Our first trip to Paris

The following is a transcription of my physical journal entries after our recent Paris vacation. I’ll punch it up with photographs because this is the internet, but there may still be some short-hand style writing. The difference between this post and my journal entry is the legibility of typeface vs. my scrawling on paper, & some privacy edits.

Day 1, Wed, May 18

Arrival. The crazy cab ride to the hotel reminded me of comic scenes in movies where a passenger is terrified while driving in Europe. It was… haphazard. We’re exhausted- we got no sleep on the plane because of George. Too much activity on the plane distracting him, so the little poor little guy just wouldn’t drop off & neither could we. Fits and temper tantrums, and eventually I took him inside a bathroom so his screaming would be muffled to other passengers. He had to be exhausted and cranky, because I know I was.

photo used without permission

Passage Jouffroy. Photo used without permission.


Our first view of the Eiffel Tower.

we got to the Hotel Chopin and the address finally made sense: 10 Blvd. Montmartre is the street address for the passage, and 46 Passage Jouffroy is the address w/in the passage. Paris has covered passages that are open on either end for pedestrians, with shops in them and glass-like covered ceilings. It’s really cool. Once we got checked in we bought 5-day metro passes and made our way to the Fat Tire bike tour meeting point. We were exhausted, didn’t want to be late but also didn’t know the timing and were in an unfamiliar city, so we wound up getting there an hour early and waiting in the cold and wind. Not fun, though we did see the Eiffel Tower on our way there, and the tour itself was great! We saw a lot of sights and got some great history that I’ll actually remember. Quips like “Louis the XIV built it all, Louis the XV spent it all, and Louis the XVI paid for it all”. And learning Paris still stands because Dietrich von Choltitz disobeyed Hitler’s order to detonate charges planted all over the city after he fell in love with it. We cut our tour short because George was  too upset in his bike trailer, and we became concerned because he kept holding his right arm and wouldn’t put any weight on it to stand up or lift anything with it. We made our way to the American Hospital where he was seen, got x-rays, and taken care of for about $300 cash without insurance and in-and-out in 90 minutes. If that’s socialized medicine, I say bring it on! He seemed to have somehow dislocated his elbow, but he got put right as rain in less time than we’ve waited to just to be seen back home. Dinner was steak and frites (Kendel’s uncle George’s recommendation) at Cafe Zephyr. Not a bad first day.


Day 2, Thurs, May 19

I went out early and bought Kendel some macarons from a pastry shop in the passage, then we had breakfast in the hotel w/ fresh squeezed orange juice. (We had a lot of fresh squeezed orange juice on the trip. It’s like France is Europe’s Florida. Have to Google that when I get home.) I got an Orange SIM card for my phone so we could get maps and info, then we took off for the day.

The only way to take a toddler into a museum: asleep.

The only way to take a toddler into a museum: asleep.

We went to the Louvre and were surprised to find the lines weren’t too long at all, possibly because it was a gray and drizzly morning. I didn’t realize it was also a natural history museum, I thought it was just art, so we went through the wing with Egyptian stuff. I can’t figure out how they got Rameses III sarcophagus down where they did, or how they’ll move it again. It was impressive.

Grandma sewed together a Hobbes that George cuddles for comfort.

Grandma sewed together a Hobbes that George cuddles for comfort.

George woke up at the end of the Egyptian wing and started crying, so we made our way to a cafe for lunch. We happened upon a weird park of black/white pillars Kendel had read about and went to a music box store nearby. For dinner we had crepes. I forgot Kendel’s birthday until today and feel like an idiot. We left the states on the 17th, but got here on her actual birthday and I completely spaced it. I feel like such a jerk right now.


Day 3, Fri, May 20

Photo used without permission

The Grand Palais. Photo used without permission.

We went to the Cafe Indiana for breakfast (later discovered it appeared to be a chain). George loved the sausage and more fresh squeezed OJ. We took the metro to Notre Dame. I always find cathedrals both impressive and bewildering. The immense scale of the architecture always impresses me, and I can’t believe they could build like this back then. The treasury and sheer amount of wealth seems questionable. “Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to enter heaven” and all that. Afterward we meandered around the area, I bought a scarf, and relaxed in a sandy park behind the church. George loved playing in the dirt and watching pigeons.

Apparently selfie sticks are really a thing. That’s so strange. The Grand Palace (Palais) has a beautiful glass panel roof and I wanted to see the inside but there was an exhibit we didn’t want to pay for, so we went to the Eiffel Tower instead. Baguette, croque monsieur, and gelato. Walked along the Siene, under the tower, to the park, played soccer with Mateo, walked to the metro. Packed metro back to hotel was hot and sweaty.

At the risk of seeming racist, the guys hawking mini tower souvenirs and selfie sticks for 1€ are always black.


Day 4. Sat. May 21.


The Hall of Mirrors.

Versailles. Holy cow. Photos can’t capture the sheer scale of the place. It’s truly amazing. We did another Fat Tire bike tour except it’s not cold and rainy today- it’s a clear, humid, sweltering day and the sun really beat down on us. We had a great picnic on the grounds of the palace, at the far end of the Grand Canal. One mile east-west, one kilometer north-south, 12 feet deep the entire way, and took 10,000 men over a decade to dig out by hand, iirc. The grounds are over 2,000 acres and we had more fresh squeezed orange juice at a stand in the Peasant’s Village (Marie Antoinette’s bizarre fantasy recreation of what she thought peasant life was like).

If Notre Dame was impressive, the palace here is stupefying. It’s not just the scale but the sheer amount of detail over every square foot of it.

I’m remembering the distinct lack of a/c in England. I love the cars in Europe, but I miss the comfort of the states.


Day 5. Sun. May 22

Layabout day to recover after Versailles. Hard Rock Cafe for lunch because we missed burgers and refills on cold drinks with ice. George is having really bad temper tantrums- we don’t know if it’s exhaustion, a toddler phase, or something related to his meds. Carry out pizza for dinner in the room was pretty tasty. Always get margherita here.


Day 6 Mon May 23

IMG_1774Weird sauce on Starbucks “English muffin” breakfast sandwiches. RAIN. We walked to Passage Vivienne and were disappointed with the lack of shopping. I intentionally didn’t pack enough shirts to have an excuse to buy some stuff here. Walked to Les Halles (a nice shopping mall) when it started to pour, and poor Kendel got soaked- she had me keep the umbrella since I was wearing George in the Lillebaby. Bought shoes and shirts. Mall McDonalds had rows of touch screen kiosks for ordering and the “royale” from Pulp Fiction is real! Bought shoes and shirts and a second umbrella, which George loved carrying around like a big boy when he woke up. I love how he always wants to help- it’s so cute! We bought some crazy fancy eclairs on the walk home- very expensive but very tasty. Dinner at Chartier and I tried escargot. Not bad, but not worth the $ to do it again. George liked it because he’s too young be grossed out by the idea. Kendel promised to never kiss me again. LOL.


Day 7

Big Bus tour, just to see more than we could on the metro. We forgot headphones for the first half, so we just watched Paris go by. It’s such a beautiful city. We found headphones and listed to the tour for the last half before George woke up and was fussy. Great tour, lots of interesting info.

photo used without permission, because mine was terrible

Institut de France. Photo used without permission, because mine was terrible

For instance, we saw the Institut de France, home of the Académie française, which is the official authority of the French language and tasked with publishing their dictionary. We also learned they dislike cognates and urge people to use only French words rather than “email” or “weekend” (which are in common usage because they’re simpler than the Académie alternative). The street along the Seine was lined with green boxes used by roadside booksellers.


Palais Bourbon. Photo used w/o permission.

We also saw the Palais Bourbon, from which we derive right wing and left wing as descriptors of political affiliation. It started there in the 1870s.

When George woke, we changed tour lines to get home but it was too slow so we got off at Pigalle station to take the metro and stumbled onto a Kebab shop.

Late afternoon cruise with Fat Tire again on the Sienne, and the Eiffel Tower at night to see the lights of Paris. I was embarrassed to ask but I finally did- why were all the tchotchke hawkers black? It turns out that most of them come from countries that were French colonies, but they’re not allowed to get official jobs (taxable income) while they’re waiting for residency paperwork. It’s a legal thing. So to make ends meet until they can get a “real” job they do this. That changed my view of them instantly (before it was just opportunist bothering of tourists) and I was struck by their desire to improve their lives, so we bought some toys from one before heading back to hotel for the night. Pretty great last night in Paris, but I’m sure we’ll come back again in the future. It’s an easy city to fall in love with.

(note- the fast clacking noise at the beginning of the Tower video above is a mechanical flying toy bird one of the souvenir hawkers would toss in the air as demonstration.)

Wandering discovery is it’s own reward

IMG_1754There’s a sketchy kebab shop slightly northwest of Pigalle metro station in Paris, at the corner of Boulevard de Clichy & Villa de Guelma. It doesn’t appear to have a name, just a KEBAB sign. Google still lists Boulangerie Pigalle at the location, but the street view image from May 2015 shows what’s really there. The menus list items they don’t actually make, like burgers and chicken cordon bleu. It’s in the middle of what appears to be Paris’ red light district, with adult stores and strip clubs lining the area for blocks in either direction. It’s not listed on Yelp and I couldn’t find the address when I search for it. This place isn’t exactly a tourist destination.

It was the best meal I ate the entire week.

Crepes are fantastic. Baguettes are wonderful. Croissants and madeleines and macarons are all sublime. I even enjoyed the escargot. I don’t have a single complaint about French cuisine. What made the kebab shop so great was how unexpected it was. It was the joy of discovery. In the midst of the wonderful bakeries, Parisian architecture, and assorted tourist delights we managed to stumble into a dive with great food in a foreign country.

Maybe it’s because I love seedy 24-hour or late-night joints; the kind of places drunks frequent when bars close. In England that was kebab shops or sometimes a chippy (take-away fish and chips). In Tucson and Las Vegas it was small local chains of Mexican food with the possessive tense of somebody’s name, like Nico’s, Filiberto’s, or Roberto’s. It doesn’t hurt that the “lower class” eateries have killer flavor and giant portions for the money.

Maybe it was the food. If I was limited to food from just one region of the world, Middle Eastern cuisine would be a strong contender. It tastes just like it appears on the map: between Greece and India, both of which I love. Kebabs in Afghanistan and shawarma in Saudi Arabia are among my favorite culinary memories. I’ve never been interested in falafel, but the hint of lime and texture at this place were great and upended my expectations. I’ve outgrown the stage of photographing my food for Facebook or Instagram (because I’m not a food blogger), but I almost wish I had just for an inventory of what was on the plate. Salad, rice, fries, suspiciously dark sausages, chicken… It was a great spread and very tasty.

But mostly I suspect it was the fun of discovering it by accident. I wrote about this a few years ago and I still believe that some of the best adventures are accidents. There’s no discovery if everything goes according to plan. By it’s very nature, a plan is an organized schedule of known elements. You have to wing it to discover something new. In the words of Friedrich Hayek, “The mind cannot foresee it’s own advance.”

In this case, it was simply a result of us abandoning plans for the sake of time constraints and chancing upon something good. No Yelp searches on a smartphone looking for reviewed places near my GPS location. Just plain, dumb luck. Our Big Bus tour route would take too long and make us late for an appointment elsewhere, so we hopped off to find food and a metro station.

“Adventure” usually conjures mental images of grander ventures, but nobody outside a Hollywood movie leaves the day-to-day and rafts down the Amazon River. Adventure begins with small steps, just outside one’s routine. A full tank of gas and turning down an unknown state highway of curiosity. A determination to discover how to find a landmark that’s long been seen but never visited. Trying a scary food, like Rocky Mountain oysters.

Foster an adventurous spirit. Go out there, take a chance, and discover something new.

Who knew maps could be mind-blowing?

Portraying an entire three-dimensional object in only two dimensions leads to unavoidable distortions. Any gamer that has created custom skins for a mod knows this. What blew my mind was learning about different world map “projections” and just how skewed our perceptions can be.


Above is the first image that came up when I did a Google image search for “world map”. Looks pretty standard, right? This version is based on the Mercator projection, which basically just takes the longitudinal lines and reshapes them from a globe to a grid. The problem is it creates extreme distortion at the poles.


See how big Greenland is? Or Canada? In reality, Africa is 14 times larger than Greenland, Mexico is larger than Alaska, South America has almost twice the land mass of Europe, and every nation in the northern hemisphere is skewed down toward the center of the image. If the horizontal grid lines were redrawn proportionately to show land mass in scale, the resulting map looks like this:


The problem stems from conical sections of a globe being forced into grid representation on paper. From a Wikipedia entry on cylindrical map projection, “The poles accrue infinite distortion, becoming lines instead of points.” This happens with all 2-D representations, but how often do we really think about it? How distorted is the map on a game of Risk?

The majority of us are grossly mistaken about the relative size and even location of land masses. Isn’t that crazy?

a Roy Batty monologue

I saw Blade Runner for the first time when I was about twelve years old. Even though it was the now-reviled voiceover version of the film, Rutger Hauer’s Tears In Rain soliloquy still made an impact. Perhaps more than I’d ever realized.

I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like tears… in… rain.

Melodramatic though it may be, these are the words that sprang to mind this past January as I made my way to Afghanistan. All I could think was, “The things my eyes have seen…”


The most sunlight I saw during the flight from Atlanta to Dubai.

Part of my romantic thoughts were certainly due to being a newlywed. Afterall, who wants the honeymoon to end? I had just eight short weeks with my bride before my job and the real world called me away. My wife is wonderful and she’s always been much more sensitive than me, crying when we’d have to part after visits in our long-distance courtship. I never cried during or after our goodbyes, though I’d have obviously preferred her company. This time I wept like a baby. I like travel and seeing new things- they’re the very reason I took this job. I’ve been afraid of stagnating from being in the same place for too long and sought out adventure. But this time, none of those were acceptable enough reasons to leave behind the treasure I now had at home.

IMG_3607At some point, these lights were visible below. I don’t recall where or when this photo was taken now, but it has to have been somewhere over Africa. Morocco? Algeria? Ultimately, I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Because what struck me the feeling I had. Emotion somehow isn’t the right word, but feeling. Maybe it was sleep deprivation, the disconnected feeling semi-consciousness brings. Maybe it was the dark sky and earth being divided by the dull glow of the horizon. All I know is speed of the plane and proportions of the lights made them amorphous and anything my mind could imagine: Tangier or other towns on the Strait of Gibraltar. Luminescent lily pads floating on a still, dark bayou. Galaxies moving through the universe as Elton John sings Rocket Man in my mind.

IMG_3612The next morning was much more conventional. After a night of negotiating dodgy cab drivers to get to my hotel, and a wonderful night at the Crowne Plaza in Dubai’s Festival City (they had wifi fast enough to FaceTime with my bride), I had a full day’s layover left to go. And there was no way I was going to squander 24+ hours in Dubai by staying put. There’s a great big world out there, and I want to see it all.

IMG_3620What I didn’t know at the outset of my day is that each shopping mall in Dubai has it’s own little draw or attraction, like casinos in Las Vegas. And the malls in Dubai are just as plentiful as Vegas casinos. All I knew was that a Dubai mall had built an indoor ski slope, either from reading Popular Mechanics years ago or seeing it on Modern Marvels or something. And at the Mall of the Emirates, I got to see kids that live in climates of oppressive heat having snowball fights. That’s pretty cool. I’ll freely confess that my time in the military, 9/11, and various other cultural prejudices from growing up in America had given me a rather negative viewpoint on Arabic people. Seeing families laugh and smile together, an absence of sharia enforcement, and eating some of the most wonderful food you can get did a lot to open up my heart and mind. I may disagree with Islam, but they’re still people.

