As an American living Europe for nearly 3 years now (wow, has it really been that long already?), my eyebrows raised at the sight of a recent BuzzFeed list of “35 Things You Appreciate About America After Living In Europe.” This is right up my alley, I thought.
Imagine my disappointment upon reviewing the list, as I realized it is almost completely wrong about life in Europe as an expat. After a few minutes of investigation, it seems the author is a 20-year-old girl who has been living in Paris since (as far back as I can tell) August of last year — less than a year.
I know the pangs of homesickness well (and know that Paris can be a bit of a bubble compared to the rest of Europe), especially for the finer and not-so-finer things from America, but I’m afraid our author is mistaken about a lot of things. That or she merely assumes that her brief experience in Paris accounts for all of Europe.
So here, in the name of pointless Internet justice, is my point-by-point response of this list.
1. Convenience Stores – “It is nearly impossible to get toiletries, snacks, and ibuprofen at the same place in Europe.”
This is simply not true. And this is supposed to be #1? Apparently “nearly impossible” means “entirely possible.” The problem is that she doesn’t understand that, in Europe, grocery stores *are* convenience stores. In European cities, there are grocery stores EVERYWHERE, and they are much smaller than those back home, thus eliminating the need for separate convenience stores. Instead of loading up once a week at a larger grocery store, you go every two days or so to the smaller ones, which also stock toiletries and ibuprofen in most cases. If you still aren’t satisfied, there are also drug stores for all your non-food needs, and they’re usually right next to the grocery stores.
2. Diet Soda – “Though you can easily find a lukewarm Coca Light in most food establishments, any other diet drinks are basically unheard of overseas.”
I don’t know what shitty “food establishments” she’s going to where they serve warm Coke, but it’s not like that anywhere I’ve been. She should ask for her money back next time she’s served that. And saying “diet soda” is basically unheard of here is nonsense as well. The major brands have “Light” versions, and “Pepsi One” and “Coke Zero” are present here as well. It may be hard to find Diet Mr. Pibb here, but that’s because Europe is rightfully not addicted to soda (read: government subsidised high fructose corn syrup) like America is.
3. Ice – “Why is a glass of room-temperature water OK over there?”
Again, what restaurants are you going to, lady? Any place I’ve been serves cold water if you ask for it — you just might have to specify that you want still (or tap) watter, not sparkling. But getting back to your argument about ice — yes many restaurants either don’t serve ice or serve very little of it, but this hardly something I hold dear about America or wax nostalgic about as I look longly toward the West out my window. My freezer has ice cube trays. Problem solved.
4. Iced Coffee — “Naturally, life sans ice means life sans iced coffee. Leisurely sipping on a cold coffee drink isn’t really a thing in Europe. It’s all about the espresso shots.”
I’m not a coffee drinker but I do know that Starbucks is a thing here, as well as other similar chains that serve iced drinks, including iced coffee. And boiling Europe down to espresso shots is a lazy stereotype which is more common in certain parts of Europe, but rest assured you can find normal coffee drinks here too, so if you do live here for real you won’t miss them.
5. Online Streaming – “The lack of a Netflix/Hulu-type situation in many European countries is unreal. How are you supposed to keep up with your shows?!”
This one is half true, as Netflix and Hulu are not ubiquitous in Europe. The UK and Ireland (and soon the Netherlands and other countries!) already have Netflix however. But you know what’s even better than paying Netflix to stream TV shows? Being able to quickly download the shows to your computer/phone/tablet on Europe’s blazing fast (and cheap) broadband Internet! And better yet, many countries have very relaxed laws about prosecuting those that download! But if you still love streaming, there are plenty of free websites for that already, so I don’t miss Netflix much at all (only the convenience of it).
6. Driving a Car – “As practical and useful as public transportation is, sometimes you just want to roll your windows down and jam out on your way to work in the morning, in the privacy of your own vehicle.”
I can see where she’s coming from. I used to waste hours of my life driving to and from work or school living in the U.S., and yes when I go home I do love getting back behind the wheel. But I wouldn’t give up the ease of biking or taking public transit or trains throughout Europe to be stuck in traffic again. So she’s half right here, but nothing is stopping me from renting a car and joyriding on the Autobahn.
7. Froyo – “Sure, they’ve got gelato, and they are all about Magnum ice cream bars over there, but every once in a while, you craving some low-fat frozen yogurt.”
I personally don’t crave such a specific dessert, but sure, fine, there is a bit of a lack of the stuff here. I don’t feel myself lacking anything between all of the options here — it’s not like Europeans don’t enjoy ice cream. When I think back on things I miss about America, frozen yogurt is not anywhere near the top 35 things.
8. Electrical Outlets – “Oh, the luxury of blow-drying your hair without an adaptor, converter, and fear of blowing a fuse.”
