“I’m touched to see that you yourself are tearing up, too.”
She wasn’t supposed to see. I had managed to keep the solitary tear from rolling down my cheek by staying laid back in my chair. I couldn’t lean forward, or else it would fall down my cheek, and she might see. So I waited a minute or two (after the time when the tears were supposed to come) and then nonchalantly took my right sleeve and quickly dabbed my right eye. Very smooth. As natural as having a scratch...
Then she broke the silence. Grr.
I had spent the day with Klaus and Renata, some neighbors up the road. We took the 40-minute drive to Portimao for a day in the city. More or less, we went to a very nice shopping center...it’s like a mall but long. Just store connected to store connected to store. Athletic store, “you can find everything in here” store, hardware store, furniture store, grocery store...so we spent a few hours shopping.
And let me tell you, I had some of the most fun in the hardware store and furniture store. I quickly wanted to become an interior designer (yes, my manliness was coming out early that day!). I walked into the hardware store, and up above the shelves are models of bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms...all in these bright oranges, dark browns, and soft turquoises. The colors are a decorator’s dream. They accent each other so well, and I thought how fun it would be to decorate a house like that back in the States. To give one a little Portuguese flavor!
I was impressed with the styles, and I loved the simplicity of it all. One enjoyment I have had in Portugal is that houses are not cluttered. I remember my room back home, and I had stuff, stuff, stuff. Papers, books, winter clothes, summer clothes, boots, shoes, a bed, a couple big dressers, rodeo gear, a baseball card collection, a tub of pictures, a tub of awards and recognitions, receipts, watches, little knick-knacks, and on and on and on. And it’s not just me! I have never been accused of being the cleanest guy out there, but my brother’s room was full of stuff, too. And my mom and dad’s house. Every room is full of something that has been collected over the years. Even our bathrooms are full of stuff! Towels, towel racks, toothbrush, comb, shaving cream, shampoo bottle, soap, scale, laundry basket, rug, electric shaver, razors, toothpaste, moutwash...and on and on and on!
Of course, I’m pleased to report that the Portuguese do take baths! They shower, they use deodorant, they brush their teeth...but their houses are not full of stuff. They somehow manage to keep their rooms in complete simplicity. With the minimal amount of furniture, accessories, pictures, mirrors, etc. And yet from what I have seen, the rooms look so much better than what we have in the States! Personal preference?! Maybe!
But as an up-and-coming interior designer, my newly found phrase is...
Less is More.
So that was a fun experience. And I thoroughly enjoyed looking at the items they had. I’m not even sure if we have these in the States, but I saw a shower contraption that had nozzles coming at you from every which direction. You had the shower above, and a ton of showers hitting ya from head to mid-section, too. Boy, if I didn’t want to just hop in there and try one out! Too bad the water is not connected, or I may have! It looked like a jacuzzi without the pool of water! Simply fantastic.
I also made my way over to the grocery store, and I was pleasantly surprised to see every single price on digital display. Below every single item in the entire store was a small digital price tag instead of the printed stickers we have. Amazing. Another thing I have learned? American is advanced. We are an industrialized country. We have a strong and consistent economy. But we are not the most advanced. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it! Who knew?! So I walk into this grocery store, and I see thousands of little digital tags displaying the price and the price per ounce. Or milligram. Or whatever. I’m sure if they wanted to change a price, they would swipe a little handheld computer over it, and voila! It’s changed. Sure beats the paper and sticker guns in America! Very neat to see.
And something else that I am not sure why it hasn’t caught on yet in the States. Ok, picture this. You head out to Applebee’s with friends, right? The waitress comes, takes your order, goes back, places the order, come out with the food, then you sit around and talk for awhile, and then you all have to pay. Either by cash or credit card. With the credit cards, she takes them back to a secret special corner to a computer across the room, brings back three receipts, two for you, one for the company, has you sign them, blah blah blah.
In several restaurants in Europe, here is what happens. When it is time to pay, the waitress brings you a little cordless handheld device (very similar to the “swipers” for credit cards at grocery stores or department stores in the checkout lane), you stick your credit card in it, and you’re done! Just like that. No unnecessary walking back and forth. No unnecessary signatures on receipts. Just put your card in, let the money come out, and take your card back. Very nice.
So it’s been kind of neat to be around more technologically advanced places! I’m certainly not “roughing” it. America is great. But there are so many other people and technologies out here, too! We’re not always the leaders! And that’s kind of neat to know.
