Archive: Learning from Europe
Free bikes in Copenhagen, retail pot in Switzerland, toilets with a light flush option, high rise brothels in Frankfurt Nearly nothing spent on military and health care for all. No hand guns on the streets but no car seats for babies and no helmets on bikers. Way more smokers but far fewer people in prison. Europe handles social needs and problems differently than the USA does. How can America learn from Europe? Which slice of European lifestyles would you most like to see in the USA? Here's what you thought:
People Friendly Cities
The driving force behind the American city is commerce — the dollar. We go downtown (or to the mall) to do our business, grab some food, catch a movie and leave. It's not really a place to linger, stroll, and connect with people like cities are in Europe. European cities have heart — a place where one goes to mingle with the onflowing, exuberant river of life and humanity.
Last May, I stood in the Puerto del Sol in Madrid at midnight with people of all ethnic groups and nationalities in peace and harmony enjoying the street musicians, jugglers, and vendors. With the full moon above, I was reveling in the scene that I was a part of — feeling so connected with everyone around me. The music, the laughter, the singing, the stars, the fountains, the bargaining, the smiles, the all pervading feeling of joy. All of us together celebrating our humanity in such a natural way.
This is something I have felt in Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam — all over Europe. People are the life blood of the European cities. Yes, commerce flows there, too — but in a more humane, gentle way. It has its proper place. There is a balance that we have lost in the U.S. to the frenzy of buying, consuming and getting ahead — placing the dollar on the altar of our stressed out society.
Going to Europe taught me there is another, wiser way. More healthy. It is summed up in the word "Gemutlichkeit" — the very European attitude toward life, that of "savoring the moment." How could we have forgotten something so precious? Europe is there to remind us, it sure did for me!
European cars get an average of 34 miles per gallon. If American cars averaged that, we would have no need to import any Middle Eastern oil. If, on top of that, America had developed a a public transportation system similar to the one in Europe we would be totally energy self sufficient. This information comes from Clyde Prestowitz (a conservative Republican who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations) in his book "Rogue Nation."
Seattle, WA USA 12/24/03
Enjoying Paris with Non-Diffused Hair
I agree that Americans are spoiled. My husband and I were in Paris for six beautiful days. The people were gracious and the food splendid, but I almost ruined the trip for both of us due to my hair dryer not working.
I know it is irrational, but I am Southern and a girl doesn't leave her house without her make-up and hair done! If I don't do my hair and put on make up in the morning, my day goes downhill from there. I bought what I thought was a hair dryer that would work in France but it didn't. I pitched a fit and acted like a spoiled brat, insisting that my husband go out and get me a new hair dryer that would work. Heavens, I couldn't go out looking like I did. Well, he had a fit, too, and said that I needed to buck up and who cared if my hair was not "diffused." After tears etc., and the comment from my husband that how could I not get my mind off of my hair when Paris was just outside the door, I felt pretty lame and did "buck up."
We went to the Louvre and spent the day and I completely forgot about my hair. When I used the ladies room at one point, I couldn't believe that my hair didn't even look that much different. From then on, I stopped caring about my appearance and started to really enjoy myself.
This trip did more to free me from the sound of my mother's voice in
my head than three years in therapy. After seeing some "ugly" americans
pitch fits about stupid things (like hair dryers!), it was downright embarrassing!
Things are different there, but it became important for me not to place
a judgement on the differences as being "better" in the States. And now
I have stopped using my hair dryer all together! Such liberation. Next
trip, the make-up may be left at home. I am baby stepping. And we are
spoiled; I sure am. It is humbling to see people make so much out of life
without the things that we in the US deem required like the Lexus SUVs
and on and on. Thank you France!
Atlanta, GA USA 12/03/03
Taking things for granted
Every time I go to Europe, I realize how much we "Americans" take for granted. I read also a post from a 13 yr. old. She is right, we can live without many things if we just think about it. On this past trip, I was doing laundry and I was a little bothered that it took nearly 2 hours to wash a load of clothes and then about 2 days to dry them. Also, I had spilt something greasy on my sweatshirt and I was wondering, how I was going to get it out? I went to the store in search of something..I did find it, but there was not a great selection of products to choose from. In addition, I realized that the small things do not matter...a trash can in the bathroom, a tea kettle for tea, a dryer, etc. What I learned was that when you do not have something, you must find other ways to solve your problem or just have patience. Is a dryer really a necessity? No! What do you think our ancestors did? So, let stop taking things for granted. Enjoy life... You certainly can survive without a lot things..Think about it. We "Americans" are spoiled! Enjoy your time whereever you visit and forget about the little things...they are petty.
San Diego, CA USA 11/15/03
I don't think you can blame the deaths in Europe during the heat wave on their health care system. You should remember they don't have [widespread] air conditioning over there (because normally it is not needed) except in hotels and businesses and hospitals. If we didn't have air conditioning in the United States we would have many deaths every summer.
Austin, TX USA 09/26/03
Defense and Health Care
It's worth pointing out that the U.S. indirectly subsidizes Europe's welfare state. We pay a disproportionate share of the cost of Europe's defense. As a result, Europe can afford to spend more on government health care insurance. And the U.S. has a disproportionate share of the costs and benefits of a large, effective military.
There has to be serious doubt about the actual quality of Europe's health
care. Last month over 10,000 French citizens died because of the heat
wave. Patients had to wait for help because medical staff remained on
vacation. Funerals were postponed so family members could complete their
vacation. The attitude seemed to be that the government would take care
Alexandria, VA USA 09/19/03
Europe's Low Birth Rate
Unless the average family has at least 2 or more children, the population will decline in number. Hence, the precious social welfare system will decline. And the only answer is to bring in foreign workers to help pay the taxes that keep the system going. At some point in the next 50 years, Italians will be a tiny minority in their own country! (if its still their country) I didn't mean to suggest in my previous posting that tax breaks or outright bonuses is the right way to solve the problem in Europe. But the fact that it is happening shows that some governments recognize the problem and are very worried about the long-term trends. Frankly, this whole problem stems from the ever-increasing materialism and hedonism that is slowly destroying Western civilization like a cancer. If lack of money is the excuse for being childless, then why are affluent people also refusing to have children?
More regarding children
One of the reasons Europeans are starting families so late is because it is just so expensive to live there. Italy has one of the lowest birthrates in Europe, and people will live with their parents until they're married. An apartment or house is well beyond a single person's budget. Most are starting to wait until they are established in a career before starting a family. And statistics show that the later you start a family, the smaller it will be. As well, Europe has a high standard of education. Educated parents often have less children. Don't forget: European countries have lower rates of teen pregnancy than we do. They must be doing something right.
Europeans definitely do not have a low opinion of children. They just
do not buy into the baby worshipping culture that is so entrenched in
North American society. Next time you're in Europe, check out how many
families you see out together: in parks, at a museum, or eating together.
And then look to see how many 'no children' or 'adults only' signs (I
haven't seen any yet) you see, and you will probably change your mind.
Dogs or kids?
The one thing I dislike vehemently about European culture is the high regard for dogs and the low regard for children. Many times, I saw people leaving their children in strollers outside of shops, but the dogs were allowed in. It's a shame that in such a beautiful city as Vienna, dogs are the preferred children. Of course, the European will pay dearly for this approach to the family. You will see many more strikes paralyze everyday life. The aging population and typical families with zero to one children will see a future of declining health, welfare and retirement benefits. Some European countries are now handing out bonuses and big tax breaks for people to have more kids. But it may already be too late. The future of European culture is bleak. Don't throw away your Rick Steves travel videos. You'll want to remember how it was.
Europeans Are Dog Lovers
One thing I liked about Europe (besides the history, culture, etc., etc.) is their respect and appreciation for domestic pets — particularly dogs. I saw so many dogs with their families sitting in restaurants and pubs, walking with them in grocery stores and on hiking trails. It was wonderful to see! In this country dogs are not allowed in most places — Forest Service campgrounds (unless leashed), and never on the trails. My two large dogs are as much a part of my family as my husband and myself, and I try to take them everywhere I go. I carry poop sacks in the two cars, tied to the leashes, etc., something I rarely saw in Europe, however.
If it were up to me I would have all restaurants non-smoking, and sections
reserved only for people with children. I'd rather hear a couple of dogs
barking incessantly than a child screaming at the top of its lungs with
the parents ignoring the noise as if it were music to their ears! It certainly
IS NOT music to mine!
Denver , CO USA 08/04/03
Even though cars have gotten larger in Europe, they are still much smaller than in the US. This was completely understandable as you drive through narrow streets and pay 45 euros to fill up a Fiat Punto. Driving is more participatory and active in Europe — less chatting on the cell phone, as you drink your Big Gulp or latte in the center lane of the interstate in your automatic transmission SUV.
My husband and I just returned from a 2 week vacation in Italy. Some of the things that I appreciated are:
1. Their sense of style. These people look put together, even if they're casual. I didn't see 1 woman in a pair of shorts. I saw a lot of military and sporty chic outfits too. It was inspiring to me.
2. Their approach to meals. They sit and enjoy every aspect of gathering over food, especially lunch and dinner. Their breakfasts are small and simple-pastry and beverage. Why do we have to have a full meal deal at every sitting anyway?
