Wednesday, 20 August 2014

08:30 – As of this morning, we’re down to only 14 chemistry kits and four biology kits in stock. At recent run rates, that’s maybe a two- or three-day supply, so I’m building more kits today, starting with a batch of 30 biology kits.

15:15 – As always at this time of year, I start thinking about how we could do things more efficiently. I was particularly thinking about that as I was building 30 boxes for biology kits. I use a total of 22 strips of tape to seal a box. To begin with, I invert the box and seal the bottom with four short strips of tape along each short side seam, one strip of tape along the long middle seam, and a long strip of tape across the short dimension in the middle of the box. That’s ten strips so far. I then seal the glued side seam with two more short strips, for a total so far of 12 strips. When I seal the box for shipping, I tape up the top of the box the same way I taped the bottom, ten more strips, for a total of 22 strips of tape per box. No wonder I go through a metric boatload of packing tape.

So I started wondering if I could substitute spray adhesive for the tape. I turns out that I could, but doing so would be extremely expensive and probably no faster than taping. So I started reading up on proper packing methods. It seems that the standard packing method is the two-strip method: one strip down the long seams on the top and bottom of the box, and nothing else. The alternative–recommended by USPS, UPS, and FedEx–is the so-called 6-strip or H-method. The long middle seams on the top and bottom of the box still get one long strip each, that runs 2″ to 3″ down the side of the box. Then each short side seam gets one strip laid down parallel to the seam and folded over the side. Four more strips, for a total of six. I just now shipped my first kit using the H-method on the top of the box. It still makes me nervous, but the people who should know say it’s very secure even using 2″ rather than 3″ packing tape. We’ll see. In my own defense, the boxes I receive from vendors are usually taped more like my former practice. On particularly large/heavy/dense boxes, I swear sometimes they must use most of a roll of tape to seal that one box. Packing tape is cheap; returns and damaged shipments are expensive in more ways than one. But the labor to apply 20+ strips of tape versus only six is also a factor. My engineering nature tells me I should try taping up sample boxes with both methods and then test them to destruction to see how much difference, if any, there really is.

34 thoughts on “Wednesday, 20 August 2014”

  1. Hmm. I usually start my day with BBC World Service news while in the shower. They interviewed somebody at Kings College where they are studying who and why the jihadists from the West are (a British London-accented voice narrated James Foley’s beheading). The fellow interviewed noted that there are fewer jihadists from the US going to fight in the Mideast — even though there are more Muslims in the US than in most other Western countries. The researchers figure that life ain’t so bad for Muslims in the US, compared to other Western countries, so they have no real reason to leave and put their lives on the line for life elsewhere.

  2. The US (and Canada) also have a lower percentage of muslims who are true believers. Most North American muslims are muslims in the same sense that most Swedes are lutherans. That is, nominally associated with the religion, but don’t actually believe any of the crap. Probably 99% of US “muslims” would be considered apostate by the fundie muslims over in the middle east. And we all know what fundie muslims do to apostates.

  3. And yet while they enjoy the wonders and comforts of North Murkan lifestyles, often better than the citizens already here, they either cheer the slaughters and atrocities overseas or remain silent about them. This is what used to be known as a ‘fifth column,’ and during the Good War, the Japanese-Americans in the western states were considered as such and shipped off to camps. That will never happen here with the muslims; if anything, guys like us will be shipped off for bitching about it.

    Off to another job interview shortly, forty miles away. Due diligence…

  4. From the other day:
    There are two major problems with storing hydrogen, both related to the fact that it’s a very light and very small molecule. snip good discussion of how Hydrogen is small, hard to store, and not energy dense.

    The third major problem is that the smallness of Hydrogen means that it makes metals brittle over time.

    The major engineering challenges for solar and wind power is storing the excess power generated for later use, and moving power from areas with sunshine to those without.

    Also, frying birds is a problem for solar thermal plants.

  5. A nice article by Michelle Malkin on libturds “help” in Ferguson:

    The most poisonous “-ism” now infecting Ferguson, Missouri, is not virulent racism. It’s viral narcissism.

