Tag Archives: signs

Don’t Walk and Eat

27 Nov

When I was in Japan a couple months ago, most mornings started at a local bakery. Every morning we’d stop by a different place to pick up pastries and coffee to fuel our day’s adventures. Naturally, we got more than 1 pastry a day: after all, we wanted to try as many local specialties as we could. From melon buns to red bean rolls to taro danishes, we nibbled our way through a whole new realm of baked goods.

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That green pastry is a melon roll, and it was divine.

Japanese neighborhood bakeries are “self-service,” with pastries laid out buffet-style. You walk around with tongs and a tray to pick your bounty, then an employee rings you up. You can opt to dine-in, or take away. We always opted for takeaway since we had a jam-packed itinerary and wanted to jump right into sightseeing.

But, our desire to hustle created a bit of a cultural conundrum. See, on Day 2, our chosen bakery laid down some rules for us. They had this sign posted right by the tongs and trays, specifically to school hurried tourists like us.

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We giggled at first. After all, it felt a bit silly that the bakery was trying to monitor how we’d consume their baked goods. So they didn’t want us to stand directly in front of their door? Well, ok, I guess that could look tacky to passerby. But why did they care if we ate while walking? How would that impact the bakery at all?

We assumed the sign was trying to steer us away from cultural gaffes. While eating and walking is a popular combo in the grand ‘ol USA, that’s not the case worldwide. When I studied abroad in France, my professor gave us a long list of tips to “blend in.” One tip was exactly what this sign forbade: don’t eat and walk. She was so right! I rarely saw locals eating and walking when I was in France, or when I studied in Spain later on.

So that does that make Americans heathens? Or are we simply different? Who’s to say which way is “right” and which way is “wrong?” When we’re abroad, is it automatically disrespectful to do what we do at home? And on top of all that: is it this bakery’s business to tell us how to act?

I like to think that the bakery was simply looking out for us, like my French professor, and counseling us on how to blend in (or, really, how to stand out less). It’s not like we were about to get ticketed for eating pastries in the streets. But, they were guiding us to act like locals do, perhaps to save us embarrassment, perhaps to save the locals disdain. We did notice that the streets were impeccable in Kyoto, and could imagine the bakery wanting to inspire respect for their beautiful public space.

It’s so hard to respect local customs when you travel, because you can’t know all the rules off the top of your head. Without context, this sign just sounds a tad judgmental. But there are so many little things about cultures that vary around the world. It’s so easy to offend someone simply because you don’t have the right context. And in that sense, I think this bakery was just trying to help us get by.

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Another morning find. This store didn’t lecture us about how to eat, but maybe they just never thought to do it 🙂

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Inside a high-end grocery store.

That’s A Rap

26 Mar

From The Rap Quotes, via Gothamist

This is a little silly, I’ll admit, but sometimes when I go to New York I can’t get “Empire State of Mind” out of my head. The song’s lyrics have absolutely no relation to anything I do when I’m visiting the Big Apple- I’m certainly not cruising around in a Lexus or copping in Harlem. It’s more like going to meetings and having cupcakes with friends. But I DO go to Tribeca a lot, and I can never resist humming the first line of Jay-Z‘s megahit when I get there. And then that just spirals into the chorus running on repeat through my thoughts as I walk around, punctuating my steps.

Songs about cities and places abound in the world of music. Think about Sinatra’s ode to Chicago, “My Kind of Town.” Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco.” Guster’s “Amsterdam.” Some of these songs have a strong relationship to the places they talk about, and some song’s lyrics fail to justify why a place name was invoked in the first place. For example: I love the Three Dog Night song “Never Been to Spain,” but can’t for the life of me explain to you why Spain is involved!

A street artist named Jay Shells has taken the art of linking music to cities to a new level with his Rap Quotes project. Shells has placed signs around New York with rap lyrics that speak to particular locations. So a lyric about a bench on 12th street has been posted on 12th street, for example. I think this is a fantastic idea, and a thought provoking one, too. It really makes you think about the connection between these songs, and the places that inspired them. I’d love to see something similar in my town- it’d be so interesting to walk around and see mentions of what’s been sung about the very places I walk. And same for literature, too: it’d be fantastic to see quotes from books that mention the places I walk and the streets I love.

I don’t have any plans to be in New York anytime soon, but I know many of my readers live there- let me know if you see these, and tell me what you think about them! In the meantime, I’m going to work on getting “Empire State of Mind” out of my head…

For more signs from Shells, check out The Gothamist’s coverage here. And check out Shell’s Twitter to stay up to date on what he’s doing.

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