Thursday, October 10, 2013

Some Amusing European Experiences

As I already told you, I recently returned from Europe after a month. I went there primarily to participate in my mother’s 100th birthday celebration in Holland. She is truly a grand lady, a famous and brilliant photographer. Google her at  or just type in her name - Ata Kando - and click on “images.” You’ll see some of the most beautiful photos imaginable.

There were six hundred and fifty people at her birthday celebration, including the mayor, the embassador, the media and assorted VIPs. It was held in a museum that devoted several floors to her photos. I’m incredibly proud of her, but I will delay telling you more about her and her work in a future post. Nor is today’s piece political. It’s more lighthearted and meant primarily to amuse you.

Before going to Holland, my wife and I spent a week in Scotland. Driving there takes some getting used to, since they drive on the wrong side of the road . Also, the roads on the shores of Loch Lomond, Loch Ness and on the Isle of Sky are unbelievably narrow. My first priority was not to collide with oncoming traffic, much of it consisting of giant tour buses and trucks. Thus, I tended to hug the road’s left-hand side, bordered by stone walls and littered with stones.

On our second day, this caused us to get a flat tire. Putting on the spare wheel was the least of our problems. We did that, but we didn’t want to continue our trip without a spare. We had to find a tire store, and it was a weekend. A gas station told us about a tire store in a town fifteen miles away. They gave us instructions how to get there (Our Garmin was utterly useless):

Return to the main highway, turn right at the roundabout, then take the 2nd right, go across the highway bridge, take the 4th exit, turn left at the top of the hill, follow the road, turn right at the T junction, take the next right, then turn left, follow the road around the field, then go down until you see the tire store...

  Remembering and following these instructions would have been harder than getting my PhD. I made a brilliant command decision: I offered one of the young gas station attendants twenty pounds to sit in our car and guide us to the tire store. I assured him that we were not going to kidnap him. It worked. Two hours later, we had a new tire (our flat was irreparable), we had driven the boy back to his gas station and we were seventy pounds poorer.

Our first tourist destination after picking up the rental car was Hadrian’s Wall, the famous wall built by the Roman Emperor and separating England from Scotland. We got there a few hours after picking up the car.

I parked the car facing the wall and we went to visit the site. A couple of hours later we were ready to move on. Unfortunately, every time one rents a car overseas, there are some things to which one isn’t accustomed: on which side is the gas tank? Where is this and that on the dashboard, what about the lights, the windshield wipers, how to do you move the rearview mirror, etc.

With the car’s nose facing the wall, I needed to go into reverse, something I hadn’t done yet. But for the life of me, I couldn’t get into reverse. The diagram on the gear stick showed the usual gears - 1,2,3,4,5 and reverse - but every time I put it in reverse, the car moved forward. Pretty soon there was hardly any room left to move forward. To avoid hitting the wall, we put one of our suitcases as a buffer between the car and the wall. My wife and I would have to push the car back through sheer muscle power! First, I tried the gear stick once more. This time, I accidentally shoved upward a ring located right underneath the gear shift’s knob. Bingo! I found the reverse.

A couple of weeks later, in Holland, I had to pick up my sister at Amsterdam international airport, one of the world’s busiest. Parking there can be a nightmare. A couple of years ago, it took me several hours to find my car again. There are several identical multi-level parking structures, and I was searching in the wrong building. This time, I was prepared. I jotted down an abundance of data on my parking location, like this:

I am parked on the top, open-air floor of structure B; Row 70; Kangaroo Section, Space P2, facing the long building on the right of the building with the sign “” building, 780 steps from the elevator.

It worked: I found the car in 10 minutes.

As always, there were some aggravating exchanges. For example, I had an awkward discussion with some Dutch friends about money. We ended up talking about things like greed, stinginess, materialism, and who is most prone to these. While the Dutch may not talk about money as much as Americans, they are every bit as “mercenary” as we are. When they call us greedy or materialistic, it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The British Foreign Secretary George Canning once rhymed: “The trouble with the Dutch is giving too little and asking too much”

The Dutch are among the world’s most successful capitalists. Their enormous past commercial empire and their economic success today prove this.

Over the years, waiters and salesmen have tried to cheat us in Holland as frequently as in Italy, where cheating is proverbial. Once, when a Dutch waiter tried to overcharge us, we called him on it and he replied, laughing: “well, there is no harm in trying, is there?”

In Holland, it is impossible to get a free refill for a cup of coffee or tea, or free tap water to go with your meal. Worse yet: the other day, I asked for a free refill of hot water for my tea. I got the hot water, NO SECOND TEA BAG, but was charged for a second cup of tea anyway.

Now that I have ragged both on Holland and on America (in my previous posts), everyone can be mad at me, on both sides of the pond. leave comment here

© Tom Kando 2013