  6. What, life for muslims is bad elsewhere in the West? In Europe, they have the same opportunities as anyone else, at least in the countries I am familiar with: Switzerland, UK, Germany and (to a lesser extent) France and Spain.

    Recent refugees from Africa have it tough, because they generally don’t speak the local language, have little education and no useful skills. However, they are glad to be here – if they wanted to be jihadis, they wouldn’t have risked life and limb to claim asylum.

    I expect the people who leave the West to become jihadis are the disaffected youth, who exist in every group. The difference is that disaffected muslim youth are actively recruited by terrorist groups, whereas disaffected presbyterians don’t. Insofar as there is a lower rate of such in the US, I suspect it is simply attributable to geographic distance.

  7. Good analysis. During my own 10 years in Europe, life was at least as good as in the US, and the food was far superior. Even at McDonald’s.

  8. Good analysis. During my own 10 years in Europe, life was at least as good as in the US, and the food was far superior. Even at McDonald’s.

    And 4X more expensive than the USA?

  9. Well, in Switzerland yes – but that’s only an artifact of exchange rates. By US standards, things here are expensive, but salaries are also proportionally higher. It all balances out domestically; it only makes a difference if you are a tourist.

    The most important data point: an equivalent McDonalds meal that you can get for, iirc, around $6 costs around $13 or $14 here. So a bit more than 2-1 in price terms. Ten years ago, the dollar was worth around 50% more, so the difference was a lot smaller. Ten years of easy money politics plus lots more national debt…

  10. A nice article by Michelle Malkin on libturds “help” in Ferguson

    That was a good read. Thanks for the link.

    Saw this somewhere else, “According to the latest full-year FBI crime statistics compilation, 2,648 black Americans were murdered in the 2012 calendar year. Here’s the shocker: of the 2,648 black murder victims, 2,412 were murdered by a member of their own race. Just 193 of the killings were perpetrated by a white person

  11. Well, in Switzerland yes – but that’s only an artifact of exchange rates. By US standards, things here are expensive, but salaries are also proportionally higher. It all balances out domestically; it only makes a difference if you are a tourist.

    Some of it is cultural differences in how restaurant business is handled. It’s been 15 years since I was regularly flying into Europe, but I seem to recall that they nickel and dimed you on most everything. They even charged you for packets of ketchup at McDonalds. Free refills weren’t even heard of. Good luck asking to use their telephone. Etc. Etc.

  12. Europeans generally are completely unfamiliar with the concept of customer service.

  13. You might look at hot melt glue for box sealing. I’ve used it in the past with good results. Cheaper than spray adhesive and not as messy.

    After going back and forth between reinforced paper tape and clear plastic shipping tape, I find that reinforced paper tape is preferable. Also a bit cheaper. 3″ instead of 2″ wide tape can save money since one lap is usually good instead of two laps of 2″ tape.

    If I were shipping the volume you do, I would consider one of the paper tape dispensers, as it will apply water and cut the tape to the preset length.

  14. Thanks.

    I may look into both of those, but at this point we’re building maybe a thousand boxes a year, and using the 6-strip method may be fast enough that it wouldn’t be worth changing to something else.

    I know how long it took to build boxes with my former method. The next time I build a batch of 30 or 60 boxes, I’ll try timing the 6-strip method and see how long that takes.

  15. The way things are going over in “old Europe” nowadays may well indicate that North Murka will eventually be on its own, mostly. They opened the door for their own “Camp of the Saints” experience over many decades to come now, and we’re doing the same on our southern border. Legitimate sovereign political entities do this at their eventual peril.

    Extrapolating out more decades; the Southwest as Aztlan; most of Mississippi and Louisiana as New Afrika; the big cities turned to gated and secured enclaves for the very wealthy and slag heap rubble and cannibalism for the rest; and country boyz will survive out there, as in the Hank Williams, Jr. song. A major population decline down to about 60-70 million, total, including immigrants who manage to survive. Cascadia in alignment composed of northern Kalifornia, Oregon and Washington, linked up with British Columbia, the NWT and Alaska. Novadadia as Maine, NH and VT, with Noveau Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia, possibly northern New York State but excluding the “Capital District,” sorry SteveF! We’ll have good relations with Newfoundland and Labrador, Greenland and Iceland, and with Quebec, its own sovereign nation.

