I was sitting in my hairdresser’s chair today, enjoying my cup of cappuccino, when I heard her make a familiar phone call. I very often make an appointment for the late morning, or early afternoon, which means that she normally times her lunch to coincide with the thirty minutes or so that it takes for my hair color to process.
No, she doesn’t use an app to order a burger or pizza, she doesn’t even use the newly-popular Foodora to order from various restaurants around town, instead she calls a little place up the street and asks for the daily specials. Then usually right around the time she’s finishing with the foils (or the cut, in today’s case), a waiter from the restaurant comes through the door laden with a dish or two containing her order.
What’s so unusual about this, you may think? To an American who is shocked that people are allowed to drink with glass bottles in public without adult supervision around here, so much.
When I say a dish is delivered, I mean an actual dish. A restaurant plate, sometimes even with a snazzy domed lid, is delivered to her salon. The waiter also collects the plates from the day before, before wishing us both a good afternoon and skipping back up the street. It’s so goddamned civilized I can’t stand it.
Okay, so she has a preexisting relationship with this restaurant, right? They’re both local businesses, she’s a loyal customer, so she gets special treatment. Perhaps. But it’s not the first time I’ve seen such a thing.
Cut to a few years ago, at the fantastically amazing Arezzo antique market. We were wandering through stalls of treasures around lunchtime, when we noticed a curious sight. The vendors at one stand appeared to be getting ready for lunch, but instead of them unpacking wrapped sandwiches, or even pulling paper-wrapped burgers from fast food bags, there was a waiter coming over from a nearby restaurant. But he wasn’t just delivering food. He was delivering plates, cutlery, wine glasses, a tablecloth, napkins (cloth as well, of course)… you get the idea. And in a few minutes, there was a full table setting from the restaurant on this little card table in the midst of the market. Because why take a lunch break when you have treasures to sell?
These things just amaze me, even after all these years. Coming from a place when damn near everything is now served in plastic, where people can’t be trusted with real knives on an airplane or at a picnic table, the fact that people here can act like adults is just so. Nice.
It’s also worth noting that this same principle applies even in motion. Now that fest season here is coming up, I expect to see the usual groups of people in Tracht riding the trains on their way to whatever festival is happening that day. Very often these groups also take the train ride as their opportunity to do some pre-gaming, and once again, they often do it responsibly. Even teenagers can be seen quaffing from wine glasses and sparkling wine flutes in the train. When their stop arrives, the glasses are packed back up into backpacks and handbags, and off they go to their next adventure. Cases of beer are carried on and off trains, stashed in lockers and retrieved (I assume they remember) for the trip home. I’m not saying I never see garbage in the trains, but I ride A LOT of trains, and their cleanliness, and the personal responsibility taken by the passengers never ceases to amaze me.
When Germans laugh that I find this so impressive, I always like to trot out this little anecdote.
Being from Wisconsin, one of the things that I miss the most about the summers is Milwaukee’s Summerfest. It’s a huge festival, sprawling along the lakefront for about two weeks every summer. There are about ten stages and hundreds of acts to see, for only the price of admission. On a warm summer night, there’s nothing better than heading downtown for a show of a one-hit wonder, some festival food, and, (it being Milwaukee), a couple of beers. Those beers are served in plastic cups, and Wisconsinites are world class beer drinkers. That, plus a combination of sheer laziness, hard-to-locate garbage cans, not wanting to lose your seat/standing place, not wanting to lose your friends in the crowd, and American entitlement means that where do those cups go? Wherever you drop them.
USA! USA! USA!
After the last chord sounds, when the police start herding the crowd towards the parking lot, one sound fills the air over the laughter, chatter, and occasional “wooooooo!”
*crunch crunch crunch*
The sounds of thousands upon thousands of feet walking over a carpet of plastic.
Since pulling out my phone to take a picture of the faces of my German students when I finished the story would be weird, here’s a fairly accurate approximation of the usual reaction.
You win this one Germany. And don’t worry about the Americans coming for you, they’re only armed with plastic knives.*
*Also, guns. Lots and lots of guns.
Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.