My mother used to tell me at times “with you it’s either nothing or everything” it’s still true to this day, I feel.
I’ve spent the better part of the last decade stuck in North Carolina, USA, but I’ve already made up for it in just these past eight weeks traveling across Europe.
I’ve been on 10 flights and about 30 trains since May 14, and it’s now July 16 as I’m writing this. Yes, that’s eight weeks of traveling up and down Western Europe, which I’m learning to rediscover.
I’ve spent almost half of my life in Europe and the other half in the United States. So, that makes me qualified to write this article, especially after coming back to Europe for a 13 month adventure.
I wish I had had the time to write more about my travels until now, but time has been short and busy. I’ve been to Scotland, Ireland, England, Spain, and now England again in just eight weeks, and while doing so I even wrote for my own blog as well as for clients, so my travel journey writings took a back row.
However, today I wanted to educate both Americans and Europeans about these two continents that I have experienced pretty well, and inform you about what to expect on either side, as far as day to day life is concerned.
Since this blog is mostly read in the US, the info is going to be more about Europe, but it will also give you information about the US if you are in Europe.
After years of being a bit stuck in the US for one reason or another, I thought that it was time for me to revisit my continent of origin. Yes, to go back to Europe and enjoy it in a way I haven’t had before, even while living in France.
When in the US people ask me about Europe, and here (in Europe) people ask me about the US. While I meet some people who have been there, I also meet many who haven’t been to the United States and they are always wondering what it’s like to live there.
So, what are the differences between the United States and Europe, and what traveling from Scotland to Spain today has taught me all over again?
If you would like to know and be better prepared for you upcoming trip, keep reading.
The Gap between Capitalism and Socialism
When you travel from The US to Europe or vice-versa it’s not like going to a modern country to a third world country. I’m sure you know that much, even if you live in the US side of the game.
So the differences will never be obvious at first site. When you travel from the US to Europe you will start noticing more subtle differences as you go in and start living your day to day life.
The most obvious differences you’ll notice are often the result of one main thing, which is that America is a capitalist country, while Europe is more of a socialist continent.
What does this mean?
Well, mainly it means that if you are wealthy, you might be better off living in the States, but if you’re not, you’re better off living in Europe.
For example, if you are a business owner, you will definitely enjoy the capitalism system of the US and pay less tax. But if you’re an employee, Europe will give you more rights and privileges than you’ll ever get in the United States.
That’s why the middle class lives better in Europe, for the most part. I’m not just saying that, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
In Europe the wealthy complain of paying too much tax, and employers have to follow strict rules and regulations that benefit their employees, whether they like it or not.
This can have pros and cons effects, because no government is perfect.
This is the main difference between Europe and America, and the reason why I started with this very important fact that separate America and Europe is that the capitalism spirit versus the socialism spirit affects other subtle areas of life.
Let’s see how…
Time is Money
If you live in the US, I know you’ve heard and probably used the term, time is money. And gosh is that obvious in almost everything in America.
However, one thing that you’ll notice in Europe is that “time is not necessarily money” here. Time is this living window that we have to try to enjoy life as much as we can. This is very obvious in Western Europe. No doubt.
Sure, it’s not easy to enjoy anything if you don’t have money, granted, but you can’t enjoy life either when all you’re thinking about is making your next dollar, pound or euro. Because while doing so, you’re also dying.
This fundamental difference between the two continents shows its face in the way people live their day to day life.
Here are some examples…
I don’t know about you, but the first time I ate in a restaurant in the States I felt rushed.
As I’m sitting in restaurants in Europe, I still experience this huge difference today.
Here is what I experienced…
Arriving in the Restaurant
In the States you sit at a table and menus are given to you instantly.
In Europe you sit at a table and menus are given to you most of the time, and at times you may have to ask for them. No one seems to be in any kind of a hurry.
For them it’s a given that you’ve gotten here to eat, but it doesn’t mean that you want to rush in to read the menu. You may want to settle down first.
Once you’ve ordered, however, you can expect your food to get to you as fast as you would in the US.
In the States, you’ll have a waiter introducing himself or herself and giving you their name while emphasizing the fact that they’ll be your waiter for the evening.
In Europe anywhere from Scotland to Spain, the waiter will not introduce himself or herself to you. They will say hello and welcome, but you’ll never know their name, and they will not tell you that “they’ll be your waiter for the evening.”
As I sat in a restaurant with two British couples in Wilmslow, England one of the ladies who’s been in the US several times warned me; “here waiters don’t introduce themselves saying hi my name is blabla… like they do in America.”
I reassured her not to worry as I knew that, indeed.
Even though she knew that I’m not originally from the US, she also knew that I’ve spent long enough time there to maybe have forgotten.
During your Meal
In America, you have a waiter that comes by your table regularly asking you if “everything is OK” but here in Europe that would be considered rude to interrupt a party every so often to ask them if they’re OK.
