Opinion

Message in a water bottle

by
November 07, 2017

For those travelling abroad, expressions like, ‘good morning,’ ‘how are you?’ and ‘does this beret come in green?’ seem to be among the most common for travellers to learn in the local language.

This is, of course, ideal, on the off chance the traveller might come across a social opportunity (or a rather becoming beret, in a less than ideal colour).

But I have another two words to learn, to add to the travel lexicon.

Arguably more helpful than any of these.

The words are ‘still’ and ‘sparkling’.

I’m referring to bottled water varieties, almost inseparable by appearance in convenience stores, kiosks or supermarkets in some foreign countries, and often only labelled in the local language.

On an afternoon walking foreign streets in the height of summer, happening upon a water vendor can be a little slice of hydrated paradise.

‘‘Oh thank you,’’ you may say, approaching the friendly foreigner selling aforementioned water, grateful to have found them.

The transaction completes, you have water bottle in hand, with only one thing left to do.

You raise it to your mouth, expecting a wave of hydration, relief, to wash over.

But it never arrives. Instead, you’re hit with a carbonated mouthful of sparkling water.

It may now be clear I have chosen poorly in such situations.

Having made the mistake once, you vow to remember the difference. The distinct names, or colours.

But in reality, you never learn, ensuring you make the same sparkling mistake over and over.

Your mind starts playing games with you, when next buying water as you try and determine the difference.

‘‘My first instinct was the one on the left. But maybe that was my first instinct a few days ago, when I made a poor choice.’’ But then again ...

You search for clues ... ‘‘Is a green label more likely to represent bubbles?’’ ‘‘Is a blue label more the colour associated with still water or carbonated water?’’

But, facing the bright neon beverage fridge, there are few solid clues to indicate which of the two varieties of water staring back is which.

You wish you had looked up the words for the different varieties of water.

Some languages helpfully describe still and sparkling water as ‘with gas’ or ‘without gas’.

This may also serve to complicate matters.

It also proves the point that almost nothing in life is better ‘with gas’.

Perhaps the issue partly has to do with sparkling water being placed next to still water at all, when the similarities appear to begin and end at the word ‘water’.

Perhaps the kind vendor at the checkout alerts you to the fact you’ve chosen sparkling water, concerned it may not have been your first choice ‘‘Oh, I know,’’ you might reply, too proud to return to the fridge and switch to still water.

The reality is this whole dilemma can firmly be filed under miniscule first-world cultural and language differences, and that in parts of the world access to clean drinking water at all remains a serious concern, a health crisis. Estimates report hundreds of millions worldwide without access to safe water.

Perhaps the solution is to spare a thought for this, hedge your bets, pick one and enjoy whatever variety you end up with, whether still or sparkling.

Thomas Moir is a News journalist.

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