Well folks, the first leg of this trip is drawing to a close. Tomorrow, on America’s birthday, we fly back to our home and we get to see Lincoln, Penny, and all of you! I cannot wait. We have had a great three months here, but we are very excited to get back home for a bit.
I’ve been thinking about little things that we have noticed along the way over the last 13 weeks. The pros and cons of Europe, as observed over this short time period. Here are a few thoughts from the road. Please try not to take this too seriously. Some of these are very silly.
Things That Are Better in Europe
Public Transportation. Every city that we visited had a form of public transit that was superior to Nashville’s. Most of the cities that we visited had a system of trams and / or trains that travelled everywhere, and most of the time. It is amazingly convenient and afordable. Meanwhile, Nashville is agonizing over a simple thing like AMP and appears to have no mass transit strategy whatsoever.
Roofs. The roofs on the houses of Europe are all made of ceramic shingles or metal. Occasionally, we saw slate, and every once in a while, it was hard plastic made to look like the ceramic tiles. I did not see a single asphalt shingle roof while on this trip. Not one. I’m not a roofer, but I have to believe that the harder the material, the longer it lasts, right? I’m tired of fiddling around with fixing my roof every few years. Is the answer as simple as putting more durable material on the top? Duh! Is it that Europeans have all these buildings that have been around for hundreds of years, and America doesn’t?
Movie Theater Seating. You buy a ticket for a film in Europe, and you get an assigned seat. It’s like going to a play. It’s way better this way. Also, they have beer.
Manhole Covers. US manhole covers have a cross-hatched pattern. European manhole covers have animals, crowns, knights, castles. They are round, heavy works of art that you can walk on! Keep it classy, Europe.
Power Conservation. Many stores and museums that we visited had lights that would automatically turn off when no people are present in that area of the facility. We even experienced this in stairwells at many of the apartment buildings where we stayed. Very green, Europe!
No Carding. I wasn’t asked for ID once while purchasing alcohol. It’s not a big deal, but doesn’t it defy logic that a 49-year-old man would be asked for his ID, as I regularly am in the US? I once saw a blue-haired 80-something little old lady carded after she ordered a Tom Collins at a bar in the O’Hare airport. That’s just stupid. And stupid bugs the shit out of me.
Better Tourists. American tourists in Europe can be spotted a mile away. That’s not a good thing. They are loud and proud. Be cool guys, be cool. Act like you’ve been out of the country before and you will be again. Some American tourists think that everything is going to work like it does in America, and they get wrapped around the axle if it doesn’t work like they expect. Today I saw a guy get his undies in a bunch because the ticket machine at the subway station required him to put in his PIN when he used his credit card. He worked himself into a homicidal rage because he didn’t know his PIN. Chill dude. That’s how they roll over here.
Smoking. I don’t smoke, but I am pro-freedom, and I’ve noticed that anti-smoking in the US is one of those crusades that is being followed in a way that seems contradictory to freedom of choice. People should be informed, and then allowed to make a decision. In the US of A, an extraordinary amount of legislation has been passed to regulate where people cannot smoke, so much so that even as a non-smoker I have taken notice that it seems like smokers are persecuted. In Europe, smokers can smoke in bars and outdoor locations. They can’t smoke indoors, other than in bars. That seems logical and reasonable. In the US, the laws seems overly stringent, leaning toward Draconian. Advantage: Europe (in freedom-of-choice territory too; that’s gotta sting, eh US?).
Dogs on Trains. As a matter of fact, dogs everywhere. Dogs in parks, dogs on the street, dogs in outdoor (and occasionally indoor) restaurants. Shoulda been a Dr. Suess book, but I don’t know how often Theodor Geisel got to the continent. Europe understands that dogs are cool as hell and need to be included in things.
Pedestrians. Pedestrians mostly have their way on the streets of Europe. All streets have marked crosswalks. A few of the crosswalks (the busiest ones) have electric signs saying when to walk and when not to. The vast majority just obey this rule: pedestrians get to go. Pedestrains always have the right of way on un-regulated crosswalks. That’s the way it was in every single city we visited in Europe. Pedestrians rule! Man, I sure hope that I remember that it is not this way when I get back to the states. Otherwise, it was awesome knowing you guys.
Things That Are Better in the USA
Clothes Washing and Drying. This is treated as an esoteric, bothersome exercise in Europe. Dryers (tumble dryers, as they are called) are found in approximately the same number of homes as caviar. Everyone else just hangs their stuff outside on clothes lines, as we did in the US prior to the 1960’s. On the extraordinarily rare occasions when a tumble dryer is winessed in a home, it is almost always located at the point in that home that is the furthest distance geometrically from the washer. In the first dwelling that we stayed that had both, the washer and dryer were on different floors of the home and one literally had to use an extension ladder to reach the dryer. Also, it takes foooooorever. Don’t attempt a load unless you don’t need it’s contents until at least 4 hours later.
Bathrooms. This got better as our trip progressed, but in the Scandinavian and Eastern Bloc countries, bathrooms seemed an inconvenient, utilitarian afterthought. Perhaps this is to encourage dwellers not to spend too much time in there. These rooms were usually tiny, and the shower was generally just a water dispenser of some sort that existed without walls or other demarcation in an otherwise cramped bathroom. Imagine if you will a small, (perhaps) tiled space with a sink and a toilet. Now, just stick a shower head, or better yet, and hand-held shower nozzle, anywhere in that space. Put a drain in the floor. I have just described your average European bathroom. I have literally been in bathrooms in the US that are bigger than some of the flats that we stayed in. I’m talking to you Mike.
