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The deep throated sound of the Ferrari came up behind us at least at 200 Km/hr. I know because the speedometer of the Volkswagen I was in showed that we were moving at 160 Km/hr. The feeling was that of efficiency, not speed. A feeling of order as the cars moved to the right lane to let the Ferrari go by. In the corner of my eye, the perfectly lined up trees in the woods formed a solid green barrier. There were no buildings or bill boards along the way to pull my attention away from the goal ahead, a small valley in the heart of Germany’s Sauerland.
The lunch stop cafe smelled of fresh milled wood, filled as it was with new wooden tables and chairs, local products of the forestry industry all around. The waitress adroitly placed the tall beer tumblers on the table, balancing the tray with one hand then moving the empty chair, left there by someone who had left the table for a minute, over against the wall with the other hand . Another chair seemingly unoccupied, followed, two chairs in a row against the wall. “Ordnung", order first, always. Dirty cups were picked up right away, orders taken for more drinks and food, a smooth waitressing operation, efficient.
Upon our arrival at the Gasthofen, the inn, the smiling owner smoothed his clean, crisply ironed shirt over his sumptuous belly and showed the way into the “stuben”, where the shining bottles of schnapps and liqueurs lined the back of the bar. Waffle with strawberries and cream?, was his invite to tempt our resolve to eat and drink less, walk more, this visit. The way the words “möchten sie?” were spoken gave us the savoring mm-sound followed by throat opening ch-sound and a light hearted elevated ending “sie”, so that our mouth wanted to open automatically to receive the delectables. Who can resist?
Food, efficiency, order and speed, are the hallmarks of the German life. Even the public toilets are an example of these qualities. Spanking clean, with a smart gizmo that rotates the toilet seat silently through a disinfecting unit at the push of a button, they give you back a coupon to spend in the cafeteria after you deposit your coins in the turnstile entry. I couldn’t think of a more efficient way to streamline the eating and elimination cycle.
But traveling and experiencing public restrooms did start me thinking about other countries and their cultural elimination habits. Take India for example, there they do a pretty efficient job of the eating and elimination cycle as well. You use one hand for eating, the other to clean yourself, and you squat instead of sitting down. No need for cleaning the toilet seat, one stop for hand and body cleansing. No coupon though for another meal at the exit. Holland has the do-it-yourself mentality. You want a clean toilet seat? Do it yourself. Public toilets provide small paper pads and cleaning fluid and you can go at it, and be an eco friendly toilet user. The Icelandic people are less fussy, not as clean as the Germans and Dutch. I suppose cold toilet seats harbor fewer bacteria and don’t need cleaning as much…..I could go on, the French toilets are another story, with a sensual bidet as part of the elimination cycle.
Hmm, you wonder, where are we going with this? I wanted to make a point about cultural habits in a very down-home way and share my Autobahn musings. What happens to all of us who are between cultures, us intercultural people, who were born one place, grew up or moved to another? Do we become a mishmash of cultural habits? Do we lose our identity and uniqueness? Do we adopt an intercultural set of habits, an amalgamation of behaviors that blend us into the world’s habit patterns? It seems that way, as all hands are now holding the smart phones and tablets all over the world and constantly check for info and distractions.
As our brains lose the capacity to think deeply in our own unique language pattern and we communicate in emoji symbols, we maybe losing more than we think, we maybe losing the feel for a place, rooted in the habits of our forefathers and mothers, we maybe losing character and quality and like Omar Mateen did in Orlando end up borrowing from one culture to express our native values in a place we call home but isn’t, with disastrous results.
The German character of efficient operating, of cleanliness and order, and a delight in sumptuous quantities of food was just a reminder to hang on to and refresh personal cultural roots as a way to strengthen the character we were given in our place of origin. A reminder to remember our origins, not to impose them on others. At a time when cultural background is a hotly debated and sad topic of conversation, lets remember our uniqueness and welcome the differences. There are many ways to clean a toilet seat.