A Culture Eyebrow Raise: Nuances and Tidbits about Europe

So, I spent the last six posts either entertaining you or boring you to tears with the day-by-day account of my three-week trip to Europe that I wedged between graduation and my long-awaited return to the workforce as a real adult that makes money and keeps regular hours. It was really the last experience of my “Extra Credit Life.” My last experience as a second-time undergraduate pretending to be 22. And what better way to spend it than riding through Europe on a tour bus filled with 22 year olds? So now that the blow-by-blow is finished, I can ramble on about the little details, the nuances, the tidbits. I wouldn’t call Europe a culture shock. India would be a culture shock; Japan would be a culture shock; Europe is more of a “culture eyebrow raise.” Hotel rooms for example. As mentioned in Europe #1, European hotel rooms are small. A room for two people who are not sleeping together will consist of two twin beds. In many cases they will be pushed together to resemble one large bed. If you’re lucky and the side tables aren’t bolted to the wall, you might be able to move the beds apart six inches so as not to risk spooning your roommate. But not always. Stepping outside my “supersize everything” American mentality, it makes sense. Why take up more space that necessary? A lot of people have been living in Europe for a lot of centuries. They don’t just bring in the bulldozers and scrape apart the countryside to put in a new Holiday Inn with two queen size beds in each room. Do we each really need a queen size bed? Probably not. Why the Europeans seem to shun shower curtains, on the other hand, I can’t claim to understand. Lots of time spent mopping up wet floors. I got the general sense in Europe that there’s a mentality of “just enough,” rather than the American mentality of “more is always better.” In large parks, for example, grassy areas along walkways would be mowed, but larger grassy fields deeper within the park would be left long and uncut. The same with grass along highways. It was a small detail, but something I noticed and thought, you know, I never see that in America. Every inch of grass is always mowed. Why do we need to mow grass along the highways? I appreciate that Europe isn’t burning fuel cutting every blade of grass. High five to Europe on that. If Europe gets a high five on its grass-mowing fuel conservation, it gets a “middle-finger-nose-scratch” on it’s “let’s make everyone pay to use the bathroom” shenanigans. Every public bathroom in Europe requires anywhere between 50 cents and 1 euro to get in. There’s a little turnstile and a coin slot, like you’re getting on some kind of amusement park ride. Some coin slots won’t give you change. So if, god forbid, the restroom costs 70 cents and all you have is a 1 euro coin, I guess you’re paying 1 euro to do your business. Don’t have enough coins? Sorry! You get to hold it! I wonder if Europe has a public urination problem. I honestly think most of the group was dehydrated for the whole trip. Between having to pay for water everywhere you go (try finding a drinking fountain in Europe – ha!) and then paying for the restroom to release said water, it’s easier to just nip it in the bud and stop drinking in the first place.

This isn't my photo, but this is a pretty good representation of a pubic restroom turnstile. Notice the

This isn’t my photo, but this is a pretty good representation of a pubic restroom turnstile. Notice the “no change” sign.

I’m sorry but there’s a second paragraph on bathrooms. Who would think European restrooms would have captured my interest to this degree? Three more things. First, there is no flush handle on any European toilet. They’re all some variation on a giant push button. There is a small button (for #1) and a big button (for #2) and it’s a fun game to figure out what these buttons will look like in each restroom and where they’ll be located. On the wall? On the tank? On some strange panel? They’re always changing it up – keeping it real! Second, public toilets in women’s restrooms in Italy have no seat. Seriously. No seat. It’s like you walked into the bathroom and someone left the seat up, except there’s no seat at all. You just sit on the rim (yes, I’m a sitter…I guess you hoverers will notice no difference). Third, I had heard that Europeans were aghast that public restrooms in America have little “gaps” between the doors and walls so that, technically, someone could look at you peeing. Well, seriously, every restroom in Europe has solid walls and doors that go floor to ceiling with tight hinges and latches. No gaps. If there’s one area where Europe says “more is better,” it’s restroom privacy. Maybe that’s what they’re charging for.

So many ways to flush the toilet! You can never get bored in the bathroom in Europe.

So many ways to flush the toilet! You can never get bored in the bathroom in Europe.

Final restroom tidbit. Partway through the trip the hotel room bathrooms started to have what I believe were bidets. Everyone claimed they were bidets. It was basically a toilet-shaped sink with a faucet. I believe it was a bidet, because what else would it be, but I don’t understand how you would rinse off any of your private bits with a faucet that points downward. I had been led to believe bidets provided an “upward spray.” Someone please explain this to me. I used one of the bidets to wash my feet. It made a wonderful foot sink.

How is this anything other than a foot sink?

How is this anything other than a foot sink?

Okay, so, cigarettes. Cigarettes are not cool, Europe. They give you cancer and they smell bad. America is kind of down on cigarettes for that reason. Perhaps the memo hasn’t made its way across the Atlantic? I’m not sure. But good god, a lot of people smoke in Europe. Especially in Germany and Italy. Big billowing clouds of cigarette smoke everywhere, waiting for you to walk though them. Europeans don’t allow GMOs in their food, yet they smoke like chimneys? I don’t get it. And on to the selfie sticks. I had heard of selfie sticks before I left for Europe. I had never actually seen one. I never really wanted to. I don’t even like taking selfies with my arm, let alone with an arm extension device. European street vendors are really high on selfie sticks right now. I’m sure they weren’t last year, and they probably won’t be next year, but right now, right at this very moment, the streets of European cities are the place to buy selfie sticks. One vendor after another after another after another shoving selfie sticks in your face. Selfie stick? For you, good deal. We love America! Want selfie stick? Aaaarrrrghhh! No! I do NOT want a selfie stick. I will buy a selfie stick and beat you over the head with it. Ahem. And that is how I feel about selfie sticks.

For those of you lucky enough not to know, this is a selfie stick.

For those of you lucky enough not to know, this is a selfie stick.

So there you go. My Europe tidbits. I loved Europe. I had the time of my life. There are so many places I’d like to visit again, with more time to explore. I made it through a three-week trip on a bus full of 22 year olds. I not only made it, but I made some wonderful friends. They didn’t even shun me because I was the “old chick.” In fact, none of them even knew I was the old chick. I had to get out my ID twice just to prove it. I miss them all. And I miss Europe. But you know how when you’ve had a crush on someone for a long time and you finally get to know them and realize, hmm, this person isn’t as perfect as I thought they were? Well, I’ve had a crush on Europe. I have loved its liberal society, its environmentalism, its social policies. I’ve put Europe on a pedestal. Europe could do no wrong. And I still believe Europe is pretty awesome and America has a long way to go to catch up. But man, getting to know Europe made me realize I really do love America. She’s far from perfect, and sometimes I want to punch her in the face, but we “get” each other. And I’m happy to call her home.*   *Update: And proud to call her home after today’s momentous Supreme Court decision to respect and honor the love of all people. U! S! A!

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2 thoughts on “A Culture Eyebrow Raise: Nuances and Tidbits about Europe

  1. This was my favorite post of all! I love the ‘middle finger chin scratch’! I recently saw someone at a park with a selfie stick and I couldn’t stop staring 🙂

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