Art by Paul Rios
The sound of Euros in the hand is quite unlike any sort of noise American coins can muster. There’s an unexplained kind of complication distinguishing between the two, although in theory, it shouldn’t be so difficult. Math is math and numbers are numbers, but somehow, the absence of bills below the amount of five creates roadblocks in my mind. I have lived in Europe long enough to have assimilated, yet I still never quite managed to get a handle on the coins, always stumbling over the size and amount and feel of them all. To me, a quarter feels like home, while a 1 Euro coin just feels heavy.
But the bounty of coins is sometimes more handy than not, at least when it comes to things like ice cream. There’s a certain amount of novelty surrounding the idea of coins with higher denominations. I could reach in my pocket and pay for ice cream, or a bottle of water, or half a liter of beer, while using only one or two coins.
And this matters because it feels as though – in my mind – there is an abundance of ice cream in Europe, while it isn’t everywhere in the States. But then again, maybe it’s just a difference of presentation. There, I’d be hard-pressed to find a city without a Baskin Robbins, and it seems as though frozen yogurt shops have popped up literally everywhere, most often in the form of tart.
But the difference is: ice cream in America is something you seek out and go to. Ice cream in Europe is something you just come across. Creameries are a pastime but ice cream stands are a ritual. The disparity is subtle, but it exists, and it’s difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced both.
We were standing in the square of the town marketplace in Bonn, surrounded by glorious looking buildings covered in a shell of ornate carvings and painted pastel shades, like candy-coated Easter egg homes lining the square. The streets themselves weren’t like normal streets either, but the old-fashioned cobblestone kind considered antiquated by those of us born and raised in the New World. I could picture horse-drawn carriages of days gone by making their way through the plaza, the clip-clop of hoofs on stones echoing around the mock fortress the buildings created on all sides.
Instead, this square was filled with heaps of people, making their way to and from starting and ending points, jutting in and out of side streets, perusing shop windows in search of necessities or gifts. In that group, also, were the four of us. We sauntered lazily across the open space, stopping only when we came to an ice cream stand.
I wondered what kind of ice cream he would order; he wasn’t the type to have favorites, although he certainly did have an opinion as to which things were his least favorites. When it came to ice cream, mint and chocolate don’t belong together, is what he told me.
I remember him shaking his head a few days earlier when, as we walked along the narrow touristy streets lining the area near Kölner Dom, I ordered a scoop of After Eight, the British name for mint chocolate chip. We were looking for postcards when he turned to me and said, “Now we get ice cream.” It wasn’t a statement, nor was it a question, but more of a suggestion, for we had just passed an Eisimbiss.
And when I told him what I wanted, he gave me one of those looks I can interpret but can’t really place into words. Recalling the conversation about flavor compatibility, I knew what he was thinking, and I shook my head as well, a response of his response to me.
He ordered in German for the both of us, and then counted out a handful of Euro coins in his hand and placed them on the counter as our cones were handed across. “How much do I owe?” I asked, and he shook his head yet again, this time to signify that it was his treat.
In Bonn, I opted for something more adventurous: blueberry. With the clink of the Euros in his hand, a transaction was made. He counted out his coins and placed them on the counter in a perfectly aligned stack, largest to smallest. We all grabbed our cones and headed out of the square, down toward the Rhine.