Monday, July 19, 2010

European diaries, Part 3: Rules, regulations and human rights

Now that I have written a few good and humourous things about Europe, let me also talk about the "bad" things in Europe. Here, in India, we keep on commenting how clean the western countries are, how they follow rules and regulations, etc., etc. Well, mainland Europe is clean, its streets are bereft of any dirt or garbage. People carry leftovers in their bags and drop them off only in bins kept at frequent locations and cleaned at regular intervals.

But, to say that (western) Europeans have highest regard for rules and regulations, is far-fetched. In Europe, smoking is banned in public places and public transport. So, while Europeans do not smoke on trains, you should watch them at railway stations. Before boarding the train, the passengers smoke incessantly. And as the guard blows the whistle, to indicate closing of doors, they stub the cigarette on the platform and get into the train. These stubs are left on the platform, to be collected by the cleaning staff, whenever they do their rounds. Even at intermediate stations, passengers get down from the train, take a few puffs and then get back in the train. It is common to find numerous cigarettes stubs at station entrances and exits.

In the Louvre museum in Paris, there are strict instructions, written on the entry ticket and atleast one wall of every gallery, to not use the camera flash while photographing the artwork inside. Yet, you will find everybody, majority of whom are Europeans and Americans, violating this rule and nonchalantly using the camera flash to click photographs. They do not even spare the cathedral, where others have come in to offer their prayers.

And finally, while the European Union champions itself as an organisation that strives for enforcement of human rights, it falters in its own backyard. One of the most basic right of any human is access to potable water. Even in India, (supposedly "third world" and having a bad record of human rights violations) there are free water fountains in cities, towns, railway stations, etc. where anybody can drink water. And restaurants are bound by law to provide potable water free of costs to their customers. But, none of this exists in Europe. You are required to buy your beverage at the restaurant, whether it is water or Coke. And both are priced at the same rate. Of course, tap water in Europe is so potable, that you can even drink from the wash basin tap. But then, isn't it necessary to provide for free (or cheap) access to water to commoners? Why should water be priced at the same rate as cold-drinks or slightly cheaper than beer? I do not see any of the European countries acting on this issue any time in the future. Even the USA has a law which makes it compulsory to provide free potable water at every place that serves food.*

While we brood about our uncivilised ways and their civilised ways, let's thank God for the things we already have.

*About the free potable water in USA, I was told about this by a US citizen. I personally do not know if such a law exists and do not hold me responsible if this information is incorrect.
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  1. True. I was many a times trying to find water. Perhaps that is because not many drink water. The water you get in bottles there are similar to tap water. One just has to ask for water and they do get it. But outside there are not much facilities.
    As for the cigarette butts, I did not find many cases in Belfast but London was dirty like big cities everywhere.

    Thank God as per you said!!!

    How's the thesis going on, Vinay?

    Joy and best of luck,

  2. @Susan,
    I found many railway stations, especially junctions littered with cigarette butts in Belgium.

    My father and some colleagues tell me that in southern Europe, like Italy, Spain, etc., the civic sense is as good as normal Indians. Indians feel at home in Italy, whereas they feel out of place in Germany.

  3. Hi your recent post...its a good story..simple yet inspiring!! about this post experience in Germany tells me that water is valued here by people. Yes, drinking water is sometimes more expensive than soft drinks or beer, but that's the motive -- using water frugally! The best thing is to carry water along with u ...generally, the quality of water all across Germany is the same i.e the tap water is clean and potable.

  4. @Ashwini,
    Thanks for your comments about my story for a good heart.

    About access to water: I would like to contradict with you. How can you promote frugal usage of water, if it is cheaply available at homes (where most of the wastage is bound to occur) but not at restaurants?

    Water is valuable, I agree, but it doesn't mean that you restrict its access. By being asked to pay the price that it is currently sold for, you end up filling the pockets of the water manufacturing companies. I am pretty sure, that the cost of producing bottled water is far less than producing Coke.