Back from Europe. Travel Post #2: Of lachs & locks

One thing I’m lovin’ on this trip is the lachs. That’s lox to you and me. Germans and Austrians seem to love their smoked salmon, and – for me at least – it’s the absolute highlight of the free breakfasts we’ve been getting. Lox is friggin’ expensive at home (I have no idea what it costs in Central Europe). And, as I’ve mentioned before, Mom hates the stuff (she has kind of a pre-sushi ‘raw fish, P U’ attitude towards it). So I’m doubly hesitant to bring it home here.

But this week, I’m on vacation, and I’ve been loading up. At NJ prices, I believe I’ve eaten up well over 1% of this vacation’s cost in lachs. We all have our own definitions of luxury: for me, this will do just fine.

One thing I’m NOT lovin’ on this trip is the locks. They are all different and, to me, incomprehensible. It took forever to figure out how to unlock the room door in Munich, merely a few days to master the one in Vienna, and we never did figure out the safe. It took ten minutes for Mom to escape the train bathroom between Munich and Vienna. Then I got hopelessly locked in the basement handicapped bathroom in the 21er Haus Museum of Contemporary Art in Vienna. This required me to text message Mom to summon the authorities, who soon arrived to liberate me.

With this momentary embarrassment behind me, I can muse on how interesting the little differences in societies can be. Slightly different locks and breakfast selections and toilets and showers and language idioms and subway payment arrangements.

It’s sort of a form of evolution, in which different societies generate slightly different but roughly equally workable solutions to the multitude of tiny practical problems they all face.

Occasionally you can at least hypothesize ways in which cultural differences might be responsible for these divergences. For example, in both Munich and Vienna, you buy and stamp your bus/tram/subway system ticket and then never have to show it, scan it, deposit it – you just get on and ride, scout’s honor. (There must be some spot-checking happening somewhere, but we rode these systems twenty times and never saw it.)

Someone reared in the NY/NJ metropolitan area might suspect this system is only practical in a society more willing to accept rules than his own.

Similarly, an American might be intrigued by toilets that offer two flush buttons, depending on… umm, how much needs to be flushed. Why do these Europeans not envision such a conservation measure as yet another sign of impending tyranny? <grin>

But many of the differences seem quite random, like genetic drift. Or perhaps they are secondary adaptations, byproducts of some other evolutionary adaptation, what Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin called spandrels.

As you may have noticed, I find this stuff really fascinating… when I’m not trapped in the toilet, that is <grin>.

Someone else must, too. But I’m not sure exactly who that would be. I am imagining myself at one of the parties we go to here in town. With whom might I share my peculiar enthusiasms?


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