3. Late-night strolling and gathering at town squares is something that I wish we had more of in the US.
4. Knowing other languages besides their own, and making efforts to communicate with people of other nationalities. We need to step it up in the US in this area.
5. They have a better system for making health care available to everyone.
San Francisco, CA USA 06/07/03
Europe is a complex, diverse place. What MIGHT offend a traditionalist in Greece might seem benign to a liberal-minded Scandanavian.
I was just making a general comment about what I've remarked while living here. I'm not romanticising Europe. I've witnessed the good and the bad. The point of this forum is what we've learned from Europe and those were my opinions. I can't condense all of Europe into 300 words. Of course there are depressed and alcoholic people in Europe. Why wouldn't there be? I just think that there are fewer. And of course there are prudish Europeans, just as there are liberal Americains. I've lived in both France and Sweden, two countries known for their liberalism. All I can say is "Roman Baths," which I could never imagine back home. My posting was merely my opinion on what I've observed. Everything that anyone posts here should be taken with a grain of salt.
I've lived in France and the US and I found that many local governments in the US are far more nosy into the lives of the inhabitants than the French government. For instance, many US states regulate how consenting adults can have sex. Such intrusion into private life is unthinkable in France. Justice in the US allegedly respects the rights of the accused, but it seems that in many cases, poor defendants get ridiculously bad counsel and long sentences. Political rights are allegedly stronger in the US, but history shows that the US government didn't hesitate before suppressing dissent in the 1950s. Generally speaking, agencies in the US government seem to have far more coercive enforcement powers than similar agencies in Europe.
Paris, France 04/20/03
Not sure I entirely agree...
I think we need to be careful not to romanticize a culture so much that we don't recognize their personal/social problems. Neither do I think that we should adjust our views based on erroneous information.
There are plenty of Europeans who suffer from depression, anxiety attacks and irritability. I know a few Europeans who have been severely depressed and suffer greatly from this. And plenty of Europeans are on anti-depressants.
There are also French alcoholics. As there are American alcoholics, Mexican alcoholics, German alcoholics, Romanian alcoholics, English alcoholics...get the picture? Many people abuse alcohol or for that matter, abuse their bodies with alcohol. I just got back from some time in Europe and spent plenty of time with people who drank to get drunk, smoked to get high to forget their pain, took pills to feel again, etc.
I somehow ended up in the home of a guy who dealt drugs, had just abandoned his wife and children, had a new shack up honey of 1 ½ months who said she was pregnant with his child and wanted him to marry her so she could bring her fractured European family to his European country. Don't ask how I got there (honestly nothing bad, just not the smartest move I ever made!). I met men who lived in different countries than their own children. A few mothers and fathers who had not seen their children for quite some time, sometimes for years. Mothers who drank during the day though they had toddlers to care for, old men who drank at night to forget the children they had run from, etc.
"All foods are delicious and should be enjoyed"? I do agree with the report on the overall attitude of enjoying food and taking meals more slowly. It's a wonderful experience and a healthy way to live. That is one of the things I miss whenever I return home to the States.
"Nudity doesn't bother Europeans as they consider it natural. A naked
breast elicits no more shock than an arm." Again, maybe we need to be
more careful about stating that this as true for all Europeans. I know
quite a few from Western to Eastern Europe who feel differently.
Philadelphia, PA USA 04/15/03
I completely agree with the previous post from Karla. I spent four months studying abroad in Spain this year and had a wonderful experience and learned so much about history, culture, and other ways of life.
Probably the biggest difference I have noticed between Spanish and American cultures is the "laid-back" approach that Spaniards (and Europeans in general, it seems) have toward life in general. No one is ever in a hurry — to get somewhere, to get things done, to eat. The pace of life is just much slower. Every night in the smaller towns (such as Alcala, where I lived) the locals are out in the Calle Mayor or main Plaza, just wandering around, visiting with friends, sipping a drink outside in the plaza if the weather is nice, perhaps going to tapas bars.
There is less stress and less multi-tasking — a good lesson for me to learn as an active college student! I discovered that it's not worth my time to worry about stuff or to always be in a hurried mode, because everything will get done in due time and I'll be more relaxed and have more fun meanwhile. This laid-back attitude explains the bureacratic problems that one might run into (as Karla described), which is the only annoying thing about their attitude. So you have to wait in a long line at the police station to extend your visa...it doesn't seem to bother anyone (except Americans).
And in the end, maybe they're right. I mean, of course it would be nicer
if everything were just easy, straightforward, and fast, but is it really
going to make that big of a difference in the long run? I would love to
see more Americans adopt the "no pasa nada" (don't worry about it!) lifestyle
of the Spaniards & Europeans!
UCLA, CA USA 04/11/03
Europe vs North America
I lived in Sweden as an exchange student in 1999 and am now studying in Strasbourg, France. The biggest thing I noticed about Europeans is the lack of stress. Back home in Canada, people have depression, anxiety attacks and irritability. I haven't met one European on anti-depressants. Life here is calmer and the people are much more content. Here are a few more observations:
Public transportantion is a godsend. Busses and trams come every few minutes. We don't have to worry about traffic jams or being late because there is always another bus coming. Public transportation means fewer cars on the road.
I have seen fewer than five SUVs in Europe. At home, there is a competiton to see who has the biggest, fastest or more expensive 'toy.' People appreciate what they have and don't seem to live beyond their means.
People eat to live, not live to eat. A good meal with friends is not necessarily a big meal or a fancy meal. Supper usually takes at least two hours, but people take the time to chew and discuss their day with their family.
Children are considered members of the family, instead of dolls to be shown to guests and then hidden away again. Parents ask for and value their children's opinions. Children feel like a bigger part of the family and family units seem much stronger.
There is less of a restrictive culture. Forbidding something makes it that much more attractive. Children can walk into stores and buy wine, liquor, etc and no one gives them a second thought. Yet I haven't met any French who drink to get drunk. Alcohol is to be enjoyed, not abused. Children are offered wine and grow up with a healthy attitude towards alcohol. Many refuse it altogether until they know they can appreciate it.
Europeans believe in the value of experience. In North America, everything is 'no no no' or 'not until you're older.' Parents here let their children experience things freely. When something is not restricted, it loses its appeal. This leads to healthier attitutes towards sex, drinking and drugs.
There are no 'bad' foods. All foods are delicious and should be enjoyed. Europeans don't gorge, but savor every mouthful. If they eat a piece of pie, they eat it slowly and really taste it.
Nudity doesn't bother Europeans as they consider it natural. A naked breast elicits no more shock than an arm. Children know what their parents look like naked and it probably helps to give them a healthier body image. Censoring nudity is virtually non-existant. If a child is too young to see something, he is too young to understand it.
Some things I miss about North America though:
The lack of formality. We don't have long behaviour codes like a lot of the latin countries. We don't have special conventions depending on whom we're talking to.
I think modernity and innovation seem more common in North American beliefs and behavior. Europeans often have older ways of looking at things, and change is not always accepted as good.
Customer service is much better in the North America. Is it so frustrating to wait in line for an hour, only to have to clerk go on a lunch break.
Our lack of bureaucracy. We don't need 63 different forms to open a bank account. At home, if you are submitting documents and you're missing one photocopy, the worker will usually dash off and copy it. Here, I was told to wait again in line for another 2 hours.
Businesses that are open longer hours. It is so frustrating to call an office and find out they are only open from 8:30am-11:30 am Monday mornings (like a certain embassy I could name).
Europe and North America are both great places to live. When I'm in Europe, I complain heartily that I was not born here. However, after dealing with bureaucracy and trying to buy a load of bread without the clerk pretending not to understand me (I speak fluent, albeit accented French), I'm ready to hop on the next plane home. This is my second time living in Europe and definitely not my last.
Moncton, NB Canada 04/10/03
More for Maurizio: I got a kick out of your view of the US, and when I thought of it, of course you see it that way. I went to Italy for the first time in '98 and LOVED it. It sure is different than the US. I loved it, but it also came across as chaotic to me. We have many rules you were not accustomed to, you had a lack of rules (or at least they weren't followed so much) and I wasn't used to that. As Rick Steves says, we travel to see differences. One comment on football: when we were trying to get some rest our first night in Siena, the football fans kept us up ALL night with their singing in the streets. That definitely wouldn't be tolerated here. At the time I was irritated, now it's a fun story to look back on.
Edmonds, WA (Rick's backdoor), WA USA 04/09/03
Yes, I admire the excellent public transportation and food and beer/wine. But continental culture keeps me here. It's intellectual, skeptical, cosmopolitan, cynical. Fewer people drive, so the streets are alive with energy. It's more like the America of my youth (60s-70s). That America is dead now, and I mourn it. But the roots of that last flowering of high modernism are still here in Europe, along with its predecessors. History *lives* here. Go to Florence and you can walk the Renaissance, or Bruges and walk the high Gothic. The past is preserved and integrated into the present.
