How can I escape Europe without telling everyone about the funny little idiosyncrasies that make Americans like me wonder, “How do they get away with that?” After a couple of months over here I’ve had my share of obstacles, challenges and mysteries that have made me understand the true meaning of “do as the Romans do.”
One of the things I began to wonder about was the seemingly non-existent bar soap factor. Where in Europe is the bar soap ya’ll? It seems that all over Europe (at least the countries I’ve been to thus far) there is plenty of liquid soap and shower gel but scarcely any bar soap. Lindsay and I had to go far and wide (ok, only to the super market in Sorrento) to find regular old bar soap! Oh, and add to that list shaving gel, make-up and just about any black girl hair care product too. Now I am not suffering on the black hair care product end because my good girlfriend Mable hooked me up with a couple of canisters of black girl hair conditioner before I left from Vegas. But I did notice the persistent lack of products for women of color over here. Good thing I brought extra lotion, shampoo, face moisturizer and hair products so that I could last until we get to Miami in December. However, the ladies and I were fully expecting to be able to find bar soap and make-up at least! All of us were searching for one thing or another. Molly needed tinted moisturizer. How do European girls LIVE?? Everyone needs a little tinted moisturizer in their lives! I thought that Europeans invented that stuff! Lindsay had the hardest time finding shave gel. Um, WHAT?! How do European ladies shave?! Are they still nabbing a dab of their men’s shave cream? Or are they just roughing it with the shower gel? And don’t think that they don’t shave because I’ve seen plenty of Venus razors over here! As for me, I couldn’t get my hands on any decent gum! Now, for those of you who know me, Orbit gum is one of my weaknesses. However, the Orbit brand over here is not the same as the U.S! It just doesn’t taste good! I have searched high and low to find a substitute brand of gum to get me through and have come up with some weak successors called BROOKLYN and TEZENIS. Suffice it to say Europeans are not into gum as much as they are into cigarettes and coffee. There is a tobacco joint on just about every corner, but just in case you missed any one of them, there are cigarette vending machines built into the buildings as you walk along the main shopping strips. Of course, there are cafes everywhere. All I can say is, “Wow.” But, the last product that I have given up searching for is chewable antacid. The folks over here must have stomachs of steel because after all of the pizza, pasta, sauces, meats, prosciuttos and cheeses you would think the pharmacies would be chocked and stocked full of chewable antacid tablets, but no! Ay Dios mio! I can’t even guess how they settle their stomachs at night.
Aside from the shopping perils there has been a beautiful mystery of architecture that makes me a little jealous for cities in the U.S. How is it that European cities have such old buildings and city designs that are still so beautiful today? I love that the sidewalks are patterned with small bricks in what I call an “Egyptian palm fan” design. I still can’t figure out how they get that pattern to flow together so flawlessly but it’s all over Europe and it’s beautiful. The old buildings seem to be built to last for hundreds of years and the attention to detail can be astonishing. Now I am not an architectural history major so I may be way off base when it comes to the exact date that most of these buildings were built, but there is something about these buildings that is timeless, therefore classic. Unlike a superdome in the U.S. the coliseums across Europe capture the eye from the exterior all the way to the interior with magical detail to doorways and archways with spacious attention to bathrooms and foyers. And applause, applause, applause for color! There are bright and muted colors mixed on every building making each town brilliant and unique in each different scheme. I will not forget the brilliance of Portofino on a cloudy day nor the vibrance of Valencia and Venice because of the brightly colored buildings, one after the other. I love that every time I look at one of these beautiful buildings, it’s possible that it was built several hundred years ago, and it still has the power to put me in awe.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this last unique aspect of European culture that either irks or amuses most Americans. This, my friends, is the every day occurrence of, drum roll please…………………………………………….SIESTA!!!! Gotta love siesta! Every day from around 1pm until maybe 4pm or 5pm everything shuts down in Europe. The only businesses that stay open are the cafes, restaurants and maybe a few tobacco shops and pharmacies. Transportation can be a bit sketchy too. This time of day is when everyone can get their eat on, chill out for a couple of hours, catch up with friends, read the paper or just take a nice nap. Now, how is it that daytime naptime is something that the Europeans have managed to instill into their culture, while people in the states abruptly banish it after kindergarten? As irritating as it can be to be an unsuspecting tourist who is being kicked out of a store at 1pm so that the store owner can go eat, I really dig and respect siesta and totally wish that it could be implemented into American culture. Instead of 9am to 5pm, you can get off of work at 1pm and go get your kids from school. Or meet up with friend during daytime hours. You could also pick up that prescription during the week instead of having to wait for the weekend and then fighting through weekend crowds. You could talk to your husband or wife face to face during some of the daylight hours of the day. Or even have a large family meal in the middle of the week, leaving the weekends free to spend with immediate family for trips or just taking a load off. And when you get back to work for only a few more hours in the evening you feel refreshed, rejuvenated and renewed and very connected (I imagine). There is something natural about siesta and I think Americans should try it!
Although I miss the States and cannot wait to get back, I have come to enjoy the little quirks of Europe. As we sail towards the Caribbean after next cruise I am sure to feel a sense of longing for those days of siesta, magic and mystery.
Signing off! Marsha