So anyway, I finish up shopping, and we drive back home. It turns out that their vehicle of choice is a driving camper. Boy, if I had one of these, I would never be home. It would probably be my home! It’s pretty sweet to have a table to eat on (which we did in the parking lot of the retail center!), a refrigerator to grab stuff at any time, and a bed to sleep on! And once again, a dream comes back...how sweet to load up six or seven guys and just head to Alaska?! Of course, I don’t have six or seven guys willing, and that is problematic, but in my prime of college, I think I could have! Side-note: Mushu and I almost bought a driving camper for $600.00, and to this day, I still partially regret that. I had the insurance lined up, and we even took it for a test-drive. After about 15 miles, we couldn’t breathe, because the exhaust manifold had a crack in it. And it was one of those campers where the engine was right there between the driver and passenger underneath the hump, so the exhaust fumes were just pouring out of the carpet up front. My eyes burned, and Mushu later told me it hurt his lungs, but I think we could have certainly bonded with that ol’ puppy. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. Grr.
After we get back, I am invited over to another meal at their house, and I am treated to these little creatures called “camaraos.” With an accent on the end. Seafood that Renata had just bought at the grocery store earlier in the day. And let me tell you, their fresh seafood at their grocery stores is a blast. Fish everywhere, octopus, little unidentified creatures...I love it! With the camaraos, this was the first time I’ve ever had ‘em, but I pulled off the tail, pulled off the head, pulled off the legs, and ate! And they were incredibly good! I love ‘em! Saboroso! It’s nice having fresh seafood always available! I enjoyed a seafood kabob a couple of nights ago, too! They are great! Illinois needs legislation to put in an ocean.
Well, as we are eating, Renata says that part two of a show is on. She invites me to stay and watch, and the story line sounds great. A woman is separated from her children back in the 80’s when East and West Germany are still split. I had been fascinated with this topic the past week, because I am meeting several Germans who talk about the reality of it all. Me? I only knew the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. That is all I could tell you about Germany. Oh, and we fought them in World War II. That is it.
So I watch this movie about a mom who is taken from her two daughters...based on a true story. And even though the movie is in German, I can understand what is happening. Klaus and Renata occasionally fill me in with details, too. I won’t spoil the movie, because I want to see if it has English subtitles, but I would recommend a watch. And, yes, I teared up at the end. Shut up. Now this movie can go with the ranks of Rudy, 8 Seconds, and Bambi.
Anyway, as I am watching this movie, I am just surprised and a bit appalled that I know nothing about any of this. The Germans were talking to me about Checkpoint Charlie, and that was the first time I had ever heard those two words used together. We are only 20 years removed from these events, and I could have told you nothing about the tension between East and West Germany. And I knew nothing of Checkpoint Charlie. Of course, I was just a few years old at the time, but what about history classes?
I guess we spent too much time talking about our own Civil War.
Anyway, see if you can find the movie in English. Something about Checkpoint Charlie. It’s a decent flick. At least half of it is!
And so from there, I was escorted back through the very dark path (no moon that night) with my grocery sacks. We stopped at the beer hut...I was planning to hop on the internet for awhile and then hit the sack, but I was invited to stay for a drink by Bad-Weather Mike.
And, frankly, I was a bit shocked to hear that. I don’t know why. But Mike just has a demeanor about him...he is a thick, tough guy, and he drives a truck for a living. He has made a couple of comments to me in the few days since he has been here, but nothing much. Only a couple of things about being American. And so I found it rather surprising to be asked to have a drink with him.
We ended up talking for 4 ½ hours.
Mike is from Germany, but he drives a truck for a Canadian company. He’s been on the road in North America for a year. Before that, he drove his own truck around Europe. He speaks English very well, and I asked him if he had classes at all. Nope. Just the radio on the open road. Oh, and text messages. He says those help, too, because he has to type the English words.
Here I am talking to a guy with very thorough understanding (most of the time...he asked me what a “redneck” was because he met some self-proclaimed ones at a bar one time, but didn’t know what that meant) of the English language in just one year. From the radio in his semi. Unbelievable.
I was greatly encouraged about learning Portuguese, though. Or German. I am actually surrounded by that more here in Portugal. But the thought of being able to speak any language the quality that Mike did in one year gives me hope!
And so for several hours, we talked about virtually everything.
Mike has been to the 48 contiguous states, much like myself. And we both shared our dream of going to Alaska. I was able to score a ride with him in the big rig when I get back, but I think that will just be through the lower States. Sweet action! Another dream of mine!