Budapest, Hungary 02/27/03
More response to Maurizio
[Regarding Maurizio's post below that visiting the US "was a little bit like entering some sort of huge police state..."] My friend Konnie, who for the first twenty-five years of her life lived in the former East Germany, has an arguably qualified perspective of the term 'police state.' As does my friend Peter, who made three failed attempts before he was able to escape Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) in 1966. I'm all for learning from Europe, but surely we are not going to do so, when rhetoric passes for fact.
The (more) Enlightened Union
Honestly, after my trip to the UK & Ireland, I'd have to say they're decades ahead of the US in many ways. They have learned from their milleniums of history and are more open-minded. Politically, they're more team players with a more realistic, pragmatic take on situations. Religiously, they are no longer so naive about organized religion, and Christianity does not have a stranglehold on their government and society like here in the US. Environmentally, both cities and citizens make far more of an effort to live greener. And racially, I think North America has different racial attitudes toward different races due to the above differences and a differently-biased media. I sincerely hope the EU takes more of a world leadership role in the future.
Waco, TX USA 02/23/03
More Answers for Maurizio
As an additional response about colleges, know that at least my state, Georgia, has instituted a program where students with at least a B average who make a passable score on the SAT get to attend public university at no charge as long as they maintain at least a B average GPA. This is funded by the lottery rather than by taxes. Oh, and we also sell wine and beer in the grocery stores down here for the most part, but for hard liquor one must go to a liquor store.
I love the differences in different countries and it would be a shame
if we were all exactly the same. There are plenty of things we see in
Europe that we wouldn't want at home, just as Europeans wonder why we
put up with the way things are here, but those of us who like to travel
enjoy and appreciate those differences while on holiday.
GA USA 02/04/03
I'll tell you what I tell my friends who are going abroad for travel. Things are different there from what you're used to. You may love some of it, you may not like others. But enjoy it for what it is. It may be different, but if you wanted to stay where everything is familiar and comfortable, why are you traveling in the first place? Respect and appreciate the customs and laws of the country you are in, whether it be Italy or the US. As for the taxes and university, Americans don't care much for being taxed. And as for universities, you might have just seen the really expensive private ones (Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, etc). There are some really affordable, quality state (public) universities that many students attend
New York, NY USA 12/10/02
An Italian view of the US
I visited the USA for the first time last spring. Don't get offended, please, but it was a little bit like entering some sort of huge police state. I discovered that i couldn't carry my drinks around in the street, or that they would prohibit topless sunbathing for my mother and my sister. I also couldn't ask my sister: "Will you go to the market to buy us a bottle of wine?" because she's 17, and because there was no wine in the foodstores (we didn't discover where they sell it). Beside that, I had to leave unfulfilled my personal need for TV fútbol (soccer), but that was a minor problem.
But what struck me most was that people pay unconceivably elevated sums
to universities to attend them, instead of paying a tax to the government.
Since then, I brood over thoughts such as: how come Americans don't riot
every week? I really have to get to comprehend Americans more deeply someday.
A friend of mine once told me: the answer is in the way they treat the
ball in sports: they want to grab it, not just to control it.
Rome, Italy 12/08/02
America is not the best and only country in the world, and there are 'ugly' people from every nation. I wish that people in this country would realize how much we have to learn yet from Europe, and how much better we could live if we adapted some of their customs. Now, I am not bashing America, I'm just saying that there is still very much to learn, especially about courtesy. I am 15 and I'm concerned for this country. I wish that the people here were as courteous as the people I've observed in Europe.
I've learned lots of things since I've been over here in the UK:
People here are aware of whether or not the food they eat contains GMOs (lots of people in the US don't even know what a GMO is), the grocery stores and restaurants label food as "suitable for vegetarians" if it is (very thoughtful).
People in London like to cram way too many people into way too small spaces since space is at a premium here (I know American sprawl is not ideal, but you miss being able to stretch out your arms without touching someone else sometime).
Every day at the grocery store is like the day before Thanksgiving in the US (unbelievable crowds EVERY DAY in London — not enough stores, too many people).
Public transportation is cheap and wonderful here.
Food in France and Italy is incredible, food in London is sometimes inedible (it's totally hit-or-miss here...if you pay a lot, you'll probably get good food, but if you are limited in budget, it's luck of the draw), English and Scottish sausages and hamburgers are literally half bread, half meat.
Most importantly I've learned that I love the experience I'm having by living here.
But for the life of me, I do not understand the British preference for
two separate water taps in sinks. It makes washing your face impossible
without a washcloth and some tap-to-tap temperature mixing (unless you
fill up the sink with water, which isn't so tempting after you and others
have spit toothpaste into it) When you wash your hands, you either burn
yourself or freeze. My future father-in-law asked an English plumber about
the taps and he said that people here prefer the two separate taps. Why?!?
Studying in London, UK 11/10/02
I love Europe!
Where to begin? I love Europe! I have been to Italy, Spain, Russia, England, Germany and Austria (I know — not all considered "Europe"). I do so enjoy walking in the cities with their large plazas or squares and so many specialty shops — sausage,cheese,bakeries. Some American cities have similar areas but not on the same scale. Of course, the wonderful architecture, art and history cannot be duplicated here in the US. The Europeans seem much more environmentally aware than the US which came as quite a shock to me. We could certainly learn from them in that regard.
Many of them speak English in addition to their native language. I would
like to see the US encourage, if not require, that students learn at least
one other language. And they seem so much more cultured and refined than
a lot of Americans. A slower pace, a LOT more vacation time. We could
also follow their lead when it comes to mass transportation. Many of the
large cities I have visited have great underground systems that are clean,
safe and efficient. We have some like that in the US but we could use
more. I feel very fortunate to have had the pleasure of traveling to Europe
and hope to return again and again.
Kathy Ann Walsh
Scottsdale, AZ USA 10/09/02
It appears to me after traveling through Holland and Belgium, Europeans know how to live happily in the moment. I picture Royal Dutch Airline flight attendants genuinely caring about their customers. People wearing beautiful clothes unselfconsciously peddling bicycles along cobblestone lanes. A cup of coffee. a time to sit and relax, not time to grab it in a paper cup and rush. Professionally trained foodservice employees.. Polite, gentle service. Real food. History, classic art, the sounds of church bells, real beer, chocolate, ice cream and frites. Polite well-mannered children, old buildings and bridges. The smell of fresh herring the sound of car tires on cobblestones the taste of things real. A fairy tale. An absence of fat truck drivers wearing greasy ball-caps listening to country music, sucking on a bottle of Miller Lite, gorging on a $7.95 'all-you-can-eat' buffet offering up cherry jello for dessert. No Taco-Tuesdays.
Calgary, Alberta Canada 09/21/02
US take Euro example
First off, I would like to see more compact cities in the United States.The US is just too eager to build,build,build. We depend way too much on the automobile for transportation. If we had more compact cities,we could have more efficient public transportation.
Also,we could preserve more natural areas. Take a look at the poulation densities in Europe compared to the US. The only US cities comparable are NYC,Philadelphia,and Chicago. We are too quick to tear down older buildings also. Look at Germany for example,their transportation system serves nearly every city,town,and village. Germany is the size of Montana and has 80 million people.That is the population of California, New York,and Texas combined, yet no German city has more than 2.5 million people, and there are only 3 cities in Germany that have a population over 1 million. The US has about 10,and we have some of the largest cities in the world.
We need to replace Amtrak with either a new national,private company.
Or establish state railroad services instead of Amtrak,and make the trains
more quicker. Only 84,000 people ride Amtrak a day,which is dispicable,considering
the US population is approaching 300 million. Get rid of the SUVs and
other gas-guzzling vehicles. Start working on hybrid cars,and get them
on the street. I also find that most European cities are extremely pedestrian
and bicycle friendly.
Holland, MI USA 08/22/02
Learning from Europe + Rick Steves
My girlfriends and I were traveling in Italy and France this summer, and taking the train up from Milano to Varenna. Sitting across from us was a German gentleman, dressed in the usual black and carrying one of those high-tech Lufthansa roller cases in aluminum. He was quiet all the way up as we talked about all the sights in Milan and up along the Lake. Then it dawned on me: I had left our itinerary, contacts and photocopied pages of ETBD back in Paris ! At this point things got a little depressing and uncertain.
Getting off of the train at Varenna, I was elected to ask ( given my linguistic skills ) " Herr Quiet " for directions to Hostel La Primula. With a smile, and in perfect English he said " Of course, " and told us how to take the Ferry across, where to turn, etc. He was sorry to hear I had lost our maps, and things. We were really surprised ( and a little tired ) so he showed us the way. Despite the rain, things were brightening up.
As we all crossed the Lake, he pulled out an ETBD from his case and gave it to us. It turned out he had been to the La Primula cooking school with his wife 12 years ( from California no less ! ) before, and had liked things so much he bought a place in Menaggio. He said he really liked Rick Steve's style and suggestions on travelling, and urged us to keep on seeing the rest of Europe TBD. He wished us a safe trip, and saying goodbye, melted away into the crowd at the square.
