This week’s “This American Life” was a rebroadcast of a show from 2000 called “Americans in Paris.” As an American living not in Paris (but very nearby) for almost a year and a half now, I could identify with much of the good and bad described in the radio program. That show combined with my recent list-making activity and imminent second visit back to the US next week got me thinking about why I like living in Europe. Much as you get used to a place, there is always the backdrop of being a foreigner which as David Sedaris points out can either feel like an adventure or humiliation. This list isn’t meant to be a comparative report with the US, more a summary of things I’ve noticed living over here.
The Treasures of Living in Europe List:
- Proximity to wherever you want to go today. As my husband says, if we’re going to live in the Omaha of Europe (aka Luxembourg), at least we are central to everything. Continental travel used to be accessible mainly by a Eurail Pass, but now low-cost point to point Southwest-like airlines can land you anywhere in Europe for dirt cheap. With a 90 minute drive, we can fly to more than 50 places in Europe for less than 30 euros.
- Pedestrianism gone wild. Walking in Europe isn’t a form of exercise; it’s the defacto mode of transportation. Everybody walks and cities were designed with it in mind. No one does it with walking shoes. As the wind and rain beat down on your umbrella and trailing trolley, there’s always a pair of impractical women’s shoes ahead of you to keep you ambling on and a pile of approaching dog poop to keep you focused. As time goes on, my own shoes have become less and less sensible. Next up: Bicycling in a dress. This will happen.
- No one driving 30kph in the fast lane. When roads must be used, European drivers (in small cars with manual transmissions) may be (are likely to be) aggressive and rude, but they know how to drive them. If there is a difference of opinion on who has the right of way, chances are 99.8% you are wrong and 87% you will hear about it. Once south of the Swiss Alps, the odds flip to your favor as Giovanni will be drifting into your lane.
- A duty to holiday. Europeans are serious about time off. Holiday time is generous and the cultural practice is that it’s used not accrued. There is no badge of honor for having 6 weeks of unused vacation. There’s a lot to love about that and a sunny outlook for sunscreen manufacturers who charge as much for a big bottle of sunscreen as the airlines charge to fly to Marrakech. Most everything is closed on Sundays. There’s mostly a lot to love about that too.
- I’ll drink to that. Though dumbfounded by the prevalence of human chimneys, the Europeans generally have a healthy, moderate attitude towards alcohol. (I blogged about this one at length previously.) Thank goodness too because they make a lot of stuff worthy of consumption. There is national pride is the local home brew – be it be beer, wine, or an enduring after dinner liqueur – and absolutely no apologizing for not having Pinot Grigio (tsk tsk) by the glass.
- Sacred spaces. Beautiful old churches. Parks. Non-vehicular city squares. Impossible views of old and new butted up against each other. We have these spaces in the US too, but there’s just so many here and a lot less beauty bark to endure.
- People dress. If you wear a necklace in Seattle, people will ask you if you are on your way to a job interview, a funeral, or Girl’s Night Out. If you wear exercise clothes in Europe, people will ask you if you are coming from the gym and wonder privately if the showers were broken. People – men, women, children - dress nicely in Europe. All. The.Time. Here there are no days off, not even Saturday morning at your kid’s sports practice. This one has taken some getting used to, but the “good stuff” at the back of my closet (and maybe a few new things) have appreciated seeing the light of day.
- Healthcare that works. This one needs its own post. Say what you will about socialized medicine, but my experience here is that it really works. I didn’t come over as a believer, but it’s one of the few things in Europe that has been affordable and convenient. Really. It’s been like magic, without any privacy curtains.
- Mindful eating. Yes, there is less processed food and the bread and cheese is worthy of all praise, but what I love most is the relationship that Europeans have with food. It is meant to be savored and enjoyed, not counted for calories or wolfed down in front of the TV (or a computer screen writing a blog) with some crisps and a 32 ounce Diet Coke. (I'd say please don't judge me, but I know you understand.)
- Festival happy. On any given weekend day, you can be sure there will be a festival – with a beer tent and people in dress – celebrating some obscure patron saint or king - somewhere within a 100 kilometer radius. Absolutely no one will expect you to know or care about the origins of the festival, simply join in the fun!
- Going mute. One of my friend’s describes living in a place where you don’t know the language a little like living behind glass. French-speaking people are plenty enough nice, but they certainly won’t go out of their way to knock on your glass or really even smile unless pressed by your toothy grin that threatens their cone of silence. Sometimes the inability to communicate makes for massive humiliations, but other times it’s incredibly freeing to experience the world with your other senses.
- Pace of life. This one is my favorite. You have no idea how hardwired we Americans are towards productivity (in work and play), how nurtured we are for convenience and ease, until you live in a place that measures a day not but how much your accomplished but by who you saw and whether you got a proper lunch. Given that, it’s best to empty oneself of all the stacked up annoyances of the day (which come at foreigners fast and furious)– BREATHE – scale back tomorrow’s list and be grateful for the chance to exercise your Live in the Moment muscles. You're certainly dressed for it.