I love Europe. I really do. So much so that when I stop being Nomadic Matt, I want to move to Paris (Update: I ended up in Stockholm and Amsterdam for a bit). I love the cafe culture, the wine, the free health care, the liberal attitude towards life, how so many different cultures are just a short flight away—it’s wonderful. But having visited Europe every summer for the past few years, I’ve found that there are many things about Europe that really get on my nerves. Spending so much time there makes me realize life in America isn’t that bad, and in many ways, we have it easy.
To me, Europe would be perfect if it wasn’t for these four (big) things:
Convenience – Living in Southeast Asia and New York City really spoiled me. In these places, you can get anything or go anywhere 24/7. Nothing’s ever really closed. It makes life really easy. Need food at 4am? No problem. Have to get duct tape at 2am? Easy! But even when I visit my parents in the suburbs, store hours are much better than in Europe. In Europe, hardly anything is open on Sundays and most stores close around 6 or 7pm during the week. If you work until 5pm, how are you supposed to get anything done? I don’t need 24/7 store hours, but in too many places in Europe, it seems like everything’s always closed. (And I especially hate how most museums are closed on Mondays.)
Service – Whenever my European friends talk about visiting America, they always talk about the service. They can’t believe how friendly the staff can be, how helpful they are, and how they keep asking if everything’s OK. Everyone is so helpful, they say. They almost can’t believe it. In Europe, most service employees are rude. They aren’t personable, and they couldn’t care less if you need another glass of water, want the check, or if your room sucks. They don’t really go the extra mile. In the US, people work on tips, and that provides an incentive for people to give better service (though they should get paid a higher base rate!). In Europe, they don’t have that incentive—they get paid the same amount whether they serve 10 tables or one.
Politeness – That leads me into my next point. People aren’t has happy-go-lucky in Europe as they are in America. Yes, Europeans are friendly (I’m not here to say the whole continent is filled with rude people), but they certainly aren’t as bubbly. My European friends always wonder why people in America ask, “How are you?” because they don’t think people mean it. “Why would you care?” they ask. I think we do. Sure, “How are you?” is a default greeting, but there’s some sincerity behind it. You don’t respond with a 15-minute diatribe about your day, but that doesn’t mean people don’t really care. Americans are known for their optimism and positive attitude, and I always miss that. My English friend Sarah says we Americans are always so damn chipper and optimistic. I think that’s great! It’s a better outlook to have on life.
Comfort Food – Europe has amazing food. There’s no doubt about it. I’m not a pastry guy, but walking the streets of Paris might finally make me fat. I can’t help but duck into stores and snack all day. When I’m in Spain, I think I eat about three pigs’ worth of Iberian ham. About 90% of the food in Europe rocks my world. That said, I’d kill for some good sushi, a BLT, Taco Bell, Vietnamese food, good Mexican, a good steak, some Cheez-Its, peanut butter cups, or a sub (a type of sandwich). America has a much better diversity of food to choose from and way better junk food. I know you don’t travel to eat the same food you eat at home, but I find it hard to be in Europe long-term because of the lack of food diversity.
No place is perfect, and no matter what, I love Europe. I keep going back every year for a reason. But when I go there for months on end, I keep missing certain aspects of home. It’s only natural. But they say traveling gives you a new appreciation for home, and when I travel to Europe, I appreciate the little things in America that we often take for granted and assume are norms around the world.
For more information on traveling Europe, visit my guide to the region.