I just flew in from Edinburgh and boy are my arms tired.

Ba-da bing!

But seriously folks, I really have been gone for the last 21/2 weeks, on vacation in Europe, on a sort of blitzkrieg tour. The Kelly clan went from Berlin to Paris, then took a meandering, roundabout- filled drive through England, Wales and Scotland.

Through the miracle of overtime, my column never stopped running (a state of affairs that, believe me, will not be duplicated when I go to the beach next month).

I returned to Washington struck by two insights. The first is that American culture has conquered the world. Cars pulling up to stoplights on Berlin's Unter den Linden street and on the Champs-Elysees in Paris throbbed with hip-hop from their rolled-down windows. Young women from Wannsee to Llandudno proudly displayed their belly flesh between low-rise jeans and high-rise shirts. Posters for "Shrek 2" were everywhere.

My second insight was that my first insight was wrong. Even with the Yankeefication of the world, countries refuse to capitulate completely. They may buy our music and watch our movies, but they still cling to many of their precious little customs.

For example the cars thumping out DMX and Eminem were Fiat Puntos and Nissan Micras, tiny, oddly shaped things that would fit inside most American bathtubs. In Britain, members of what we might call the "service" industry seem intent on carrying on the spirit of Basil Fawlty, the surly hotelier played by John Cleese in the BBC sitcom.

Forget ice in your tap water. While you're at it, forget your tap water. And I find it oddly endearing that the nation that produced Shakespeare seems incapable of producing a toilet that can be flushed with confidence or a shower nozzle with enough pressure to rinse the conditioner from your hair.

In Berlin, I noticed that women favored brightly colored sneakers with the thinnest and flattest of soles. In Edinburgh, men wore two-piece suits with compact little lapels, and short neckties with knots the size of their fists.

All of which, of course, is the reason we travel. We want things to be different when we go to a different place. Still, it's good to be home.

Hand Across the Water

While we were waiting to board our plane at Dulles, I noticed two of my more interesting fellow passengers. They had battered guitar cases. One was tall, with a long ponytail and arms covered with tattoos; the other was shorter and plumper, but with a hipsterish air. I ended up sitting next to them on the connecting flight from London to Berlin.

"So what's in the guitar cases" I asked.

"Guitars," said Bruce Falkinburg, the less tattooed fellow, confirming my suspicions.

It turns out that Bruce and Scott "Wino" Weinrich are in a heavy metal band called the Hidden Hand and were embarking on a European tour. They hail from Olney, of all places, and I smiled at the prospect that when they took to the stage in Berlin, Leipzig, Rotterdam and Birmingham, the announcer would shout out, "Here they are, direct from Olney, the Hidden Hand!"

The Almost-Final Stretch

I don't think it's officially time to worry yet. It is time to start worrying about worrying though, which is what I'm doing. The reason is that with just 21/2 weeks left in our Send a Kid to Camp campaign we're about a half-million dollars shy of our goal of $750,000.

This is all new to me, so I don't know if we'll get some incredible influx at the very end, or if there are some donors out there just waiting for me to produce the exact arrangement of words that will flip a switch in their brain and send them toward the checkbook. I have until July 23 to conjure up that magic phraseology.

I realize that many demands are made on your charity. I'm constantly called at home or approached in parking lots or interrupted by a knock at the front door by some worthy outfit looking for a donation. And I always say the same thing: Send me something in writing.

That's why I value this unique fundraising drive so much. Every summer Bob Levey would send you something in writing here in the pages of The Post: a dispatch from the wilds of Fauquier County or the story of a kid helped by camp. And now I'm doing it.

If you read these and find no value in what Camp Moss Hollow does, then I can't fault you for not contributing. But if you think that plucking a child from some of the area's grimmest neighborhoods for a week on an unspoiled Virginia mountainside can help him or her grow, mature, blossom or just enjoy some blessed relaxation, then I hope you will contribute. Every little bit helps, even if it's just $5, $10 or $20.

I don't think it's impossible to reach our goal. Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to: Attention, Lockbox, Department 0500, Washington, D.C. 20073-0500.

To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/camp. Click on the icon that says, "Make Your Tax-Deductible Donation."

To contribute by phone with Visa or MasterCard, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in KIDS, or 5437, and follow the instructions.

Or you can go to a McCormick & Schmick's Seafood today and order the New York-style cheesecake with graham cracker crust or to an M&S Grill and treat yourself to apple pie with Thomas Sweet ice cream. Proceeds will benefit Send a Kid to Camp.