    Back from F2F interview at site 40 miles south of here; a manufacturer, mostly running out of date Windows stuff but very seriously considering moving over to Linux, and probably RHEL and/or CentOS; they have a couple of their servers running the latter even now, and some Ubuntu desktops. They dug my Linux background, so we shall see. Also hoping to hear from the other place, which would be a gig just eight miles north of here, me supporting the IT manager, and running Windows 7 and servers, with more VMware to come.

    Just wanna do another two or three years on this and transition bit by bit into another field, which I’m working on.

    Mrs. OFD got the call today that she probably has to drive down and babysit at son and DIL’s due to our new baby grandson arriving any second now. Son is stressed and also working full-time down there in MA with unholy commutes every day.

    So cue up that old Gilbert O’Sullivan chestnut…”Alone Again…naturally…” etc.

  16. Europeans generally are completely unfamiliar with the concept of customer service.

    That was not MY experience in Europe. In fact, when we needed appliance repair, the local guy in Strausberg gave us options, including buying something new; he never indicated we should buy the most expensive (like they do at ALL the appliance stores around me, including Lowe’s and Menard’s). Electronics stores were quite helpful in explaining the differences we faced with their different electrical and cell phone technologies. Even department store clerks gave you their undivided attention when it was your turn to be helped, until you told them you had what you needed. I cannot get undivided attention from any store employee in the US, or via phone. They welcome interruptions while helping me. And I am always being put on hold when phoning for help from anybody — even making hotel reservations. Only place I get help around me now, like in Germany, is the local hardware store which has had the same guys staffing it for the last 20 years. Just try and get help in a Walmart these days. If you do succeed in finding someone who has time to talk to you, they will not know the answer to your questions. Happened to me just today.

    Cultural differences are a different animal, IMO. I saw Americans actually enraged because water was not free; no restaurant keeps ice (nor do people at home); each cup of coffee costs (besides, nobody in Europe that I knew, EVER drank more than one cup of coffee — which, in Berlin, is most commonly espresso or Turkish coffee); you don’t stand close to people being helped by a clerk (every place has a line you wait behind, at least 10 feet away from the person being served); you line up Disney-style, even at McDonald’s when there are 5 open lines, and wait your turn (except in grocery stores); and you line up for single file lines marching from the LEFT of whatever service desk you are queuing for — never the right.

    As far as being nickel and dimed, my wife was very insistent that we keep track of our expenditures, and we were both in agreement that — even considering the exchange rate — it cost us about 1/4 less for everything we used and needed in Germany, EXCEPT rents, which were half similar rates in similar towns in the States (e.g. we paid $725/mo in Boston for an unfurnished basement (lower rent) apartment with only water included; in Berlin we paid $340/mo ‘wet’ (all utilities included) for a FURNISHED apartment in one of the nicest sections of the city with only slightly less space than Boston). On the other hand, the opposite EXCEPT was electronics and appliances which were more by about 50% than the equivalent in the US; more for gasoline which was about 4 times as expensive as the US, as I reported here back around 2003 or 04. Europeans in business will not eat what Americans consider minor expenses — like credit card fees, free packets of ketchup (if you buy a packet, it is about 10 times the size of the tiny half teaspoon McDonald’s gives you 5 of, and that is still never enough), and water (which is horrifically expensive in Europe, compared to America). We paid for water alone, what I pay for water, sewer, waste treatment, and storm drains altogether, then on top of that, they tack on about the same percentage I pay here for all those extra items I just mentioned.

    Health insurance was also expensive, but affordable. For 2 married adults, it was about $400/mo. For a married couple with 2 kids, about $600/mo. More kids were about $50/mo/kid additional, but you get paid to have kids there — monthly, until they leave home, — so that money could go directly to defray the health insurance. Kids cannot be kicked out of being supported by their parents until they are 25 years old. Which is ridiculous. Kids should begin pulling their weight around 14. I started working part-time at 14 and have been working continuously with only a couple breaks between jobs, ever since (no longer fulltime, though). In fact, I would judge that about half of my high school had jobs producing income by the time they were Juniors. Germany ‘protects adult breadwinners with families’ by preventing kids from taking jobs until they have finished high school. Neither love nor influence will get a teenager a job in Germany.

