Crazy Cultural Observations

I am always fascinated by seeing how different cultures evolve into the acceptance of various conditions that would seem absolutely outrageous and unacceptable to another culture. I ponder how they arrived at such state, considering such a condition to be acceptable when it would almost certainly be considered ridiculous and unacceptable if the condition appeared overnight.  It is amazing what we can get use to.


One of the most common conversational topics when people of various cultures meet is the differences in language. More than just word meanings languages differ because they are an intimate part of the culture.

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One of the most common conversational topics when people of various cultures meet is the differences in language. More than just word meanings languages differ because they are an intimate part of the culture. The "same" language, for example, the English language, varies across cultures significantly in pronunciation, enunciation, vocabulary, grammar, wordless sounds, slang, and facial and body expression. Similar words and sounds can have completely different meanings. Listening and attempting to understand the differences can be entertaining, interesting and often highly amusing.

In a recent discussion my son, Jim commented on the British pronunciations of words containing an "r", like bear, there, here, near, and car that sound to an American like Baaa, thaa, heeah, neeah, and cah. He concluded that the British seem not to have the letter "r" in their alphabet. My British wife, Pauline, was quick to reply, "Yes, we do have an ahh in our alphabet," which immediately produced a good laugh for the rest of us.

Sitting and conversing at brunch with Pauline and four of her British friends reminded me of the difficulty for an American to really comprehend British English. At one point when the noise of the restaurant reached a certain level, I realized that I comprehended almost nothing being said. When someone politely asked my opinion, I had no idea what I was being asked.

The normal evolution processes in a language include the use of new words and expressions that have been invented to describe contemporary situations. Some of the most interesting start out as slang, fads, or sounds that have no real spelling. If they are attractive and useful they can pass through the faddish stage to colloquism, eventually finding their way into a dictionary and eventually into accepted, correct grammar, and if they are really great, they finally jump the oceans to other cultures.

Some of the most subtle and interesting phrases and words act only as time delays, spacers, attention getters, emotional sounds, and requests for acknowledgement, which, while adding no real information are a real part of communication. The most intriguing have no spelling and cannot be put in a dictionary, and yet their meaning is almost universally clear. These have their own place in communication and must be understood if one desires to optimize communication. These forms of communication are neglected in most formal discussions of communication.

In the following I have listed example words in bold italics, using various expressions from different cultures. In some cases they will be understandable only if you know the culture they come from. See if you can identify the culture where the italicized word originated.


Spacers are used in language when one needs a pause for some reason, you know, like needing time to think up the next word. The British make fun of the much-overused American expression "You know", which occurs often in our spoken language, you know, but rarely in our written language. In a recent interview of the singer/actress Jennifer Lopez she was noted to have said "You know." 75 times in 15 minutes. Once a listener notices such an expression it can become distracting. Whether "You know" is better than the non-word Uhh is, uhh, arguable. "Uhh" was the sound used most before someone invented "You know". Instead of "You know" the British use stuttering and, and, and, word repetition when a spacer is sought.

Unfortunately, we have come to disrespect the use of silence as the spacer, although.......................................... this would appear to be the best communication tool for this purpose. For some reason, silence is one of the most frightening forms of communication.

Request for Feedback (RFF)

Okay, Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish a spacer from an RFF. A speaker needs some form of feedback, Okay?, so that he knows his speakee is awake and listening to him and hopefully understanding him, right? This is different from a spacer since the speaker, in principle, should be looking for a communication (not necessarily verbal) from his speekee, "shouldn't he?". Other languages, such as French, n'est-ce pas, and German, nicht wahr, have similar expressions in their own languages but different ones for English, ehh?" ( Germans use the "ehh" sound while in Australia it would sound more like, AAAA.) But sticking solely to the English language and how different cultures speak it is the topic here, no?. (Spanish RFF) This way I can keep the discussion focused, can’t I? Sometimes,right?, a speaker uses an RFF when he should have used a spacer, see what I’m saying?

