Saturday, July 19, 2014

The (Dis)honor System?

Scattered around the neighborhood are various newspaper "stands," typically a weatherproof pouch attached to a sign post, with a small coin box affixed to the front, offering the Sunday news for those interested. It's all on the honor system, a loosey-goosey construct, I have observed.

As Clayton Theodore quite often takes his morning constitutional early, especially in the summer, we have observed several of our neighbors in their nightwear and slippers padding down the street for the morning news. Most, but not all, drop coins in the boxes. 

This morning while out with Clayton Theodore I witnessed a most brazen interpretation of "honor system." We had paused in front of three closely-grouped newspaper stands when a man approached and took not one, but two of the newspapers without paying. He bid us a "Guten Morgen," and kept on walking, his Sunday morning thievery routine undisturbed by our presence.

There exist newspaper stands for all the major press, Der Standard, Österreich, Die Presse, Kronen Zeitung, and so on; and to this point I had not concerned myself with what newspaper is stolen most frequently, but the analyst in me is now wondering if there are patterns to this dishonor system.

Austria versus America: Five Things (I Think) They Each Do Better

I have been at the mercy this week of landscaping people (I learned that requesting "grass" is not the same as requesting "instant grass" (sod)); maintenance people (water damage in the house from the flash floods earlier this spring); and moving people (it takes three separate appointments, apparently, to arrange to move 100 kg of Jack's "stuff" to America). I've also been largely to myself, as well, as summer and the lure of "home leave" draws many American friends back across the pond.  Though, the almost-teen daughter does look up periodically from her 85th or 86th book of the summer to ask, "What is for lunch?"

Not a comprehensive list, and purposely void of hot button topics. Mostly fueled by the frustration of not having a decent saltine upon which to place my anchovy filet for a quick snack this week, I comprised the following list of what I find each of my two countries to outperform the other at. Nothing is in any particular order, either.

What Austria (and, in many cases, most of Europe) does better than America

1. Dog-friendliness.  This week Clayton Theodore accompanied me to the hardware store, IKEA, and to the atrium of the mall with the grocery store. Not an unusual outing. In our progressive American zip code dogs are not even permitted to walk through the outdoor farmer's market; and one of our restaurants had to petition the city for permission to allow dogs on its outdoor terrace!

Our favorite summer vacation in the U.S. was a week on Cape Cod. Though, we did have to sneak Clayton Theodore onto the beach before dawn for a walk, lest the locals get their beach shorts all bundled. Here? While reserving our apartment in Venice for the upcoming fall break the owner and I chatted about dog guests. Upon learning that Cletus is a rescue, he declined to accept a deposit from us, saying, "You are good people to have a rescue dog. My parents have a dog shelter. I trust you to keep the reservation."

2. Shopping carts. The wheels on shopping carts here move in all directions, so there is no problem moving about the store or cruising past dilly-dalliers. America, this is an easy fix.

3. Public transportation. Confession time: in Metro DC I lived two stations from my office, yet I drove to work every day. Why? Because driving took considerably less time and was much more cost-effective than what passes for the dismal public transport system in the nation's capital.  Here? I go out of my way to ride public, happy to leave the car in the garage. It's cheap, efficient, and convenient.

4. True prices. It is a pleasure to read a price tag, be it on clothing or groceries or whatnot, and have that be the actual price as the tax is already included. No trying to mentally add 4.5% sales tax to a €9.99 item.

5. Yogurt. America, you can keep your GMO-Chobani and your low-fat, Stevia-blended, watered-down "yogurt." Hands down, I'll take natural, full-fat, full-flavor European yogurt any day.

What America does better than Austria (and a good part of Europe)

1. America is open on Sundays and holidays. No surprise this is on my list. The hypocrisy of Oma cooking on Sundays, or having most every restaurant or heuriger open just so the rest of Austria can enjoy relax and enjoy themselves, is laughable. If you're going to shut down on Sundays, Austria, embrace it. Gas stations, car washes, flower shops, airport grocery stores, restaurants, heurigen…close 'em all. Why should those attendants and shop owners not relax and enjoy themselves, as well?

2. A summer sport. We got into and enjoyed the World Cup here, but give us the crack of a baseball bat coming across the television any day, or the ease of catching a minor league game at the last minute.

3. Saltines. The ones we've found have one salt crystal per square and probably taste like the wrapper they come in. Same for most pretzel sticks, too. And they're hard. I can only wonder what Austrians do with saltines, or if they're a special product for ex-pats only. Real Tex-Mex food? Austria has meat and potatoes down to a delicious art, as do the meat-and-potatoes based countries around its borders. But spicy Tex-Mex? Nope. We just prepare our favorite dishes at home and save ourselves the disappointment of eating out at one of the local "Mexican" restaurants.

4. Internet. Um, Austria? A little competition and incentivized investment in this matter would not be so bad.

5. Gas cooktops and air conditioning. Gas cooktops are not as popular in Europe as they are in America; after two years with an electric cooktop it's still not easy for me to "see" the localized heat intensity of setting "7."  Give me my dual-fuel with downdraft range anyday (but of course, then there would be no room in my Easy-Bake European kitchen for anything else.)  Air-conditioning goes without saying. A ride on one of the old trams or subway trains on a summer day reminds me of my Bacteriology lab in college, and not in a good way.

Hope you enjoyed!  (Feel free to add to the list…)