    Vacations are affordable in Europe and every German takes 2 of at least 2 weeks each during the year. Hotels and meals out are about half what they are in the US, and restaurants are still able to pay staff well above what the US considers minimum wage. Since I have been back in the US, hotels have gone up from around $85/night to around $135/night (I have to stay overnight for work about 2 to 3 times a month). We NEVER paid more than about $45/2people for a room including breakfast anywhere in Germany, and most were cheaper than that. And all rooms were immaculate with up-to-date furnishings. None of this Motel 6 paper mâché with cockroaches stuff (I stayed at my last Motel 6 back in 2012 shortly after French company Accor sold it; they are truly nasty barrios bajos).

    Incomes when I was there were much higher than the US. Everyone made the equivalent of $45k to $65k, and some — like doctors and teachers — up to $85k. When 2 parents are hauling down $90k a year minimum, they can afford $600/mo on health insurance.

    Where customer service is definitely lacking in Germany is in government bureaucracy. I used to comment to my students that — whatever the problem or need regarding some government agency, — it takes 3 in-person trips to solve it. And the bureaucrats are full of bullshit that they spout as if it were law. When I went to get my driver’s license, the woman there told me my US driver’s license would have to be translated by an “officially certified translator”. All they needed was name and address. The German word for “name” is “Name”; word for “address” is “Adresse”, and I have to pay 120 euro to have that ‘officially translated’?

    I did not. The woman was wrong. I got the license processed without having to go a fourth time for a translation. But that inquisition stuff is what they put you through. After telling my students about the 3 trips, they would always reflect a moment and begin nodding their heads, “Ja, ja. Stimmt.” (True)

    I am really puzzled at the criticism Europe gets here. Posters here have promoted the idea that we should be paying separately and without fail for everything — even all roads should be toll roads. Well, there is a place where life is exactly like that: in Europe. You pay for absolutely everything EXCEPT roads (never ever saw a toll road in Europe). But, even so, Europe is wrong about absolutely everything according to folks here, we are right about all things, and Europe nickels and dimes you to death, even though that is exactly what many here say they want.

  17. Italy does not have freeways, it has toll roads. France is about half freeways (mostly around towns) and half toll roads. Germany has the autobahn, have not seen a tollway there. The UK has several toll roads now. I have not been to Spain but have heard there are toll roads there. Denmark did not have toll roads but the ferries between the islands were not free. I have not been to Denmark in a decade but have heard that the big ferry to Copenhagen has been replaced with a 30 mile tollway over the water.

    My experience with eating out in Europe is that it is very expensive. At least 2X the USA, sometimes 4X for the same level of food. The same with hotels in France, Germany, Denmark and the UK.

  18. Hotels and meals out are about half what they are in the US …

    Not in my experience in the UK and France. Hotels, temporary apartment rents, bus fares, food, and alcohol were all more expensive than the US. Meat prices at the supermarkets in particular were very high, though the US is catching up due to the drought of the last two years.

  19. I said the same level of food but I was wrong. The food in France, particularly in the sticks, was freaking awesome whether it was eat in or takeaway.

  20. never ever saw a toll road in Europe

    Norway has many toll roads. I had to get an Autobahn tag on my rental car to drive on the Autobahn in Switzerland.

  21. Ol’ OFD had a coupla chances when working for Uncle but never got to Europe; all my Uncle time was CONUS and SEA. Mrs. OFD went as a kid with her mom, and has been a couple of times since; Princess has been all over it, living/working on a Greek island in the Med; likewise for a year in Rome. This next year in Leipzig.