Announcement of a Conclusion

When all is said and done, the formal grammatically correct words make up just a tiny part of everyday communication. At the end of the day, we can conclude that body language is almost as important as words. The bottom line is, that one begins to wonder if the additional words are not an impediment, rather than a compliment to language.

Have I made my case? Duhh!?

"Duhh" is an interesting American expression from the early turn of the 21st Century. It is one of the examples of attempts to put emotion into words. It can be interpreted to mean, "If I have to explain this further, then you are really a dumbass." It is neither followed by a question mark or an exclamation mark, but something in between. It should be followed by something more like an "assertiveness" mark.

Starter words

Some starter words like "Excuse me", serve the distinct purpose of getting a persons attention before conveying the intended message. Otherwise, the listener would most likely miss the first few words and find it necessary to ask the speaker to repeat himself. Other starter words serve the purpose of preparing the listener by hinting of the subject or repeating the last few works of the speakee. Starter words are especially important when speaking to someone who may not be expecting to hear English. This can get his brain ready to translate English before any otherwise useful information that could be missed occurs.

Sometimes the word or phrase announces a mood, such as "Oh, my God, Jesus, bloody hell, Aww Maahnn, and blimey!"

For some reason most of us need meaningless words to start off sentences. Actually, some but not all of these words are similar in British and American English. To be perfectly honest, starter words like basically, in fact, and fundamentally at the beginning of a sentence seldom have any meaning at all. Basically, these words just provide an internal systems test that takes place before the relevant information begins. ‘N other words, the speaker can warm up and assess his speaking mechanism for loudness and clarity before he conveys anything useful.

Hey!, starter words can come and go as with many fads. Honestly, I believe they always begin as fads.

Non-dictionary words or expressions

The most intriguing communication forms vary drastically between cultures, and also with time in a culture. Curiously, these communications rarely need translation between languages, even though one person may not speak the language of the other. I believe this is because they are so expressive and usually involve both sounds and body language. These may be the perfect form of communication. For example, the French have a wonderful word that is a puff of air that gently blows the lips apart. It could be spelled"Puhh", but in reality, since it is the sound of puffing, blowing air, there is no letter, aside from "P" with the correct phonics. The word suggests a mood of frustration that is to go along with the communication. If you ask a Frenchman a difficult question, he is likely to begin his answer with "Puhh". The communication is surprisingly clear. Unfortunately, however, the French liked the word so much that many of them start every sentence that way, whether they are frustrated or not.

English women have a delightful expression that is a sucking sound, made by sucking air through puckered, open lips for about 2 seconds. Perhaps it could be spelled "FFFFUUUHH". It is an expression of enthusiasm. If one would ask an English lady if she would like her favorite dessert, to go shopping, or to do something pleasureful, her response may be "FFFFUUUHH".

"FFFFUUUHH" is a stronger variant of the word "lovely", except that lovely is not gender-limited, and British men say lovely at least as often as women.

Positive Expressions

People love to say "Yes". Although "Yes" can be a powerful word it is used so often that people invent replacement words that will be less boring and repetitive. The search for more positive words goes on continuously as older ways of expressing become unexciting or unexpressful. Eventually, the new expressions get worn out also, often before they cross country borders. British use the word "lovely",which may at one time have been a strong way of expressing agreement or saying yes. Strangely enough, Americans have not caught on to this. The equivalent word in American may be "Cool", which now is so overused that it is boring and not meaningful either.

A recent English expression that is so great that it may jump borders is "Brilliant". Watching a Gold metal winner at the 2002 commonwealth, I notice that she answered 4 out of 5 questions put to her about her victory with the expression "Brilliant". The conversation went like this: "How was the race?"


"How do you feel about the British placing in the Olympics?"


"How has the weather been this week?"


Describing something as wonderful or great is an important process in language. Because such words become common and trite, new expressions are continuously sought out and tried.

On the other hand, American English introduced some extremely unusual positive and negative expressions in the late 1990’s. One is a double positive, YEAH RIGHT, that means no. If someone asks, "Will you pick up the tab, tonight?" The negative response could be "YEAH RIGHT!"

