Some years ago, I went on a personal journey that changed my life. I had the privilege of living in Spain for many years and traveling extensively to other European countries. Savoring different cuisines and traditions was a delightful experience. Living without a car keep me in shape and using public transportation was a new experience since I grew up in a community where public transportation did not exist. Always in my heart are the many new friends who offered their friendship, kindness and love in addition to a lifetime of personal and educational experiences. It was a journey I will never forget!!!
I love sharing my experiences because I believe it is important to keep our minds and hearts open while traveling. Travel is an EDUCATION. I love and appreciate my country, and I am very patriotic. As a traveller, there were many things that jumped out while living abroad. The following are just 5 things that jumped out almost immediately:
1. Efficient and Reliable Public Transportation – In a typical European vacation, you can experience airplanes, regional trains, subways & metros, buses, taxis, funiculars, chairlifts, High Speed trains underneath the English Channel, ferry boats, private motor boats, row boats, sightseeing boats, scooters, yes, the dreaded manual transmission rental car! Everything runs remarkably on-time and is clean, affordable, efficient and reliable. Plus, you walk a lot...I mean A LOT...and survive just fine. Returning home, I reverted back to American way who spends way too much time behind the wheel of a car out of necessity.
2. “Slow Food” and the high quality of local ingredients - While we have farmers who are being paid NOT to grow crops and the government spends millions (billions?) of dollars on GMO research, the Europeans are in the middle of a “Slow Food” boom...a Farm-to-Table movement. Most Europeans shop locally, seasonally and often (sometimes daily) from their neighborhood markets for fresh ingredients and there are strict governmental rules banning certain chemical additives, pesticides and GMO products. Cuisine is pretty simple, but delicious, because they start with fresh, local and seasonal ingredients – most locally grown or artisanally produced. Tomatoes are not meant to be at their juiciest all year round, people! Olives are harvested in November....Grapes in September....Asparagus in the spring. If you eat with the seasons, your food will taste better, be better for you and you might actually find yourself a little bit more connected to how Mother Nature intended us to eat!
3. “Family First” – European families tend to spend a lot of time together...the majority of adults work reasonable hours and a lot of school districts actually release the kids for lunch (to go home...not to the local McDonalds) for a meal with their family and a post-lunch rest. You will notice the difference in the number of families you see out together and the kids (and adults) are NOT glued to their cell phones 24/7! Sure, Europeans are “connected”, but not nearly as obsessively as we are here in America. It is refreshing to have your cell phone on Airplane Mode...at least for a while. Of course, you can enjoy connecting to the hotel Wi-Fi in the evenings to Skype and Message with friends and family back home, but your days are not interrupted with constant cyber-contact. Houses and apartments are also much smaller in European cities and children live at home with their parents much longer than here in the US...!
4. Wine, Beer and Alcohol are not “taboo” – The Europeans have a much more relaxed attitude towards alcohol – in fact wine (and beer to an extent) is a part of their everyday life. However, it is a very different part of the experience. Having an “aperitif” such as a glass of Prosecco or an Aperol Spritz before a meal, followed by a glass or two of wine with your meal and possibly a shot of limoncello after (just to settle your stomach, of course!) is very common. However, you don’t see nearly as many Europeans drinking alcohol without food, or binge drinking in a bar for the sole purpose of getting drunk, as you do here in USA. Maybe it is because we keep all alcohol away from our kids until they are 21 with threats that they can be arrested and their lives ruined? Or that we have such a party culture where it is “cool” to get sloppy drunk on the weekends? European children are brought-up on wine (usually diluted with water) with meals and taught the proper ways for enjoying it in moderation. I’m sure there are those who abuse it in Europe, just like there are those of us here in USA who don’t....but there does seem to be a huge difference in the attitudes.
5. Who you are is NOT “what you do” – When you are introduced to a new person here in the USA, one of the first questions asked is “What do you do?” The Europeans don’t care! They care more about who you are....where you are from, your family, what you stand for, your hobbies and your history. Sure, your job or career is a vital part of your daily life, but not the headliner..."Hi! My name is Barbara and I own a travel agency” or “Nice to meet you! My name is Robert and I’m an engineer” will bore Europeans to death. Conversely, when you meet a new European friend, the first question out of your mouth shouldn’t be “So what do YOU do for a living?” I swear to you....they really Don’t Care! It’s amazing and refreshing!
So these are my choices for “5 things Europeans have figured out a little bit better than we do”. I’m sure some of you will agree and some will not, and I would LOVE to see your comments! Can you think of more things to add to the list? Do you disagree with any of these? Let me hear from you!