>After spending 2 weeks abroad, you’ve got to change. There’s no way around it, you just become a different person. OK, maybe not changed but…enlightened.
We saw so many different cultures, different people and a world that had been around for thousands of years before we made the world’s largest iced tea in Boston. And while the difference between our culture and those in Europe is nowhere near as different than ours and say rural Indonesia–as I experienced firsthand a couple years ago–it certainly catches you off-guard. I, however, appreciated most of that culture more than much of the culture here in the States.
Don’t read too much into that. I wouldn’t go so far as saying that the sentiments are anti-American as much as they are pro-European. It’s hard to not love Europe. Friendly people (for the most part), incredible history, art, architecture, the best cars, the best beer, pubs, efficient public transportation, I could go on forever. What makes it so great, though, is how it all blends together so perfectly.
Sure, I was on vacation. I didn’t get to see the problems and ugly sides of a culture; not many Europeans would experience the ugliness when visiting Disneyland. I’m not saying it’s perfect by any means, but I would take the European culture any day of the week. The second I stepped off the plane at Heathrow I knew I was going to love Europe more than I had 3 years ago. It was fantastic to be there with Katie and experience all of this with her. I think her sentiments are the same as mine and she loved Europe just as much as I did.
I guess when you step out of your home or comfort zone you can really evaluate who you are and where you come from on a much more objective basis. Katie and I came across other Americans abroad everywhere we visited and sadly, we were ashamed how many of them acted. That’s not to say everyone was a douche but if we came across 100 Americans, I’d say that probably at least half of them acted like…well, Americans. I can’t stand when people travel and they expect the places they travel (domestic or abroad) to adapt to them, not the other way around. What ever happened to “when in Rome, do as the Romans do…” Instead, the overwhelming sentiment is “When in Rome, do as I do at home…and if you don’t like it then you suck.”
You’ve got to surrender yourself to the situation, people. Become a part of the places you travel and take them home with you. Learn from others instead of feeling that everywhere you go you have to be a missionary spreading your culture to others that are totally content doing what they do and could give a hoot about you in their country. Show a little eagerness to learn and willingness to be part of their culture for a few days and you’ll be amazed what it gets you.
On the flight home, I got to thinking: could I live in Europe? Yeah, I could. I don’t know how or where or why I’d live there but I could get used to being a part of the European culture on a permanent basis. I’d like to at least figure out a way that I can work with Europeans and I have a couple ideas floating around but nothing worth sharing at this time. Stay tuned…
I miss being in Europe. We’ve been back for 2 weeks now and I’d be lying if I said I wish I wasn’t there right now. I will most certainly be visiting Europe for the rest of my life and bringing back the great things from the places we visited and incorporating them into my daily life. Things like proper driving etiquette, eating smaller/healthier portions of food, walking everywhere, Cadbury Flake, courtesy, ability to speak a 2nd language, you name it.
Let’s wrap it up, Jerry Springer style. What did I learn from Europe? Well, I learned that giving yourself 2.5 hours for a layover in Boston isn’t safe. Customs anywhere outside the US is quick and painless; individual LCD screens on each seat make transatlantic flights a breeze and British Airways puts mayonnaise on everything. But besides the things learned in transit, I learned that Europe is a wonderful place with culture oozing from every building, street and monument. My time abroad was made all the better because I made myself part of the cultures I was visiting, not the other way around. For 2 weeks I was happy to be just a tourist, not an American.
I know that my car will go at least 128mph and that BMW builds the finest production cars on the planet, bar none. Driving through Bavaria gives you a real sense of identity and understanding for why BMW builds their cars the way they do and why it’s the right way to do it. If you ever consider buying a BMW I cannot recommend to you enough the European Delivery option; it will be the trip of a lifetime and since you save money on the car you basically get a free European vacation out of the deal.
I learned that Europe is a place I feel rather connected to on many levels; a place you’re certain to hear of me traveling to many times, maybe even setting up shop there some day down the twisting road that is my life. Most importantly, I’ve realized that I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to make this vacation a reality. It inspires me to do more with my life so I can repeat the process in another 3 years when the uber-wagon is off lease.
Until next time, take care of yourself, and each other.