Cultural Differences: US Impressions

Before going into the serious topics on my list for posts, something lighthearted to conclude my US adventure.

Although I have visited the United States many times, last year was the first time I did so with someone who had never been there before. Previously, I simply tried to fit in with my family’s life, and didn’t take much time to compare and contrast it to my home life in Italy. It was as if I was simply a different person there, and I accepted the differences as just a new normal for the time that I was there.

This time, it was different, and I found myself not only noticing these differences, but pointing them out and smiling at his surprise and amazement.

So here it is, in no particular order, my first sort of listicle for FtB.

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I Have Internet!

I have my longest absence yet to explain to you, with egg on my face.

I was in the States, where internet access got patchier and patchier. I decided I would finish my updates when I got back to Germany. When I got back in September, I discovered that my landlady had cancelled my internet access given the fact that I had to move out in a few weeks. Oh well, I decided, I can’t really concentrate on researching ideas for posts while I’m trying to find the time to pack my life and move around my 12-hour work days, I’ll post in my new place.

Yeah, turns out that getting connected to the internet in Germany isn’t as easy as I had expected.

I don’t think you really want to hear the gorey details of it. Suffice it to say that, after months of waiting, a change of provider and a convoluted contract battle with Telekom that has not officially been resolved yet, two weeks ago I finally got connected to the internet!

After my victory dance, I spent these past two weeks collecting my notes on various blogposts that I wanted to write, jotting things down and formulating my plans for this blog. If the FtB crew will still have me, that is.

In brief, what have I been up to?

I moved to a new apartment in a different township, which turns out to be ridiculously complicated, and am thankful every day for living with a man that can do things like build kitchens and fix electrical wiring.

I got into a minor scooter accident, but managed to avoid a night in the emergency room.

I turned 30, and even managed to wrangle a 2-day visit to Amsterdam.

I co-authored 2 papers and am feeling a little better for it, given my own experiements leading me in frustrating circles.

I took on two University students, and finally found a balance in instructing them and keeping my own lab work under control.

But most importantly I learned that, whatever you do, if you ever find youself living in Germany, NEVER SIGN A CONTRACT WITH TELEKOM.

Regular posting starts again tomorrow. I’ve missed you all, but it does feel good to be back.

Cultural Differences: American Weddings

Day three of our US adventure was my cousin’s wedding. This was the main reason we came, so we were excited and curious to see how this one differed from the Irish and Romanian ones we attended recently.

First big difference: all the guests are invited to the ceremony, not just the close family and friends, and it is very coordinated.

As my cousin is Catholic, the wedding ceremony was a full on mass, my first one in over 15 years. We were seated in the front and thus were very self conscious about the fact that we had no idea about what we were supposed to say, when we were supposed to sit and stand, and that we had no intention of taking communion and drinking from the same cup as everyone else. We also held up the exit considerably because we didn’t know that the people sitting behind us in the pews couldn’t leave until we did. Oh well.

The reception was immediately afterwards, and it was just like the weddings you see in American movies. There was a choreographed entrance of the bride and groom, a sit down dinner and speeches. By the time that we got to the partying, we had and hour and a half left until the end.

All in all, the party was fun but a lot tamer than the other weddings that we have attended. It all ended rather abruptly and we said our goodbyes as we were scheduled to leave the next day for our road trip.

And so, in a flash, my baby cousin is now a married woman, and my boyfriend and I got another taste of yet another very different kind of wedding. I was a little sad to leave so soon, but we had a road trip to get started.

TBC

Holidays With Crys: Natural Beauty

On day two of our American adventure, we decided to take in the natural beauty of the Pacific NW, and really this area has a lot to offer. With only one day, we had to pick just one place to see and explore. Pur first choice would have been to drive up to Anacortes and take a whale watching tour that also takes you around the San Juan Islands. I did it once as a kid and I’ll never forget that experience. Unfortunately the boats were all booked up, so we had to go to plan B.

