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Our friendly encounters with the Hollanders yesterday on the train brought to mind the problem of what to do with one’s eyes on the subway. As I have written on several occasions, we found the German people to be quite friendly on the whole. But subways are notoriously impersonal places. The usual parameters of social etiquette had to be rewritten for them. Exchanging greetings with subway throngs would be difficult at best; exhausting at worst.

But sitting face-to-face with a stranger on the subway and not engaging him or her has an awkwardness all its own – at least for me. To a subway ingenue like me, not greeting one’s fellow passengers seems, if not rude, at least somewhat unpleasant. But to stare at someone from a few feet away and not say anything is even ruder. The result is hundreds of people crammed into a small space all looking off into space.

In recent years technology has come to the rescue of these awkwardly unemployed eyeballs in the form of the smart phone. The majority of subway riders these days look not into empty space but rather at the tiny screen of their smart phones and the content therein.

During our stay in Munich, my eyes were gainfully employed during my subway ride to and from school deciphering the German words of the many ads posted on train interiors. In fact, subway ads probably contributed more to my German vocabulary than any other single source (leaving me with a somewhat skewed knowledge of German: “Sonder Angebot!” (Special Offer!), Kostenlos! (free!)

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Mary had her own special way of dealing with subway socialization and the language barrier in particular – she was oblivious to it! Despite not speaking a single word of German, Mary frequently showered the German residents of Munich with extended and animated outbursts of American English. To listen to her, one would think she was on the streets of Wenatchee and not the Munich U-Bahn. What the recipients of these gratuitous torrents of a foreign language thought is hard to say. Some probably thought she was a crazy woman. Some of the English speaking recipients took up the challenge and engaged her. As far as I could tell, none took offense. Mary does project a certain aura of friendliness and innocence.

Mary is pestering me to stop blogging and join her for the free breakfast. It is foggy this morning but our hotel offers bicycle rentals for 10 Euros so we’ll be pedaling into the city today. Gotta go!

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