Another cute American expression was the positive/negative way of saying something is not true. "I’m going to pick up the tab,…………NOT!" This was extremely faddish for some time but now seems to have faded.

Another great American positive invention was not so much the word but a unique way of saying it. The word "YESSSSS!" was snapped out not so much as just meaning yes, but a resounding approval of some event that had just taken place.

Expressions of Gratitude

We express gratitude so often that the words tend to lose meaning and we seek out new more expressive ways to put meaning back. One obvious way is by expanding the length of the communication. Namely, more words equals more thanks. In England "thanks",moved to "thank you very much" and then to "thank you very much indeed". The British seem better at expanding the number of words, whereas Americans tend to change the words with many forms like "thanks a million, a bunch, so much, loads, and so on. One notable exception is in the recent British extension of "Brilliant" as a form of thank you. American Southerners use the expression"Much obliged", which is reminiscent of the Spanish "Obligato".

All encompassing words

All languages need words and expressions that can be used to mean almost anything, so a person can say or pretend to say something meaningful without knowing anything. This communication form asks the listener to fill in the real meaning or to express what the speaker cannot so he can take credit for it. Some times it can come when a person senses that he is spending too much time describing something or has gone down a path leading nowhere and needs to back out. Another use occurs when the speaker feels he should say something, but has no idea what. Almost no one is willing to simply go silent.

Most widely used in Indian English is an expression "Blah Blah Blah", that is thrown in to allow the listener to complete the sentence. For example, the meaning of relativity is that the speed of light is constant, blah, blah, blah. Apparently, this implies that the speaker wants to expand what is said in the most efficient way, using the listener’s knowledge to shorten the speaker’s words. Other foreigners and even native English-speaking people to some extent have picked up this expression.

These are related to expressions like "and so forth and so forth", "and on ad infinitum", "et Cetera, et Cetera". These expressions have a legitimate use if the speaker actually knows that the listener does not need the details, but unfortunately, many people use the expressions as crutches to cover for what they, themselves, don’t know but want to talk about anyway.

The British will tell you that something needs "sorting out", when they want to point out something wrong and they have no idea what."To sort out" can mean almost anything in terms of changing something from one state to another. A person can get sorted out in a hospital, a police station, a bathroom, or on a vacation.

Disagreeing Indirectly

Americans tend to disagree and quit a conversation politely or to save face with the expression "Whatever", whereas British are more likely to reword the argument such that their argument magically becomes correct. Given enough time, a good British communicator can switch sides to the winning side leading a hapless American saying "whatever".

It is easy to see with so much sound in the air with such nebulous meaning (or non at all) that communication can become extremely difficult. Many traps lay on either side of the communication. When we hear a foreigner speak without using all of the clutter, we can often interpret his communication as lacking intelligence, a very dangerous and often incorrect conclusion. In fact, a foreigner’s communication can actually be more efficient because he is not burdened with so much meaningless jargon. That ultimately leads to what I call "universally spoken English (USE) described in detail in the "Tools" section.

The Raspberry

The raspberry sound, made by pushing the tongue between the lips and extending it about half way out of the mouth, then blowing gently, produces a vibratory sound that might be spelled Pthpthpth. This has been used to communicate different meanings, normally a derogatory expression, by various generations. In the early sixties my generation adopted it for several years to mean anything from, "Who cares?" to "Greetings." One had to learn to make the sound without spitting on people to keep it cool. A typical "cool" communication might be to tell one friend, "If you see Joe at the party, tell him I said 'Pthpthpth'." (an alternative and cool "hello")

Noises that have meaning

In recent trips to Yorkshire and Durham, England I discovered myself having considerable difficulty understanding the English. Eventually, I picked up a number of new noises that have meaning and realized that this is yet another category of language. I will attempt to spell some of these with phonic spelling before defining. 

After we ordered breakfast in A Little Chef along the A1 motorway, the waitress made a noise that sounds like

Aah' Ii' ?

After she repeated it a few times, Pauline stepped in and responded for me by answering, "Yes, thank you, that will be all."

The sound translates into the question, "Is that it?" or "Is that all you want to order?"