We were a little quiet after that walking up to the hostel, which by
the way was great. Everyone there was real and super friendly ! We ended
up staying in the area for an extra week until our money just about ran
out. Thanks again Rick Steves for a fabulous time ! And thanks again to
Rob _ ? ( I'm sworn to secrecy ) for the help and the gift of the ETBD
book. We will never forget you. Sandra, Alice, and Jolie
Los Angeles, Ca USA 07/29/02
Comparing apples to oranges
Both the US and Europe have things to learn from each other. Just as one generation and another, or siblings, friends, co-workers, etc can. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Comparing the US and Europe is like comparing apples and oranges, though. They're both fruit, but they are valuable for different reasons. Some people like apples better than oranges, some like both... Being able to appreciate both types of fruit- or continents, is what I strive for. I take the good with the bad. That's what makes it interesting to me.
KS USA 07/19/02
Living and learning in Europe first hand
My former boss and now dear friend told me all about Rick Steves and his books. I will tell you I have learned a lot and I am an American living in Europe. I currently live in Germany, and have traveled to many places with in Europe. I own a SMART car and to tell you I love my car, parking is a easy thing, fuel which can run around $4.00 US Dollars a gallon is totally cheap. I run a gas mileage around 22 liters to 310 km. I really wish the big cities of the states would take on this car, it would help so many folks. I recommend if you like to ski, jungfrau in the swiss alps! The best place and lots of skiing. I live near Heidelberg, and I will tell you it is one of the most beautiful cities in Germany, it is still very old in the "altstadt" part of the city. It was nearly untouched by the war. The castle there is one of my most favorites, even over the cinderella castle. I haved learned so much on my own and through Rick! Thanks! PS. ryanair is worth the flight!
Nussloch Germany, Deutschland/USA 07/13/02
RE: France is clean. I found Paris no less smelly or dirty than New York. I think that it's a matter of being a big crowded city.
ca USA 07/01/02
RE: France is clean. I found it the opposite! The streets of paris were filled with trash bags waiting for the garbage pick up, and the stench of rotten food was around almost every restaurant. upon entering the Metro, I was startled to smell something similar to goats, but quickly wished for that odor to return, as it was easier to take than the urine odor. England was beautiful and very clean.
Vancouver, BC canada 06/29/02
Smart Cars, etc.
America should have Smart Cars, learn from Europeans as far as diet goes — we are TOO fat! — and adopt better public transportation systems in our bigger cities.
Charlotteee, NC USA 04/27/02
France is Clean
Next time we travel to Europe, we'll spend more time in France. They really recycle, keep the roads and streets amazingly clean, and drive smaller cars. England was trash-filled, grimy, smellier and less concerned with the environment!
CA USA 04/09/02
Overheard in The Britsh Museum; Was this before the 2nd world war or the 1st world war? We turned to see two twenty-something Americans staring at an Egyptian sarcophagus. After picking our chins off of the floor, we waited for them to crack a smile but neither did. The other finally said he didn't know. We decided it was dated well before both.
James and Paula Otey
Seattle, WA USA 04/08/02
Trains — Food — Dining
TRANSPORTATION!! How wonderful to hop on a train and go to the next town to visit or to travel across the country. Europeans have their traffic troubles too, but how easy it is to side step them there. Even the children ride the small commute train to and from school. It lets them off at the nearest crossings, some with their bicycles. The European children are very bright, very active and dress for the weather.
FOOD: The food, the wine, the BREAD, the cheese, fresh everything, every morning. Tomatos and mozarella with fresh basil. Pastries, cheese and meat for breakfast. Fine marmelaides and creams. Greek yogurts and fresh raspberries, thinly sliced hams and fat sausages. I eat SO much good very affordable food every day, that I average a 13 pound weight loss every trip.
DINING: Outside! ALFRESCO! Nearly every day from May to October. No Air-condition
needed. In the evenings in the towns, at the plazas, at the harbor under
umbrellas with the waves lapping, glasses clinking, people relaxing, waiters
in doorways at the ready for anything you need. Diners lingering at the
tables because dining is an event to enjoy. Never being rushed nor given
a checque until you ask for it. This is their way of life. Pretty darned
easy to adopt. Thanks to Rick Steves, I am learning so much about how
important it is to enjoy life, and what things are truly important, both
while traveling and at home..it's really much better when you know there
are other ways of living. Then you can make choices.
Punxsutawney, PA USA 01/07/02
Safety and Security
When we went to DeGaulle International Airport in June of this year to return home, we went through 3 security checks. I had no problem with that, but when we got to our gate, we saw a shop directly opposite it that was selling Swiss Army knives, and there were no checks at the gate. I certainly hope that has changed.
Patrick B. Miano
Phoenix, AZ USA 11/30/01
Paris Museams on strike
I just got back from a 2 week trip to London (with a side trip to Blackpool) and Paris. It was a blast. I was so impressed with the French policy on the mandated 35-hour workweek. I can easily get used to this policy (plus the 5 weeks paid vacation time).
But, on the flip side, apparently there is some labor problems at the museums in Paris. At the Louvre, each day they have a different scheduled wing closed due to lack of staff coverage. It seems that some of the museums are not yet implementing this reduced work policy and the workers were taking action. My heart nearly fell when I found out that the Museum Orsay and Pompidou were impacted by this strike. Both were on my top things to do while in Paris. I took comfort in the thought that I will come back one day, but boy, I really was devastated. Later in the day, I saw people entering the Orsay and I quickly ran in. The first floor was open (non-impressionists) and the information people told me to call daily as the strike is voted on and things may change.
I still with all my heart support the policy of the 35 hour work week
and that I can learn from this the notion of keeping work life in perspective
of the bigger picture of life.
Oakland, CA USA 11/08/01
Whay can't we learn for the past?
You must read this story. The White Rose. (It will take you 10-15 minutes.) http://www.historyplace.com/pointsofview/white-rose1.htm As you read this, think about what our Government is doing, see what a Government did, and think if you could do what they did. As an American I now have a better understanding of how free Americans are. THis story has changed the way I look at life.
American, USA 11/05/01
Water in Restaurants
Trina, we were able to get carafes of water at almost every restaurant and cafe we went to. In France, we always asked for "un carafe de l'eau." Most restaurants in Europe will not give you tap water unless you ask for it, and you must ask for non-sparkling water, or you might end up with mineral water.
Carol Stream, IL USA 10/08/01
Western Europeans appear to have and practice many things Americans envy — great inter and intra city mass transit, a mass acceptance of eating well and spending less time focused on career and more time on family, less of a focus on accumulating wealth, a greater understanding of other languages, cultures, and current events of other countries (isn't everyone impressed by how knowledgeable Europeans are of happenings outside of their own country(s)?
When my wife and I were in Paris last fall this thought hit me after two weeks on the road: Europeans live on top of layer upon layer of remarkable, yet fleeting history ("all glory is fleeting" — General Patton): Druids, Etruscans, Greeks, Romans, Feudal States, Armada's, Monarchs, Nazi's, etc.
My personal opinion is that having this layered history reinforced on
a daily basis has created the Europe we see today, one that has finally
said, "ok, lets slow down and enjoy life, let the Americans be Rome if
they want to, we know better." America will never be much like Europe,
we lack the history for starters and the settlement pattern, but we can
have European ideals — look at Portland, Oregon (aka "Munich on the Willamette").
Salem, OR USA 08/01/01
I lived in Helsinki, Finland for 10 months in 2000. I remember the
day I arrived at my new home and wondered how I would ever survive with
no car or clothes dryer. I assumed the differences of living in a new country
were going to have to be endured as a bad thing. It was only when I was
ready to accept and learn, that Helsinki opened its arms to me and I could
appreciate all of the little wonders the city holds. Each culture has so
much to offer and teach the traveler, if the traveler is willing to learn.
Differences are what make life exciting, and they can be good. When travelers
have an open mind and accept, they find that Europe will open its doors
and embrace them like a friend.
Glasgow, Scotland 07/10/01
Of the literally hundreds of things I gleaned from my trips to Spain and Poland (two seemingly different countries, but quite similar, in actuality), I must share two:
First of all, transportation. I live in the middle of the US, and there is no reasonable way to get to either side of the country cheaply or in an environmentally friendly way. The AVE from Madrid to Sevilla was the most wonderful ride I have ever had in my entire life. We are a car culture here in the States, and the Europeans just don't understand it. Perhaps if we were able to build mass transit like theirs, we would not need to have so many single-occupancy vehicles.
And secondly, in the entire five weeks I toured those two countries — believe
this — I never saw a person under forty (possibly even fifty) years of
age that was remotely overweight. I came home, and realized that we are
in big trouble, health-wise. One possible theory: I rarely saw vending
machines. We rotate our lives around junk food, they do not. They eat
to live, not live to eat (despite having the best bread anywhere). I had
to evaluate my own lifestyle upon returning, as well. If we got off of
this obsessive "consumption" kick, we would improve our lives in great
numbers of ways.
MN USA 07/03/01
I love the way the Europeans share their tables at restaurants and pubs/beerhalls etc. I can not tell you how many wonderful people I have met and how many friends I now have in Europe (after only 2 visits) just by sharing a table. I regularly e-mail with 2 ladies in Austria, an expatriate family in Munich, a German couple living in Prague, a Croatian waiter who works in the Salzkammergut, etc. Sure, you might get stuck next to someone in bad mood every once in a while, but that's their problem. I think America would be much friendlier if we had this custom.
