Friday, March 4, 2011

It’s the Small Things…


On the flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, we flew on a German airline: Lufthansa. This was a long eight hour expedition, so it was nice to have the two meals included on the flight. Behind me, Joseph was happily eating his chicken-rice-vegetable teriyaki-like dinner with his glass of water. When the steward walked by a second time, he asked me if I wanted another drink. I requested my orange juice, as usual. When the steward asked Joe, he replied, “Water please.” The steward responded, “Still?” Obviously confused why the steward was rudely wondering why he wanted more water, Joe asked, “What?” “You want your water still?” By this time, we understood that the steward was asking if Joe wanted still water, as opposed to sparkling water. We mentioned to the steward the reasoning for our confusion—that we thought he was asking if he wanted water again, since we are never asked to clarify our choice of water in the United States as either sparkling or still. The steward realized the confusion and laughed with us at the different contexts of the word ‘still.’

On the topic of water…

Having been unprepared for a long day away from our apartment in Mdina, we realized we were thirsty and had depleted our repeatedly refilled plastic and metal water containers. I went on a water hunt in the ‘Walled City,’ expecting any institution to gladly fill me up. I asked a woman handing out fliers if she knew where a water fountain was, and she pointed down an alley, but as she did so, she continued to explain (in Maltese) about the flier she just gave me. Deciding that she assumed I was interested in what was on her flier, I thanked her for the information and didn’t go down the alley that I wished had a water fountain. I asked a woman in front of a restaurant for a drinking fountain, but she clearly didn’t understand me, so I pointed to my empty water bottle. She said, “Oh yes, I can throw that away for you.” After clarifying my question, she said water had to be purchased. I went into a little cafeteria and asked for a water refill. An employee directed me to the bathroom, and I filled up. I returned with Andy and a handful of empty water bottles. Following our fill-up in the same bathroom, a lady stopped us: “You can’t just fill up like that and go! You need to leave these bottles here and buy water here.” I explained that I was directed to the bathroom for water previously and didn’t know that we couldn’t fill up water there. “No, I think you knew. You need to leave these here and buy this water. This is a private place; you need to go to a public facility for free water.” We dumped our bottles and left outside the Walled City to a public bathroom, where a gentleman went into the back of the bathroom to fill our bottles in a janitor sink. I later left a tip for him—a few of the bathrooms I ran into worked this way, where a janitor cleaned and monitored the bathroom all day (and some cleaned after each use) and asked for tips. The moral of this long story about water? Water is not expected to be provided complimentary in public places, or even in a private restaurant/café/shop. What did we learn? Fill up extra bottles with Britta filtered water before we leave.

Why the difference in water accessibility? Perhaps water isn’t considered a free resource as it is in the US. Perhaps its availability is less here in Malta. Maybe it’s just not a standard adopted here, and the US has placed bathrooms and water fountains in the same category as handicap accessibility and fire safety. We just made it a necessity, where here in Malta, it’s a privilege. We might consider the lack of water as an inconvenience. A Maltese person might consider our abundance of free water wasteful. Is one way right? No. Just different.

Early Morning Groceries

Last night was the first time in a while that I went to bed at a reasonable hour (9pm). Consequently, I was bright and bushy much earlier than the previous days. Although today it was less bright and more cold and blustery. With an appetite for pancakes, and no butter or syrup in the apartment, I went off on my own about 7am. I found a tiny grocery shop less than two blocks away off the busy and narrow Triq Guze’ Howard street. There was a bustle of about five people gathering their daily groceries of bread, butter, milk, etc. I found my _humble_ container of syrup. It took some time finding it, and only recognized the word “maple,” but decided there wasn’t much else with maple flavoring. Butter, ketchup, soy milk, syrup, and jelly, all humble sizes and pricing about ten euros. I filled my little re-useable fabric grocery bag with my daily groceries in the early morning, anticipating my return the next morning like a native of Malta would. Hopefully within the next week, I will have the map of the area down in my head like a native.

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