I should have taken the clue that she was asking me a question, and I had just ordered, so asking me if that is all would be the next obvious thing to take place in such a transaction. This further points out how important it is in communication to make some attempt in knowing what a person is going to say before he speaks. 

The Homer Simpson "D' oh!"

A great sound was entered into the international language when Homer Simpson's "D' Oh" was invented. It takes a lot of practice to get it right, but many people have worked on it to perfection, maybe one of the most successful introductions of a new word in the history of movies. 

It occurred to me that sounds that have meaning probably have different accents in different languages, so "D' Oh", and "Puh" in French would sound different and maybe even have different meanings. 

The Information Assumption

The need to know most of what a person is going to say before he says it to make effective communication requires certain assumptions on the listener's part. The need for and use of assumptions plays a major role in what actually gets communicated as well as the response to it. If one assumes that the communication is going to be hostile, then it is likely to be heard that way. Use of email complicates this because the reader cannot see if the communicator is smiling or frowning, unless of course he uses emoticons (i.e. J, L ), which I highly recommend. 

The problem with the information assumption extends more generally to almost every interaction between people. If one assumes that a person in an interaction is attempting to cheat or otherwise harm us, we are likely to interpret his sequence of moves accordingly, and create a fulfilled prophesy of sorts. This is why complete listening with a gradual progression towards the actual information that is to be communicated is so important.

Because of the information assumption, speaking exactly what one is thinking or feeling can create a serious communication breakdown, especially if the feelings are unjustified or based on a lack of information. Communicating ones feelings first can hinder the process of communication by preventing information exchange that change ones feelings to be more consistent with the facts. The response to anger is often anger. For example, you have just been approached and harassed by a bum who wants you to give him money. Eventually, you shrug him off. Another man approaches and, still upset by the previous encounter, you begin to shout obscenities at him. He shouts obscenities back, and eventually, you discover that he was a Good Samaritan who wants to warn you that your wallet is about to fall out of your pocket.

The purpose of many communications is to help both communicators to know what to feel. One should strive to make a communication affect how one feels more often than vice versa. In that sense, people who brag about saying exactly what they think and speaking their feelings may actually suffer a lack of communication skills. Communicating exactly what one feels is probably the most difficult and the most useless objective of communication. 

I once had a boss who became extremely angry when a key employee was half an hour late for an important meeting. He was convinced that the employee was deliberately attempting to sabotage the meeting because of already known disagreements. Before the entire group he chewed out the employee and accused him of being late deliberately. The employee resented the accusation and a heated argument commenced. After several harsh words were exchanged the employee finally explained that he had awoken that morning to find that his roommate had committed suicide, causing the delay. (We were surprised he came in at all.) 

About 99% of the times that my first feeling is anger, fear, or suspicion and my inclination is to give someone a piece of my mind, collecting additional information changes my feeling. 

A friend of mine was extremely upset with the phone company over a new, very sloppy installation of a phone line, done while she was away from home. As a workman arrived to respond to her complaint, she was outraged and prepared to chew the guy out. I stopped her for a moment and asked her a simple question. Was her goal to convince this man how incompetent and awful the phone company was and how pissed she was or was the goal to get an installation that she liked. After a few moments, she realized that the goal was the latter.


Upon coming to this conclusion, she calmly asked the man if there were some more attractive options for the installation, since this one appeared very unattractive to her. Taking this as a request for advice and help, he immediately offered several possibilities, which were better than even she had imagined. Before the episode was over she invited the helpful man to tea and had a very pleasant conversation with him. 

Specific Briticisms

Many words have British written all over them and have special meanings outside England that even the British don't know about. One of my favorites is the word "Bloke", which roughly translates into the American "Guy". But to most Americans the word "Bloke" has a more comical connotation. When a British comic begins a joke by saying "There was this Bloke.......", the joke is already funny to me, and my British friends tease me when I laugh as soon s the word "Bloke" comes out. 

My take is that the British love the language so much they don't know when to stop. An example is the (more or less meaningless) word "indeed", which gets added onto just about everything. I was amused by a sign on a church marquee that stated, "He has risen.......indeed! When I have pointed this out to British friends, they invariably insist that those very words are in the Bible. They aren't .........are they? 