I also love the fresh food; I actually ate asparagus this trip!
Denver, CO USA 06/29/01
There are several things I love about Europe I wish we had more of here in the US. Style! As one respondent noted below — setting the table with care, flowers, simple but beautiful traditions. Parks! In so many bit European cities, the locals still spend time in the green spaces just relaxing, reading, napping, letting the children run...When's the last time you saw a family taking a whole afternoon for a picnic and fun in the park in the US?
One thing I wish Europe had: free pitchers of drinking water at meals
Chicago, IL USA 06/27/01
A bike lane on every street. And I live close to a big town but not
close enough to ride my bike to the grocery store, department store etc.
But in Europe they have a closer community, with less urban sprawl; I
wish it was more like that in America. Also, I think we should have open-air
markets to sell FRESH bread, fruit, vegetables etc.
Jackson, WI USA 06/25/01
Longer vacations from work! Honestly, why are we expected to only have
fun (e.g. travel, explore) 2 weeks a year until we retire?
Coppell, Tx USA 06/22/01
Europe is an EXPERIENCE,not a list of sights/sites that you check off like so many things on a shopping list. Don't judge what you see as a critic. Understand that there must be a reaon that these places are in guide books and on so many itineraries. People are as much part of the experience as morta, concrete, glass windows and paintings. Absorb the atmosphere and SLOW DOWN.
After nearly 30 years of European holidays, I can safely say that there
isn't a spot that I haven't visited that I didn't find something to enjoy.
Every year, I am faced with the choice of returning to Europe or chooing
another destination. Europe always wins hands down. It's there to be savored
just like a fine wine....
amherst, ny USA 06/19/01
Two things I really liked about Amsterdam that I would like to see here:
1) separate lanes (and traffic lights) for cars, buses and trams, bicycles
and pedestrians; and 2) lots and lots of shops where we could get either
decadent food (chocolate, pastries, etc.) or healthy food (fresh fruit
Des Moines, IA USA 05/30/01
I am always in awe of the way that Europeans (particularly the French
and Italians) find beauty in life: the way they set the table, the way
they present food, the clean sidewalks outside of markets, the flower
boxes, the beautifully kept gardens, the ancient mixed with the modern...the
2-hour lunch, the greetings when you enter their store, the small out-of-the
way chapels with organ and choir performances. Here are people who have
seen wars and death for thousands of years, but instead of becoming downtrodden,
they have found that "joie de vivre." I never tire of visiting and being
immersed in their life, of finding the beauty which is always just around
Colorado Springs, CO USA 05/25/01
I spent a year in Germany as an exchange student. I've also been to Europe a few times to visit and a few more times on business. I've noticed a number of us avid Europhiles have a love/hate relationship with our native country.
There are some things I absolutely love about living in Europe (pedestrian-friendly cities, a stronger sense of social responsibilities, a "bigger is not always better" attitude). Conversely there are things I like better about the US (your dollar goes further, the "can-do" spirit, the "you can be anything if you put your mind to it" attitude).
I have certainly seen a few "ugly" Americans that made me cringe. I also certainly take pride in being mistaken for a local from time to time. But I know I cannot fully blend into the local culture. There will always be something about me that makes me a little different.
But then I don't see it as my mission in life to hide the fact that I am an American. My mission is to be the best representative of the US that I can be and to take a genuine interest in the local culture.
I don't think the purpose of travel is to disparage one culture over
another. But rather it is about learning from the beautiful diversity
this world has to offer. I find a lot of joy in that.
Lake in the Hills, IL USA 04/18/01
I'd like to see a more liberal attitude infiltrate into the U.S.A., along with a better social system. I was an expatriate in the Netherlands for 3 years and witnessed a very different way of life. The Dutch have a very strong economy (less than 4% unemployment rate) with an excellent social system (which embarassingly enough is absolutely superior to ours): health care, nonexistence of the hire-and-fire mentality, employees who have 5 weeks instead of the traditional 2 weeks vacation.
There is a very different sense of liberalism in the Netherlands. Americans
at large shriek at the site of a naked body, but hardcore violence in
the movies have become the norm. The Netherlands, despite their leniency
to soft drugs, have a much better control of citizens who are addicted
than we do in the States. We don't have to go into the issue of crime
rates...I think this is certainly something the USA cannot be proud of.
And environmental issues — do they still exist in the States?!
Buffalo, NY USA 04/02/01
I cannot totally aggree with Ann. When you are traveling and doing a great deal of walking, comfortable shoes are extremely important. So wear tennis shoes, a respectful t-shirt and khaki shorts if that is what is most comfortable. Just be respectful of specific dress code rules at some of the churches.
What it really comes down to is how you act. Be pleasant, make an effort
to communicate in the local language and don't be loud, out of control,
and obnoxious. My wife and I traveled through nine countries in Europe
over five weeks back in 1997 and we dressed as we liked. Packed very light
and had a wonderful time. We had the same experience as Dodie — people
came up to us and talked with us as if we were locals, despite what we
were wearing. Most likely because we were respectful of their culture,
pleasant and approachable. Go and enjoy yourselves, just be nice!
Sycamore, il USA 03/16/01
If you visit this site regularly you already know that venturing off the beaten path when on a European vacation is the best way to really get the best experience. But sometimes once you've taken that step and found that perfect local restaurant or a tiny chapel that shows an even better example of the architecture the cathedral made famous, you'll still find that you're sneered at or don't get the service you know the locals are getting. As an expatriate in London I see Americans face this all the time (and to be honest, sometimes I'm the one doing the sneering). The key to being accepted is not faking an English accent but rather showing a level of sophistication with European customs that take just a couple of subtle changes in behavior.
1. Leave your running shoes at home. Do not even think of putting them in your suitcase. Europeans in general are a little more formal than Americans, and nothing screams "slob" and "disrespect" louder than white sneakers and a pair of jeans in the architectural masterpieces of the Western world. Find, and break in before you leave the US, a good pair of walking shoes in a dark color and you'll blend in much better.
As a corollary to this rule, in general plan to dress smarter than you might at home. You can pack just as light with no-wrinkle dark knits as with the jeans and bright sweaters.
2. Though you think you're outsmarting waiters when you order tap water instead of bottled water, you aren't doing yourself any favors. The tap water in Britain is perfectly safe to drink though it doesn't taste very good, and the custom here is to order a bottle for the table. Starting off your order with "Tap water, please" sends a signal loud and clear to the waiter that you're cheap, and it will show in the service you get. Spending the 6 pounds or whatever to have bottled water will pay off later.
3. In Europe people eat with the knife and fork in their hands at the same time. They don't cut their meat and then switch hands to pick up the food; they spear it with the fork in the left hand and put it immediately to their mouths. It's considered uncivilized to have one of your hands in your lap as you eat.
4. Please don't giggle when you hear the inevitable "Mind the Gap" recording on the Underground. Don't make fun of English accents; remember, you're the foreigner and to the English, you're the one who talks funny.
Many Europeans love Americans and get a huge kick out of our openness
and "can-do" attitude. They just get annoyed — and understandably so — when
Americans assume that the American way is the only way and that another
way of doing things may be just as good as ours. Have a great time!
London, England 02/26/01
I've been to a number of European airports and from each I found public
transportation to large and small cities available. Here in the US, it's
almost impossible to find public transportation "right out the airport
front door." We could learn from our European neighbors that private and
rental cars are are not always the answer to getting from one location
Jo Anne Vg
Huntington Beach, CA USA 02/20/01
We are fortunate to spend three weeks every summer in a village of 800 people located in the Schwabian Alps southeast of Stuttgart, Germany. The people in the village take care of each other. Although everyone knows the "gossip," the kindness is overwhelming.
So many of the families are intergenerational in their living accommodations. Our friends who own the bakery have four generations living in one house. Even Grandmother at 93 helps every day with the bread. Johanna at one year is surrounded by her family.
This model is still very common. We have other friends who live within 5 kilometers of their entire extended family. Simon and Felix spend time every day with their grandparents who live on the first floor of their house and both generations benefit. Sunday is the day when the entire family gets together to share a meal.
It has been a wonderful experience for us as to be welcomed back every
year as the American relatives. We really feel we are members of our German
Nancy and Tom English
Eugene, OR USA 02/08/01
Since my second trip to Italy this past May, I've come to appreciate
taking life as it comes and slowing down. My tip to travelers to Italy
is to relax and enjoy the flavor of the cities you visit, don't be so
hung up on what you MUST see. Do get advance tickets to the museums like
the Uffizi and the Accademia; it'll save you waiting in line. Don't be
afraid to wander the side streets of Florence to happen on a great trattoria!
Bargain for your gondola rides in Venice and spend time sitting in front
of the Pantheon in Rome for a relaxing and entertaining time. The food
in Italy was marvelous; bring back some of their spices with you to liven
up your own cooking! Learn as much of the language as you can; they appreciate
your effort and will suffer your mistakes gladly (although perhaps not
so much in Rome). I can't wait to go back. A dream of a country and we
only "did" Florence, Rome and Venice!
