This year has flown by and as my flight home is quickly approaching, I wanted to take a minute to think about and write out all the things I will miss when I leave Europe. But as I was writing them out, I quickly realized I also had a list of things that I can’t wait to go back to the U.S. for! This year has been a time of new experiences and I’ve had my eyes pulled wide open to so much that I was completely unaware of and I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world! So whether you’re just curious about my year abroad or you are thinking about going abroad yourself, here are 10 Things I’ll Miss When I Leave Europe and 10 Things I’ve Missed About the U.S.!
10 Things I’ll Miss When I Leave Europe:
Yep. Gelato, what I thought was just the Italian word for ice cream, turned out to be so much more. If you’ve ever thought you had super creamy ice cream, trust me, it’s nothing in comparison to a good cono of gelato. I’ll miss our spontaneous trips to the local gelatoria SO MUCH! Also, American flavors just don’t stand a chance against Italian gelato. My favorites: pistacchio, CioccoArancia (Orange Chocolate), and pesca (peach, made with REAL peaches!).
2. Public Transportation + Cheap Flights
I haven’t had a car for over a year and I LOVE it! I live in a small town, basically the Blacksburg of Switzerland. It’s not even close to being called a city, and I have had no problem getting around at all. It’s cheap and very convenient to get from one town to another, but buses and trains are not the only cheap transportation in Europe; FLYING is SO affordable! This year I spent $40 for a flight from Milan to London, $30 for a round trip flight from Milan to Berlin, and $28 for a flight from Milan to Prague. So stinkin’ cheap in comparison to a $150 fight from Charlotte to NY.
3. Water Pressure
This one only applies to Switzerland. I have to admit that I thought we had pretty good water pressure at home before moving to Switzerland, but I was terribly mistaken. At my apartment, I only turn my shower on half way to avoid feeling like I’m being hosed down by a pressure sprayer in my backyard. In the kitchen, if you turn the sink on all the way and go to wash a dish, you’re surely going to end up with a wet shirt.
4. Slow Food
In Europe, entrees never come out until the entire table has fully finished the appetizer. Even in the tiny local restaurants, waiters know this rule and I’ve never once had it broken! Some even take the menus from you after you order your appetizer, wait for it to come out and you to finish it before bringing the menu back. Dinner isn’t about getting in and out as quickly as possible, but rather about slowly enjoying the food and company with you. I found that I actually end up eating less because of this!
5. Recycling is the Norm
I can mostly speak for Switzerland, but all of Europe does a much better job than the U.S. does. Recycling is part of everyone’s life. It’s a common practice even in the smallest towns because trash bags cost $$$ money $$$. Seriously, one small bag (probably half or one third of the size of an average American trash bag costs around $2, but recycling is F R E E.
6. Less Waste
In Europe there is SO much less waste in general. No straws, no to go cups, no grocery store bags, the things that the average American uses daily.
7. Good Bread
I’m going to go ahead and break this to y’all. Our bread sucks. Well, at least any bread you would find in a grocery store. If you’re looking for good bread in the states, you’ve got to find a bakery. Even then, this bread barely rivals that in a common grocery store.
8. Mature Conversation
Some people might get a bit mad at me about this one, but it’s true. I’ve always felt that I liked to talk about more important or more serious things than my peers in the U.S. and for a long time I thought I was just the ‘odd one out,’ but not so. I found that when I came to Europe, I fit right in to the conversation and I had nearly forgotten what it was like to be constantly surrounded by topical level conversation until I went home for Christmas or met up with students from my university back home. This isn’t me being prejudice, it’s just an observation and something I think we should work on as a culture.
9. Purpose of Alcohol
Contrary to the U.S. where alcohol is seen as a means to get drunk amongst my peers, in Europe people have been drinking beer since they were fifteen or sixteen and other alcohol since they were eighteen. Here, wine is a compliment to a dish, an art. This is something I will really miss about Europe!
10. One word: Density.
Europe is DENSE. Yes, it is much older than the U.S. so many of the cities and towns were built to be accessed on foot rather than by car, but even the newest grocery stores are built in a way that make them accessible by foot. This means you can walk to just about anything, in fact, I walked to my grocery store all year!