"Oh Dear" is an expression that comes out anytime that no one has said anything for a while, I think, just to fill up the space and maybe to hold on to the floor.


Greetings vary from region to region. In some English counties, the standard greeting is "EE UP", which means "Hello". A northerner is likely to say to a member of the opposite sex, "EE UP, me duck", which a Southerner would translate to "Hello, luv", which in Tennessee could be "Moanin', spoat" ("Good morning, sport"). In California, one is likely to hear "Wass Up'? " (What's up?). It is easy to see how a fight could start over a few noises between people of two different cultures.


English Roundabouts

I was amazed with the experience of roundabouts and always wondered about the evolution process of these.

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English Roundabouts

Roundabouts appear to make a lot of sense for many intersections. When one enters the roundabout one has to look in only one direction, to the right in England, of course, and to the left in most other countries. One yields the right of way to anyone already in the circle. So it should be safer and easier to negotiate an intersection with fewer decisions and no need for a traffic light. Roundabouts make intersections of multiple lane roads without traffic lights feasible.

Leave it up to the British bureaucrats to screw up a good thing. At first roundabouts were so useful they seemed like a panacea for traffic movement at every conceivable intersection even the places where a minor road crosses a larger one. For the British traffic engineer, it is impossible to have too many roundabouts. For many well-established intersections, there was no room for a retroactive roundabout, so they added a small hump about eight feet in diameter that is suppose to act like a roundabout. Most Brits after a minor swerving gesture in the middle of the intersection just drive over it like it wasn't there.

The next unforeseen problem was that roundabouts work best when the traffic volume is low enough to allow people to always enter the roundabout. Since a roundabout actually slows the traffic down, it will no longer function when the traffic volume reaches a bumper-to-bumper condition. If a roundabout is completely full of cars, then it takes Richard Petty to get in, so some little old lady (or tourist) would cause a gridlock. The fundamental problem is that if one has to stop before entering the roundabout, then it inherently slows down the traffic movement.

Then some real traffic engineering genius concluded that the way around this was to transform the intersections into the roundabout into roundabouts, resulting in what is perhaps the most confusing and possibly the least efficient combination of intersections conceivable. We knew exactly where our hotel was and could even see it, but the four back-to-back roundabouts that had to be negotiated to get there made it extremely difficult and we missed the correct turn even after we had been through the route several times.

The problem is caused by the knowledge that one must take into a roundabout to enable one to leave it. Street names are useless. One needs highway numbers and names of towns in the correct direction to get past a roundabout. One also needs to be a speed-reader. Each exit has typically a dozen or more highway numbers, town names, historical sites, and local attractions to process. One can go around several times before being able to process the data and make the correct move to get out. Now imagine stacking seven or more of these one right after the other. One can easily wind around this maze for long periods of time and end up at the beginning. Even the seasoned drivers get lost in their own territory.

Ultimately, when everyone in England got at least one car, recognizing that roundabouts did not work in some places because of the traffic volume, the traffic genius added traffic lights. They didn't seem to figure out that the only thing the roundabout served in the first place was to obviate a traffic light at an intersection. If you have a traffic light, the roundabout seems to have no purpose other than to increase the number of traffic lights needed and to have cars going around in circles between traffic lights.

Here is an example of roundabouts gone crazy near the city of Cirencester. I have actually seen worse, but since this one was well photographed and documented I included it here. (Since the photographs came to me without credits I do not know who should be credited with these pictures.) In this case each of five entrances to a large roundabout are transformed into roundabouts. The photos provide a clue as to how confusing this can get when traffic is heavy.


Car Horns

Car horns are used in entirely different ways as a part of driving in different parts of the world. Here are few:

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Car Horns

California: When you arrive at the Los Angeles International Airport you will immediately notice something very strange; you don't hear any car horns. The car horn in California is largely a device for warning of extreme danger. If you hear one, you must pay extreme caution because something bad is about to happen if someone does not change what he is doing. If the horn involves you, you may be just short of being run over if you don't leap for safety. Californians use horns so rarely that some drivers would not know where the horn is in their car or even what it sounds like. Using a horn blast for anything other than extreme danger would be considered very rude in California. One exception is a quick, light toot-toot that simply means "Hi" or "look over here."