IN. USA 01/29/01
i just returned from 2 weeks in italy. i love how everyone there is more laid back. and i love the sense of community. we need to step back a bit from our individualistic world view, thinking that in the USA anyone can "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." not everyone can become a Ross Perot, Bill Gates, or Donald Trump. not every human is born with the same level of abilites. everybody and every job done is important!
i also think we can learn from the pollution problems in europe — we
can learn from their mistakes, too. we have a vast land that is slowing
being eaten up by sprawl. i love the piazzas, but green areas are much
prettier and healthier. my time in italy helped me to understand why a
lot of europeans wear dark colors. light clothes get dark and dirty within
IA USA 01/25/01
One thing in which Americans could definitely improve via the Europeans is an appreciation for EVERYDAY life — the art of a fine haircut or a perfectly prepared gelato (Siena), a quiet view of historic hills (Tuscany), or simply a genuine, non-purchased smile from someone you just met — even if they haven't truly understood a word you've said (Aachen, Germany).
Suffice it to say — get out there! Stay away from the Hilton, McDonald's,
and packaged tours. Get out on the street, in the pub, on the local bus,
and at the local dinner table if at all possible, and become a " — — — — "
(place appropriate nationality here) for a day, as best you can. You'll
never regret it.
Brett B. Twiggs
Ft. Meade, MD USA 01/24/01
i think we invented road rage, because over there i experienced none
of that. it was hectic at times, but no road rage. i also like the fact
that they do not rush you out of the restaurant after you've eaten.
turnersville, nj USA 01/23/01
I'm an American 13-yr.-old who lives in Europe with my family. We moved
to Finland in October 1999. When I first arrived I couldn't believe some
of the things people didn't have that Americans take for granted. You
then learn that you don't need all these things to be happy. I now enjoy
walking everywhere and hanging out clothes to dry. Maybe if more Americans
tried a simpler way of living they'd be happier too.
Helsinki, Finland 01/14/01
Be here now. This Buddhist admonition probably was never specifically intended as a travel trip, except perhaps in the sense that life itself is the greatest journey of all. Based on my experience in group travel (yes, even ETBD groups), I would nominate this slogan as the premiere piece of travel advice. Three of my experiences illustrate why.
Riding a bus in Amsterdam, I looked out the window onto crowded morning rush-hour traffic — crowded, that is, with bicycles ridden not only by school children, but by business men wearing suits and ties and business women peddling along in heels and house. The tour members behind me were showing each other pictures of their American homes. Walking down the cobble-stone streets of Toledo, with the setting sun glinting off tiled roofs, the tour members ahead were discussing their grandchildren back home.
Walking under the magnificent arch of trees that line the broad approach to Chambord, I catch the animated conversation of my tour companions anticipating next week's trip to Versailles.
Not that there's anything wrong with pictures of home, grandchildren
or Versailles. But what is the point of travel if not to see, hear, smell,
taste and teel the moment. Right there, right then. Home, grandchildren
and even Versailles can wait. Be here now. And enjoy.
Harrisburg, PA USA 01/08/01
I am proud to be an American and love my country. I am a teacher by choice, and love my profession. However, I gained a new view of the world this summer in Europe.
In every country I met nice, helpful people. It made me think about how reluctant at times we are to help strangers. We are fearful, and I think that at times it is unfounded. Although I did meet the occasional grump, I would move to Europe (especially Belgium, Germany, or Switzerland) in a heartbeat if I could find a job there.
Also, I must say that as a plus-size woman, I felt much more accepted
there than I have ever felt stateside. Why, I had to fight off men. Imagine!
It was quite an ego boost and I had the time of my life. I have never
been happier than I was those 24 days.
The first and best thing I learned from Europe is that travel abroad is
possible and enjoyable if one leaves one's ego behind. Seeing so many
backpack-toting, hostel-dwelling Europeans led me to hitchhike all over
Europe on my first trip abroad, and to use consolidators, guidebooks like
Rick's, and modest accommodations on many subsequent trips. My dollars,
experience, comfort and education stretched immensely. Travel does not
HAVE to be spending a fortune for fancy hotels and restaurants and city-a-day
tours. One does not have to be in hock for years after returning from
CA USA 12/20/00
What I've learned from Europe is how possible it is to consume less,
yet live well. For example, with home sales in the U.S., it is expected
that buyers would want more than one bathroom. Too often there is almost
one bathroom per bedroom, especially in new home construction. Yet, I
recall many a time while traveling in Europe and in Japan and getting
along just fine sharing the bathroom with many others. Bathrooms are supposed
to be the most expensive rooms per square foot in a home. It made me think
how often we waste resources in the U.S. I mean, do we *really* need more
than two bathrooms in a home?
Berkeley, CA USA 12/19/00
College education is of a much higher standard in Western Europe. It is more difficult to gain a college degree there and this shows.
The Europeans are not as "insular" as we Americans. Americans have poor understanding of the world outside our own shores. Our knowledge of world history is limited and often has an emphasis on how we have "saved the world" on more than one occassion, not appreciating the role of other countries and often dismissing our own failures. We didn't save Europe from Nazism, we were one of many. England protected itself for a number of years before we came on the scene. What we did was great but it was not just us — we had a lot of help, ditto the Gulf War.
Our knowledge of other cultures is poor. Our lack of appreciation of other countries' achievements is equally poor.
A sense of pride in one's country is good and ours is deserved, but
we should learn from the Europeans in all these respects and get our achievements
Washington, DC USA 11/04/00
I think Europeans watch American entertainment for the same reasons we watch Jerry Springer. Depravity is interesting. So is novelty.
If I feel inferior to Europeans when I'm there, it's my own fault. I've neglected to learn a European language, so they have to meet me more than halfway to communicate well.
They don't seem to hate their cities, constantly downing them, acting
ashamed of them, belittling people who live in them, as we sometimes do
here. Cities in Europe are places many people have lived, very close together,
for a very long time. But there's no value judgement about whether it's
good to live in a city. (I'm being a bit unfair — this hate of cities
is a southern US thing.)
Chester, VA USA 11/02/00
What can I learn from Europe? No more than I can learn from the U.S. Americans visit Europe, go to the most expensive places, and feel like they're among typical Europeans. I lived in England, Holland, and Germany for 14 years and honestly found little difference between Americans and Europeans.
Americans have a stereotypical view of European life that is far from the norm, and Europeans likewise misjudge "the average American." If European life is so much more desirable, why do the Europeans spend so much time watching American movies and TV? If Americans are so dumb, why are we world leaders?
There are minor differences. Americans may be a little louder, but when you leave the U.S. you realize people here may be the most hospitable in the world (well, maybe the Irish are). The Europeans were extremely nice, but I noticed they think Americans feel superior to them. As you can see by the messages on this board, that isn't true. Strangely, Americans often feel inferior to Europeans.
As for the ugly Americans traveling aboard, I'm afraid it's true to a certain extent. One of the drawbacks of being a prosperous nation is that even are louts can afford to travel abroad. There are plenty of obnoxious Europeans, they just don't have the means to fly over here.
My time in Europe was wonderful, and I have met many wonderful people
there. But I can say the same thing about the U.S. People are people.
Don't buy into the romantic stereotypes — that's all they are.
Portland, ME USA 10/30/00
I would love to have a rail system in the US that works as well as the
system in Germany. The trains were unfailingly clean, punctual, and convenient.
On the other hand, I think our US system could probably be compared to
the system in Ireland — slow, dirty, and inconvenient to anywhere one
really wants to go.
LV, NV USA 10/18/00
I went to Sweden this summer, as a high-school graduation present, to visit my best friend who is Swedish. I learned a lot, but my most important lesson was to never press buttons whose purpose you don't know.
I was in a bathroom in a McDonald's there and I couldn't figure out how
to flush (the toilets are all different). I saw a little red button with
a long Swedish word above it. I decided it had to be the flush so I pushed
it. No sooner had my finger lifted off the button than I heard a loud
siren that echoed throughout the entire McDonald's! I came out of the
lavatory stunned and my best friend's father went in and figured out how
to shut it off. Everyone was staring at me in horror as he said, "Bridget,
that is the button one presses when they have fallen and cannot get up."
It was so embarrassing, but I'm not ashamed...
Fauquier, VA USA 10/04/00
My husband and I decided that we had to give Italians credit for never
doing anything half way. When their state run TV channels devise bad programming,
it is really bad. So much so as to be entertaining in a kind of paradoxical
way. We grew quite fond of a quiz show entitled "In Bocca al Lupo" which,
among other things, features someone running around in a wolf suit. A
bonus is that the shows are so stupid as to be intelligible even to non-Italian
speakers. Indeed, they are a great way to learn Italian.
nova scotia USA 06/10/00
If your job is one that you would see practiced in a town on your visit,
learn enough of that language to go in and visit with the people working
there. I'm a dog groomer and learned enough Italian have a somewhat halting,
but reasonable and FUN conversation with another groomer in Italy. We
were driving through town and spotted the shop. It was one of the greatest
memories of my trip — he took me through every nook and cranny of his shop
and we were able to see how we did some things the same and some differently.
