An American In Europe Rather A Long Time Ago

So there’s this list/article thing in Buzzfeed: 35 Thing You Appreciate About America After Living In Europe. Needless to say, most of those things are either 1) actually in Europe (where did the author live, in a box under a railway platform?) or things I, a person who has lived in America for 51 years (my entire life) don’t give a shit about. It’s an odd article anyway — “Europe” means nothing, where did she live that there were none of the mod-cons like driers and convenience stores she’s lamenting? As a matter of fact, the thing about Solo cups, something I’ve only seen remarked upon by non-US people (they’re just another brand of disposable cups over here), makes me think she might just be full of shit and has been nowhere near Europe and gets all her info from reruns of Are You Being Served?

I went to Europe in 1981 on a three-week trip with my mother, and haven’t been back since, due to money mostly (believe it or not most Americans aren’t rich and can’t just hop across the pond on a whim). If I went back I’m sure I’d find a lot of changes (like I can go to all of Germany now, and Prague and Latvia and stuff). Here are some of my impressions of the differences between the parts of Europe I went to (England, Scotland, The Netherlands, Belgium, West Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, France) and the limited parts of the United States I’d visited (mostly Florida, where I lived, and North Carolina, where my grandparents lived half the year):

  1. It’s July and it’s freezing. (It was usually in the 50s during the day (10-15C) when we were there. I don’t know if that was normal for the time — a few years later my dad visited with his dad, in the summer also (no one in my family traveled in winter outside of Florida, also as my father was a teacher we couldn’t really go anywhere during the school year), and it was in the 80s (26-31C) and everyone, he reported, complained about the heat.
  2. Radiators. We have them in the US in old buildings, like the apartment I live in now. But at the time the only heating I’d experienced were the space heaters and gas fireplace we had in our (also rather old for South Florida) house, and modern central air.
  3. People open their windows when it’s “freezing” out. Only our Cuban neighbors did this at home year round. (In South Florida 40F is like the deepest winter freeze.)
  4. If you need drugs or sanitary pads you get them at an “apothecary” (In England anyway), which is a small drugstore. You ask for them at the counter.
  5. Acetaminophen is called paracetamol.
  6. Everything is upstairs or downstairs. (South Florida is very flat and most houses are one story.)
  7. The sun stays up forever. Especially in Scotland. (South Florida is nearer to the equator.)
  8. Newer houses have lots of gigantic windows. (At least in Florida in the late 70s, the only big windows in new homes where sliding glass doors in the back, and picture windows were still a thing. Most rooms had one window, rather small, due to needing to keep air-conditioning costs down.
  9. England is really that green.
  10. Things like public telephones have no instructions. We had to ask a passerby how to use one.
  11. Arabic graffiti all over London.
  12. Traffic is worse in Paris than in Miami, only in Miami it’s impossible to drive 90 miles per hour through the streets because of gridlock, so Paris wins.
  13. German campsites are hilarious: they looked like parking lots only for tents instead of cars. Or maybe my parents had always picked the wildest, most bear-and-raccoon infested parts of the southern US to camp in. They would.
  14. Food. Is. So. Good. Even that McDonald’s we went to in Cologne. (We had to try it. They served beer!) (Hey also this points out one huge lie of that Buzzfeed article: there was even fast food in Europe during the freaking Cold War.)
  15. Except for British food. British food was just like white people food in the US, except maybe not as much fried. At the railway stations they sold hardboiled egg sandwiches just like I used to make at home: one layer of thin-sliced hardboiled egg on buttered Wonder bread. In fact, the country that invented the sandwich didn’t seem to know how to make one: every attempt to eat a sandwich in the UK was a chastening example of what not to do if I wanted a fulfilling meal. I’m talking one paper-thin slice of ham.
  16. If you asked for a “hamburger” at an English diner you got what we call “Salisbury steak” (a breadless meat patty covered in gravy).
  17. I got so sick of “chips” that it was years before I was able to forgive the potato for existing. Every meal what is wrong with you people? (Later I decided the answer to that is “nothing”, potatoes are good enough for three times a day.)
  18. I hope to God the British have learned that you don’t have to boil every vegetable for an hour to make them palatable.
  19. We (or at least I) was saved while in the UK from starvation by the excellent Indian and Chinese restaurants they have over there. By the way, in the US Indian food is still considered a somewhat luxurious cuisine, so if you come over here expect to pay at least ten bucks for a “curry.”
  20. As the Latin@ cuisine I’d grown up eating was Cuban, not Mexican, I didn’t pine for tacos and such like 99.9% of all other Americans in Europe.
  21. Tea and coffee in Europe is way stronger than I and my mother were used to. At home she drank her coffee black. In Europe, she added cream.
  22. Cream in Europe. Cream desserts in Europe. Desserts in Europe. I gained twenty pounds in Europe.
  23. Missing the US: I didn’t want to go home but we were running out of money.

 

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