By Norris Burkes
Posted Oct 8, 2017
Occasionally a reader suggests that I offer a religious view on the division that entangles our nation. My response is that often our best spirituality can be found by unpacking its practical components.
To that end, I’ve made some observations during my extended stay in Europe that might help defuse some of our national disagreements.
For instance, road rage might be checked if we practiced the European method of passing other cars only while they are in the slow lane. Doing this means you aren’t whizzing by someone on their visually restricted passenger side.
Also, does a slow or uncertain driver ever befuddle you? Maybe he’s a new driver. It’d be great if we adopted the Irish practice of labeling the back window of student drivers with a large red “L” for learning, and newly licensed drivers with a large “N.”
Best of all, Europe employs traffic cameras to identify traffic offenders and citations are sent by mail. Adopt this practice and police aren’t making dangerous traffic stops.
Driving isn’t the only thing that rages Americans. We detest any perceived intrusion into our personal space. Not so in Europe.
If you brush a passerby, you needn’t utter so much as a “pardon me.” In fact, during the two years I was stationed in Turkey with my family, I was only once asked for a pardon. A man profusely apologized when he bounced a cigarette butt he intended for the street off my son.
Personal space in Europe is defined as any unoccupied space. If there is an open sidewalk space, no matter what its size, you’re entitled to it. We were in a nearly empty theater when a couple took the seats next to us. No worry.
However, restaurants will place a high regard on personal space. They encourage you to occupy your table long past your last bite of dessert. Signal them when you’re ready for a check and your bill will exactly total the menu price because all prices include tax.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., the battle lines are drawn over the most personal of spaces — the toilet. Much animosity is expressed over who should enter restrooms marked men or women. Some argue for a traditional gender distinction based on safety. Others make a case for inclusivity based on self-identity.
No matter what bathroom you choose in Europe, you’ll find an attendant who’ll likely collect 75 cents for use of the toilets. At first I was annoyed by the practice, but now I’m impressed with how the attendants keep the bathrooms clean, stocked and safe.
Bathrooms are labeled as toilet or W.C for Water Closet, while the British call it a loo. While German men desperately hunt for the crude sign “pissoir,” Belgian men look for relief in the public square urinal behind a half partition. Many restrooms maximize space through the use of a foyer where both sexes share the wash sinks.
But whatever a toilet is called or however it’s used, Europeans make gender agreements a moot point with floor-to-ceiling toilet stalls. Better still, some places simply have two or three unmarked toilet rooms — fill in your blank. No fuss, no muss. No one questions who you are or how you accomplish your business.
These down-to-earth solutions are simple methods to employ before anger erupts. They are the practical side of Jesus’ teaching that we call “the golden rule.” The modern Message Translation of his words are this: “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.”
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