5 Little Differences between America and Europe

I’m officially back in the States. And it’s been a year since I last set foot  in the US. This means that I am obligated to annoy everybody around me with pretentious outbursts of: “Well in EUROPE we did…”

I have been trying to limit my annoying proclamations, but I can only do so much. I don’t go off over big things like cultural differences. More like the little things that you would never think about, but leap out to me as completely weird. Except, yeah, duh, of course that’s how they are in the US.
So I made a list of my top “what the hell” moments. Hopefully blogging will stop me from annoying my friends and family with my “In Europe” outbursts and prevent them from killing me.

1. Toilets use too much water
Yeah, of course my list starts with the bathroom. American toilet bowls look like mini-swimming pools. Seriously, do we really need that much water? Answer: no, because my Spanish toilet never had problems despite using 1/4 of the water. Plus the flushing sounds like Poseidon just released a tsunami in the bathroom.
Okay I exaggerate, but I’ve included pictures to prove my point (Google images, I never bothered to aim my camera at my Spanish toilet, thanks very much).

american-toiletIMG_20120103_024247

2. Light switches are tiny
Yeah, those tiny switches that you have to fumble for in the dark? Europe doesn’t do that. European light switches are much bigger, though still hard to find in the dark. Most of the light switches in Spain were the size of my palm…and the rest were as big as half my palm. I am still weirded out by the itty bitty American light switches and I’m just waiting for the day when I thoughtlessly smack one and end up with a plastic nub imbedded in my hand.

tumblr_m1r51piwyV1r5lyu3German Light Switch

3. Drinking Fountains exist!
On Saturday afternoon I arrived in Portland and made snarky comments about the ghetto train platform (What the hell, I have to WALK across the tracks?!) Thirsty as hell, I dragged my giant-ass suitcase through the station in search of a vending machine or café. And instead, I found this:
Push-bar-drinking-fountain
Cold, drinkable water available for free! Welcome back to America, Jeannette. Public drinking fountains do not exist in Europe. The expectation is that you will buy a bottle of water if you’re thirsty.

4. Americans build OUT
Europeans build UP. In Europe, everywhere is designed like American “downtowns.” That means that buildings touch each other. This means that giant parking lots or lawns aren’t really a thing. One apartment building is butted up against the next. Grocery stores are on the first floor of buildings and above them are apartments or private offices. Everything is shoved together.
And this isn’t limited to urban areas. I worked in a Spanish village with a population of about 2,000. And this little town was condensed. With the exception of the high school and the gas station, every building touched the one next to it. And these buildings were 3-5 stories high. In a small, rural village.

Casas_Reais._Santiago_de_Compostela,_Galicia_(Spain)
Santiago de Compostela: No gaps, nope!

It weirds me out to see all these stand-alone houses and businesses. The empty spaces between everything is strange. And, of course, Americans’ obsession with space means that it takes forever to walk anywhere!

5. Shit is open on Sunday!
In Spain, Saturday nights are the worst time to go grocery shopping. Because everyone and their mother is stocking up on food for the following day–no grocery stores are open on Sundays. Neither are clothing stores, most pharmacies, or any offices. In fact, the only things really open on Sundays are restaurants and bars. And sometimes tourist attractions.
I am used to Sundays being my “work at home” days, with lots of time for getting coffee with friends. Because there is literally nothing else to do.
Any now? