Of Bread and Cell Phones

Following two weeks of vacation in Europe, it is easy to return and take pot shots at things American. It is the simplest of things. Our bread, for example, is terrible. Baking is still an art in Europe and bakeries in France and Germany, those two countries most recently graced by my presence, are filled with tantalizing assortments of breads and pastries. Even the lowly German brotchen is far superior to anything we produce here. Our bread, for anyone who doesn?t know, is processed fluff.

But it goes beyond bread (the coffee, did I mention the coffee? Dark, rich and designed to give a week?s worth of caffeine in a demitasse cup). It points to a difference in lifestyles. Cell phone use while driving, for instance, is strictly prohibited and there is little chance in being run down by someone more intent on their conversation than on their driving. Mind you, you can still be run down since the French seem to consider pedestrian crossings as targeting areas. Still, cell phone use does not seem as pervasive in Europe (Great Britain excepted and they don?t consider themselves European anyway). Cell phones are rarely seen in restaurants and while single patrons could be observed using them occasionally in bars, seeing a couple at a table with one individual yakking on the phone while the other stares off into space just does not seem to happen.

Speaking of restaurants, aside from the difficulty in paying your bill in Europe, they are delightfully free of a wait staff that stops by your table every 30 seconds to inquire if everything is alright. I am reminded of a young woman in a local restaurant who asked on one of her visits to the table, ?is everything alright so far?? So far? Did she know of something strange in our food that we had yet to discover? Of course, that doesn?t equal the young woman who removed an almost empty basket of french fries from our table even as we were reaching in to help ourselves to the last morsels. You cannot be in a hurry to eat in Europe and, as I said, you have to ask for your bill. It is not deposited pointedly on your table, even before you are finished, with the comment. ?I?ll take this when you are ready.? Translation: pay up and get out.

It might be unfair to say it, but Americans do nothing with panache. I can remember a time when we did. A time when the wait staff in a good restaurant was more discreet. They did not come to your table unless asked to do so. Your bill was brought, but only when it was obvious that everyone was finished eating. We also used to have good bakeries, even in small towns. The bakery in the town where I went to school (population 900) made an especially nice cream-filled flake pastry. But we allowed them to disappear, these privately owned bakeries, in favor of the bland fare currently available in supermarkets.

One could argue that the heady experience of being on vacation clouded our senses. But we lived in Germany for 4 years in arguably the finest city in Europe, Munich. Our opinions were formed then. Returning only reinforces them.