On being ... home again

 I was in Scotland for a few weeks on holiday. Half way through the vacation I read an essay by Melissa Kirsch in the New York Times about “post-vacation clarity”. The gist of the piece was about how living out of a suitcase for a few weeks helped her notice how cluttered her home – and life – felt on her return. She also talked about how on vacation she managed to shed her daily routine and how she was determined to not slip back into it. 

I found the essay interesting and I bookmarked it, thinking I might riff on it for my first On being… after my trip. So, while in Scotland I began comparing how some things are done there and how they’re done here. Of course, there are plenty of obvious differences that would never be adopted here, like driving on – I know this sounds judgmental, but so be it – the wrong side of the road. (Crossing the street is Toronto has its dangers, but at least I know where to look before stepping off the curb!) 

Another difference that’ll never change is in voltage delivered to wall outlets (220V there vs. 110V here). But, there’s one thing about their electric outlets that I think might be worth adopting: in the UK each socket has its own little on/off switch. Remembering to toggle each plug to “On” took a bit of getting used to, but once I did, I began thinking about the benefits of such outlets. Even when devices plugged into outlets here are turned off, a bit of electricity still flows into them. (And not just for the myriad of things that have LED indicator lights on them, as so many do nowadays.) According to Schneider Electric, sockets without on/off switches keep drawing power and increase the idle load. In other words, those little on/off switches save electricity, which we should all care about. (Granted, it might seem like a negligible amount – but like a dripping faucet, it all adds up.) 

Though I admit I never quite got the hang of tipping in Scotland, I liked the way they tally restaurant bills. Most (though not all) bills included a line that indicated a “10% discretionary service fee” was added. So, for example, on a bill for food/drinks totaling £70 (including VAT), a £7 “discretionary service fee” might be added, bringing the total to £77. Unlike here, where the server passes you the credit card terminal and you must answer questions about how much of a tip you want to add and then you must indicate you accept the total – in Scotland the server just holds the terminal toward you and you tap your card on it. So, in the example above, the terminal would show £77 and that’s the amount you tap for. (Though it was labelled “discretionary” – I’m not sure if that meant you had discretion to just paid the cost (£70) – or if the 10% was at the discretion of the restaurant owner. But, in any event, a 10% tip is certainly more palatable than the tip suggestions available on payment terminals here in Toronto.) And, if you wanted to add a bit more of a gratuity, you could simply ask the server to round up. So, keeping with the example, if I ask the server to “Round that up to £80”, the server would re-key the amount AND say Thank You as I tap!   

As odd as this will sound – the one difference I appreciated the most – and that I’d LOVE to see adopted in North America had to do with bathroom stalls. In Scotland, bathroom stall locks all indicate whether the stall is occupied. It’s the simplest, most straightforward device – when you flip the latch to lock it – on the outside the colour goes from green to red (or some obvious variation, for example, the word “free” or “occupied” appears, or “vacant” or “engaged). That simple mechanism eliminates all guessing – no need to look under the door to see feet (or a shadow) or having to yell out “just a minute”, as someone pushes against the door while you’re in there. Honestly – it’s such a simple device that saves time and everyone’s dignity – why-oh-why can’t it become the standard here?

On my return I did have an unexpected revelation about a vacation-induced change that I’m going to try to maintain. It has to do with focusing a bit less intensely on the news. I wasn’t exactly unplugged while away – I checked email regularly and I skimmed the Toronto Star and NY Times newsletters nearly every day. (That’s how I noticed Kirsch’s piece.) But I didn’t read many of the full articles, editorials, or op-ed pieces. I think that contributed to my overall sense of contentment and relaxation on this holiday. 

When I got home, I was surprised by how many newsletters were still in my inbox. I either hadn’t looked at them at all, or I hadn’t deleted them, thinking I’d go back to them when I had time. So, at home I started going through them. But, I soon reconsidered. What’s the point of reading a 10-day old news story about Prigozhin, or about Trump, or about… well, anything? So, I deleted all of them. I also decided that going forward I’ll do what I did in Scotland: skim the summaries and read full-length articles only occasionally, focusing mainly on topics relevant to things I can exert influence over. Time will tell whether this approach helps me feel less anxious or upset. 

Mind you, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the extra time I’ll have if I manage to stick to this new routine. But, it’s certainly worth a try. (That said, I promise I won’t spend all my newfound time writing longer On being… columns, like this one!) 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona


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