10 Things I’ve Missed About the U.S.:
1. Smoking is a ‘Filthy Habit’
Before coming to Europe I thought all of those anti-smoking ads you see on TV were such a waste of time and money to watch. After all, does anyone seriously smoke anymore? Especially teens? The answer is YES–– in Europe smoking is rampant even among college students. At any given restaurant you go to, I guarantee there will be someone smoking if you sit outside. The worst part in my opinion is that there is no awareness that other people might not be okay with you smoking around them. I get major headaches anytime I start to breathe in smoke so if I am having a meal and someone sits down and pulls out a cigarette, I occasionally ask them if they mind waiting for a few minutes until we leave. Most of the time I get by with a dirty look and a few curse words spoken in another language, but I’ve even had someone light their cigarette and blow the smoke in my face. It’s entirely rude to me, but it’s the culture. I can’t wait to not have a headache waiting at every meal!
2. Respect for Others
This one is kind of a follow-up from the smoking because I see smoking in public as entirely disrespectful to everyone around you, but that’s not the only way I’ve come to see Europeans as much more disrespectful for unwilling to help another person. I have a car at my university and have given my share of rides and carpools so as I came into this year where I wouldn’t have a car, I assumed it would be my turn to ask for the ride, but boy was I wrong! Asking for ride from students here seems to be like pulling teeth. If you manage to get one to agree, you’re surely expected to pay them more than the cost of gas. Other than that, doors are never held for someone behind you, people look at you in disgust if you offer your help, etc. It’s a dog eat dog world out here.
3. Further Advanced in Mental Health + Gender Equality Rhetoric
This one is completely MY opinion derived from MY experiences over the last year. I'm completely aware that other people may have experienced different things, but here's my opinion: the conversation about mental health and women’s issues (regardless of all that we are battling now in the U.S.) is much farther progressed than in Europe. I’m so thankful to be from a nation that is truly at the forefront of gender equality as well as fighting the stigma of mental illness. This year I've experienced professors being blatantly racist or sexist and no one questions it, no one gets fired or even scolded, it’s ‘just the way it is.’
4. Air Conditioning is the Norm.
Yeah, it’s bad for the environment, but I really have a hard time doing school work when I’m pouring sweat in my classroom. I’ve learned to deal with not having air conditioning in my apartment over the last year, but something just seems wrong about going to school and it being 90 degrees outside, and much much hotter in the classrooms!
5. Privacy is Non-existant in Southern Europe.
There is no such thing as privacy here. Within my first week, I was asked by three people who I voted for in the 2016 presidential election. Final Grades? Yeah, they're going to go ahead and call those out in front of the entire class. Have a problem with a classmate or roommate? Yeah, they’re going to go ahead and send them an email with your name and exactly what you said.
6. Free Water is everywhere.
Reference #6 on the other list. I can’t wait to go home to water being free! If you order water in a restaurant in Europe you’re PAYING for a plastic bottle to be brought to your table. There is SO much wasted money and plastic on water sold in restaurants alone.
7. America is the land of Wi-Fi.
Or as the Italians like to call it “WEE-FEE!” It’s everywhere in the U.S. and we take it for granted. Good luck finding a hotel in Italy with Wi-Fi that works well enough for you to refresh your Instagram feed.
8. The customer is always right— but not in Europe.
Yep. And it’s super annoying. Restaurants have no problem getting into a screaming match with their customers over whether the order or bill was right. They have no problem making a scene.
9. The Variety in Grocery Stores + Restaurants.
Take it from me, you’re going to be hard pressed to find a good (or at all) Indian, Mexican, or Thai restaurant. I can’t wait to come home and have all my favorite cuisines again, even if they are all Americanized, I just need some variety in my life! Since the grocery stores tend to be very small so that they can be in the city centers, they tend not to have much variety. They have all the basics, but if you’re looking for something exotic to make a dish from another cuisine, you’re going to have to search multiple stores!
10. Size Inclusion
Yeah it’s true, Europeans see America as a bunch of overweight people addicted to fast food and obsessed with driving cars, BUT one thing I miss about the U.S. is size inclusion. I’m not a string bean by any means, but I am also not obese, yet I’ve been in a Levi’s store looking to buy a new pair of jeans and had to ask for a bigger size only to have the worker say to me, “we actually don’t go up to your size!” Seriously, I couldn't contain my embarrassment. Beyond that, I’ve heard several comments about how disgusting people with a little weight were. We may have our issues in the U.S. with obesity, but we also have learned how to love, or at the minimum be respectful of people of all sizes.
After I post this I will probably think of many more things I will and won’t miss, but I’m curious, did you have similar experiences when you were abroad? Let me know in the comments!