We talked about the upcoming election, how he didn’t understand how America voted for George Bush a second time... “Ok, one time we can understand. But to do it again? That’s just ********” (it’s a male bovine’s by-product). And he would repeat this phrase often over the next few hours.
And then we talked about America kind of being “out of the loop.” Klaus told the guys about me watching the movie about Checkpoint Charlie and not knowing what it was, and all the Germans agreed that Americans don’t know world news or history. Touche. I can’t argue.
Mike told me how all the Germans eagerly watch our election. All eyes are on the television set during the American elections. They are as interested as we are to find out who the next President is going to be. Ask me about Germany. Go ahead. I don’t have a clue. Do they have a President? A Prime Minister? Male? Female? 2 years? 4 years? 1 year? How many parties. I don’t know.
Just as a lil’ test...we are at war with Iraq...could you point it out on a map? Hmm. How many of us could?
He asked me what I thought about the upcoming election, and I shared my thoughts. He thinks we need new blood in there. Someone with new ideas...sounds like a good idea to me!
Ok, I just had a completely random thought...
Bernd’s wife wears a shirt sometimes that reads...
On the front: What do you call a Canadian?
On the back: An unarmed American with healthcare.
Good stuff. If you don’t get it, that’s because you are American. Silly.
Ok, back to my story.
I shared with him how we only learn foreign languages for a couple of years, but not until we are 15-17 years old. “Well, that is too late!” I couldn’t argue. How many of us Americans have really used or greatly benefited from our high school language classes? What quality were they? Did we take them seriously?
And so I have Iris coming home at seven years of age...speaking to me more and more in English because she is learning it at school. Oh, and she speaks fluent Portuguese and German, too. Yeah, she is seven years old. Three languages. Not all too uncommon over here.
How sweet would it be to speak another language? Aye.
And then I shared something that I found absolutely fascinating. We had watched the FIFA Women’s World Cup on TV the day before. Germany was playing Brazil, and it was held in Shanghai, China. Well, Germany wins, and since the Germans were celebrating in the beer hut, we had to watch the awards ceremonies. And much to my shock, this is what I heard...
"And the award for the best forward goes to...”
“And the award for the best goalkeeper of the tournament goes to....”
“And now presenting your 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup Champions!!!”
I don’t know if you caught it. I heard the presentation for the German championship team...the team that just played Brazil...in China...in my very own English language. English was the chosen language for the awards. And then I saw the girls sing and dance to... “We are the Champions!”...their mouths singing the words.
And as Bernd so admirably puts it, from my lips I could easily have said, “This is just too much for me.”
I mean, I know English is an international language. I recognize the importance of knowing English. I have traveled to four countries in Europe, and I haven’t had a big problem with finding other English-speakers yet. The stores in Portimao? To work there, you have to know Portuguese and English fluently. So many tourists come to shop there that you need to know both languages. I am a pilot, and I know that the internationally-accepted language at all airport towers is English. So I understand the fact that English is a global language. I would just never imagine that Germans would take their championship honors in anything but their own native tongue. Or sing anything but a beloved home song.
To put it into perspective, how about the World Series trophy being given to the Chicago Cubs in German? Or Chinese? That would certainly not happen (and no, it’s not because it would not happen because the Cubs would not make it...I know what you all think before you say it...2007 World Series Champions, here we come!!!). (On another side-note, I haven’t watched a lick of baseball or American football since I’ve been here, and I don’t miss it...so that previous comment is only half-hearted...but take it nonetheless).
I asked Bernd about English being spoken at the FIFA awards ceremony, and he was a bit surprised, too. But I realized that most of the songs that we listen to in Portugal are English. Some Portuguese, but most are English. And in Bernd’s collection, he has a whole host of American bands and singers...Lynyrd Skynyrd and the likes. And on the radio, they play American songs. So I thought a bit...
When is the last time that I have heard a Portuguese song on American radio? Or a British song? Or a Chinese song? I can’t name any Chinese songs, I’ll tell you that. Well, someone would say, Chinese isn’t our native tongue. Right. Or we don’t understand Chinese. Right. Or we don’t like Chinese music. Or we don’t need Chinese music because we have our own. Right.
And as Mike would say, “All of us from the outside just think that you guys are all arrogant.” He wasn’t being mean...he was being honest. And it was something to think about.
And we talked about how America is polluting the world. Something about us not signing the Kyoto Protocol??? I didn’t know what it was, and Mike wasn’t surprised at that. He didn’t know how to translate the name to English, so he asked a guy in German, and he knew instantly what Mike was talking about. They had a jeering chuckle at me not knowing something about the world again. Story of my life!