Back at work now, I often think of my groomer friend in Italy and wonder
how he's doing! Thanks to Rick and the whole ETBD staff.
arlington, va USA 06/05/00
It's interesting to compare and contrast the UK's system of higher education to that of the U.S. On the one hand, I find that higher education is eminently more affordable in the U.K. Almost all of the colleges and universities are state-supported (including revered Oxford and Cambridge), which means that fees to attend them are minimal. In addition, the U.K. has been way ahead of the U.S. in terms of distance learning options.
On the other hand, class stratification remains a part of the U.K. in
ways that relate to higher education. Oxford and Cambridge remain jeweled
credentials that follow one for a lifetime, even more than attendance
at an Ivy League school in the U.S. Furthermore, it seems that people
are "tracked" much earlier and more enduringly in the U.K.
Boston, MA USA 05/31/00
One thing you can learn from Europe is your own history. You don't need a complete family tree listing the last 36 generations of your family to do this. Many Americans can probably find at least one of their eight great-grandparents who were born in Europe. If not, you are likely to know that this or that great-great-grandfather came from France, Germany, Italy, etc. (and you may even have the last name to prove it!).
Before you leave on your adventure, make the effort to find out names of towns and villages in Europe where you have ancestry. They may not be listed in any guidebook or on a main rail route, but if you're willing to find them, you'll not only get an authentic local experience, you'll also gain insights that can tell you things about yourself. For example, if your great-grandparents came from a tiny farming village, maybe you'll understand why you have an aversion to large noisy cities. Or if they lived high in the Alps, perhaps you'll understand why you have an inexplicable affinity for mountains even though you live on the plains of Kansas.
Ancestral memory is a powerful thing. Take advantage of it in your travels.
You may even open another Back Door for the rest of us to explore some
day. Bon voyage!
Jennifer Guignard Pitts
Nashville, TN USA 04/26/00
I find it odd that so many people like to say how bad their own country is. I love every country I have been to, especially my own.
I spent three months living with my "second family" in Spain. I love the small Spanish villages, the late-night dinners, sitting with friends sipping Sangria and speaking of dreams both large and small. I love sitting down to tea or watching a cricket match on the "telly" with my relatives in Northern Ireland. I love sitting in a pub in Dublin, soaking in the atmosphere, the Guinness and the great conversation. I love sitting for a picnic in the shadow of Notre Dame with French students who have disproved the stereotypes that I had heard from Ugly Americans. I love sitting in dorm rooms at the University of Stockholm with friends who were quick to take me in. I love sitting in the woods of Northern Michigan with friends as we warm ourselves by a campfire after a long day of sledding.
Many people think they are being open-minded by speaking out against their own country. When someone says that Americans are unhappy, obnoxious and have no values, I feel they have said what is probably the most close-minded statement I have ever heard. Lynn (below), when you say this, think of yourself, think of your friends and people who live on your block. Do you feel you are this way? Your friends? Do you think you are just lucky to have these friends, or a very special person who deserves them? Believe me, 99.99% of the world are kind, fairly happy people. The media would have you believe differently, but think of the people you see at work, at church and everywhere else. This is why travel is fun. It is about the people. Travel isn't about art, or buildings, or mountains. These things enhance the travel. The enjoyment is seeing other peoples and cultures. Travel is about being amazed at the people who created the art; it's about imagining the people who walked through the buildings.
I agree some things need to change in our country as well as in every
country, but it's our responsibility to change these things. People can
say Americans only care about money, but these people have come from every
country in the world to a place where they can live and create things.
To generalize about Americans is to set a prejudice against every country
in the world — the countries Americans came from.
Rockford, MI USA 04/17/00
I just read an article in the local Sunday paper travel section that
highlights the incredibly shrinking American vacation. On a list of annual
number of vacation days, guess which country was at the bottom? The good
ol' USA. 13 days per year...that's what we get on average. Many European
countries are in the upper 30 to low 40 day range. Who has a better quality
of life? This year, my boss informed me that I could not receive more
than one week of vacation at one time. I love traveling in Europe. 10
years ago, my wife and I had no problem getting away for 3 weeks with
a railpass, then it was two weeks, now one week. At this rate, it'll be
three days in a few years. This whole country must be nuts!
Lafayette, La USA 02/01/00
I like how Europeans talk quietly and how well-behaved their children
are. They think we are poorly mannered and don't control our children.
And though I hate to admit it, they are often right.
Having lived as American expatriates in the UK for three years now, we have drawn quite a few conclusions. The Europe that you see while travelling is not the Europe where regular people live, work, and play. We live in a nice area in the middle of England, but an area where no one in their right mind would take a holiday — there's nothing to see here. Working on a pan-European management team, I can state that most of what I have observed goes for all of Europe.
The first, and most important characteristic of Europe, is the essential importance of family. Everyone I have met here expects family to be an extremely important component of each life. Even when my eldest son would bring home a friend with four-color hair and ten facial piercings, that person would spend the most time talking about his mum and dad, and his little brother. Family still matters here.
Next is the concept of 'friend.' In parts of the US, 'friend' has just about become synonymous with 'co-worker.' Here it is much more difficult to become friends, but once friendship is established, it is much deeper than the norm in the US.
Schools: We have two in British elementary schools here. It is stunning how much importance the teachers place on each student as a person, with unique needs and hopes. Every child is cared for individually. Having dealt for years with supposedly the top-ranked school district in Texas, I now realize what we had missed. State schools in England take better care of their pupils than private schools in the USA.
Priorities: There is a focus on life as opposed to work. If you drive past a large office parking lot on a Sunday, it is empty. The general attitude here is, "If you can't do your job in a normal week, then maybe you ought to admit that you're not qualified to do it and move aside for someone who is." Also the Brits — and all the Europeans that I know — see no sense in sacrificing life's enjoyment for the sake of career advancement. They still have the horse before the cart, in my opinion.
Holidays (never called 'vacation' over here): We take the UK holidays which are 9 bank holidays plus 26 days of annual leave. When I was in America I had 20 days of annual leave and never used it all. None of my colleagues did either. Holidays here are spent relaxing, not sightseeing. We will go to France and stay at the same campground in the Dordogne for 3 weeks. No one here finds that unusual. Good way to avoid all the Ugly Americans, too.
Of course, there are things that I don't like about Britain — our shower is a joke; British food really is poor (though Paris is 55 minutes by jet); the British service mentality on display at most retail establishments is atrocious (but improving); and everything costs so much over here — yesterday I spent $70 for a normal-sized tank of gas. Taxes are outrageous. But I go back to Texas about 3-4 times a year on business, and the combination of overt materialism and rush-rush pace just ties my stomach in knots.
If I could plead that Americans learn anything from Europe it would be
this: let us refocus ourselves on the importance of personal relationships,
of putting people before things in our lives. And family should be at
the top of every person's list. When our family does move back we will
do things much differently. It's easy to get sucked into the 'normal'
US materialist lifestyle, but that's my own fault. I am convinced that
one only has to decide to put people first, and then we can take all the
peace we've found over here back to the USA with us. If we could only
figure out how to take those 26 days of annual leave with us as well...
Derby, UK 11/06/99
I read something recently that can sum up the differences between Americans
and Europeans: Americans think 100 years is a long time. Europeans think
100 miles is a long distance.
VA USA 10/14/99
I studied abroad for a year in Edinburgh, Scotland and traveled extensively during the year, so I got a close-up view of European culture.
I appreciated most the tolerance Europeans have for varying ideas and lifestyles. Sadly, we don't have much of this since American culture is more attuned to changing people into Americans and purging all sense of foreignness from people.
From my French friends I learned the value of language. Frankly, in America we don't have fighting words because we use these words so often they lose their real meaning. In many other cultures, there are words you only say when you are really angry and want to get into a fight. An American at a French football (soccer) match would notice that French people don't chant profanities but say things like 'flush the referee' or call clumsy players 'club feet.' We really lack the flair that many Europeans have with their language.
But frankly, I think we have it very good in America and it was amazing
to come back after a year and face total indecision in a supermarket here
because there were so many choices. We also have so many freedoms that
Europeans do not. Americans are not plagued by high taxes to pay for social
services they don't use or would be substandard to those offered by the
private sector. Our higher-education system is the best in the world and
does not even compare to anything in Europe, and we have the highest percentage
of college graduates in the world next to Canada. America is truly the
land of plenty and the home of the free. It's sad that we have to go abroad
to appreciate this.
