Having just spent two weeks in Europe in various countries and cultures, one thing has become clear to me: America is doing it wrong. Don’t get me wrong, America tends to get a lot of stuff right (though recently I have been questioning that assertion), but in some areas the Europeans have got the leg up on us. Here is a list of 5 ways America needs to be more like Europe.
#1 Work-Life Balance
This is where we are missing the ball. This is where we are missing the ball. This is where we are missing the ball.
Do you think this is where we are missing the ball? This is the chief area in which I am confident that Americans are doing it all wrong. This is the best way I can put it. Americans live to work; Europeans work to live.
And live they do. Especially in Paris but also London and really everywhere else I visited, I was struck by the fact that at 2 pm there were so many people sitting in the park chatting with friends. Or sitting in café. Or at 10:30 pm on a Tuesday, people were gathered in small groups sitting by the Seine with a picnic and wine. Conversing.
In America, we are so hustle and bustle. We are so “work work work” all of the time. And that’s not to say that they don’t work in France. But they believe in their lunch “break” and use it liberally. European countries routinely get the whole month of August for holiday where everything shuts down and they travel the world and relax. While I was there, I was up late, laughing and conversing, and eating tapas and drinking wine into the wee hours of the morning…and it was absolutely amazing. Meanwhile, in America, many people don’t even take their measly two weeks of vacation. I’ve made a resolution: In this respect I am going to be more European. I work A LOT. And I will likely continue to do so. But I am going to take an evening a week, something, to just live for a second. Do you think on their death bed, anyone ever said, “I wish I worked more”??? I highly doubt it.
#2 Eat Better
This is pretty self-explanatory, no? The quality of food in certain parts of Europe is so much better and cleaner than in America. Even when I was eating stuff that I NEVER eat in America, like sorbet, I still felt better about myself than the “clean” food I eat in the States. We have to work on this, seriously. Europe is a foodie’s dream, and I am going to have to cook more at home because I feel like I will be so disappointed in the food on return (except Chipotle, I am never disappointed with Chipotle).
My first full day in Paris my friend and I walked 24,000 steps. Twenty four THOUSAND steps. It was somewhere around 10 miles. I don’t do that in a week at home.
In the U.S., especially in big cities like LA, the car culture is essential. Even when I go to the gym I don’t get in that much walking in a week, let alone a day. And every subsequent day we hit somewhere around 15-20K steps. Needless to say I was hurting a bit after four days. But it just reminded me how much I sit. And, tying back into number #1, I work a lot. I go to work, come home, maybe hit the gym, eat, then sit down and work for another three or four hours. I, and everyone like me, have got to try to move more. This is not my favorite resolution, but I am going to try.
#4 Learn a Language Other Than Your Native Tongue
I mean really become fluent. I used to be an excellent Spanish speaker but it really is true that when you don’t use it, you lose it. I am thinking about an immersion program at some point.
But more than just Spanish, if anyone is worried about traveling to Europe because they don’t understand the language…don’t. Read my post on what to do if you don’t speak the language and you will be fine. Mainly because everyone in every other country speaks at least a smidge of English. Even in a country like France, that is notorious for not going out of the way to speak English, I started with some basic French and then transitioned to English and they were much more willing to converse in at least broken English. But it goes beyond that. In Scandinavian countries, they each have their own language but are also FLUENT in English. Same with the Netherlands. And my tour guide in Stockholm spoke fluent Russian, Swedish, English, and a couple of other languages I can’t remember, stating that she just “loved language.” I think Americans need to become polyglots more out of love (especially of travel) than of necessity. We should change the mindset of learning languages and expanding our horizons.
#5 Get Better Public Transportation
Good grief, America. What are we doing here? This is an obvious but I was absolutely hit in the face by how poor our infrastructure is in the U.S. of A. Some cities, like New York and Chicago and even San Francisco have gotten it somewhat right, but cities like Los Angeles are a disgrace in the realm of public transportation. Also, the prospect of getting from state to state in less than days (or even from one end of California to another) is pretty nonexistent. We have got to upgrade (and in some instances fully redo) our infrastructure. We are supposed to be the world superpower, but in this department we are woefully lacking. And this is an area that we can work on fixing immediately.
These were the major things that I learned from traversing Europe. Now, Europe definitely needs to work on its smoking situation, but there are some definitive things that we can take from them to make our society grow. And I am resolving to, at least in some aspects, be more European. Life is too short to live to work; I just want to live.