries – among my favorite stops in Europe. The smells, the confections…grblph…great; I shorted out my keyboard.

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