writer, listener

“Europe” part 2 in a series of who-knows-how-many

on February 23, 2013

On to vital topics. Like coffee and language. Starbucks aside, I couldn’t find anywhere to get a simple mug of coffee. Mug. Big American mug. Supersize Me, Joe.

I always thought Europeans were coffee people. But no. They grab a newspaper, do a quick shot of espresso mud, smile, and leave. That’s not Coffee Love. That’s like doing a quick line of coke before work because you have to, to get through the day.

I’d ask for café Americano, and these people, these Europeans (see disclaimer in part 1 of this series), would tease me by holding their palms about nine inches apart, and they’d say, “Long? Long American coffee?” And I’d salivate and say, “Yes! Long! Please! Long coffee!” thinking I was finally about to get a bigass mug of magic. But each time they brought the same thimble of (delicious, but who cares if I can’t have SO MUCH MORE) coffee.

My “long American coffee” is on the left. My daughter’s hot chocoloate, 3x bigger, is on the right. That pot? Also full of hot chocoloate. Because all of Europe hates me.

My “long American coffee” is on the left. My daughter’s hot chocoloate, 3x bigger, is on the right. That pot? Also full of hot chocoloate. Because all of Europe hates me.

Okay, here’s the stereotypical language observation by a stupid American. French and Italian are beautiful. Dutch, not so much—it’s hard on the ears. Like German. And maybe American English.

My friend, Sharon, has been living in Paris for six years and is raising her adorable and bilingual sons there. When we first got to her place it was late and the boys were supposed to be going to sleep, but we could hear them through their door, speaking to each other in French. Gorgeous words being strung together like a sweet lullaby by tiny French angels.

“What are they saying?” I asked. It sounded so lovely. Surely they were bidding each other fond dreams as all children who speak romance languages must.

“They’re fighting,” she said. “Ethan just called Josh a drooling slug.”


Quick aside on other language funnies. A guy in Paris told me, “Your English is very good!” I thanked him very much, in perfect English. And then in Rome, my mom wanted water. “May I have some hot water for tea?” she asked. “Yes, I will bring you water that is very hot and very watery,” the server replied in English. On his way back, he sang “Gangnam Style” for us then handed my mom the very hot, very watery water. Both dudes were mocking us, I’m pretty sure. And who cares. It was funny.

But back to Sharon. It was just too much fun catching up with an American friend in Paris. And there’s no better way to pick up interesting tidbits about a place than to speak to a local in English. For example, I learned that in France, workers have a set number of guaranteed paid strike days. Like sick days, but for striking. People usually feel most maltreated and angry around Christmastime, and burn their use -‘em-or-lose-‘em strike days then.

In addition to lighter, more hilarious stories I cannot repeat, Sharon also told us that people throw themselves in front of trains in the subway to commit suicide. And the City of Paris brags that they can clean the mess and have things up and running again in five minutes. Fantastic.

She said depression seems more culturally pervasive there. To demonstrate, she translated for me an example sentence from her son’s French grammar book. “How is he doing?” it says. “He’s not doing very well because he’s depressed,” is the reply. Her son is six.

Naturally, when I got home, I looked for the numbers. As it happens, the rate of suicide in France is about 50 percent higher than in the U.S. Maybe they should use more pain pills? The United States makes up about five percent of the world’s population but consumes about 80 percent of the world’s pain pills (prescription and OTC, as I recall). I saw the pain pill bit on BBC, so it’s true.

Oh yeah, in Paris we also did a grotesque amount of shopping and went to landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower. My mom’s family name—CAUCHY–is one of the 72 names of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians engraved in huge letters on the tower because of Augustin Cauchy’s contributions to mathematics. We’re kind of a big deal over there. Although nobody seemed to recognize us. Thank God.

Join me tomorrow (or whenever I get to it), when we’ll continue exploring the killing of pain, Amsterdam style. If you’re reading this series as a travel guide, you’re sorely disappointed by now, and I’m sorry.

6 responses to ““Europe” part 2 in a series of who-knows-how-many

  1. No, not disappointed at all. Fascinated, actually. The only things you could do to improve this piece is to teach me the French for “drooling slug,” and show me the video–which you surely must have taken surreptitiously via cell phone–of the Gagnam style watery water waiter. (I felt like Dr. Seuss writing those last three words.)

  2. Lisa says:

    Interesting theory on the pain pills & depression… I think we oughta get someone to do a research study!

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