Another possibility was to go to Mount Reiner, take a cable car up and have lunch in a resort with an excellent view, but in the end we decided to go to Snoqualmie Falls.

There is a trail that leads from Salish Lodge down to the river below. It’s a short and easy trail, not even 1km, and so it was worth it to really feel immersed in the natural setting.

 

After hanging out on the rocks and taking a very cautious wade in the river, we headed back up and had lunch in the Attic of Salish Lodge. The food is pricey but excellent, so totally worth it given the junk food we’re going to end up eating along the way.

Many people know the US gor it’s big cities and towering constructions, and so they don’t realize how much of the States is preserved for it’s natural beauty. It’s so different from the nature that you see on other continents that I think it is the most interesting and wonderful part of the States o visit, and so we are planning on doing a lot more of it on our meandering way down South.

TBC

Holidays With Crys: Guess Where I Am

Hello everyone,

In the final leg of my travelling madness, I am now in the United States!

We got in three days ago. As part of my ongoing stress and anxiety I didn’t advertise my arrival, partially for a complete lack of time, and partially because I was worried that it was all going to go terribly wrong. I’m here for my cousin’s wedding, but this time I was travelling with my boyfriend who, as a Romanian, needs a visa to get into the country.

Given the current political climate, I was very worried that despite having all of his documentation in order that they wouldn’t let him into the country. Luckily it all went relatively smoothly, they let me stand in line with him so that I could calmly answer all of the border agent’s extremely aggressive questions, and we picked up our car and drove into Seattle.

We’re staying in the suburbs, as that is where my family lives. But we decided that we’re taking the opportunity to turn this into a proper vacation. My boyfriend has never been to the States, so the plan is to get a taste of the West Coast, ending the holiday in Las Vegas.

On Wednesday we decided to have our “city” day, so we drove into Seattle. We had a stroll down the waterfront, ending in Pike’s Market where we stopped at Matt’s in the Market for some gorgeous oysters, then we walked back up to the Seattle center.

As a kid, going to the science museum was my favorite thing in the world. However, with not much time to linger we just walked around and, of course, took a ride up to the top of the Space Needle.

 

Unfortunately, smoke from forest fires in Canada made the horizon a lot more hazy than it normally is. Still, it was a pretty impressive view.

I also like how the Seattle center is designed to be seen from above.

 

Those are not 3D sculptures. They’re just painted on the roof of that building.

All in all, we enjoyed walking around Seattle. Downtown is dynamic and charming, despite the mass of tourists, and th Seattle center is relaxing and fun to lounge around in. However, it is also true that, unless you are particularly interested in tech or modern architecture, modern cities tend to not hold Europeans’ interest for long. So the next day was “nature day”, and natural beauty is something that the Pacific North West has to offer in spades.

To be continued.

The Fail Made It Fun

Another great find thanks to IFLScience.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had fun playing around with AI, ever since I was a teenager and I discovered that you could play 20 questions against your own computer. Of course AI has progressed enormously since then, and some of the recent stories have been utter fails. Do you remember that bot designed to mimick real people on Twitter, which eventually turned into a foaming-at-the-metaphorical-mouth racist? Well, this story is in a similar vein, though a bit more fun IMO.

Apparently, some people decided to invent a bot that could invent endless numbers inspirational posters at the click of a mouse. You know the kind I mean, a calming image with some sort of pseudo-profundity written over it, the self-help books of the meme world if you will. It’s called Inspirobot, and anyone can follow that link and make some inspirational posters for themselves.

What is funny is that Ispirobot seems to have gone a little… well… dark. It’s even more funny because I can’t understand how it happened. With the Twitter bot I know exactly why it happened: it’s aim was to learn from other Twitter users how to sound more human, and as we all know, Twitter has a particularly bad infestation of racist trolls. In this case I have no idea, and I don’t really care.

IFLScience gave a few examples of the kinds of things that Inspirobot has been producing.

And while these are hilarious, I had to test this out for myself. Can I really get Inspirobot to get weird without spending hours clicking on the generate button?