    I dunno as there is anyplace I’d care to visit in Europe nowadays; maybe Budapest and/or Vienna. Family all come from the British Isles but no desire to go there now that they’ve caved to their own orcs and the incoming hadjis. Sad times for yon Perfidious Albion, I reckon. But as the late Ezra Pound wrote, the best of them were wasted in the trenches of the Great War and the coup de grace applied in the one following. Tragic beyond words.

  22. I’ve been many places in the world with the Army, but only my 13 months in Korea gave me any time at all for sightseeing, and even that wasn’t very much.* I also spent five days in St Petersburg for work and had an hour or two to walk around each evening and see how the city was in wretched shape off the main showcase thoroughfares.

    In theory, if I had money and no responsibility I’d get a yacht and poke around many places. In practice, ain’t gonna happen.

    * I didn’t start keeping track until about six months in, but in the last half of my tour I worked close to 100 hours per week on average. No days off in seven months, because most of that time I was working my job and my boss’s. He wasn’t a slacker or incompetent, he was on vacation or was repeatedly filling in for the battalion XO, who was on vacation himself or filling in for the battalion commander while he was on vacation.

  23. The money and no responsibility? I’d also get a kick out of learning to sail a good-size live-in boat and travel around the north Atlantic mainly and maybe down as far as the Carolinas, seek out all the old pirate and privateer haunts. As it is, our big outings will be via canoes and kayaks out on the lake here and into some of the marshes and around the islands nearby. In the winter, snowshoeing and x-c skiing in the forests. If I could get in reasonable shape, I’d try the primitive biathlon, but that is extremely doubtful.

    Nooz squirts via WSJ to my iPhone 4 just now:

    “U.S. Special Forces tried to rescue Foley and other Americans early this summer, U.S. officials say.” Yeah, sure. I dunno if I’d buy that.

    “Bank of America, DOJ reach settlement for close to $17 billion; expected to be announced Thursday.”

    Sure, BOA has a sterling record in its history with real estate foreclosures and fraud; any of the vics getting a piece of that? No, don’t bother answering…

    “Fed officials debated quicker rate moves, but decide to await more economic data.”

    Gee, how much data do they need to see to realize the whole damn house of cards is gonna collapse and we’re facing Default at some point and loss of the dollar as the de facto world currency, plus more tens of trillions in debt. That sorta mess ain’t gonna be solved anytime soon and portends eventual disaster. Sure, maybe we won’t be as bad off as Europe, let alone Asia and Africa, but it’s mos def gonna suck real bad for most of us out here.

  24. OFD Said: I’d also get a kick out of learning to sail a good-size live-in boat and travel around the north Atlantic mainly and maybe down as far as the Carolinas, seek out all the old pirate and privateer haunts.

    I bought my boat a year ago. It’s big enough to take anywhere in the world and small enough for me to handle and afford. If you every make it to the upper left hand corner of the map, I’ll give you a ride.

    Rick in Cascadia

  25. Sure, BOA has a sterling record in its history with real estate foreclosures and fraud; any of the vics getting a piece of that? No, don’t bother answering…

    The news said that about $7 billion of it is supposed to go to the vics. However, when you read the fine print, these settlements are rarely as good as the headlines say.

  26. Obama hosts a news conference with Bergdahl’s parents in the Rose Garden.

    James Foley’s parents are interviewed on their lawn in Rochester, MN.

    Where is the outrage?

  27. Customer service poor in Europe? I expect this is based on a misunderstanding. Let me illustrate with restaurants:

    Swiss who go to an American restaurant are appalled by the rudeness of the staff: they slap the bill on your table right after delivering your food, and then they continually ask you “is everything ok”. It’s like they’re saying “hurry up, eat, and get out of here – we need the table”.

    Of course, it’s not meant that way at all. They’re trying to be attentive to your needs, save you trying to get the staff’s attention when you want something. Americans are always in such a tearing hurry, even when they ought to be relaxing.

    A positive side-effect of this is that restaurants can generally count on multiple seatings in an evening, which leads to reduced prices, which leads to people going to restaurants more often – a nice feedback cycle.

    Americans coming to Switzerland are appalled at how inattentive the staff is. They serve your food and disappear, never to be seen again. Don’t they care? If you want something, do you have to go on safari to find the staff?

