You know the old joke: In heaven the French are the cooks, the Italians are the lovers, the Germans are the engineers, and the English are the diplomats; in hell the Germans are the lovers, the English are the cooks, the Italians are the engineers and the French are the diplomats. Flying from Italy to spend a couple of nights in historic Mainz, Germany on the banks of the Rhine made us think of that.
Our first indication that we were in the Land of Precision was the airplane trip itself. We had a 20-minute connection in Munich to catch a flight to Frankfurt. Lufthansa had a van waiting for us when our first flight ended which whisked us to the other side of the airfield and our second flight. Amazing. Meanwhile, in Rome a friend was enduring a 5-hour delay for his Alitalia flight and, needless to say, he missed all his ensuing connections. We can only say that if you have the choice between Lufthansa and other carriers, you won’t regret choosing the former.
Some things were remarkably similar, for instance, the market, where only the mittens and heavy jackets told us we were no longer on the Riviera:
Mittens, jackets, and, oh jawohl! the background:
That is the Dom, the great central cathedral of old Mainz.
The good burghers live on the other side of the platz:
When we left Rapallo the Christmas lights were just being strung across the streets and wound around the palm trees. In Mainz, too, Christmas was definitely in the air:
Big trees like the one behind this fountain were being placed in all the main squares. And what says “Christmas” in Germany more than this?
Good as the Italians are at most things culinary, they have not yet mastered the gingerbread house, or, for that matter, the angry Santa. What is wrong with him?? Must be those pesky elves misbehaving again.
Speaking of gingerbread, you don’t see many houses like this in Italy:
But above all, the culture shock of being in Germany was the cleanliness and order that was all around. Italians are more casual about such things. What exemplified it best for us was the difference in airport trash receptacles. In the Genova airport they are here and there, and on the floor around them is evidence of well-intentioned but careless effort. In the Frankfurt airport on the other hand, the trash receptacles look like this:
They are almost frightening.
Part Two of culture shock was arriving at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in Texas. We flew on American Airlines which was comfortable, on time, and staffed with very pleasant flight attendants. America! We were honest citizens and, on the customs form, said Yes to the question, ‘are you bringing food with you.’ Our punishment was to be sent to the Agriculture Inspection Area where a long line awaited processing. Fortunately a kindly inspector took pity on us, quizzed us on our cheese and olive oil, and let us through. A few years ago I brought a cat into Italy with nary a glance from the customs officers to whom I tried to introduce him at the Milano airport. So, Officials and Inspections and Security, all on a level a bit above that we’ve grown accustomed to. (On the other hand, no one holds a candle to Italians when it comes to plain old bureaucracy.)
Then there’s size. Everything seems huge in America when one is accustomed to Italian scale. Beginning with the large people, and moving right along to the large automobiles, roads and houses which accommodate them. It’s a change of scale that takes one’s breath away.
We’re in Arizona now, and will be for a few months, having traded a sea of water for one of sand. Oddly, though we’ve always been Americans, we feel a bit like expatriots in our own country now; perhaps we’ve been living away too long. Or perhaps this is just a first reaction, and after a week or two we’ll slip back into a more comfortable place. Just now being here feels like wearing shoes that don’t fit exactly right: some places are too loose, and others pinch too much. Rather like the shoes we wear in Italy.