And a couple of hours into our talk, Bernd runs inside and grabs a DVD. It turns out Bernd spent some time with Mike on the open road...what good friends do! And he taped so much of it! I left after watching nearly two hours of semi-driving, but it was quite enjoyable! I desperately wanted to get back on a motorcycle and just start driving! I had the insatiable desire for another cross-country roadtrip! Even in a car...or a semi...or a van! There is just something about the open road...
But on the topic of pollution, we were watching a part of the DVD where they had stopped at a truck stop for the night. The rumbling noise of the diesel engines was very loud on the television. “This is ********.” And Mike asked me why American truckers didn’t know about “bank heaters???” or something to that effect. More or less, you turn your engine off, but you are able to stay warm with this heater. I guess it’s used all over Europe. But Americans idle their diesel engines all night long. More gas wasted. More pollution in the air. More crazy Americans, he says.
And we talked about drinking. Mike couldn’t believe that it was hard to find beer in America. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but he said that some stores don’t sell beer. Well, I guess that would be true, yes. “In Germany, every single shop sells beer. Every corner. Open all the time.” He and Bernd couldn’t believe that some bars closed on Sundays. Or that some places stopped serving alcohol at certain times. Or that if you did buy alcohol, you couldn’t drink it in the store, or on the street, or in your car. “Where are you supposed to drink it?! Not in the store...not on the street...not in your car...In your house? That is ********.”
And somehow or another, the topic of nakedness came up. And he mentioned that in America some nine-year-old Swiss kid was sent to prison with adult inmates for watching his sister go pee or something. I don’t know...I found the story a bit skeptical, but that is ok. But he made the comment about Americans being so afraid to let their kids go around naked. And I shared the story about the Portuguese kids that played around me while naked...and how awkward I felt. I would be sued or reprimanded back home! And here I was with parents watching their naked kids play with me! It was enough to make me ask the parents about it all...And Mike said, “This is ********. You are afraid to even hang out with kids in how they want to hang out.” Yes, yes, I am. If they are naked. Haha...
We talked a bit about my future plans, and I shared with him that I had considered living somewhere outside of the United States. I haven’t come to any conclusions yet, and I very well may end up back in the States, but for now, everything is an option. I said that I loved Portugal, but he was quick to tell me that he was tired of it within a week. I was kind of surprised at his comment, but he held to it. And he told me to remember that I am only here a couple of weeks. And that I meet people on vacations. That don’t give a true reality to what Portugal is like. And that if I ever had to get an 8-hour job (though he said 10 hours is the norm here), I wouldn’t like it like I do now. And how I would only have 1000 Euros at the end of the month...not much to show for the work I was doing. And he had a good point. And a couple of Germans have really made me think about living abroad as of late. It’s great to have these reminders!!!
And we laughed at Mike taking the truck up to 90 mph while Bernd was sleeping (he made sure he got it on tape), and we just talked and talked and talked. And a few hours into us talking, me and several other Germans, Bernd made a comment that struck me. He said it right to me.
“Mike doesn’t like to talk to English speakers. Especially from North America. So when he asked you to drink with them, I was, uh, shocked, you know.” (in that thick German accent)
But as the night wore on, Bernd accepted me because I could hold my own (I made a joke with a Portuguese word, and Bernd quickly shook my hand, then invited me back in 2009 for his 50th birthday party). And Bernd accepted me because Mike accepted me. I had been here a couple of weeks already, but it took some time to actually become one with them. I had to play on their turf, go to their restaurants, use their language, watch their futbol games, but all the while, be myself. It was fairly easy to do...sometimes difficult...but it ended up paying off. We went to a new level last night.
And Mike accepted me because....that’s a good question. I don’t have an answer for that one. It’s intriguing...maybe I can ask him about it as we’re cruising down the backroads of America in his truck.
And I thought about how people have influence with other people. And I thought about what people I could help other people accept. Mike accepted me, so Bernd accepted me. People are always watching me to see what I do, and if I do it, they do it. If I talk to someone, then they can, too. Makes me wonder if it’s just with me that this happens or with all of us. Do we have the power to make or help others accept other people? Just with our actions ourselves? I know for me, it has certainly been true. I try to talk to the “down-and-out,” trying to be their saving grace, their link to other people. I don’t know that it always works, but it’s a neat thought to ponder. What “Mikes” can I be to link others to “Bernds”? Interesting thought.
