One of the most easily spotted cultural differences between America and all of the European Countries we visited was our experiences in restaurants. This distinction was especially noticeable when we got meals on our own rather than with the group, and the reservations and accommodations that came with that.
The first thing we observed upon arrival at a restaurant was there was typically no host or hostess waiting to seat people, and instead we were expected to seat ourselves at an open table. The next unusual thing was the lack of water on the table. Water was almost never included with the meal, and cost about as much as a beer or soft drink. We also had to be careful to remember to ask for still water or the waiter would bring out carbonated water by default. And whether it’s water or a soft drink we had to make it last because there wouldn’t be any free refills when we’re done. Another thing we noticed as the meals went on is that the service was often significantly slower than we were used to. It was very common to wait a while after sitting down even to place our drink orders. Once we had finally ordered and gotten our food, we would regularly see that the portions, while almost always enough, were definitely smaller than a restaurant meal in the United States.
At the end of the meal, the last unusual thing for us was the payment system. Even after clearing everything off our tables, the waiters wouldn’t bring the check to the table unless we asked for it. And once we got the checks, waiters were typically visibly annoyed by our requests for separate checks, payments by card, or even cash payments that required too much change. Lastly, there was not near as much of an expectation of a tip at European restaurants, and we would usually just round our bill up a little.
The tour of the Mercedes Benz plant in Bremen was probably my favorite company tour of the trip. It was incredible to see the level of automation at the first plant we visited, and to see each one of the complicated machines working together to produce the bodies of the different models. Our tour guide said that this part of the manufacturing process was currently 95% automated, and that was easy to believe considering how few people we saw working at this plant.
It was also interesting to compare that plant with the next we saw. The second building was where the cars were fitted with their interior, and this building had far more human workers than the previous. Almost all of the work we saw being done on the cars in this building was by humans. I would assume that this part of the manufacturing process is much more difficult to automate than the first, but Professor Brouwer informed some of us that although that may be true, Mercedes has heard from their customers that it’s important to them that a significant portion of the car is built by humans rather than machines. So even if they were able to automate this part of the process, they most likely would not implement it.
We started the day off with a trip to Speyer, a historic town about a twenty minute drive away from where we are staying in Hockenheim. In Speyer, we walked to the nearby cathedral and toured its sanctuary and the famous crypt. The crypt is a large underground burial chamber below the church that has a chapel as well. After touring the cathedral, we had some time to explore the rest of the city. Speyer has a nice little downtown area only a short walk from the cathedral, as well as a couple of other churches just down the road.
After seeing some of the sights of Speyer, we hopped back on the bus to make our way to Heidelberg. We began our time in Heidelberg with a few hours of free time for lunch and walking around the city or hiking up the hill across the river. After free time we met back up to start our tour of the castle and part of the old town. It was cool to hear a lot of details on the tour that would be easy to miss without a guide. Once the tour was over we had a few more hours in the city to find a place to eat and see some of the historic sights at night. We ended the day with a bus ride back to our hotel in Hockenheim.