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.