    Of course, it’s not meant that way at all. They’re trying to let you enjoy your meal in peace and privacy. People generally linger over their meal and after dinner drinks for 2-3 hours. If you have multiple courses, they arrive slowly, not because the service is poor, but so that people have a chance to socialize between courses.

    A negative side-effect of this is that restaurants usually can only have a single seating, which means that they have to charge a lot more for each meal. Which means that people eat out much less often than in the US, so restaurants are often half-empty, raising prices even further. In the end, a good restaurant will, at best, break even on the food it serves – any profit comes from the drinks, which is why they aren’t free or unlimited refills.

    Other countries are different. Eating out in Germany is massively cheaper than here in Switzerland. Good restaurants in France practically make a ritual out of the food. YMMV according to where you are.

    In any case, as far as the quality of service goes: it’s really just “different strokes for different folks”. Each culture, and the practices that have grown up around it, may seem rude to people from a different culture.

  28. I bought my boat a year ago. It’s big enough to take anywhere in the world and small enough for me to handle and afford. If you every make it to the upper left hand corner of the map, I’ll give you a ride.

    So what size (or size range) is small enough to handle and big enough to take anywhere? Like OFD and Steve there is a part of me that would like to have a sailboat and sail it around the world. Which in a way is weird, because I leave the house about as often as Bob does. Also the only foreign country I’ve visited is Canada, and I didn’t even get to the foreign language speaking part. Also it’s strange because I’m farther from a place to put a sailboat than Steve or OFD.

  29. If you every make it to the upper left hand corner of the map, I’ll give you a ride.

    Can I have the same deal? I have been known to visit that area although that has slowed considerably since my aunt died. Many trips to Port Townsend (Beckett Point) and cities in the area. Heading to Spokane in late September and early October.

  30. Chuck wrote:

    ” You pay for absolutely everything EXCEPT roads (never ever saw a toll road in Europe).”

    Did you ever visit France or Italy? They have toll roads everywhere. Expensive too.

    I thought your post was interesting in many ways. I worked a bit as a teenager but the financial return was so poor that I was glad my parents supported me in the main. I worked during vacation breaks, but mostly doing jobs I hated.

    I like the US and love Europe, although the prices in McDonalds in Stockholm were about 4x current Australian prices when I was there. If I had the language skills I wouldn’t mind living there.

    I hate crummy hotel rooms, and won’t stay in less than 3* hotels, but I prefer 4* or 5*. I try to get in to good hotels and flights with quality airlines by booking in advance. One of my nieces is particularly good at that and next time I travel OS I may ask her help.

    I find that eating in the US is insanely cheap, and in Europe is not a whole lot more than in Australia if you know where to look. I could easily retire to France or Spain except I don’t know anyone there. The UK is like Sydney: a nice place to visit (in high summer) but I wouldn’t want to live there.

    If I ever visit Boone, NC this is the place I’ll visit for meals:

  31. You guys who spend more money in Europe than in the US, are staying at the US tourist traps, run by American companies and guided by people who are there to pick your pockets. Stay at the Hilton, eat at the hotel or American-recommended tourist spots, and you will pay considerably more than if you stay at German-owned lodgings and eat away from the English-speaking tourist traps, — travel and eat like the natives. Eat at McDonald’s or Burger King and you will pay considerably more than equivalent quantities of food at the mom and pop quick Imbisses. Most of the people running the Imbisses speak English, as they are usually immigrants from countries that value English more than the Germans do.

    Last video job I had in Berlin before I left, I stayed in a hotel in Hallensee (a block away from the shoot) for around 39 euro/night. And there were less expensive places in the same block, they were just all booked up. The Americans I was working for, paid over 200/night staying at the Hilton on Kurfürstendamm — the most expensive area to stay in all of Berlin. The Four Seasons in Mitte is probably THE most expensive, if you are looking for that.