But it’s nice to have people to talk to. It’s nice to just kick back and relax. It’s nice to meet with fellow guys and talk about anything and nothing. To talk about everything there is to talk about but still talk about more. It’s nice to not watch a clock. It’s been refreshing.
And it’s been really nice to be humbled. To have Germans gang up on me and criticize me for not knowing much! To have questions thrown to me about my country, my politics, my system that I support. To have grocery stores that are more advanced than back in the States. To have technologies that we haven’t adopted yet. To realize that as good as America is, it’s not the only country.
Mike put it best. He doesn’t hate America...he quickly admits he loves their truckstops and buffets! But what he can’t stand is that we are only concerned with what takes place within our borders. As a whole (most everything I write about is generalizations, and I realize that), Americans are not global-minded. We don’t know much about the world. And we sure don’t know as much about the other countries as they do about us.
Of course, the instant argument is that that is because America is the strongest nation (easily conceded by all Europeans I have met). Whatever happens in America trickles down and affects the rest of the world.
I will agree. But I want you to think about that very comment today when you...
Wake up to your Samsung alarm clock. Put on your Adidas clothes. Lace up those Puma shoes. Tidy up with your L’Oreal make-up. Eat a quick Danon yogurt for breakfast. Grab your Gucci, Prada, Louis-Vuitton, or Chanel purse. Throw on that Georgio-Armani suit or cologne. Get in your Honda, Kia, Lexus, Volvo, BMW, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Audi, Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen, Hyundai, or Mercedes-Benz car. Freak out because the last person left the tank on “E”...and stop at Shell or BP. Wonder if you’ve made it to work on time as you look at your Rolex watch. Eat your Nestle candy bar in the afternoon. Come home to your Philips-Magnavox TV to see what the weather will be like tomorrow. Have to stop the kids from playing Nintendo so you can watch the news. Plop down on your brand new Ikea furniture. Get bored with what’s on TV so throw something in your Panasonic DVD player. Check your funds in your ING account. Take the night slow with friends as you drink Guinness, Smirnoff, Foster’s, or Corona. Catch a cute kid-moment on your Canon digital camera. Listen to music on your Sony stereo while brushing your teeth. Get a phone call from a friend on your LG or Nokia phone. Throw on some Nivea skin lotion before heading to bed.
What in the world am I talking about?
I want you to read that paragraph up above, and I want you to acknowledge which things you have. Or which things you have used. Or which things are simply common to you. Go ahead. And then I want you to tell me the country from which these products come from. Go on, give it a shot. After you take a minute to do that, then (but only then!) can you keep reading.
If you’ve made it this far, you better have re-read that paragraph!
Ok...let’s see if this helps...Samsung (Korea), Adidas (Germany), Puma (Germany), L’Oreal (France), Danon (France), Gucci (Italy), Prada (Italy), Louis-Vuitton (France), Chanel (France), Georgio-Armani (Italy), Honda (Japan), Lexus (Japan), BMW (Germany), Mitsubishi (Japan), Porsche (Germany), Audi (Germany), Toyota (Japan), Nissan (Japan), Volkswagen (Germany), Hyundai (Korea), Mercedes-Benz (Germany), Shell (Netherlands), BP (United Kingdom), Rolex (Switzerland), Nestle (Switzerland), Philips-Magnavox (Netherlands), Nintendo (Japan), Ikea (Sweden), Panasonic (Japan), ING (Netherlands), Guinness (Ireland), Smirnoff (United Kingdom), Foster’s (Australia), Corona (Mexico), Canon (Japan), Sony (Japan), LG (Korea), Nokia (Finland), Nivea (Germany).
How well did you do?
The only question I have from all of these lessons, travels, and conversations is this:
Am I really an American?
Or maybe the better question is:
What does it mean to be an American? This is not a rhetorical question, and I expect your comments. I have German roots, I eat at Chinese restaurants, I wear German clothes...that is what I am talking about.
And as Bad-Weater Mike put it best, how arrogant am I if I think that the rest of the world doesn’t affect me in America? How ignorant in the best sense of the word to not care about what happens across the big oceans! Look at the above companies to realize that we are no longer able to sit around and not have global eyes. We need to know what’s going on in the rest of the world, because not only do we affect the rest of the world, but the rest of the world truly does affect us. Germany’s politics and economy will affect us in America. So will China’s. And Canada’s. And on and on and on. It’s time to stop thinking and learning just about America. It’s time to start learning about our world.
And if you disagree, I side with Mike.
How arrogant you are.
All thoughts appreciated.
2007-10-02 20:15:16 GMT