Service in Restaurants. In America, we generally tip waiters 15 to 20%. In Europe, waiters are tipped 0% to 10%. In most places, waiters are paid a better flat wage than in the US, but tipping is not expected at all.
As it turns out, the old idea of “working for a tip” is a pretty good concept. We had great service in a few places in Europe, and we had lousy service in a few places. On average, the service at bars and restaurants is noticeably better in the States than in Europe. Some European waiters seemed utterly indifferent to our experience, and that is rarely the case in the US. They weren’t working for a tip.
Iconic Food. Amerca’s iconic food is the hamburger, or maybe the hot dog. Or maybe the steak. I don’t know, but those are all solid choices. Scotland’s iconic food is haggis. Have you tried haggis? Denmark and Norway’s iconic food is…I don’t know, it was wiped out by the pizza and döner kebab invasion. Sweden’s iconic food is the meatball?
I’m not saying that the food isn’t good in all these places. I ate delicious local delicacies in every country that we visited. They all have kick-ass local food. What I’m saying is that if you have to assign an iconic, representative food to each country, and you put all those foods into an international competition to see who wants to eat them, the US wins that weird, imaginary competion. Everybody eats hamburgers. Oddly, every single country we visited had a bunch of Burger Kings. In Switzerland, a Whopper is a $20 meal.
Condiments. These are to be requested in Europe, and an extra charge often applies. Advantage USA.
Ice in Drinks. This form of water is treated in European restaurants like one might treat a genuine mink coat. Although you know what it looks like, it is rare to see and shocking when it appears. If you do see it in quantity, you are witnessing true European decadence.
Internet. Slow as greased molases in most of Europe. In home or over the cellular network? Yes, On a postive note, you see fewer Europeans fiddling constantly with their phones. It’s because they can’t; if they spent time fiddling with their phones they would want to go on a five-state shooting rampage. No…wait. Scratch that reference; they don’t have states or guns.
I’m hoping this internet business is fixed in Japan.
Air Conditioning. Apart from Spain, the concept of chilled air has not fully registered in the European cities that we have visited. It is barely on their radar screen. “It’s only hot two months out of the year, why would I make that sort of investment?”
A: Because it’s hot two months out of the year.
Football. Is soccer or the NFL more entertaining to watch? No witnesses, your honor.
Photographing Food. In the USA, if we want to have a photo of some food, we do it the old fashioned way. We go to perverse creative lengths to produce an image of something that is fake, yet looks amazing and delicious. For example, to get a photo of a bowl of Frosted Flakes cereal (Frosties, in most of Europe), a bunch of that cereal is arranged atop a bowl filled with clear white Elmer’s glue. It looks perfect.
In Europe, they just take a photo of the food. That doesn’t work! It sounds like the right thing to do, but it looks terrible. I walked past hundreds of placards all over Europe showing unappealing food that had been authentically photographed. Turns out that isn’t the way to do it.
Coffee. This isn’t an easy one. We started our travels in the UK, and next visited the lands of Scandinavia. These are amazing, wonderful places, but not for their coffee. Then we went to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, etc. The Czech Republic and Poland had amazing beer but so-so coffee.
However, the coffee experience has picked up quite a bit in Austria, Switzerland, and Spain. So…the jury is out. It isn’t a simple matter. We also discovered the Moka pot (courtesy of Fernando and Sophia. And Svensson).
Coffee culture is different between the US and Europe, for sure. I hammer down coffee like there is no tomorrow in the US, as do many of us. In Europe, It is more of a special treat. You do it in the morning, once. Maybe you have a coffee in the afternoon….maybe not. I have become accustomed in European cities to going to get a coffee, and then not doing anything else while I am drinking it. It is an end unto itself. And in the places in Europe where coffee is understood, it is generally stronger.
Monarchy. I started out thinking that the concept of monarchy is a silly anachronism, incompatible with modern political concepts. I still believe that’s true to an extent.
Most places in Europe that have a monarchy have adopted also some form of elective government that does the actual lawmaking and governing. The monarchy in Europe is largely ceremonial. And I have come to see some of the benefits of that ceremonial role.
The biggest benefit is that there is a certain “pomp and circumstance”…an aesthetic and ceremonial sensibility…that is beautiful and fun and which only exists in the presence of a monarchy. I first thought of this while walking through a huge rose garden at the king’s palace in Vienna. This lovely, fragrant rose garden appears in a tremendous, beautiful park in Austria’s capital. It is on an immense estate, and it is provided to the public for their enjoyment. The palace is there as well. It is lovely, majestic, inspiring, beautiful. It has been there for centuries. The thought of not having it would probably offend the sensibilities of many Austrians.
Palaces, castles, rose gardens, crown jewels, royal museums…few of these things exists in the US. And thank God we don’t have a monarchy in the US, for all of the reasons that American Patriots documented in the many writings and core founding documents of our nation. I am proud that the US has never had and never will have a king or queen. But, at this point, monarchies in Europe are almost entirely symbolic, and they provide an interesting symbolism and a noteable cultural and aesthetic value to the countries of Europe that is every bit as important to the mythologies of those nations as our lack of a monarchy is to the US. They provide a link to a past that the US will never have, and doesn’t need. But it is still valuable, rich, and important to the people of these nations. Not just historically, anachronistically, but rather in very real and practical terms today as part of their day-to-day relationship to their country.
There is more to say, but I have a plane to catch. Ciao. See many of you folks very soon. I can’t wait!