Similarities and differences
Today’s article comes from the North Sea as our ship leaves Denmark and is headed to Norway. The various shades of blue make the sky and sea seem to seem to blend as there are no clouds to be found anywhere today.
Traveling in the Baltic Sea, particularly visiting St. Petersburg, Russia and Berlin, Germany has given me a severe case of historic overload. European history was full and rich even as the Americas were being discovered. Our old is their new.
Palaces and churches seem to dominate my pictures because they are the easiest to capture. However, the thing I love most about traveling is comparing the ways Americans are different and yet the same as the people where we visit.
One surprise in this my sixth trip to Europe is the increasing ease of communication. The World Wide Web is aptly named today as we have had internet connectivity almost everywhere we have visited. The ship has the strongest satellite connection of any cruise we have ever sailed, but the surprise is the fact that I can text, email or call from almost any village we have visited.
The two phone calls I have made are as crisp and clear as if I was talking to my neighbor in Southwest Georgia. The Wi-Fi connections have been as good or better as anything we have in Seminole County.
While many maps remain in the native language of the country you are visiting, phone apps like Google Maps are very accurate and convert easily to English. It has been very easy for Mary Lou and me to wander off on our on to places that are not part of regularly operated tours.
That brings me to one of my biggest concerns about America. In every country we have visited on this trip, even Russia, the majority of the people speak English. Many speak more than two languages. The vast majority of Americans only study English in school while the rest of the world learns to better converse directly with each other.
Transportation is another area where America and Europe have distinct differences. Trains remain an easy way to travel as evidenced by our two hour train ride to Berlin yesterday from our German port. It was easy, quick, and inexpensive. We were delivered to a convenient station right on time in downtown Berlin.
Part of the reasons Europeans travel by train so much is the cost of owning a car. In Denmark, the tariffs imposed on cars are in excess of 100%. An average vehicle might cost over $100,000, be smaller, and more costly to operate. It is no wonder that Europeans travel so much by train.
The food remains distinctly different between the various Scandinavian and Nordic countries, but the American invasion of fast food has gained a foothold everywhere we have been on this trip. On a trip through the Netherlands and Belgium twenty years ago, we saw no American restaurants and most places to dine did not have menus in English or any staff that could translate.
Today, you can find a McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway or KFC almost anywhere. However, that sort of defeats the whole purpose of traveling to different parts of the world. If you try everything, you will find yourself discovering new tastes and textures that you never imagined. Besides, the normal food back home will be there when you return.
I will spend less than $50 dollars in cash on this entire two week trip. Credit cards are everywhere and are accepted for even the smallest amounts. In fact, some banks in Denmark have announced they are going cashless shortly and no longer accept coins. Some stores no longer accept cash. In this regard, I think we are catching a glimpse of our own future.
Traveling always reminds me of the many differences of the countries around the world. It also reminds me of just how similar we are no matter where we come from. Finally, it reminds me that no matter where our travels take us, there is no place like home.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org