Wait, I thought this article was about *living* in Europe, not visiting it. When you live here, you get a blow-dryer here that doesn’t need an adaptor or convertor, or fear. Maybe when you decide to truly live somewhere, don’t bring your American appliances. Maybe I’m not sensitive to this as I do not blow-dry any part of my body, and yes I’ve even fried a piece of grooming equipment. But since I live here, that hasn’t stopped me from being able to use those kinds of items here, and I don’t long for the ways in which I can groom myself back in America.
9. Outlet Shopping – “Little European boutiques are great, but so are sales and a wide variety of sizes.”
Again, maybe I’m not sensitive to the size issue, being a man, but sales do occur at the stores here, and there are even “big” stores in the cities, comparable to a department store in America. No, there aren’t mile-long outlet strip malls here (or maybe there are outside of the cities that I don’t know of) but mass consumerism is something you learn to loathe by living here, not appreciate.
10. 24-Hour Drive-Thru – “What do Europeans do if they get hungry after 9 p.m.?”
I’ll tell you what they do: they go to the 24-hour food joints. Certainly drive throughs are less common here, especially in car-unfriendly cities, but there is no shortage of shitty food at 2am. Some places are ONLY open at those hours. Look around next time you stumble back to your flat.
11. Wi-Fi and/or 3G – “Using 3G overseas is crazy expensive, and Wi-Fi can be scarce.”
So wrong. Again, I thought these were things you appreciate by LIVING in Europe, not visiting. When you live here, you get a phone plan, which is crazy INEXEPENSIVE! I pay roughly $35/month for unlimited internet and more talk and text that I know what to do with! And the 3G coverage is terrific. WiFi is just as common as it is in America, but it’s certainly not everywhere.
12. Free Bathrooms – “Public bathrooms in Europe are sporadic at best, not to mention rarely free of charge.”
Sporadic? Every restaurant has one, and there are actually more random bathroom (pay or not) in public spaces than in America. There’s more spots available for men (and I don’t mean the side of a building, but that happens too) but it’s not like there’s a dearth of bathrooms. Some you pay for, but sometimes only during busy hours or events. Besides, you complain about all that loose change later on in the list, so get rid of some it.
13. Peanut Butter – “Europe, we thank you for the wonder that is Nutella, but what about a little PB and J action every once in a while?”
Wow. Really? Go to the fucking store and buy peanut butter and jelly. You can thank me later.
14. Solo Cups — “You might think you know how much you appreciate Solo cups now, but wait until you spend a few months overseas. Solo cups are a novelty in Europe.”
I don’t think anyone appreciates Solo cups at all, except drunk college kids playing beer pong and flip cup. But does it matter that the cups be red or say “Solo” on them? Plastic cups exist in Europe too, they just might be different brands or colors.
15. Personal Space – “When a French man tries to kiss you upon introduction, you’re like…”
You’re mistaking culture for lack of personal space. Sure, in some parts of Europe it is common to greet people with a kiss or two on the cheek. Maybe this is another girl problem, but getting used to another country’s customs does not make me appreciate all the personal space I had back home. What about all the hugging we do as Americans? Grow up.
16. Law & Order: SVU Marathons — “Admit it, the opening narration is like music to your ears. ‘In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous…’”
Hey, guess what! They air that show in Europe a lot too! And if you can’t get enough of it, go back to #5 and download the entire catalog in no time at all!
17. No Smoking Zones – “Especially when indoors, it’s nice to dine without a cloud of cigarette smoke above your head.”
This is maybe half true, there are a lot more smokers in public in Europe, but that is also rapidly changing. Many restaurants either ban smoking indoors or provide separate sections or rooms just for smoking. It’s like America 15 years ago.
18. The Abundance of Sushi — “And of all Asian food, for that matter.”
Are you living under a rock? Try searching Yelp. There are plenty of Sushi and Asian food places in Europe.
19. Football – “From body paint and tailgating to cheerleaders and halftime shows, Europeans miss out on American football and its culture.”
This is the most accurate item on the list, but with the ability to watch games online from the NFL, I don’t miss the sport, I miss the culture surrounding it. But hey, maybe I could expand my horizons and get into that other sport that everyone here seems to love with just as much passion. Lucky for me it’s even called football too.
20. American Candy Brands — “We thank Europe for Lindt, Kinder Bueno, and a wide array of truffles, but what about some Reese’s Pieces?”
Now you’re nitpicking. M&M’s, Snickers, Milkyway, Twix, Kit Kat — all here in Europe!
21. State-to-State Cell Phone Coverage — “Even if you buy a European cell phone, it probably won’t work from country to country.”
This one is true-ish. The phone will work, but roaming charges (especially for Internet) will be incurred on your bill. However, a new law just passed will eliminate these charges altogether, so this one is 100% wrong starting in 2014.
22. Swim Trunks — “You thought the Speedo was funny at first, but it’s just not your style.”
This one is picking on a stereotype. Not everyone in Europe wears a Speedo at the beach. Plenty of people wear boardshorts and other swim garments palatble to American sensibility. But I will take this opportunity to note that there is a lot greater acceptance for nudity, which is fine by me, but when it comes to little naked babies running around, it’s a little weird. Still, though, I’m not craving the over-sensitive beach attitude in America. My girlfriend was shocked to learn some beaches don’t allow alocohol at the beach in America, so Europe wins this round.
