A Few Observations About Life in Europe & the UK
1. Men here wear red pants– if you are in the UK that will read as underwear– so I mean trousers. They also wear orange, bright green, pink, and turquoise trousers. Men here are much more sartorially adventurous. They also wear silk scarves, wool scarves, and cotton scarves which are meant to be decorative as well as warm.
2. If someone tells you– “Oh it’s just 5 minutes further on” expect it to be about a 20 minute walk. People here walk much much more than in the US. They always vastly underestimate how long a walk it is between here and there. Buy comfortable shoes.
3. They also smoke more– much more. Perhaps the walking counter balances this. But expect smoke to be wafting everywhere people gather outside. Most places do forbid smoking inside restaurants and other public venues but the walking includes walking past lots of smokers.
4. People live at much colder temperatures, especially in the UK. Central heating is still an advertised special feature in apartment ads. Maybe that’s why they smoke– to keep warm. It could also be why they drink. People drink way more, especially in the UK, than in the US. I am talking about middle-aged professionals here– not kids. Black-out drinking is not uncommon. I’ve overheard several conversations between colleagues about this in my travels. Or maybe it’s just the people in the entertainment industry? Or just people I know.
5. Whenever there is the least glimmer of sun people sit outdoors in cafes, etc. It can be freezing cold but people still dine and drink outside if there is any spot of brightness.
6. People actually take vacations. Yes, they turn off their mobile phones, their email, and are unreachable– for weeks! It’s called relaxing. This is a concept Americans seem to have trouble grasping, especially in the television business. I am getting used to it.
7. Things are more expensive here. People tended to have fewer really nice things and not all the cheap crap that Americans tend to horde. What they do have they use a lot and enjoy. Yes yes there is cheaper crap over here but there is somehow a different mind set about things. Physical evidence is the general lack of gigantic closets and tons of storage space. This is not necessarily a matter of room size. A good-sized bedroom might still have no closet and a just a medium sized wardrobe– a few shelves and a small single rack to hang clothes.
8. Dining is a form of pleasure. It takes much longer to be served at restaurants and no one rushes the bill. People linger and talk. There are certainly American fast food places but when having dinner with friends or colleagues it is a much slower process. Waiters aren’t rushing to “turn over” the tables.
9. People here are much more knowledgeable about the US and elsewhere than Americans are about anywhere. In general, they understand the mechanics of the US political process better than a lot of Americans or will quiz you on this to improve their understanding. They are absolutely astonished at the lack of affordable healthcare and mass shootings of children– and the seeming lack of will to do much about either issue.
10. They are much more energy conscious. They drive smaller cars. In the UK they have individual switches to turn off the current for each plug. They seem to recycle more and don’t have the animosity some Americans have about alternative energy sources. Germany, for instance, gets the vast majority of its electricity from solar power. It’s not a particularly sunny country but they have developed the technology to improve on performance.
No things are not perfect here. We all know about the economic troubles everywhere. And yes you can complain about “socialism.” But I am enjoying my time here and it is changing me, in lots of ways for the better. I find my self collecting experiences rather than things– yes yes I know I did some shopping in Milan– but I bought a couple of really nice, if a bit expensive things. I am learning a lot about myself and others. There is nothing like travel to enrich perspectives and broaden personal horizons. I am doubly blessed to be working on the stories of other cultures and having the deep intimate conversations that storytelling stimulates. It’s been a great three months.