From before I even visited Europe, I always thought of myself as European. Of course, technically, I wasn’t. But for some reason it was just an identity I felt applied to my self. Part of that was a reflection of my queer identity before I eventually came out. Remember those “gay or European” Tumblrs? I just thought I was European. Turns out, I think I’m both.
By the time I did visit Europe (first when I was 16—a family trip through the UK), I knew it was a place worth exploring. Repeat trips—solo, with friends, or with family—cemented the continent into my identity. I studied European history, researched European art, learned European languages, and eventually found a way to live there.
Read more: The Accidental Expat
A lot of Americans look for ways to live in Europe. There’s something about the stereotypical bits of European culture that are universally attractive. Living in Europe isn’t easy and maybe isn’t for everyone, but after seven (SEVEN!) years living in Europe, there are certainly a lot of aspects of European culture that I’m very fond of. And things that I definitely miss now that I’m living back in America again.
Here’s what I learned to love while living in Europe… And please, before anyone angry gets at me, these are things I observed and experienced over seven years in Europe.
The best things I learned from living in Europe
Socialism is okay
Europe’s political systems may seem confusing at first to outsiders, but after years of living in an environment where socialist principles are an acceptable and reputable part of government policy, there’s no question in my mind that it is a viable solution for most of the world. Many social services such as education and healthcare have become out-of-reach for too many Americans, but in a lot of Europe, not only are they provided safely and affordably, they’re simply accessible.
Recycling is necessary and vital
If there’s one thing I learned from living in Germany, it was an absolute and total respect for the environment. There’s an urgent need to solve our climate crisis and recycling (including the reduction of plastic use) are vital to saving our planet. In Europe, reusable grocery bags are the norm, as is sorting your recycling by glass type, plastic, organic, and electronic trash. The habit is ingrained from a young age meaning that recycling is the norm rather than an outstanding act.
The metric system is superior
It just makes more sense and no one is going to convince me otherwise. Meters and centimeters are so much more useful than inches and feet. It’s more precise and makes measuring things more fun.
The things I find on my phone the next morning 🙈 pic.twitter.com/K6innViOVA
— Adam Groffman (@travelsofadam) March 23, 2017
Celsius is better than Fahrenheit
I know this comes down t personal preference, but because the entire world except the USA uses celsius for temperature reporting, it just makes sense to use celsius. Plus, for me, the numbers just work better in my mind.
Paper sizing is silly, but useful
Sorry America, but another measurement system you got wrong is with paper sizes. The A-series paper formatting works so much better and actually fits within a practical ratio. The US Letter paper size is clunky and awkward, while an A4 paper size works perfectly in mathematical combinations (put two A4 pieces together and you’ve got an A3). It looks better and works better.
The 24-hour clock should be the norm
We called it military time in the USA, but a 24-hour clock is pretty much the norm in most of Europe. Again, it just makes SO MUCH SENSE! Why do we have to specify a.m. and p.m. when we can actually use numbers to make sure we show up at the right time?
WhatsApp is the only messaging app you need
It’s safe, it’s secure, and even if it’s owned by Facebook, it’s the only messaging app I trust. I think because Europeans don’t own as many iPhones as we do in America (they’re cost-prohibitive in a lot of Europe), most of the population uses WhatsApp to communicate—and truthfully, it’s just a better app than iMessage or texting. Group chats and secure storage make it infinitely useful and fun to use.
Drinking in public isn’t shameful or odd
It’s not universally accepted across Europe, but because of a lower drinking age (between 16 and 18 for most European countries), drinking culture is vastly different than in America. First off, because of the lower drinking ages and the general acceptance of beer and wine in the local food culture across the continent, it’s just less of an issue a lot of times. So that’s why it’s often acceptable to drink in many public places—parks, sometimes on the subways, outdoor events, etc. Beer and wine are often de-stigmatized in European culture which, personally, I find refreshing.
Train travel is easy, safe, reliable, and preferable
There were countless times where I would choose to travel via train rather than plane in Europe. It was fast, safe, and easy and made the experience of travel just so much more enjoyable. So much of Europe has invested in commuter travel via train and that’s allowed for a less impact on the environment than planes.
Walking & cycling are the best way to move
Because a lot of European cities are old (and many are small), sometimes the best way to get around is by foot—or better, by bicycle. There’s a strong cycling culture in Europe which makes for better health overall. And bonus: so many European cities have those lovely little cobblestoned streets and walking at night through a European old town is just so beautiful and oddly peaceful. There’s a reason we all romanticize Paris at night.
Sparkling water is delicious
Okay, this was a long journey for me, but after a while, I did come to really love sparking water. It’s ubiquitous across Europe. In Germany especially. (Maybe that’s because Germany doesn’t really believe in free tap water much to my frustration.)
Airlines can be affordable
In Europe, trains are a superior way to travel because, well, they’re better for the environment and often will take you city center to city center, making it fast and convenient. But Europe’s budget airlines are also incredibly affordable and reliable. Everyone loves to hate the budget airlines, but truthfully they’ve opened up a lot of the world for tourism and investment simply because their routes are often so affordable.
Learning a language is easy
Well, it’s not SUPER easy; it does take some hard work and dedication. But after years living in Europe and knowing & loving Europeans, I can categorically say that many Americans’ fear of learning languages is unwarranted. There are so many useful (and even cheap!) tools to learn languages online, it can be a totally practical experience.
Top sheets are useless
There was a time when this topic became a big focus on Twitter with a pretty intense debate, but here’s the gist: top sheets are useless. Beds in Europe are different than those you’ll find in America; it was one of the first cultural things I had to adapt to shortly after moving to Europe. First, bedding is comprised almost universally of a duvet cover and a single fitted bedsheet. Box spring mattresses are also extremely rare in Europe, with most beds made of slotted bed-frames (though I also slept in plenty of beds that just sat directly on the floor).
Borders are meaningless
Living in Europe, you cross borders regularly. They’re ill-defined and often invisible. It was remarkably easy to board trains, or even planes, without ever showing an ID. Borders are 100% meaningless and I hope eventually we’ll live in a world where borders don’t matter as much as they seem to today.
Art should be free
This wasn’t universally common across Europe, but many museums made their permanent collections accessible to the public through free admission (especially true of London’s many free museums). Art is an important part of history and our culture, and access to it should not be limited. Art needs to be free and available for the greater public good. And, thankfully, a lot of European cities and trusts believe that as well.
Read more: Art is Boring
Value added taxes are better for the consumer
One of the biggest cultural shocks for me upon my return to the USA was the ever-present sales tax. In Europe, with the VAT added before the final sale to the consumer, shopping is so much simpler and consumer-friendly. You know what you’re paying before you get to the register and it’s just easier to properly budget.
Tipping should be banned
Don’t freak out, but I believe tipping should be banned. The American system which requires tipping for service at restaurants is broken. It allows for serves to not be paid a fair, living wage, and then the slack is picked up by us, the consumer. It allows for an unequal system which puts too much pressure on the consumer and not enough on the business owner. The European cultural system of tipping makes so much more sense. Workers are paid fairly and there’s no pressure to rush restaurant-goers out the building to get the next tip. It’s just sensible and a million times more equitable for consumers and workers alike.
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For a long time, I’ve always identified as European even when I’m not, but thankfully these European cultural habits are easily adapted anywhere and everywhere. Europe will always hold a special place in my heart; it’s why I continue to visit and maybe I’ll even live there again. There’s a lot more to love about Europe, and probably plenty of things to be frustrated with, but overall: it’s an incredible place with a rich history, culture, and life.