Anthony D. Riker
Washington, DC USA 10/06/99
I learned that Europeans are in love with American culture. Every movie
advertised was an American flop from 3 months previous. The young men
we met spouted lyrics to 80's American pop all night! "Da na na na na
na na na...Ghostbusters!" Everytime we popped the TV on in our hotel room,
Alf or Mulder and Scully were there in hilarious dubbed French. A backpacking
college student we met put it best when she asked, "Did you ever know
there were so many people from around the world watching everything we
do?" My group of friends flock to foreign films and I fell in love with
French rap over there. They don't appreciate their culture. I also learned,
however, that French men are infinitely more romantic than their American
counterparts (sorry, guys).
nj USA 09/08/99
The Europeans seem to know how to enjoy simply conversing with each
other while spending a leisurely afternoon or evening, even during the
week, at the ubiquitous sidewalk cafes. I'd like to see more of that in
CA USA 08/19/99
I've thought quite a bit about this issue, and I'm afraid that we Americans
lack the historical perspective to learn much of anything from our friends
across the Atlantic. We're so quick to demolish the past to make room
for the future. We don't have the long span of social, cultural, political,
and even religious developments to use as means of learning. For instance,
when you walk around any city in Italy, you get the sense of shifts in
power and wealth that we can't appreciate in this country. We're all about
making money, money, and more money, and we've deluded ourselves into
a false sense of economic security. Well, folks, I'm sure the Medici never
imagined that THEIR fortunes would fall, or that their base of power would
erode. All of this "ancient history" (as it was called by one American
tourist I overheard) is almost impossible for us to fathom. It's like
the number "one billion" — we can't conceive of it. Maybe the situation
isn't quite as bleak as I'm painting it — I know that there are plenty
of insightful and inward-looking people who read these postings. But based
on my experiences in Europe, too many of the most valuable lessons to
be learned from this rich continent are lost on us.
Portland, OR USA 08/02/99
The Europeans have a great idea with the approximately 5 weeks of vacation
time they give their workers. From my observations of the Europeans I've
met in my travels, there is less job burnout, and closer family ties.
Owings Mills, MD USA 07/30/99
After spending 2 weeks in Sardegna, I could very easily fall into the local lifestyle. The concept of doing your marketing daily was a pleasure. Everyone I encountered was as pleasant as you could hope for. One day in La Maddalena, I was browsing through the mercato, I put my work papers down to purchase some cheese, and just lost track of my folder. It wasn't until I was nearly at my job site that I realized I didn't have them. I took the next shuttle back to where I thought I had left them, asking everyone I had talked to if they had seen my folder, to no avail. I had pretty much given it all up for lost. That night when I arrived back at my hotel, the desk clerk stopped me when he heard my name, to return all my paperwork to me in a large envelope. I couldn't believe it — someone took the time to bring my folder to my hotel.
I can't wait to go back. I could never imagine that happening at home.
Westerly, RI USA 07/29/99
At a beach resort frequented mostly by Europeans, I was initially taken aback by their open nudity. We quickly were put at ease by their natural inhibition. I realised just how off-focus American attiudes are toward sex and beauty. They are able to feel comfortable in their own bodies, no matter what their physique may be. How wonderful! Indeed, they seem to place more focus on inner beauty — whereas Americans are so focused on pysical perfection.
Europeans still do stop and smell the roses. They don't believe money
is all that matters. And yet — they live life to the fullest! Americans
need to realize that money dosen't equal happiness, and that beauty is
only skin deep. I think these attitudes are really dangerous to our society.
Brooklyn, NY USA 07/28/99
Something we could (but probably won't ever) learn from Europe is to
preserve things that are old. Here in the U.S. we usually tear down buidlings
more than 50 years old because it is too much of a hassle to bring them
up to code, or they get too rickety when they get older. In Europe they
build stuff to last and somehow find a way to modernize without destroying.
With so many very old buildings, built before the invention of electricity
and telephones, I'm amazed they've been able to update their buildings
without millions of outdoor phone & electric wires strung all around.
L.A., CA USA 07/23/99
A great way to learn from Europe and Europeans is to take part in an international Volunteer Workcamp through Service Civil Internatioal. This not-for-profit organization has been around since 1920, and aims to break down barriers between nationalities by bringing together people from different backgrounds and cultures to work on a local project.
Projects range from volunteering in a refugee camp, to renovating a castle, to helping archeologists at former concentration camps...the list goes on! Workcamps generally last 2-3 weeks, and cost appox. $150 — all food and accommodation is covered once you arrive at the camp.
For more information, check out the website: www.sci-ivs.org or call
them at (206) 545-6585.
Seattle, WA USA 07/03/99
I live in Scotland and have travelled through the States and seen quite a bit of the rest of the world.
One thing I learned over my years of travel and through being a SERVAS
host is that to most people there really is no place like home. If you
have lived most of your life in one country, that way of life is what
one considers the "norm." I love the States and I also love the UK. The
US has better plumbing but we have much better washing machines. There
is less violent crime here but people in the States are friendlier. Newspapers
are better in the States but our TV is much better. There isn't as much
petty crime in the States but we have at least 20 days vacation plus 9
days public holiday per annum. There are good things and bad things about
Edinburgh, UK 07/03/99
I think the transit and medical insurance issues are valid. The problem
here is that lobbyists from the auto and HMO groups throw too much weight
around and good ideas grow bad quickly. Also, the more people-oriented
investments made in Europe came at the start of the Cold War. Europe was
in shambles and the Western nations had to give something to the people
in order to keep the eastern influence in check. We never had that threat
here and so there was no need to provide these to the people of the US.
I also love America, but everything in this world could stand some tweaking.
Our tax money could be better spent than it currently is. I really wouldn't
mind paying higher taxes if we would benefit from them in the way some
European nations utilize these funds.
NJ USA 04/08/99
My parents and I are from a hilltown in southern Italy. Last summer I
went back with my wife and kids to visit family. The trip was a homecoming
for myself, but an education for my family. My wife finally understands
the dynamics of an Italian family. I find that for most of my American
friends, families are often fragmented and more of a hassle. To me there
is nothing more important than family. I think that we as a culture should
embrace each other more often and not be so uptight. Maybe we wouldn't
have so many problems with our youth.
Spring Hill, Fl USA 02/28/99
Holidays! Europeans get more holidays than we do even though we work
probably twice as hard and longer. We get antsy for a 3-day weekend. They
generally get 4 plus they generally get 3-4 weeks vacation time. They
don't understand why we Americans go 90-to-nothing to see everything in
a week. We have to in order to get back to work! Oh, to enjoy life and
smell the roses!
Tallahassee, FL USA 02/19/99
Americans as whole have different values than the rest of the world. We
value convenience (e.g. supermarkets), freedom and economy of personal
travel, quality medical care, the right to bear arms, low taxes, etc.
And every positive has its negative. I'm going to Europe to learn, to
shop, and to appreciate what they have that we do not. They come here
for pretty much the same reasons. I can love and appreciate what they
have without wanting to change anything but myself.
Lenexa, KS USA 01/04/99
Aside from all the other things people have mentioned here (superior
transit system, socialized medicine, less violence, more liberal/practical
attitudes toward sexuality etc.), I wish we had the 5-week vacations and
less TV! Also as someone else mentioned, I wish for the return of the
mom-and-pop establishments. Too many malls with the same chain stores
here! I was recently disappointed that the stores in Boston were largely
the same as the ones in San Francisco. Yuck!
san francisco, ca USA 12/20/98
I have often admired Europeans' love of life. They do indeed work to
live instead of living to work. This does not, however, prevent them from
having economic success and high standards of living. I also admire the
greater sense of freedom that is prevalent in many European countries,
the greater sense of style (men in this country, for example, are looked
at strangely if they wear anything but black or brown shoes), the love
of and care for nature that exists in Scandinavia, their love for art
and literature, and their abilities to build attractive and efficient
cities. As a student of European history, I would say that there has been
a lot more political instability in Europe in general, so I do have an appreciation for our system of
durham, nc USA 12/17/98
I believe that Europeans see money as a means to life and not the end therein. While all people want to better themselves and their families financially, in America the acquiring of money is too often seen as the only true accomplishment. When traveling in and studying about Europe I am always amazed at the importance placed upon humanity — Public transit that is a pleasure rather than a trial; city parks with beautiful trees and fountains, where you feel safe to lie down and take a nap; the priority placed upon museums and public works of art; the respect given education of all kinds (not just in business and technology); and a realistic approach to handling the problems of society where the value of people is placed above the advancement of political agendas.
It seems apparent that the U.S. is currently unwilling to seriously
consider European ideas in developing and maintaining our society and
communities. It isn't likely it would make any difference anyway as long
as Americans continue to perpetuate a set of ideals that heaps praise
upon professional athletes who are unhappy with $22 million a year, and
criticizes the educators of their children who toil in obscurity for $22,000/yr.
Salt Lake City, UT USA 12/14/98
From travelling in Europe and listening to Europeans, people whose conditioning is based on U.S. geography and history can gain an awareness of quite different senses of scale regarding space and time.
On the one hand, the spatial scale tends to be smaller and more compact, which affects people's sense of distance. (Writing about Britain, Bill Bryson deals with this theme amusingly in his Notes From a Small Island.) I am always fascinated in Europe by the variety of landscape, architecture, regional dialect, sense of identity, and customs found within an area that is relatively small by U.S. standards. This concentrated variety provides an antidote to a "bigger-is-better" mentality as well as to the homogenization of culture.
On the other hand, the time scale tends to be much longer, along with
a more complex sense of history. The term "historic house" takes on new
meaning after you have stayed in an unpretentious farmhouse that turned
out to have been built in the 16th century, on 12th-century foundations.
Rebecca R. Malek-Wiley
New Orleans, LA USA 12/13/98