They say it’s the little things that make a big difference. When you’re traveling in Europe for the first time, you’ll find yourself noticing lots of little differences – from the size of drinks and meal portions to the shape of electrical outlets. All these tiny differences combine to make European travel a stimulating, fascinating experience. When you return home, you’ll begin to notice things in your environment that you always took for granted.
Europe is larger than the U.S. in square miles, but we Americans tend to enjoy much more open space. Like goldfish, we have expanded to fit our environment. Common features of the American lifestyle, such as 44-ounce sodas, monster SUVs and sprawling walk-in closets arose out of an environment in which space seems unlimited. But in Europe, you’ll notice that everything is scaled down. Most people drive small hatch-backs because parking is scarce, fuel is expensive and streets are narrow. Homes are small, and hotel rooms are absurdly small, but it’s all part of the European experience.
Other differences, unrelated to space, may surprise you, too. The concept of cheery, friendly customer service is a uniquely American invention. That’s not to say that Europeans are rude, but don’t expect an ear-splitting “Hi, how can I help you?!” from a European clerk. Don’t be offended by a brusque greeting, if you get one at all – there’s just a different style of service across the pond.
You may notice that Europeans are more likely to sit down and take the time to enjoy an espresso at a sidewalk café or sip a small, room-temperature beverage between stops on foot. Meanwhile Americans are often spotted hauling a giant to-go cup (bucket?) full of soda and ice as they drive to their destinations. The combination of smaller portions and a propensity to walk everywhere means Europeans themselves are appropriately sized for their environments.
The pace of life in Europe is so much slower that you may find yourself frustrated or annoyed. The European lifestyle is not all about commerce, making money and getting things done in a rush. Shops and restaurants often shut down for a few hours in the early afternoon, and sometimes for a month or more in the summer. On Sundays, nearly everything is closed. Leisure time is not a luxury; it’s a culturally mandated necessity!
Enjoy the refreshing opportunity to slow down, sip your thimbleful of espresso, squeeze into a Smart Car, and take the afternoon off. You’ll return home with a fresh outlook on your own American lifestyle, and perhaps the desire to infuse it with a little European flair!