Left Coast / Right Coast: Stories about International Travel

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of dozens of trips all over the world. Especially Europe. At one point, I travelled from Boston to Europe for a week every month. Let’s start with the plane ride.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Nancy Gold.

By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of dozens of trips all over the world. Especially Europe. At one point, I travelled from Boston to Europe for a week every month.

Let’s start with the plane ride. From the east coast, most flights to Europe left Boston late at night and arrived (Europe is five or six hours ahead) the next morning. So the first thing you notice is that when you arrive, your body clock thinks it is about 5:00 a.m. and you have been up for a full day. So you are tired, needing some sleep. But as it’s the beginning of a new day in whatever European city you are in, I never wanted to waste a full day getting “acclimated” to the local time.

Even if you take the full day off, your body clock does not catch up with the local time until several days later. So what I did was “gut it out” forcing myself to go to my appointments even though sometimes I could barely stay awake. On one occasion, I almost fell asleep at lunch. I barely caught myself as I was about to “splash” into my soup.

Now the return trip is much easier. It just seems like a very long day. You leave Europe mid-afternoon and arrive back on the East Coast in late afternoon. So you have dinner, perhaps stay up for a few more hours, and then retire. The next morning you awake early but fully refreshed.

Local Customs: In most of continental Europe, dinner is quite late at night. It is not unusual to have dinner at 10:00 pm or later. And in many places lunch is the “big” meal of the day so dinner is very light fare, perhaps cheese on bread along with coffee and perhaps a sweet.

In Spain in particular, people would arrive at work usually after 10:00 a.m., leave for lunch perhaps at 2:00 p.m., return to the office around 5:00 p.m., work until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., then leave. Again, supper would be something very light. If you wish, you can skip lunch and take a Siesta (a nap).

In the Netherlands, there is a tradition called New Herring. In early spring along the coastline in cities such as Scheveningen, (I dare you to pronounce this name correctly – it is impossible) the tradition is to be the first to sample that year’s herring fish. You get one, pop it raw into your mouth and swallow even without chewing.

I tried several times but kept gagging and was unable to swallow the raw fish. My native Dutchman, looked at me thinking: “What is wrong with this American – who can’t seem to enjoy one of our most delicious and sacred traditions.

In Germany, a beer is de rigeur with lunch. As I had only arrived in Deutschland that morning and had been up all night on the flight, I decided to skip the beer otherwise I would have fallen asleep – probably while standing up. So I simply asked, "Ein glas wasser bitte" (A glass of water please). My business associates turned to me and asked: “Are you going to wash your hands?”

Returning from lunch, I was offered the “shotgun seat” (front right side). We got on the Autobahn and got up to 210 kph (130 mph). Wow did I stay awake for this drive back to the office.

My last example was Finland during the winter. See Finland is so far north that winter days are very short. Sun comes up about 10:30 a.m. but never gets much above the horizon. So “daylight” is an eerie half-light. The sun then goes down about 2:00 p.m. It is quite depressing, and because of this alcoholism is a problem there. In fact, you can hear ambulances frequently as they round up people who are in danger due to the cold outside and their intoxication.

But the “best” part of a visit is Finnish sauna. Note that if you make the mistake of saying this is a Swedish word, they get very upset. (The Swedish word is bastu.)

Sauna is a very old Finnish culture and tradition wherein you strip down naked, and join everyone else in the sauna room (very hot and humid). You drink Aquavit (a local liquor). Then you go into a room next door and a stern looking Finnish woman scrubs your entire body with a very stiff brush. Then you jump into an ice-cold pool then repeat the process several times.

You get so absolutely relaxed you don’t always know what you’re saying. And that is precisely the point. The Finns use this as a good way to “get to know the real you.” You lose all pretentions with the result that the “true you” is exposed (pardon the pun). They use this to measure whether they want to do business with you. By the way, entire families do this – adults and small children all together.

There are lots of local cultural oddities as you circle the globe. It is always great when you arrive back home and things get “back to normal.” And I don’t think I will ever look at a herring the same way again.


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