"Yu vant dat mit eis?" the German flight attendant asked politely as she and her comrades wheeled their overflowing and rickety drink carts down the left-side aisle. I was in an aisle seat heading back to the United States from a vacation in the Middle East by way of the Lufthansa fortress hub at Frankfurt. Lufthansa is a solid airline, one of the premier carriers in the world not so much for its level of service but more for its attention to detail and its legendary cultural compulsion towards operating on time. As the saying goes, you can set your watch by the German train system and use that to hop a flight on Lufthansa just about anywhere the sun shines. Unfortunately, German culture along with the rest of Europe in general foregoes one thing most Americans like me can't live without - ice.
After ordering my Coke which, again per German preference, came with a spritz of lemon fizz, the flight attendant served an eight ounce tumbler of the sparkling beverage with, count'em, two small cubes of ice. I mean these were the kind of cubes we Yankees automatically write off the minute they hit the drink simply to begin cooling our favorite libation. Sure enough these two pitiful things began circling in tighter circles in the center of the cup and getting smaller with each rotation. I couldn't tap her on the shoulder to ask for more; true to her training and upbringing she was already three rows back and heading to the galley almost as fast as the 747 was roaring to Chicago.
I've often engaged in conversations with friends and acquaintances from several countries around Europe and the result is predictably the same. Europeans prefer all beverages except coffee and tea at room temperature. It is the natural way in which water comes, the only way to drink beer or whiskey and chilled at best for vodka and white wines but nothing ever comes "on the rocks." The Germans and other peoples around the Alps like their milk and cream as close to factory fresh as it can get which quite often means warm from the cow or at least warmed up on the stove or steamed before hitting the table. Besides, goes the final argument, the ice takes up too much room in the glass for all the money paid to enjoy the drink in the first place.
"Y'all don't live in the desert!" goes one of my counter-arguments. Neither do most Americans but the heat of the southern United States virtually requires drinks to be as close to freezing as possible while maintaining liquidity. Who wants to drink "room temperature" water when the outside temperature and humidity can bring that water seemingly close to boiling? If the dry heat of the Southwest comes in to it along with triple-digit temperatures, if we could drink a solid block of ice we would!
The bottom line is each side views ice according to custom. When in Europe I've had table or bottled water served as is and thought nothing of it. Bottled water is cheap and tap water is free where any other drink in Europe can easily can set you back almost a solid day's pay. Besides, even grown men like me love the memories that come with warm milk in the morning - once you get past wondering if the milk was left out all night.
Not too long ago I remember a conversation with a lady who shared my passion for Coca-Cola. We traded tips on the best way to serve the fizzy confection. Hers was a bit more ritualistic than mine, requiring the placement of three cubes of ice precisely, no more no less, with the soda poured over that slowly. Mine isn't as elaborate but it left her and all the Europeans I've ever met thunderstruck just the same.
I prefer the inflight service on foreign flag carriers like Lufthansa, Qantas and Emirates but I know that, if nothing else, I can get ice on United and American. Fill that cup/glass/whatever to the absolute rim with ice, preferably crushed, and pour!