In 2015, I went on an epic 2-week, 5 country trip to Europe, stopping in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, London, and various parts of Iceland. In fact, I’m still processing this trip, in the sense that I’ve taken in so many different experiences that my brain is still compartmentalizing them and extracting what it is that I have learned from each and every single one.
This is not a post where I talk about the history and beauty of Europe’s infamous cities. The point of this post is to explain the cultural experience that is most familiar yet unmatched to the average American person. A lot of us here are in some shape or form descendants of Europeans, yet we are as far away from a European culture as day is from night. Because I am from Russia, I’ve had a limited knowledge all my life of how Europeans are different from Americans, but experiencing it first hand was truly eye-opening and only confirmed to me that I can relate to Europeans on much higher levels than I can relate to Americans. I’m just going to explain why.
1. The Quality of Life Focused Life Style
Let’s start off by discussing the pace of life – In Europe it is people-centric, not job-centric as we have it here in America. The infamous phrase comes to mind when thinking about this concept – Americans live to work and the rest of the world works to live. People still go about their business, but I did not see anyone running like crazy, bumping into strangers through the busy streets of London, screaming “I’m late for my meeting”. Even the business men and women had a casual, relaxed atmosphere about them, which only confirmed that people in Europe focus on the quality of their life, and it does not revolve around their jobs. Yes, lunch at a Parisian cafe will take anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half, but that’s the beauty of it – people take their time to enjoy simple pleasures and work on developing and maintaining personal relationships on far more meaningful levels than we do here.
2. Cultural Awareness and Individualism
My other main observation focuses on acceptance and individualism. We pride ourselves here on encouraging individualism, but what good is it if two strangers at a bar can’t even talk to each other because they think they’re too good and don’t want to get off their “horses”? Haha, speaking of horses, I finally rode one in Iceland. I digress – in my opinion, the Europeans have found a way to support individualism yet everyone is open, friendly, and will wholeheartedly accept you into their social circle, even if you are a complete stranger. I’ve experienced multiple instances of this in London, which I like to call the New York of Europe.
Even the Parisians, with all their negative connotations, which I must unfortunately report confirmed, are more welcoming with their open street cafes and rivers of wine than any average New Yorker.
At the end of the day, these may not seem like the most important things in life, but they are to me, because they are the two main components that make up my social life as it presently is. I guess the question is – how did we deviate so far from our founding Europeans? Unfortunately, with the way this great country functions, the social aspect of the European lifestyle in unsustainable here, which is perhaps the biggest gap in modern American culture that creates that insatiable craving for me to go back to Europe on a regular basis – to sit down at a cafe with a good friend, drink wine, and talk for an hour or two.
3. You Don’t Need A Tour Group in Europe
So, my fellow Americans, if you truly want to experience the social enrichment of the European culture – pick a city, any city, or two, or three, and buy the plane ticket. You don’t need a tour group, you don’t need a huge group of friends. All you need is a map (or your phone GPS) and some good walking shoes. The best way and the only way to experience all the great European cities is by walking and stumbling into the best experiences of your life.