August 19, 2016
On July 6 we left for our summer break in Europe. Three weeks in Brittany and one week in Germany. Same as last year, I immediately went on a goat cheese / bacon diet, which means that at least one meal a day had to include one or both of the above. Same as last year, I started observing the differences to our Japanese daily life.
In order not to repeat last year’s observations, I keep my list very short. I would like to mention two things:
1. service culture in restaurants
2. obesity in children (and adults)
Having completely adapted to the Japanese service culture, we had some difficulties dealing with the French (and German) nonchalance when it comes to service. As a guest in a French or German restaurant you really have to make an effort to make yourself noticed by the service unless the service person has decided to attend your table. You can easily spend 15 minutes at your table before anyone comes to take your order for drinks. Unfortunately the custom of bringing a glass of tab water to every guest as soon as they are seated is unknown in both European countries.
In Germany we were very early at the restaurant because the children wanted to join the feeding of the farm animals on site. My parents chose a table on the garden terrace while the personnel was finishing the preparations. It was a warm summer day and my parents who are around 80 were left without any attention whatsoever. When we joined them more than half an hour later, no-one had offered them even a glass of water. Even though we arrived before the official opening time, I found this a bit tough.
My next observation: fat children! I was shocked. Not so much in France as there were only a few chubby ones, but they were rather the exception. The German public pools in the Black Forest and Westerwald revealed the drama. It seems like a little overweight is the rule, fat is common and slim is the exception. And of course the traditional public pool menu consisting of ice cream, french fries, the complete Haribo collection and soft drinks does not help.
And it is not that I would not see children in swimwear in Japan. But if you go to the beach here, you rather feel like attending a beauty contest where everyone is in perfect shape. Including the children.
But let’s focus on the positive – the goat cheese, the bacon, the wine, the abundance of fresh fruit at decent prices! Buying a watermelon for 1,78 Euro feels very good compared to not buying a watermelon for 3,500 Yen (ca. 30 Euro)! Or buying a whole box of peaches (25 pieces) for the same price I pay for about 3-4 in Japan. What a feast of fresh fruit we had!
Our favourite place, Lesconil, was at it’s best. Only 2 days of rain and quite a few days with temperatures around 34 C. For the summer classes Lilo decided to try windsurfing for the first time and she managed really well. The boys had their last summer class with mixed activities before they start the sailing classes next year! We had a great week on the water with Lilo and me ending up doing stand-up paddle for two days as there was literally no wind to surf.
Seeing our friends, the Biger family from Plobannalec again, having Steevelle staying with us for a week and having Marna and Alva over for another week, made the holidays almost perfect. The only sad thing was that Mark had to leave after only 10 days.
After so many summers spent in Lesconil, we are developing certain routines. In the meantime we know which Circuses are worth seeing, which restaurants change their menus often enough for us, where to buy the best wine, the best cheese, when not to go to the beach, what to explore (still!) in the region. We all are looking forward to many more vacation weeks in Lesconil.
In addition to the differences between Japan and Europe, I also noticed some differences between the French and the Germans. Going on longer train rides with three children and even more luggage in both countries, brought some differences to light. Train personnel in both countries is very friendly most of the time – exceptions on the German side where the many delays stress passengers and DB employees alike. Not all of them were able to cope with that. The French trains all running on time, most passengers having their tickets already checked at the beginning of the platform, turns French SNCF employees into patient and friendly communicators. But they would not lend you a hand when getting on or off the train with all your kids and luggage. Neither do other passengers. Everybody for themselves seemed to be the motto. But at that point in time I only noticed that nobody helped, but everybody waited patiently for me to move on, nobody complained or tried to push past me.
On the French trains, we did not have any conversation with anyone. Even though people looked at us when hearing a mix of English, French and German spoken between us, it did not trigger a conversation.
Getting on and off the trains in Germany, I hardly ever had to carry all the luggage by myself. Not only did other passengers help us to get on and off, the train guards or ticket collectors were always ready to help, too. Having no internet connection with my Japanese phone, other travellers looked up alternative connections for me and gave recommendations as on which station I should change trains in order to avoid a change of platform etc. People were really quick at storing the heavier luggage in the overhead shelves for me or offering to look after our luggage while we were searching for our seats. Overall we had many shorter and longer conversations in all of the trains. Some triggered by the delays, some by the overbooking of seats, and many triggered by the fact that we spoke a mix of languages.