    I’m perusing what menu is available at the buffet in the Dinea restaurant in Galleria Kaufhof at Alexanderplatz. Typical main course item is 8.95. Add a salad, dessert, and juice, and you might take it to 14 euro tops, and you would stuff yourself on the quantity (my euro sign is not working in Linux, or I would use it). Convert that to dollars and it is $18.36. That includes all tax (they never add tax on top of the price, like we do; tax is always included in the item price and you pay what you see). If I ate the same meal in Indianapolis, I assure you it would be well over $20, plus tax on top of that, plus tip. No tipping at Dinea in Kaufhof, and tipping in Germany is 1 euro per person until you get to meals at high-class restaurants for 50/person and more. Then you do 8%. That is usually for large parties, however.

    Yeah, I can eat at St. Elmo’s in downtown Indy and make sure I pay in excess of $30 for lunch, but is that what you do when you eat out for a normal lunch on a weekday?

    Almost all non-hotel restaurants in Berlin are competitive or less costly than Kaufhof, and there are dozens in the area around Alexanderplatz. (Nearby Sony Center is a tourist trap.) Wonderful food for less than I pay in Indy — except not so wonderful food at Indy greasy spoons with awful food (never my choice, but often the choice of others I must meet with). Almost all German restaurants have weekday lunch specials or reduced prices of their evening menu if it is also what is served at lunch (but remember it is not the Germans that eat a big supper — only fruit, bread, cheese, and maybe rarely, a light soup). Large suppers are going to be expensive; the Germans only eat large meals in the evenings for party affairs. The cheaper lunches are NOT good on weekends or holidays. (BTW, we in the US definitely excel in pizza — both variety and quality.)

    Moreover, there are government-run cafeterias dotting the cities whose prime purpose is to serve government workers at wholesale, but open to the public (for slightly more than the workers pay), and the prices there are unbelievably cheap — 3 to 5 euros for everything I mentioned you could get at Kaufhof. We used to eat lunch every Tuesday at the Finanzamt in Zehlendorf, just because it was so good and so cheap, — and because we were both not fully employed at the time. And there is no equivalent of the greasy spoon restaurant in Germany. Every restaurant serves fine food; none of that dried chopped steak cooked to a crisp and served dry with half-cooked french fries and a tiny paper cup of cole slaw, that diners here call lunch. Tender Schnitzel with mushroom sauce, Italian salads, amazing vegetables, real juices — that is what is on the Kaufhof menu and it is the same everywhere else.

    The Germans are big at eating out, and most do that multiple times a week. As a Greek guy whose family ran restaurants there once told me: “The Germans love eating out and will not do without their restaurant meals.” Everything Brad says is true, and I positively HATE the American way of interrupting table conversation to ask how the meal is, and would we like anything else, not once, but about every 5 minutes during the meal. On the other hand, I never had trouble signaling for wait staff help in Europe. Even if your waiter is not in sight, just raising a hand to any employee will get your waiter to your table within 5 minutes. You weren’t in a hurry were you? Better not be when eating in Europe.

    My tip #2 for Americans therefore is: examine that you have everything when the meal is served, and ask for whatever is missing then and there. Do not imagine that you will get a server to your table in less than 5 minutes after the food is brought to the table.

    Same goes for ordering. If you tell the waiter you are not ready to order when they come to write it down, you will not see them again for 10 minutes or more. Two things that drove Jeri mad about me were my penchant for keeping an eye out on the checkout lines, and calling a halt to our grocery shopping when no one was in them, and ordering in Europe when the waiter first appeared at the table (usually about 5 minutes after you were seated). As a kid, my dad was in a hurry to order. He insisted on ordering at the moment the waiter first appeared at the table — even if that first appearance was only for drinks. If my brother and I were not ready, he ordered something for us. So I was trained from an early age to spot something on a menu within 30 seconds to a minute, and was always ready to order. It was no problem for me to identify a suitable meal in any restaurant in Germany, and I insisted that we order when the waiter came, because it could be 15 minutes before you see them again, if you send them away the first time.