So, no such thing here.
If you need something you’ll have to ask for it. Once they served you your food, they won’t come back again, until you’ve finished your plate, so they can remove it and bring you the next course.
There is less of a desperation to please you in European restaurants, I would say.
Portions and Beverages
Now remember that everything is big in America, the country and often time the people. One of the reasons people are big is because of the quantity of food they eat.
Yes, that’s as simple as that.
In Europe while people love to eat (and drink), they also eat less, thus the portions are smaller.
Expect to get a much smaller portion in a restaurant in Europe.
As a matter of fact, if you are used to those over-sized restaurant portions in the US, you’ll be in for a shock in Europe.
Now did I ever feel still hungry after a meal in a restaurant in Europe?
Not at all.
What happens is that I eat it all and don’t have to ask for a doggy bag to take home.
Another reason why portions are smaller is that European hate waste. Food and energy is much, much more valued here than it is in the US where people tend to live like there is no tomorrow.
Enough food so that you can eat almost two meals on it is considered waste here.
Even water is precious in Europe, and unless you ask for it, they won’t bring you water in restaurants. What’s more is that it’s not free either. You pay for your water here.
Bill (Check) Time
In the US, at times you may barely have the time to finish your meal before the waiter comes asking you if you need anything else. And once you say no, they’ll bring you the bill soon after that.
In Europe, because they don’t necessarily consider that “time is money” as much, you can sit there for hours, and no one will bother you with the bill (or check should I say here).
Basically, you won’t see it coming unless you ask for it.
Again, here it’s considered rude for the waiter to ask you if you want the bill, as it would be a sign that they want you out.
You will never feel rushed out of your table in a restaurant or café in Europe. You can sit and relax all day or all evening long.
Once you sat at a table and to pay for your food and beverages, you own it, and it’s up to you when you decide to leave it.
So, yes, you may have to pay a couple of Pounds or Euros for you water, while it’s free in the US, but you own your table for an indefinite amount of time. AND tips are just pocket change here. It’s not the waiter’s salary.
But in the end, restaurants are not losing anything, because people will still leave their table in a rather reasonable amount of time anyways.
But even if they stayed 4 or 5 hours at a table, it shows that the restaurant is busy and it’s good for business. So it’s still a win-win situation.
There are rarely ever any line for restaurants in Europe for two reasons.
- More people eat at home.
- There are so many restaurants.
Energy Waste Versus Saving
Saying that Europe is more in tune with energy saving than the US is an understatement.
While living in the States I often wondered how businesses and even regular people were able to waste so much energy and money in air conditioning, for example. I see that it’s certainly not the case in Europe.
Granted, the UK doesn’t need air conditioning, but places like Spain where I was this past week or even France, do need air conditioning in the summer.
However, the way they use is totally different.
In the US on any typical summer day (for the most parts) where the temperature may come up to 95-100’s (35-40’s Celsius) outside, it’s not uncommon to come inside a store where it’s basically freezing.
This is because if it’s let’s say 95 degrees (35 C) outside, which is very hot but also very common in southern US in the summer, they set the indoor temperatures at something like 68-70 degrees (22-22 C).
On top of being way too low, since 68-70 F air conditioned feels way cooler than 68-70 F from outdoor temperatures, what does your body feel when it goes from 95 to 68-70 degrees?
It feels very cold, and more often than not you will need to add another layer of clothing like a long sleeve sweater to be comfortable.
This stupidity is out of the picture in Europe.
Where it’s hot in the summer in Europe, the AC is set to make you feel more comfortable, not to force you to put on an extra sweater that you didn’t need outdoors to start with.
Air conditioning cost both energy and money, and Europe doesn’t like to waste either, thus the AC is made to feel you better at a reasonable level.
As I was explaining how air conditioning works in the US to an English man, he told me, “well, America is a country of extremes and they can’t seem to like it any other way.” I think he’s right. The air is conditioned to the extreme in the summer in America. I’ve always thought that, and my trip in Europe just confirms it even more.
In some hotels in Spain, you have to pay extra if you want more cool air. If you don’t want to pay, you have to do with what they give you which is about 10-12 degrees cooler than outdoors, which totally works for me, and everybody else there.
Why you should Come to Europe
For one thing, you should come to Europe because it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth, but also because you will learn other ways of life.
You will learn more about the value of food and energy savings.
You will learn to slow down and take the time to enjoy things.
After 20 years in the United States I was really missing Europe for some of such reasons.
Some people had told me that I was going to notice some changes, but I actually didn’t really.
The same way that America hasn’t changed in just 20 years, neither did Europe.
The main features are there to stay for a long time, good or bad.
Some things you’re going to like in Europe, and some things you won’t, but you will never know unless you come.
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