While dining on some curry in the Mall of the Emirates food court (which was harder than you’d think, since it was populated by McDonald’s, KFC, etc.) I saw a Big Red Bus doing tours like one might expect in London. What better way to see more of Dubai?! So I ran off to find a boarding spot and see what I could see.

I didn’t have time or daylight to stop at the Burj al Arab, the world’s only (self-proclaimed) 7-star hotel. But I did get to see it from the road and it’s pretty. I also ran through the Dubai Mall as quickly as I could to get photos of the Burj Khalifa, even though it can be seen from almost anywhere in the region. I didn’t know tickets to At The Top sold out two days in advance, so I didn’t get to go up the tower. I guess I’ll just have to be content (for now) remembering my ears popping in the Sears Tower elevator. But I’ll be back someday. Because seeing all the Aston Martins and world’s largest acrylic panel at the Aquarium in passing wasn’t enough- I need time to prowl around and see more. Preferably with my wife, next time. Plus, I want to see what the mad geniuses that devised the Bellagio fountains could possibly do to top themselves.

In short, Dubai was amazing and I’d pay to holiday there on my own dime.

The next morning was early rising to get to the airport for the next leg of my journey to Afghanistan. My time in Dubai was short-lived but wonderful. And while photos of motorcycle delivery boxes and McDonald’s menus taken with my iPhone aren’t going to unseat Ansel Adams’ place in history, it was their shaking up of my routine that I enjoyed.

And that’s really the best part of travel. Shaking up the routine. Discovering all the world has to offer. Eating a “McArabia” sandwich for breakfast and seeing things you otherwise never would have. A life lived in safety or unyielding routine is no life at all. I want a life lived on purpose. I want to have stories from far off places that nobody else in the room can tell. I chose this, and I have (almost) no regrets from the moment I decided that I would determine my own course in life. It’s been fulfilling, adventurous, humbling, educational… My favorite adventure now is marriage, and knowing that my wife shares my zeal for life. Having a partner in adventure is a wonderful thing, because then we can share the experience and when we have children we can tell them about the things our eyes have seen. We can work together to better document our experiences and instill a love for adventure, learning and expanding horizons in our kids. I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner.

In the meanwhile, I can always laugh a little about the way we always bring some of “home” with us wherever we go…

Because American forces don't go anywhere without Burger King.

Because American forces don’t go anywhere without Burger King.

Calling Fargo

One of the weird things I’ve noticed here is that everybody refers to phone numbers on the Air Guard base by the last three digits. It’s funny, because there are no “extensions” on base in the telecom sense of the word. There’s nowhere on base where a single, seven digit number gets dialed to reach an exchange and further subsets of three or four digit extensions. Everybody has their own phone number. And in America our phone numbers are segmented out into three digits of prefix, a dash, and then four digits of specific number.

A three digit area code may specify what state or county is being dialed in the USA, but the three digit prefix that Hollywood always represents as “555” in a phone number tells the dialer an awful lot about a phone number. What would be gibberish of (123) 456-7890 can be decoded rather quickly to the savvy. Back home in Tucson I could tell from a 298, 730, 295, or 791 prefix if the phone number belonged to D-M Air Force base, a Verizon wireless cell phone, the Air Guard unit by the airport or the city government. I’d be willing to bet major hospitals or the University own their own prefix.

But most importantly, that means that every phone number within a common prefix everywhere I’ve been in the United States has been referred to by the last four digits. Whether it’s been a military base or a city fire station, the numbers after the dash have all been recited.

Need to call so-and-so in that other department? He’s at 5210.

Personnel office? Call 3795.

Sergeant Jones? The supply person? 7413.

So it’s very strange to hear people here refer to a number by just the last three digits. It kind of makes sense, because the base is so small all the phone numbers share the prefix and the first digit of the last four. So every number would be something like 123-4XXX.

