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The Dangerous Business of Going Out Your Door I am often tired of myself and I have a notion that by travel I can add to my personality and so change myself a little. I do not bring back from the journey quite the same self that I took. - W. Somerset Maugham

The Curious Case of Lights and Language

SPAIN | Thursday, 28 January 2016 | Views [463]

The curious case of lights

If you go into a bathroom in Europe and can't find the light switch, that's probably because it is outside the room. In the hallway. Where any passerby could turn the light off while you're using the bathroom and leave you in the dark. I did that very thing, mistakenly, to some poor soul at my hostel in Lisbon, Portugal, while searching for the hallway light. But despite the resulting paranoia that it would happen to me as well, it never did. It's remarkable that it doesn't happen more often. Why in the world would the light switch for a room be located outside the room, particularly a bathroom?! In what situation would that ever make sense?! And it was not just an irregularity of that hostel. I remember this arrangement from my previous trips to Europe and I have found the same phenomenon now in Spain. In my hostel in Granada, there was a puzzling layout where the switch for the sink light was located outside the bathroom, but the switch for the shower light was next to the sink. My husband even recalls a hostel in Hamburg, Germany, that had an absurd light switch with a timer outside the room. So, if the timer ran out, you had to either finish your activity in the dark, or find a way to pause and exit the bathroom in order to turn the light on again!

Speaking of timers, Europe also has lots of lights that only come on when motion is detected. It is a great energy-saving strategy, but it has some quirks. You might have to stumble halfway down a flight of rickety, wooden stairs in pitch darkness before your motion is detected. Or you might be in a public bathroom in a foggy 8th century Moorish castle where motion is detected only near the sink, but not in the stall, so you find yourself groping blindly for toilet paper. I have had the distinct pleasure of saving energy via both methods in the last weeks. :) Mind-boggling though they are, I still love discovering these quirks of Europe.



In Granada, I found that English was less widely spoken than in Lisbon. I don't know yet whether that is a function of Spain vs. Portugal, or smaller city vs. capital city, or just an anomaly that I happened to encounter. At any rate, I was often forced to rely on my scant Spanish knowledge. I think everyone should experience not speaking the language at least once in life. It is quite an enriching experience. There will be fear when you cannot understand a situation and frustration when people dismiss you or are not helpful and you are unable to accomplish what you want. These are the times that show you what it is like to be in someone else's shoes. But there will also be enormous gratitude for a stranger's kindness and patience in taking the time to help you understand or in using mime to help you learn a new word. These occassions teach you how to treat other people when you find them in a similar situation. You gradually release yourself from the rigid constraints of what you want to eat or do, and instead become content with whatever you are able to manage. The smallest breakthrough, like understanding the price of something without having to see it written, brings the greatest pride of achievement, and you strive to improve yourself each day. 


Coming Up...

Next, I'll try to give a review of staying in hostels again after 15+ years and point out some differences I've noticed between people in Lisbon and Andalusia. But for now, I'm off to something I've really been looking forward to seeing: The Great Mosque of Córdoba, first a Visigoth Catholic basilica, then converted to a Muslim mosque in the late 700s, then converted back to a Catholic church in the 1200s. It is supposed to be a fascinating mixture of the two religions and I can't wait to see it. Until next time!


Tags: europe, language, light switch, lights, sabbatical, travel


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