Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Normal is Just What You're Used To

I took this photograph, much to the confusion of the waitress who was bringing me my check and found me scrunched down at table level with a camera aimed at the dregs of my meal, the day after I got back from Paris. I had taken my mom back to the airport in Reno and stopped at a Claim Jumper for a salad before heading home. Both the salad and that roll (which was huge, I took that remaining half home with me) were delicious, but that's not why I took this photograph.

It was because I was sitting there, waiting for my check, thinking to myself - look at all that wasted ice! That ice would have chilled the drinks of a dozen customers back in Paris. And, while we're noticing things - that butter wouldn't have been there either. I got so used to eating my bread without butter (which it turns out isn't needed because you use your bread to sop up all manner of delicious sauces) that I didn't really know quite what to do with it when it showed up here.

Sam was very frustrated when his drinks came with little or no ice. We had warned him but I think he took it as a personal challenge to get his share of ice and then some. He made it a habit to ask, using hand gestures to emphasis a Texas sized glass, that he wanted "a BIG glass of ice". Waiters and waitresses nodded, went off, and returned with a BIG glass filled with.... about six or seven slivers of ice. It was really funny.

I don't think the waiters/tresses were being rude or obtuse. I think that they were giving Sam what he asked for by their cultural interpretation. I mean, unless they had an ice chest in hand, what would a customer possibly need with an entire glass of ice! A few helpful employees, when they realized Sam planned to drink/eat that much ice, tried to discourage him, explaining how bad it was for the digestion.

The same thing happened when William, the refill chugging, ice loving teen went overseas. He took a more adaptive approach however, learning to make one tiny glass of Coke last through a meal or, more often than not, simply ordering hot tea, which came in unlimited amounts in the UK. One of the first things he wanted to do on returning home, was order a giant soda with lots of ice and refills. He did. At an airport restaurant. And he could barely finish the first tall glass, much less order a second. We both noticed those tall glasses of leftover ice on restaurant tables for weeks and weeks, before they faded into "normal" and became unmemorable parts of the landscape.

This time around, as I was staring at that glass of ice, I noticed not just a lot of wasted ice, but a lot of wasted energy. Water is free, so we think of ice as free too, but it's not. There's an energy cost to each glass.

I'm not pretending that Europe has it all right and we're the only energy guzzling people on the planet. Paris is the City of Lights and by "lights" they do mean the electrical kind these days. Still, it doesn't take a lot of comparison to see that Americans would win (lose?) any comparison when it comes to energy consumption. We drive bigger cars, we drive MORE cars (my entire family was amazed at their first glimpse of real working public transportation systems), we eat more, have more neon, more air conditioning, bigger refrigerators, etc. And yet, it doesn't really translate into a better quality of life. We just have a different quality of life.

A few more energy saving ideas:

Paris has a public bicycle fleet. You pay a deposit and then for free or a nominal fee (we couldn't quite figure out which) you can take one of these bikes from a stand, ride it around, and return it to any other stand. It's got a few kinks in the system - we saw folks with flat tires. And some stands were empty where others had no stancheons left to return bicycles. But still, it seemed a popular mode of transportation. We saw a lot of people using both their own and these taupe colored public bicycles. (Of course, risking one's life by using a bicycle in Paris traffic, that's another topic completely!)

Here's what I ordered more often than not - un thé au laut. But that's not wine in the wine glasses and wine bottle. That's tap water. Along with our coffee, tea, or wine, we almost always ordered tap water and it was served chilled in thick, old wine or liquor bottles with wine glasses. We noticed locals almost always had "eau d'ville", as well as tourists once they'd figured out they didn't have to buy water. Somehow it managed to stay nicely chilled throughout the meal. Not sure how they did that, by chilling the bottles or the water or both, but it was a great idea and one I'm definitely transporting home.

Two cars fit in one parking space. Well, if that Mini had moved up just a little bit. We saw this sort of thing so often that after awhile it became unmemorable. But it was still exciting to see when I snapped this photo.

For some scenes from the Louvre today, wander on over to Laume's Studio.


Blogger Belita Rose said...

You made me hungry. I want Claim Jumper!

11:43 AM  
Blogger GreenishLady said...

You took CLEVER photos! Yes, those carafes of water are a great idea. We loved Paris, had a wonderful, wonderful time... and I thought of you while wandering around Giverny!

2:38 PM  

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