The problem is I’ve got 30+ years of phone numbers being in a 3-3-4 format, plus 15+ years of technical understanding the “why” and background to it. I just can’t think the way they do here, so when somebody tells me to call Dave by dialing 237 I wind up just staring at them in a befuddled state. That’s not the way the phones here work. If I just dial a random three digits I get tones and the “call cannot be completed as dialed” message. I still have to dial the prefix, and the first of the four digits that I don’t know because nobody ever bothers to say it aloud. So for all I know, the phone numbers here are (123) 456-X789 and I never know what X is.

It’s frustrating because I feel like an idiot, but it’s also comical because everybody on base is saying phone numbers “wrong” but they all know what they’re talking about. Just another of the dozens (hundreds?) of little bits of culture shock here in the northern prairie…

Ze Germans

This post is attempting to tackle two topics. I am almost positive they will not be intertwined in anything resembling an artful manner. So as you muddle into this ham-fisted essay, Dear Reader, remember I write this for my entertainment and not always yours. I’d say “caveat emptor”, but you’re reading this for free. -Eric

I’m somewhat embarrassed that other book I forgot to list reading in my last post was probably the one I enjoyed most. Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman is a collection of essays much like my introduction to the author, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. These two books in particular are collections of essays, and Klosterman is only six years older than me, so a lot of the Gen-X-ish stuff he writes about really speaks directly to me. That, and I’m a recovering pop culture junkie and Kevin Smith fan. So a former music critic for Spin, Esquire, GQ, etc. that makes a lot of footnotes (have you seen how prolifically I use parenthesis?), hilarious and seemingly random pop culture references, and is also really dang smart and analytical was just irresistible to me.

And yes, the “Gen-X” and “random pop culture references” bits were specifically to say, I understand he may not be for everyone. But since Michael Chrichton is dead, Klosterman just might be my favorite living author.

Granted, I’ve only read two of his books and both are essay collections rather than longer narratives. I get that. But now I’m “stuck” living in Fargo with my job, and as fate would have it another of Klosterman’s books that I want to get now is Fargo Rock City. Fargo is a cute little town, but at least ten years behind the cultural mainstream. The big concert they had last year was Creed, and I was offered free tickets because “I don’t know who these new bands are”.

2012. Creed. “New band.” Let that swim around in your brain a little. There was a pretty quotable joke at Creed’s expense for being lame/passe in Without a Paddle, and that was in 2004.

I understand pop culture is fickle, and this isn’t intended to get off on Creed nor Fargo bashing tangent. No, more than anything I feel like I can identify with Klosterman even more now. But I’m also pretty sure if I continue down a path of “we have so much in common” praise I’ll come across like Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female (poorly re-made as The Roommate in 2011), so I’ll mention here that he’s also a huge sports nut with a couple essays devoted to the topic in both books and I only read them to avoid missing any interesting insights or particularly funny zingers. I just don’t care about sports beyond college football and motorcycle racing, and even those are pushing it.

Anyhow, if essays comparing David Koresh to Curt Cobain, analysis of Saved by the Bell, why Garth Brooks went crazy and tried the Chris Gaines project or the stupidity of sitcom laugh tracks (both of which I’ll touch on later), I recommend either book. Eating the Dinosaur struck me as a little bit shorter and harder to follow, though that may have been because it was on my kindle and footnotes were relegated to a separate section rather than available at the bottom of the printed page, a la my copy of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. The majority of complaints from the minority of low-star ratings on Amazon claim he sounds like a know-it-all. As I’ve said, I think he’s just really dang smart; I suspect these readers didn’t like having their intellects challenged. If it sounds like a personality fit for you, give him a read.