    As far as toll roads, over several decades starting in the ’70’s, I have driven Great Britain from the north of Scotland to Land’s End, through Devon, around London, to the southeast coast and the white cliffs of Dover, plus a dozen castles, Manchester, Yorkshire, Oxford, the Lake District, and Stratford-on-Avon in-between, and never, ever encountered a toll road. During the time we lived in Germany, we drove in France, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, Poland, Czech Republic, and a portion of Italy, and Jeri drove some in Switzerland with a couple girlfriends — never, ever a toll road. If you guys have driven on them, then you must be magnets for paying more than the natives do.

    Since we did not own a car, our biggest expense — by far — for any trip, was car rental when we drove instead of taking a train. Never a toll on any Autobahn in Germany. I never drove in Switzerland, Sweden, or Norway.

  32. Well, I’m no authority on German prices, since the last time I was in Germany was 1979. I was fluent enough in German that I stayed at what we’d call B&B’s and ate mostly in small restaurants without much tourist traffic. My impression at the time was that the lodging and meals were much, much more expensive than they would have been in the US, by at least a factor of two.

  33. Certainly not the case while we lived there — except for manufactured goods and electronics, which were at least 50% more than in the US. I bought a laptop in the US, specifically because of that (at that time laptop and camera purchases abroad were exempt from import duties; not sure if they still are) and I brought a hard drive to replace what I had, back with me on another occasion (the infamous Seagate that was dead out-of-the-box and which they would not make good on under warranty in Germany, even though they sold the same drive in both countries — serial # told them what I had was made for the US).

    In fact, another sign was Aldi shopping. The exchange rate was much closer when I returned. Shopping for 2 each week, we seldom spent more than 20 euros except when parties were imminent; when I got back and started shopping for the equivalent things, but only for 1 each week, I never spent less than $20. After 4+ years, I am now up to about $50 each week, still shopping for only 1. Food in grocery stores was definitely cheaper in Germany than the US, as my wife — who was a price freak — would tell her mother when we visited every year.

    Regarding Miles’ comment on learning a new language, I was in my early 50’s when we first moved to Berlin. Romance languages are easy because there is so much Latin in them. If you are living around the language, one cannot help learning it — unless, like the Turks in Berlin, you live in a large tight-knit community where you never speak anything but your native tongue. There were Turks in my Volkshochschule classes who had lived in Berlin for 15 years and knew less German than me, and I knew none. Their teenage kids finally insisted that the parents learn German.

    German was difficult only because the sounds are so different and gutteral. Having had both Spanish and French in school, but not a drop of German, it took me months just to begin to identify words. What’s more, I was hampered because, while my wife’s vocabulary was much larger than mine, her grammar was atrocious, as I learned in school. For that reason, we seldom spoke German at home (until the last year or so), because we did not want to reinforce habits of bad grammar.

    Second problem was that a major part of the reason we were there, was to speak English with the grandkids. That hampered my learning German, although it also taught me that young kids cannot translate from one language to another. Quite occasionally, I would ask the oldest to tell me how to say in German, something I told him in English, and he had no clue. By the time I left, all the kids would speak English in my presence, even to each other, which I thought was a very kind thing for them to do voluntarily, and even though, by then, I could understand everything they were saying in German.

    Last comment is about the Swedes I have known in the US. During my working career, I ran into quite a few. They all intended to work in the US until retirement, then move back to Sweden. They have hit retirement. None that I am still in contact with are moving back. I suppose a lot is due to the fact that their kids would not be going with them (although they could), but a large part of our conversations over the years was about their eventual return to Sweden. Of course, I never intended to return to the US, but circumstances sometimes change our paths. Plus, I am not sure I would have been able to deal with things like the Social Security issues, had I not been around the right people — as I was upon my return. I feel pretty lucky in that regard, because our government purposely hides benefits we qualify for, and I found out about mine from other people, NOT the government agencies themselves, who were close-lipped on things I actually qualified for.

  34. Agreed with Mr. Chuck on, when going to a foreign country, live and eat like the natives. You won’t regret it and you’ll spend fah less money; of course I only have my forty-years-ago SEA experience to back me up on that. Also learn the effin’ language and customs.

    Also agreed with Mr. Chuck on our wunnerful gummint never telling us chit we qualify for and us having to drag all relevant info from them by hook and by crook. And we pay their salaries and then some. Bastards.

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