I spent the first 27 years of my life in the United States, most of it on the East Coast.
I had never been across the Atlantic. I’d never been farther west than Texas.
The East Coast, I’d covered. I knew everything from Florida to Maryland pretty well. I’d been farther north a few times. But aside from that, just one trip to Texas and one to Chicago.
Now I’ve been to England multiple times. Italy for two weeks. Germany for two weeks. Ireland for a week. France for a day. (And in the other direction — China for three weeks, plus several trips to previously unseen parts of the USA and Canada.) And over Thanksgiving, either Spain or Catalonia, depending on how (or if) they vote.
That’s probably not enough to qualify as an expert on Europe as a whole. Of course, there’s some diversity here — Frankfurt and Barcelona are as different as Boston and Atlanta. But it’s enough to have a few observations, and it’s enough to respond to this Irish traveler who’s been in the USA for a year and notes 17 cultural differences.
I’ll start with his list (not all of it):
1. Americans are way too sensitive
2. Everything is “awesome”
He mentions “political correctness” here, but he’s not really talking about Woke America. He praises our efforts to respond to hate speech — and yes, for all our anti-immigration bluster, you can make the case that we’re actually far more welcoming and far more of a melting pot than most European countries.
What he’s saying is that friends don’t give each other constructive criticism. We’re not straight with each other. That’s hard for me to judge because Europeans generally aren’t going to issue blunt corrections to tourists. You’d have to work someplace to see the difference.
3. Smiles mean nothing
6. Cheesy in-your-face marketing
Let me put it this way: I’ve never going to tell a random woman to smile more, because that’s patronizing and sexist and everything else that’s wrong, but I will tell my sons.
There’s nothing wrong with spreading good cheer. England, frankly, makes the effort. Even their advertising has a friendly tone, while ours usually makes us think about death or illness.
So we smile and exchange pleasantries. Then our ads and our media make us think we’re going to die if we don’t purchase whatever’s for sale. Surely there’s a better balance here.
14. Always in a hurry
7. Wasteful consumerism
15. Obsession with money
I’m glad European food-service folks are paid well enough that they’re not relying on us for tip money. We’re jerks. On more than one occasion in the USA, I’ve left a tip on another table, knowing that the dirtbags who dined there didn’t leave anything.
And sure, we don’t need to be rushing around as much as we do. Europeans are more patient than we are, and that might explain why they’re not rushing out to buy more crap that ends up in a landfill or in the ocean. (Also noteworthy: Fresh fruit is cheaper in Barcelona than it is here. Legos and other plastic toys are more expensive. That seems like a good thing. Fruit fuels healthy bodies. Legos are great, but when you have a gazillion of them, maybe it’s time not to buy more.)
But I’m still perplexed by the European habit of not bringing the check when diners are obviously finished dining. What exactly is the point of that? You can leave it and say “no rush,” as a lot of Americans do.
5. False prices on everything
Yep. Europe is way ahead of us in terms of getting rid of pennies. Don’t tell me something $9.99 when it’s actually $10.49 with tax. Charge me $10 or $10.50 with tax included. My wallet thanks you.
8. American stereotypes of other countries
16. Thinking America is the best
Yeah, this times 1,000. Granted, we stereotype within our own country. I’ve seen Northerners who think gay people are in imminent physical danger at a women’s soccer game in North Carolina. I’ve spent the last 20 years realizing everything my fellow Southerners told me about the North is wrong. (Except about the cold.)
11. Religious Americans
Americans are more in-your-face about religion, even compared with heavily Catholic areas in Ireland (or Spain, I’d say), our correspondent says. Yes, they are, but what bothers me more is the ignorance. In the USA, the louder someone is about religion, the more likely it is they have the zeal of someone who knows nothing beyond a few feel-good slogans (many of which make them feel good because they can look down on others). I doubt you’ll see a creationist billboard in Germany.
12. Corporations win all the time, not small businesses
13. A country designed for cars, not human
His point here is that in any European town, you can walk around and find a nice place to eat or get coffee. I suppose that’s true for the most part, though it’s tough to generalize. If you walk in New York or Boston, you’ll find places — and frankly, I don’t care if it’s Starbucks. Maybe I’m risk-averse, but sometimes, I like knowing what I’m going to get. And there are subtle variations — I was thrilled to go to a Dunkin’ Donuts in Barcelona because I knew from experience elsewhere that European Dunkin’ Donuts offer far better variety than what we have here. (Also — have you ever had Fanta orange in Europe? It’s simply wonderful. In the USA, it’s just generic syrup.)
Outside big cities, do we have any idea? When I went to Ireland, there was no way I could’ve walked from one of our B&Bs to the town center. Where I live in Northern Virginia, I can easily walk to a strip with banks, restaurants (local and corporate), shops (again, local and corporate), etc.
But I’d have to agree that Europe generally makes it easier to walk to a grocery store. Our grocery stores are the size of aircraft carriers, surrounded by parking lots the size of San Marino. In Barcelona, they had plenty of smaller stores (some local, some corporate) with all the variety you could really need.
That said, I’ve never been in a part of Europe that has single-family homes. I’d have to assume they exist. In Barcelona, I didn’t even see townhouses — everyone lived in an apartment. That was convenient, but I also didn’t get much sleep Saturday night thanks to the neighbors and people out in the street.
And, quite obviously, mass transit is better elsewhere. Maybe New York can compare with what you have in London or Barcelona, but Washington’s way behind. English soccer fans can usually hop on a train, go to their team’s away game, then return that day.
16. Unhealthy portions
Stuff he didn’t cover
We need universal health care. I’d love to have more train travel, but I understand how that can be difficult without overuse of eminent domain.
We don’t need Europe’s provincialism. Ours is bad enough.
Last but not least — we need English toffee. And American dentists to clean up the mess.