Completely unrelated has been my exposure here while deployed on a NATO installation in Afghanistan to ze German culture. It’s been interesting, because I’m developing first-hand knowledge and experience with a people most Americans know anecdotally. In recent years the Germans have morphed into an almost mythical ideal in my mind because my exposure or knowledge of them has been primarily based on the vehicles, firearms or things they produce. Jony Ive may design some beautiful products for Apple, but his influence was Dieter Rams. I’m unsure if my awareness of design is a product of a more mainstream recognition or just the websites I tend to frequent, but references to Bauhaus have been prevalent for me the past two years. My Lamy pens are from Germany. My SIG P6 was made in West Germany, and Glocks are Austrian (close enough, to an American). I drive a Porsche 987 Boxster and a BMW motorcycle, and these people have autobahns and the Nürburgring. I even started listening to techno back in 2009 and loved the somewhat cold, modern functionality of my Volvo 850 Turbo (again, Swedish, but it’ll do for my purposes here). I believe efficiency should be considered a virtue. A people regarded for their precision (Swiss watches, again, close enough) were like gods to me.

Okay, so there was their bizarre fascination with David Hasselhoff and they always play the villains in movies, but whatever.

So actually being here and interacting with so many of them has been educational. I’ve only spent 24 hours in Germany before on a long layover. It was a beautiful country and they make my favorite beer in the world, but they’re still just people. It’s odd now to think “less” of a people than before yet still not think poorly of them. I haven’t met a German yet that can’t also speak English, and they pretty much ignore the speed limit they impose on everybody else when driving on base. They walk out into the street either oblivious or rudely demanding the right of way from vehicles, which is behavior completely unlike I expected. ArnieRaveThey play some really goofy music, like “Barbie Girl” in the gym (as opposed to American gyms playing rock almost exclusively), and can listen to Abba or disco without the slightest hint of giggling, mockery, sneering, irony, or embarrassment at a guilty pleasure. My wife even mailed me a cyalume glow stick so I could mock rave with them when they blast their music in our shared hangar.

But the thing that really cracks me up as a veteran of the American military is the ze Germans obviously have no dress code regulations on grooming/haircuts. Here’s a comically bad drawing I’ve done to illustrate.


That’s supposed to be a really long mohawk, slicked back like something out of Mad Men, worn with muttonchops. I’ve seen that particular hair cut minus the facial hair on more than one guy. I’ve seen otherwise attractive women with long hair, but either the left or right side of their head shaved. I’ve seen way too many guys rocking a chin curtain beard. (Very few people can actually pull this off, despite its wild popularity in the Fargo area. I think we’re being invaded by the Amish.) The only thing I haven’t seen in skull hair sculpting is a soul patch. I inelegantly recall Chuck Klosterman to quote why:

In the ten-thousand-year history of facial hair, no one has ever looked nonidiotic with a soul patch. In fact, the zenith of the soul patch’s legacy was Matt Dillon in Singles; Dillon grew a soul patch specifically because he was portraying an alt-rock d-bag.

Despite my concern over the chin curtain beard’s prevalence, even ze Germans have shown they have limits to their silliness.

Of course, this is really all just a difference of culture, what’s considered normal, and our general inability to see the really bizarre things we all do within our own societies. The example I offer up is polite laughter.

Klosterman’s essay on sitcom laugh tracks essentially asserts that we’ve all been subconsciously programmed to laugh at things that aren’t really very funny. (He uses a great breakdown of a Friends scene to illustrate.) But if you think about it, it makes sense in a way. How often do we type “haha” or “LOL” when we’ve uttered nothing of the sort? We don’t laugh out loud, but we claim to have in text messages all the time- all while thinking that guy on the bus who does laugh to himself at seemingly nothing is completely bonkers. And yet so much of our “laughter” is purely conditioned out of politeness, or for filler during impersonal conversations.

The Germans don’t fake laugh. To them, we all look like the crazy guy sitting on the bus. Klosterman writes, “This is not the only reason Germans think Americans are retarded, but it’s definitely one of them.”

Keeping that in mind has helped me stop calling people “weird” quite so freely and helped me experience foreign cultures better. Because apparently we’re all a little crazy, and we don’t even realize it. 🙂