23. Free Refills — “Especially on water, free refills are common in American food establishments but rarely found in European restaurants.”
This goes back to my point about Europe’s lack of addiction for soda and American consumerism. Smaller food portions, smaller cups of soda and no one craves a free refill here. It’s healthier, and I don’t miss getting a free helping of sugar.
24. American Holidays — “The 4th of July and Thanksgiving, for example.”
This one is correct. I do appreciate the uniquely American holidays over here, but I do my best to celebrate them the best that I can. 4th of July means drinking American beers (yes, they exist here too!) and eating Nachos at the Hard Rock Cafe, while on Thanksgiving last year I attended a feast just as good as one back home with some fellow Americans and others.
25. Ketchup — “The majority of Europeans seem to prefer mayonnaise, even on French fries.”
Isn’t this list about thing I appreciate more now? There is still ketchup everywhere in Europe, so I certainly don’t miss it. Do I appreciate our American style of condiments? No? And mayonaise on fries is actually pretty good. Blasphemy, I know.
26. Household Appliances — “Such as dishwashers and dryers.”
Do I have to post pictures of my dishwasher and dryer, or will you take my word for it?
27. Separate Checks at Restaurants — “Waiters there expect you to divide it up yourselves.”
Uhg! Math! Places in the U.S. do this as well. It’s simply more common for people to carry cash in Europe as well, making things easier in the end. In America we’re used to slapping down our debit cards and telling the server to go divide it up between them, which when you think about it is not very nice. When you live in Europe, you learn to adjust to cultural norms, and you learn that in some cases, the new way is better than the old. Now when I go back the U.S. I carry more cash because it makes these moments easier.
28. Pancakes – “From crepes to frixuelos to palacinky, pancakes just aren’t the same abroad.”
The pannekoeken in Holland are pretty good, but they certainly aren’t the fluffy pancakes you find at an IHOP. So this one’s half right, because pancakes are far lower on the list of things I miss about America.
29. Air-Conditioning — “Enough said.”
Is it enough? Maybe your shitty Paris apartment with no washing machine or dryer also lacks an air conditioner, but I assure you, it’s a thing in Europe! I don’t need it here in Amsterdam, but ask the people in the really hot areas in the South.
30. Drinking Fountains – “They’re probably unsanitary anyway, but walking everywhere sure can make you thirsty, and water fountains are rare in Europe, even in museums and monuments.”
You should have stopped at “unsanitary.” And you miss this about America? If you LIVE in Europe, chances are you aren’t frequenting museums and monuments and you’ve learned how to care for yourself by carrying a waterbottle around.
31. Food Delivery — “They never order pizza in Europe! At least you don’t have to tip the delivery guy.”
Wait, you appreciate food delivery more because we use it more in America? Man, those Europeans are so dumb! They only eat healthy food! But, just in case you thought it doesn’t exist at all, I’ll let you know that food delivery is WAY BETTER here — because I can order online from a zillion places and have it at my door in a relatively timely manner.
32. Screened Windows — “In Europe, when you open your window to let in a nice breeze, you accept that you are letting in whatever else might be out there, bugs and birds included.”
33. Store Hours — “Stores close early, and most don’t open at all on Sundays.”
I will agree that hours (especially here in Amsterdam) are awful (essentially 9-5, so if you work a normal day, you’re screwed), but gladly there are night shops too, so everything is not entirely off the table.
34. Bagels — “Just another example of the deviations of breakfast foods.”
They aren’t as good here for sure, but bagels do exist in Europe. I’ve seen them with my own eyes.
35. The USD — “It all comes back to the dollar, dollar bill, y’all. The USD/EUR exchange rate is not in our favor. And all that loose change gets heavy! There are eight different euro coins currently in circulation, as opposed to the four we use in the United States (five, if you include the half-dollar).”
When you live somewhere, like this article suggests, you shouldn’t care about the exchange rate. Plus, going back it’s the opposite — more dollars! But really, the weight is what you complain about? Because there are fewer demonenations of coins and bills in the U.S., you end up getting back *more* of them when you get change. €2.41 is 4 coins in Europe, but in the U.S. $2.41 is two paper bills and at least 4 coins. In that case it’s far easier to pocket 4 coins than place the four U.S. coins somewhere along with the two bills. And don’t even get me started on the worthlessness of the penny and how things are rounded to fives more often in Europe (and prices on labels include tax), making buying and receiving change much easier.
SO WHAT DID WE LEARN?
Well, for one, we seem to have learned that a 20-year-old doing a semester abroad in a dank Parisian flat with a low tolerance for foreign culture will not likely emerge from the experience with an accurate impression of life in Europe.
Secondly, we learned that it’s dumb stereotypes and their proliferation that make Americans appear dumb and insensitive to the rest of the world while perpetuating pre-conceived notions about Europe for Americans.
When you live somewhere long enough, you realize that the world is actually not all that different.