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This Week in Zoology: Out of Sci-Fi and Into a Journal

I’m sure you’ve come across the phrase “stranger than fiction” before. This week, I came across a paper that I think fits this description perfectly. If you had seen this in a movie you would probably roll your eyes at it, unless it was the most wild of sci-fi.

And yet, it seems as though it happened.

Scientists decided to send some planarian worms to space. After 5 weeks at the international space station they returned to Earth.

And one of them came back with two heads. They tried chopping them off, but they just grew back. That worm has decided to remain a two-headed for the rest of its life now. So… that happened.

OK, we’re going to need a little more context here I think. Why did they do this in the first place? What is a planarian worm, and what is the relevance of all of this?

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Adding Perspective

This is probably my favorite idea of the week.

An artist is colorizing old black and white photographs, and she is doing it so masterfully that the images really do look like they could have been taken yesterday.

 

I remember when I was a little girl and I saw my first “modern” movie set in the past. Until then, I had only seen old movies in black and white, and contemporary movies in color. It was jarring, and although I knew objectively that people in the 50s, 20s, or 1800s didn’t actually live their real lives in black and white, something about seeing those scenes in color struck something home to me.

I realized that, having never lived in a time where I would see a person in front of me and then see a picture of that same person in black and white, I was missing the ability to fully humanize or relate to people in black and white images. They seemed seperate, like a dream, like something from the distant past that I might objectively know really happened, but that I couldn’t quite get my brain to fully acknowledge. It was kind of like knowing objectively that I will some day die, rather than actually fully accept and acknowledge my mortality at any given moment.

I don’t know if I am alone in this, or if many people see an image that is more relatable and more realistic when they see these images colorized. One way or another, I think that she has an amazing talent for it, and I find these photographs fascinating.

Cultural Differences: The Importance of Sex

This episode of Cultural Differences is going to have a lot less to do with differences I have observed between countries, but rather more to do with differences between those who were raised with a strong Christian heritage (though I am sure that it will apply to other religions as well), and those who were not.

In my family, I am by far the oldest of my generation. I have a good 6 years on my cousin, who is the second oldest. Although we are a small family, most of us only children and the sons/daughters of parents with few or no siblings, this year is proving to be a year of big changes.

Although I am the oldest at 29 years of age, I am soon to be the only unmarried person over 18 in my immediate family. While this does not bother me in the slightest, as I have lived with my boyfriend for nearly 10 years and we are perfectly happy, it did get me thinking about what motivates some people to get married as young as 19. There is one stark difference between me and most of those who are tying the knot this year: I am the only atheist on my mother’s side of the family, and most of my cousins do not believe in sex before marriage.

In the run up to the big day, I have seen my cousins posting several articles about not wanting to wait to spend the rest of their lives with their best friend. I cannot disagree with the sentiment of getting into a serious relationship when you are young, as I myself met my boyfriend when I was 19 and do not regret not being single in my 20s, but the articles they kept posting seemed to reduce their decision to a false dichotomy: either get married, or be single. What I did, have a serious relationship and live together without putting it down on paper, is never even proposed as a potential third option, I assume because it goes against their upbringing as good Christian girls.

I realized all of a sudden that, if you were to ask both myself and one of my cousins the question “is sex important?” we might both sincerely answer “Yes, very important” or “No, it is not important at all”, depending on the context of the conversation before the question is asked, and despite the fact that we have very different attitudes towards the importance of sex.

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Alone, It’s Interesting. With Context…

It is absolutely horrifying.

I came across this picture on IFLScience. It was in the thumbnail of the article, and I thought to myself… hmmm. That’s an interesting picture. It’s clearly an X-ray of an adult’s head. But… what’s that extra stuff? An artefact? Something from an item of clothing that he or she had not removed before taking the X-ray?

The image I am referring to is this one.

Which was then followed by this one.

You see it, right? There is something off about this X-ray.

So, what is this image really of? Do you really want to know?

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