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Welcome to the Land of the Free

When the first immigrants arrived at Ellis Island excited about starting their new life in the land of opportunity, I wonder if they were confronted with as many rules as a bunch of fun-loving Europeans encountered on a seemingly harmless weekend jaunt to Killington.

It would be fair to say that I, and many of my European counterparts, have had some trouble adapting to both the bewildering choices and absurd regulations presented to us as part of normal life in the US. Needless to say, some of these rules are designed for our own protection and are inherently sensible but some of them are downright ludicrous: for example, did you know that in the state of Massachusetts, it is illegal for taxi drivers to make love in the front seat of their cabs while on duty? Oh, and my personal favorite, in Wyoming, couples are banned from having sex while standing in a store’s walk-in meat freezer!

Now, close to home (e.g. HBS), things are not that different: The degree of comfort that most of my fellow American students displayed in section when discussing the disruptive effects of bathroom usage during class and whether some sort of regulation was merited should have set off the alarm bells. So, I’m 27 years old and I need to ask permission to use the bathroom? Well there’s an easy way out of this one: just smile, pretend that I know what they’re talking about, and carry on as before, right? They’ll just attribute it to me being a crazy European.

After a semester’s worth of discussions on the disruptive effects of during-class bathroom usage, we should have been prepared for the following paradoxical sign on a chairlift:

“Skiing is expressing your freedom. Control yourself! Do not violate others’ rights on the slopes.”

Prohibition and the “State Liquor Store”
For a group of fun-loving Europeans, reading this on Sunday afternoon was the perfect ending to a laughter-filled weekend. We became perplexed on the drive up when we stopped at the “State Liquor Store”. A few of our “deep thoughts”:

 Does the government really control the liquor store?
 Which insightful bureaucrat made the decision not to sell beer?
 And, finally, whose brilliant idea was it to create the world’s first “vending machine restaurant”?

Dinner provided the day’s comedy highlights:
The Smoking Zone

 While waiting in the bar to be seated, we learned about the “drink ordering zone”, within which all drinkers must be located before a drink is purchased. So much for the chivalrous attempt to buy the ladies a drink. This zone is not to be confused with the “smoking zone,” apparently limited to arm’s length of the bar. We discovered this when Luca was asked to smoke facing the bar but not permitted to exhale in the opposite direction.
Double Parking

 We also discovered Vermont’s “double parking rule”. This was hard to believe, but we were told (gullible Europeans!) that it is against state law to order an alcoholic beverage while consuming another type of alcohol. So much for the attempt to surprise Magnus with champagne on his birthday…

No “Being” Allowed
 Upon finishing our wine we were allowed champagne, only to be immediately asked to leave the table to make space for other customers. When we obligingly got up and went to the dance floor, we were actually asked to pay a cover fee. This request was so comical that I think the bouncer laughed with us as we walked by him and enjoyed dancing for the rest of the evening (thanks to a two-man “dance patrol” ensuring our safety by prohibiting us from stirring up the dance-floor sawdust or placing our drinks in non-designated areas).
Choose Fast

Perhaps a sample of a typical interaction between one of us and one of “them” would clarify for the readers where I am coming from:
Smiling waiter: “Hello. What can I get for you this morning?”
Mikkel: “Eggs, please”

Smiling waiter: “Will that be egg-beaters, egg-whites, organic or regular eggs? Hard boiled, soft boiled, poached, scrambled, fried, over easy, over medium or sunny side up?”

Mikkel: “just eggs, thanks”

Smiling waiter: “Bacon, sausage-links or ham?”

Mikkel: “Sure…oh, I have to decide….sausage, I guess.”

Smiling waiter: “And what type of toast would you like with that? We have white, wheat, sour dough, seven-grain, French, rye, pumpernickel and poppy seed…”

Mikkel: “I dunno – whatever’s dark”
I’ll spare you the drink ordering part, since that was even more challenging. Let’s just say that breakfast consisted of a few more options than at a typical European resort.

Mealtimes proved a real minefield for us, so we chose to eat lunch in a cafeteria at the top of the slopes. Dinner reminded us how much we have to learn:

 In order to eat at the only pizza restaurant in town, the maitre d’ convinced us that we (obviously) had to pay a cover charge, since the restaurant was affiliated with a nightclub upstairs. The maitre d’ seemed quite concerned that, after our meal, we would sneak by him, go upstairs, and swindle him out of $5 each.

 Having failed NEG 101 and paid the fee (no BATNA!), we next proceeded to sit down together by adding a couple of barstools to our proposed dining area at the bar. How stupid – an obvious violation of Vermont fire codes!

 Since we couldn’t sit together at the bar, we prepared to move to the restaurant tables. This was a non-starter, since our waitress was quick to point out that food must be consumed in the location it is ordered. Using all of our ingenuity (and none of our pride), we decided to eat standing up.

 Standing up proved excellent practice for our next event, queuing up outside (yes, outside) a Killington hotspot for a band called the “Green Genes” (I’m not making this up). After showing our passports to prove that we were not in fact 15 year-olds trying to break the law, it was comforting to see a brand new dance patrol controlling the GG groupies.

Don’t feel too sorry for us. We did enjoy a few activities that might not technically fall within Community Standards:
 Lighting shots of Sambuca (a clear violation of fire regulations)
 Off-piste skiing (with two official warnings to show for it)
 Vodka saunas (the sign only said “no water” on the sauna stones)
 Rolling in the parking lot snow before jumping in the hot tub (no comment, ask the Scandinavians)
 Champagne in the Jacuzzi (next to the “no beverages” sign)

On our way home, it was an Italian who, completely fed up with the rules, was driven to light up a cigarette at a petrol station on the way home. Boy, it’s good to be back at HBS, the home of freedom (at least until I get expelled for being late for my 8:40 am class.)

February 4, 2002
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