The Other Side of the Pond.

By Em - October 13, 2018

Well, I’m more than three weeks into my travels, and this is my first post from Europe.  Later I want to recount some specifics of the places I’ve been, but right now, some general musings.

Things that are different from my US experience that I like, appreciate or envy:

Public transportation/Bicycling:  
Cars are unnecessary to own, at least in the cities I’ve visited.  Cities are much friendlier to bicyclists and when you do need a car, there are so many car-share options. 

Blankets for outdoor seating:
Rather than just closing outdoor seating for guests at cafes and restaurants when chillier fall weather approaches, many establishments provide blankets for guests to drape over their laps, so they can still enjoy the outdoors.  I LOVE this.

Vacation time:
I’m going to stay away from venting about public health care, and instead gripe about vacation time.  In the US we live to work.  In Europe, people work to live.  On average in Europe, people take 30 days of paid vacation per year, most countries mandate a minimum of 20 days.  In the US the average is 10 days, with 23% of Americans receiving NO paid vacation days or holidays.  The US is the only industrialized country with no minimum paid vacation mandated by the government.  Check out this cringe-worthy graphic of just how backwards our country is about vacation.  Let's be outraged, America!  This is ridiculous!

Bakeries on every corner:
In Massachusetts, there is a Dunkin Donuts on every corner.  In Europe, there is a bakery on every corner, with fresh bread to buy instead of factory-made packaged breads like I’m used to.

Things I appreciate about the United States:

Not paying to use the bathroom:
In so many public places you must pay to use the toilet.  In Germany, at rest stops on the highway, even after purchasing gas from the gas station you still had to pay €0.70 to pee.  I would maybe be okay with it if the bathrooms were therefore very clean, but that isn’t what my experience has been.

Walking down the street without breathing in someone’s cigarette:
I don’t think I need to elaborate on this one.  It honestly astounds me how many people smoke cigarettes and how many public places allow it.

Not having a bakery on every corner:
I think I would weigh 100 pounds more if I lived in Europe.  Especially Belgium.  Belgium is known for: french fries (seems silly to call them French...), waffles, chocolate and beer.  All of which are spectacular and can be purchased on seemingly every block.  The temptation seems almost unfair.  This morning in Zagreb I saw a man eating a massive slice of chocolate cake with his espresso.  There is a wall of Nutella jars in the grocery store nearby the wall of Milka chocolate bars.  I don't understand how people here stay healthy and fit.

Other noted differences:

I love how many languages are thrown around all around me on a day-to-day basis.  It's so colorful.  It amazes me that a country as small as Belgium (which can fit inside the state of Colorado almost nine times) has three national languages: Flemish (similar to Dutch), French and German.  The Belgians I have met spoke at least two of those languages in addition to English.

Reusing and Recycling:
In Germany they have two different thicknesses of plastic bottles, one that can be recycled and one that can be reused (much like glass).  You pay a deposit of  €0.25 for the reusable plastic and get the €0.25 back when returning it.  Bars do the same, giving you a voucher to return for your deposit.  It strikes me that this not only acts as an incentive for consumers to recycle, but also creates a system where the homeless and hungry can collect bottles from public trash for a meal (and get one much more quickly than they could with the $0.05 you can get for a bottle in the US).

In the bag of skittles I bought in Croatia, the green skittle was thankfully still lime (unlike the green apple now found in skittles in the US).  But the purple skittle was blackcurrant flavored rather than grape. (Obviously this was of the utmost importance to note.)

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