New York: Wherever you are in New York you can hear a constant drumming of car horns coming from every direction. New Yorkers use horns to yell at each other to augment their voices. If you are close enough to make out an individual horn, you could probably hear the horn blower yelling, "What the hell do you think you are doing, you idiot, driving like that?" And you would hear a reply accompanied by different blast "Up yours, you fool; you don't own the highway." If a driver gets caught in an intersection and cannot move, he gets blasted from every direction with a continuous blast from half dozen cars, including cars in the back that cannot even see him. The blast continues until he is able to move. The horns seem to have little to do with driving since they are really related to lambasting someone who needs lambasting.

New Delhi: Cars in India actually have sign on the back requesting that drivers following behind blow their horns. Six lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic can be moving along and every single driver is constantly tooting his horn. Drivers actually develop the acoustic dimension for use in driving. They are looking in all directions and listening in all directions. The acoustic dimension carries much information, such as the difference between a bus, a car, and a motorbike. Drivers process much more data than in other countries. This seems to allow them to pack in tighter without colliding. At every instant, a driver is correcting his direction and taking action to avoiding hitting or being hit by another.

Shanghai: Cars move among hoards of people and bicycles. The horn is largely a devices that lets a pedestrian or a cyclist know that he is about to be pushed by the car, so the pedestrian can guard against being run over. At night lights are used for this purpose to help hold down the noise for the people who want to sleep.

The U.S. South: The car horn is a communication device used mostly to say good morning, hello, good-bye, etc. It is rude to blow at someone for other reasons.



Traffic can cause headaches no matter where you are; however, knowing what to expect can make all of the difference.

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Some of the most obvious CC’s revolve around the automobile. It is amazing how the automobile has pushed into our lives, and like a family pet we regularly allow it to stink up the house and piss on our carpets with hardly a complaint. I find in my travels that some of the most magnificent places are rendered nearly awful by our tolerance of the automobile. Consider a medieval village with cobblestone streets, ancient stone houses with thatched roofs and flower filled yards, and cars covering the sidewalks and bumper to bumper cars creeping along the streets like some gooey ooze. A huge busload of tourists makes it around a turn with inches of clearance between the buildings. This, I liken to hardcore pornography.

Once in the ancient mountain top village of Toledo in Spain I encountered the vulgar sight of a large Mercedes drumming along a cobblestone street almost too narrow to fit, horn blasting, and forcing pedestrians into doorways. I never came so close to keying a Mercedes.

Here are a few examples. As strange as these may sound, I can vouch for their verity. I have seen them all many times.

The Los Angeles Commute:In Los Angeles many people spend three or four hours a day sitting bumper to bumper in an automobile on a freeway going and coming from an 8 hour day of work. They do this so that they can have a larger house with a larger yard to spend weekends in. Today, this statement would seem quite ordinary to these people, but it certainly would not have seemed ordinary 30 years ago. I doubt if it sounds like a reasonable thing to accept almost anywhere outside of Los Angeles.

Parking in England:In England and some other European countries where building space is at a premium it would appear that no one wants to take responsibility for providing parking space. The result is that people park in places that are completely ridiculous. With roads in many places hardly wide enough for two small cars, they park cars in the road taking up an entire lane reducing the road to a single lane. They even do this on major highways. Meeting cars routinely play Russian roulette with each other every single day in every village in England. It is amazing that more accidents don't happen. It really gets serious when many cars park along the road making it a single lane road for a long distance. One car must anticipate who goes first and one must wait on the oncoming car to clear. One weaves in and out of the parked cars in stepwise fashion. English drivers, even the little on ladies, do this with great skill. Cars zooming in and out of these mazes with one near miss after another are truly a site to see.

