Category Archives: Al Down South

Leaving the milk out

Leaving the milk out in the United States is completely unacceptable. It’s disgusting! Some people are even paranoid about milk not being in the deepest, coldest part of the refrigerator so it doesn’t go bad. I once put milk away in my cupboard with my protein powder instead of refrigerating it (I don’t always think so good when I get back from workouts), and when I finally found the milk again, the jug was all puffed out like a balloon, and disposing the milk (gotta recycle!) just completely stunk up my sink.

In a hostel in Italy, a couple other travelers (I think they were American) were telling us about how you’re not supposed to refrigerate European milk or orange juice. They said it was due to some “pasteurization process.” I put two and two together (they’re Americans so they get confused and don’t realize it, and they use vague scientific sounding phrases that they probably don’t understand) and just assumed that they were just confused. As it turns out, however, they were right! Europeans don’t refrigerate milk and orange juice, and it is due to their pasteurization process.

So on that note, isn’t it kind of ironic that pasteurization in Europe yields milk that doesn’t need to be refrigerated while milk in the US still needs to be kept cold? Isn’t the whole idea of processing and preserving things for better shelf-life a very American concept? Isn’t that why foreigners find our cheese so offensively bland (all the bacteria’s dead!)

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Making sense of tipping in Europe

IMG_5214In Amsterdam,  you tip.

Which doesn’t seem like a big deal to Americans because we’re used to tipping being normal, but there are a lot of countries in Europe where waiters are well-paid and tipping is seen as rude (unless they’ve given you an hj or something). This is inconvenient for Americans who want to be assholes by saving their money.

So Andrew and I were at this Italian restaurant in Amsterdam where I ordered the pasta Carbonara (because that’s just about what I did everywhere). The waiter seemed kinda out of it (he may have been high), but the service was overall good, so we were going to wait until he came back to ask if tipping was customary.

Then, from nowhere, a fat guy comes to our table, picks up the bill with our money in it, and then asks us why there’s no tip.

Now, had this guy either:

  1. Came from inside the restaurant. (He literally came from the street)
  2. Worn somewhat nice clothes as though he were at work (I think he may have been wearing a tank top)

we would have just given him the benefit of the doubt, assumed he worked there, asked him if tipping was customary, and then provided a reasonably generous tip.

However, he met neither of those two criteria, and Andrew and I were just kinda thinking, “who the f* is this guy? Are we getting scammed?” We told him that we weren’t going to give HIM the tip (we could tip the waiter directly to make sure we weren’t getting scammed). He then starts making a big deal about it, hands the bill/money to our waiter, and then just walks away (back down the street).

And so that was pretty awkward. So what’s my advice for what you should do when a vagrant comes up to you from the street and asks for money? Just assume he works there and give him the money… I guess? I don’t know!

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Making sense of European mass transit

Traveling through Europe, Andrew and I had a lot of trouble with mass transit. In fact, we probably did a lot of unnecessary walking so we wouldn’t have to deal with mass transit systems, but hey, it was a backpacking trip, so it wasn’t a huge deal.

When we were in Brussels and Amsterdam, before we gave up on mass transit, we’d buy "tickets,” but we couldn’t figure out what you were supposed to do with the ticket. We were able to get on and off trains without having to do anything with the tickets. This was particularly scary because we saw signs that roughly translated to, “yo, if you’re freeloading, we’re going to bust you up.”

Later in Amsterdam, we realized that there was a box where you were supposed to punch your ticket with a timestamp, but we couldn’t figure out how to get the timestamp to show up in the boxes. Apparently, the mass transit system is part honor system, part IQ test.

So what’s my advice on dealing with European mass transit? You really gotta be ready to fight. When people with official looking hats come asking for your ticket, start acting like it’s in one of your pockets. Meanwhile, look for the path of least resistance to the exit. When you reach into your pocket, rotate your shoulders to cock your punch back. When you take your hand out of your pocket, form a fist, and BAM, right cross to the face! Then RUN LIKE HELL! And while you’re running, always look both ways, because those trams come from NOWHERE.

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Al Down South–Queue Jumping

This is the first post of my new "travel category” called Al Down South. It’s a blog about travel, written mostly without traveling. My first topic: Queue Jumping.

Before I went to Europe, a bunch of my friends warned me that Europeans really don’t like queue jumping. This is pretty unfortunate as it conflicts with the fundamental American need to jump queues.

Andrew and I ran into this problem when we were in a train station in Amsterdam, and we needed to get our Eurail passes validated or something. We went to the office and stood in line. However, we had no idea where the line ended, so we just picked a place that looked like the end and stood there. A woman then came to us and said, “excuse me, the line actually ends back there.”

I know, pretty obnoxious of her right?

So what’s my advice? When you’re in Europe and looking to jump queue, just be ready to fight. They totally don’t expect stuff like that. Hit the lights-off switch with a left hook, and then just RUN. Then say "sourry aboot that” so they blame it on Canadians.


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