Photo: Benjamin Linh VU
What I’ll miss about Europe
Greetings with two kisses
In most of Southern Europe, it’s customary to introduce yourself with a kiss on each cheek. It’s expected amongst women and when greeting the opposite sex no matter what age, although when men greet other men they usually revert to a handshake. It does make introducing yourself to a group of new people time consuming, and leads to slight discomfort when you go for the cheek and then discover they’re foreigners unfamiliar with the custom.
Yet I have grown fond of this small gesture — to the American me, that extra dose of intimacy makes every encounter a little bit special, since in my world you don’t put your face near anybody except family and lovers. On the other hand, to people from this kiss culture, hugs are very intimate and have led to more than one awkward one-sided embrace on my part, since I still believe the body contact offered by a hug is more befitting tender farewells.
Like many other Americans fresh off a Eurotrip, I often wonder why we don’t have this fast-food staple of late nights across the Continent on our side of the pond. The East Coast has shawarma, which is similar but not quite the same, and the closest the West Coast has is Greek gyros, which are also delicious but are simply not doner kebaps.
Nothing puts to rest an agitated stomach filled with nothing but alcohol like a doner kebap, except perhaps an authentic burrito. Bring the doner overseas — easiest business opportunity ever?
The ability to use loose change to buy things
American coins are useless. Personally, I discard anything less than a quarter into the tip jar on the spot, because my credit cards make Stateside cash transactions few and far between, and I never accumulate enough spare change to actually buy things.
Europeans make coins useful again through the use of 1 and 2 euro coins, which add up really fast after a few purchases. Instead of pulling down your pants unevenly, that heavy wad of metal in your pocket is a happy constant remainder of possible doner kebaps to come.
The ability to hop on a plane for an hour and experience a different culture
Europe is unique in that there’s a large number of distinct cultures with centuries of history behind them, along with a burgeoning market of discount airline providers whose competition keeps international flight prices lower than an expensive dinner.
It’s hard to impart this kind of freedom to an American who hasn’t experienced it — with the money you pay at the gas pump, you can get a round-trip flight to just about the entire continent. Your weekend can be conducted in a language completely different from that of your weekdays. It’s simply incomparable to driving four hours over the state line to take advantage of no sales tax — it’s a whole new world.
Leaving my shoes on at airport security
Airport security is a threat to quality of life no matter where you are. Yet somehow being allowed to leave your shoes on during the process makes everything more tolerable. There’s no bending over, no be-smudging of your other possessions by your dirty shoes, no untying and retying. It makes the rest of the ordeal seem reasonable — “Take all metal out of my pockets? Certainly, you let me keep my shoes on — anything you ask!”
It’s not the same traffic-stopping power that a white person in China has, but I still stand out enough from the people around me to inspire interest. Once I open my mouth and expose my heavy accent, the whole world knows I’m different. Not quite a D-list celebrity, but I do attract excited questions from strangers, heightened interest by the opposite sex, and can get out of small egresses by feigning tourist ignorance. Back home, I’ll be just the same as everyone else — stripped of my foreign superpowers.
What I’m looking forward to in America
Being Californian isn’t such a big deal
California has acquired an international reputation of a place of interest and desire, so that once strangers hear where I’m from, they babble on eagerly with talk of impending plans or erstwhile dreams of visiting sometime.
However, the romantic sheen that the Golden State has is the same worldwide, so I’m forced to have the same conversation about surfers or movie stars over and over every time I meet someone new. I usually try to steer them towards more compelling (to me) points of interest, like Yosemite or Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, back in Cali it’s not so exciting to be from Cali.
Not having to party until the sun comes up
Spanish nightlife continues late into the night, often until the sun is peeking over the horizon. This sounds sexy and crazy-fun in theory, but in practice it’s just exhausting. It means nothing happens in the early evening, from 9 to 11 or so — you’re all ready for the party, but there’s simply nobody out yet.
I must say I prefer the lame American version, where you start partying around 10 and can get to bed at a decent hour like 2 and still get some sleep. We still fit in four or five hours of debauchery, but the difference is it’s not replacing the entirety of our sleep cycle. The Spanish method is simply not sustainable — after a few nights out your body is crippled and crying out for bed. The siesta becomes a requisite for survival, even if your schedule doesn’t accommodate it.
Free bathrooms and drinking water, no questions asked
You can say a lot of things about America, but there are two rights that are self-evident truths anywhere in our country: free bathrooms and potable tap water. We take these amenities for granted, but elsewhere they aren’t guaranteed. Yet I see no reason why they shouldn’t be — if I’m backpacking through rural India I won’t expect much, but it’s a bit ridiculous to be stranded in the middle of a metropolitan Western city without free access to two such basic needs. If you don’t have drinkable water and available bathrooms, how can you truly be a first-world country?
And don’t complain to me about your regional tap water in the US — even if it tastes funky, if you can drink it and not feel sick afterwards, you’ve got it better than half of Barcelona.
I grew up in the same zip code as Google, so I can understand if the wifi isn’t quite as easy to come by as at home. But it seems Europeans make things harder than they need be — even the wifi in American chains like Starbucks requires a code printed on your receipt, which means they aren’t all full of struggling novelists staring intently at their laptops.
In tourist zones it’s even worse — you can find places that charge 2 euros for an hour of access. Yes, there is wifi available, but you have to work for it, whereas Stateside it hardly requires any thought.
No more Ryanair customer service
The downside of all the aforementioned discount airlines is that the price you pay is for the flight and the flight alone. You’re gonna pay extra for anything beyond that, and that includes printing out your boarding pass.
You have to follow their rules exactly or you pay hefty sums — it’s how they make their money, but it’s tough on the tired traveler who forgot to get that non-EU member stamp back before security.
American-sized food portions
Call us fat all you want, but at least we know how to leave a diner satisfied. Even the McDonalds burgers in Europe are smaller, which leads to a stomach seldom filled. Tapas are delicious, but you can’t call that a meal — they’re barely mouthfuls, something to snack rather than feed on.
Certainly there are a few hole-in-the-wall local places that can fill you up if you know where to look, but the general food portions are not nearly as sizable, so to those who are accustomed to finishing American plates, life is that much more inconvenient.