I observed a similar phenomenon in the moors and countryside where roads are oftentimes simply paved over wagon trails with 10-foot high hedges on either side. Every 100 yards is a wider place where one car must wait while an oncoming car passes. The driver who makes it to the waiting spot first gets a reward of "thank you" from his oncoming opponent, a heartwarming social phenomenon.

Cars in many European countries routinely are parked on the sidewalk, often rendering it unusable by pedestrians, so the pedestrians often wind up walking in the street. I have never figured out the rule for when you can and cannot park on a sidewalk. I can imagine at some point in time one guy did this and the police overlooked it for some crazy reason. Before you knew what happened drivers saw this as a new parking resource usurped from the pedestrians.

Parking in Berkeley, California:In Berkeley, very little planning must have taken place when they filled it with houses and a university. Renting an apartment without a furnished garage or parking space is quite normal. Garage space is at a premium, us usually costs extra, and is not always available, especially for those with more than one car. On a typical day, residential neighborhoods around UC Berkeley are filled with traffic going round and round looking for a parking space, some of them just sitting in the street waiting and hoping someone will leave. In nearby San Francisco, some of the neighborhoods are the same. Even some of the hotels and B&Bs have no parking spaces for residents. One day each week parking is not allowed so that the street sweepers can clean the street. On this day the parking situation becomes extremely critical and people do bazaar things to park cars. Double parking is sometimes overlooked by police to cover associated problems. Some of the San Francisco neighborhoods are home to a church with no parking place. During services, double-parking along such streets is the norm.

Passing on a two-lane road with oncoming traffic-Different countries have totally different approaches toward passing. One I call a “close encounter of the third kind” is used in England as well as a few other countries (viz. Colombia, South America). It promotes the ability to pass on a two-lane road even with oncoming traffic by squeezing in three cars at high speed. How people learn to do this life or death driving is beyond me. Somehow the three cars communicate to each other with a universal mechanism. Put verbally, it would go something like this. "Hey, guys, I realize that there is an oncoming car doing 80 miles and hour, but I am going to pass anyway, so both of you move over to make a car width between you ...or else we all die in a head-on collision. It must take a lot of judgment to survive many of these encounters. I have not figured out what happens if two guys going in opposite directions decide to pass.

Dominican Republic Taxis:In the Dominican Republic a taxi between two villages can be truck or even a motorcycle. Motorcycles often carry three and even more people. For a ride on the truck, you can sit up front if you pay more. Otherwise it is sitting in the bed of the truck sometimes shoulder to shoulder with other riders zooming down the road at 60 miles per hour over bumpy roads. At one point I rode on a motorcycle with three people, two of us carrying suitcases, for 15 miles.

A bus in India:In India buses usually fill up quickly. At this point people hang on anywhere that a foothold can be located. Ultimately the top of the bus is filled with people sitting there with feet hanging over the edge. Occasionally these buses crash over the edge of a highway or bridge killing many passengers, some who wind up under the bus.

Driving in the Dark:In many European countries drivers turn off their headlights at night until they meet another car or pedestrian. This is a puzzle to me, especially considering that American cars now often have headlights permanently on even during daylight.

The Italian Traffic Light:In Italy, a red light takes on an entirely different meaning, it seems. Drivers don't always stop at red lights. An Italian friend once told me that going through a green light could be more dangerous than going through a red one. When I drove in Italy, I never figured out the rule. Sometimes when I stopped at red lights cars behind immediately began blowing horns demanding me to move out of the way. And yet sometimes, even Italians dutifully waited for the green. Sometimes they pause, sometimes, they stop and then go, and sometimes they don't so much as slow down. I encountered one light in Torino that was both red and green. I had no idea what to do.

Indian trains:A great but terrifying entertainment for me was watching passenger trains come into the station. Herds of Indians would leave the train to grab a cup of tea, a biscuit, or a paper from one of the vendors near the train. They would stand on the platform until the train began to move again, then all of the herd would head for a door, which became a bottleneck. As the train picked up speed the back of the herd had to run to keep up. The last man in the herd, running full gallop, would leap in the door of a fast moving train almost exactly as he ran out of platform. I saw this over and over and always expected to see someone go sailing off the edge of the platform or under the train, but they all always made it. Locals told me that frequently they don’t.

