Europe 18 June to 1 July 2017

lts been a while since I visited Europe. Even then, it was mostly for work and there was always a local host looking after us.

This time round, I took my family for a 12 day holiday to Amsterdam, Paris and Zurich. It was indeed a pleasant experience and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Of course there were moments of joy as well as moments of exasperation. Luckily, there was more joy overall.

As Alexis is only 10, it was great for her to see and also learn a few things on culture, behavior and mannerisms of people outside of Asia.

Firstly, on language. In France today, we are pleasantly pleased that the French we encountered in places we went spoke English. They understood us and were very helpful in giving us guidance. Though it will be nicer if they did it with a smile. Somehow they seemed moody and sullen.

The myth that the French spoke little English or ignored people who spoke English to them – does not seem to be true anymore. However, they do seem impatient and stern with an air of arrogance when giving answers (avoiding eye contact as well) : which I felt was rude.

We could see Pullman Hotel employs people from other countries to be at their front desk and breakfast area. Everyone was helpful and could cater to tourists from China, Korea and Latin countries, hence speaking in languages other than French whilst serving foreigners.

However, it was indeed contrasting when a low level receptionist was  helpful and polite but instead the captain of the hotel simply refused to answer us a simple question ; but insisted that we spoke to the concierge instead. And he (the captain) was not even busy.

I was making a joke to my wife  that perhaps this captain’s English was not so great and hence there is a defense machanism to divert me to someone else, instead of loosing face in case he did not understand me or could not answer me accurately. Or is he “looking down” on people who are not in “suit and tie” ?

The key point here is language. On our end, when we are in another country, it would be great if we spoke a little bit of their language. And on the French people’s end, it would be great too if they recognize the importance of English and other foreign languages today  ( I HOPE THEY DO), especially if they want to host the Olympics in the near future.

Now, on the other side of the coin, we happenned to be sitting beside a middle age American couple who thought that their American language was most superior in the world. They ordered coffee and made a scene comparing milk vs. cream and complained that their coffee was “burnt” and tasted awful, when infact I guessed they were just not being accustomed to the strong taste of black European coffee. Thats fine – if not for the fact that they complained that the waiter was bad and did not understand English. Hello,  you are in France, Mr. COWBOY who drinks only “light watery coffee” and light Budweiser !!

It would be like me (a Chinese) expecting the waiter to understand Mandarin and wanted tea to taste like Chinese Oolong tea and compalined that Mint Camomile did not taste good and was too diluted ???!!

Note – I am only too aware that not all Americans are like the ones I met here.

Again, the point would be on “language” ; and we should never assume that our language is the BEST in the world and that everyone else should understand it. Shame on us if we do.

Second observation  – cost cutting !! I was surprised that today KLM and AirFrance have adopted the Air Asia way (or was it vice versa).

Checking in and printing of boarding passes can only be done via an automated touch screen machine. Any checked in baggage will cost 35 € and the machine accepts credit cards too. In CDG Paris and Zurich, the luggage tag is even printed out from the machine and we have to tag our luggage ourselves. Then when we went to the check in counter, there was no person there. We had to scan our ticket ourselves as well as our baggage tag too and then push our luggage into the conveyor system. Wow !! Zero personnel needed for the whole check in process. Tickets are printed on cheap paper. No more ticket cards.

In Asia, Air Asia is regarded as a budget airline. Now KLM and AirFrance too ? Seems like everyone is cutting headcount and cost. It is indeed inevitable. 

Observation point – if one is not familliar with touch screen features, computer illiterate or uneducated,  one will have challenges with these machines. We saw many passengers fiddling with the machines – obviously confused and lost. Sadly, there were also very few AF personnel available to provide assistance. Language was again another barrier here ; as foreigners had challanges communicating with the AF personnel. 

Some autommated machines do not even accept foreign credit cards. (Not very ready on globslization, are you ?).

And with 35 € for 1 piece of check in luggage, everyone should travel light. Oh dear, we had 3 luggages to check in. Really … really ….nothing is for free anymore.

And it may be VERY WISE  to check in early to avoid “timing stress”. With the queue and the confusion, it took us 1 hour 15 minutes to finally reach our boarding gate. The normal discipline of checking in 2 hours earlier may not be enough (unless of course you already know all the steps and procedures).

I am happy though to note that we no longer need to pay a 1 € coin to get a trolley cart. Years ago, I felt this was so ridiculous. Not so much of the amount of the money –  but more of “how many foreigners would have a 1 € coins in their pocket ready on standby to get a trolley to bring our huge luggages ???”

Transportation in the city – we noted that it is so easy, comfortable, clean, inexpensive and efficient to travel by train. Every major cities are connected by rail and going from place to place was a breeze. Hence, it is important that one stays in hotel that is near the city central station. These stations are huge and had many lines, built years ago. Hello Indonesia, why oh why did we not learn this years ago ?

However, taxis are pretty expensive. In Paris and Amsterdam, some taxis have a fix rate of 50 to 55 € from the airport to any hotel in the city centre and vice versa. Of course, there’s always “thugs” who would prey on ignorant tourist and have their mileage meter switched on resulting to passengers having to pay 10 to 15 € extra. One thug even offered us a “traffic free route” for 85 € flat. Luckily, we refused.

On our last day, we were so lucky. Our taxi driver was polite, kind and honest. Told us directly when we boarded that the rate is fixed at 50 €,  googled for us for that the Garuda check-in gate was at row 31 and when we arrived at the airport, he automatically helped us to get 2 trolley-carts for our bagages. All done with a friendly smile. Wow. How can I not give him a good tip !! Europe is wishing us a pleasant flight home.

Well all in all, we learnt so many things in our days here.

Personally, I would have preferred to be served with more smiles, humility and patience. It would be nice if they were more open and receptive instead of being defensive. They should listen better and not assume the questions we had and thus giving us wrong answers. It would be wonderful if they showed more care and sincerity for our well being.

We are tourist. Of course we would like to feel warm, welcome, perhaps even pampered.

Well what do I know ? Maybe Asians are spoilt when it comes to demanding for good SERVICE. Errrr … customer is king ? No ? Oooops who taught me that ?

Communication is always a  2 way street and perhaps some Frenchmen is also blogging away now on how we Asians cannot communicate well, being too demanding or having too many questions (asking questions does not mean one is stupid, mind you).

But hey Europe is Europe. One country differs from the other and obviously, different nationalities differ in their own respective manners and behaviors. Some do welcome foreigners with a smile whilst perhaps others may feel impatient on having to put up with aliens “invading” their country and perhaps their ego challenged for having to serve Asians ? Well,  how delussional, arrogant and ignorant can one be ?

For today, I simply believe everyone is equal and Mutual Respect should be a culture for all human beings regardless of race, nationality, color or religion. The world would be a more beautiful place to live in then.

Good bye Europe. We enjoyed the scenery, the good food, the wine, the history, lakes, beautiful architecture, paintings, the clean drinking water from the tap, the friendly Swiss-German ; and we ceratinly would come back here again. The challeges we went thru were pale in comparison to all the other great things we encountered and saw.

To top it all, we met SUPERMAN in Zurich. Hello Clark Kent ….

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