Indian Roundabouts:The British introduced the roundabout to the Indians many years ago, long before they themselves had it perfected, in the days when roundabouts made more sense in England, and before they had evolved into complete ridiculousness. I seriously doubt that they ever worked in India. The one rule in Indian driving is that if there is an empty space visible in any semblance of the forward direction, take it. The natural instinct for an Indian at a roundabout is to take whichever direction is the least populated, right or left. Generally, Indian traffic is organized chaos that optimizes the number of people moving, but chaos at a roundabout was something even God was not able to optimize. Since directional signs were totally disregarded, eventually, every roundabout had to be manned by a policemen who attempted to force the traffic in one direction. Even that doesn't always work so these guys wind up breaking up gridlocks that occur when cars going both ways come to a complete halt.



You can't talk about crazy cultural observations without mentioning food.

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Food - Crazy Customs

BiscuitsThe closest thing in England to an American biscuit is a scone; however scones usually contain things like berries, cheese, or fruit. The English biscuit is what we call a cookie. You would never have biscuit with breakfast. Scones are usually eaten at "Tea", a late afternoon snack. My British friends love to use Bisquick to make scones, since it works really well. One them asked me why it was called Bisquick, since you can only make scones with it.

Doggy Bags American restaurants are still judged by the size of their helpings. Almost any plate served in a restaurant is at least twice too much food. So much food is served to each person that it is impossible to eat all of it. To deal with this dilemma and avoid waste Americans developed the “doggy” bag, which originally was an idea of taking home the scraps for the family pet. Now it is assumed that the left over portion will be eaten later. Moreover, everyone now knows that pet food is healthier, anyway. Americans are surprised to find out that the “doggy” bag is not at all common outside the U.S. where portions are more reasonable.

Too much food in America: One of the most serious problems today is that there is too much food. A consequence is that the majority of Americans are overweight, and even worse a large percentage of children are actually obese. Common teachings such as not wasting food, eat everything on your plate, eat three meals a day, drink lots of milk are no longer valid in the American society. Curiously, the most serious obesity occurs among the poorest of the society, where eating is the cheapest form of pleasure. ×

15 Ways to Tell You're With a Tour Group in Turkey

Touring with a group in Turkey has it's own special pitfalls.

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Touring in Turkey

  1. Your group spent 30 minutes touring Ephesus and three hours in the Carpet Factory.

  2. People in your group bought a 2x4 foot carpet for $6000, a ceramic plate for $500, a gold necklace for $1000, and a leather coat for $1800.

  3. You just got off a bus at the Blue Mosque and the first question you hear is “Where is the WC?”

  4. Any view worth photographing is already being photographed by 300 Japanese tourists.

  5. One of your group is upset because he was shortchanged after handing the WC attendant a hundred dollar bill.

  6. You can walk on 2000 year old mosaic floors at Sargis, but you have to take off your shoes to walk on plastic mats at the mosque.

  7. Prices on the goods in stores around your hotel are given in Euros instead of Turkish Lyra. Some of the stores don’t accept Turkish lyra.

  8. The gourmet restaurant in your five star hotel is a buffet, where you eat three times as much as you normally do three times a day.

  9. Your five star hotel is two miles outside of the nearest town.

  10. The parking lot in your five star hotel has more bus spaces than car spaces.

  11. The location of the one authentic, honest crafter of carpets, ceramics, leather, or jewelry is a secret known only to your tour guide. All others get their stuff from China.

  12. You do most of your shopping in a factory outside of town, which is highly recommended by your tour guide.

  13. The subject of most of the conversations around you is about experiences on tours somewhere other than where you are now.

  14. The bathroom scales will only say “ERROR” when you attempt to check your weight.

  15. The only Turkish people you have seen so far, except for your tour guide and souvenir salesmen are through the bus window.




Cultural Observations

How understanding cultures can enhance your travel experience
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Rules of Travel

Acronyms I've developed for use throughout my travels.... More


Tools I consider indispensable for WWT type of travel.....More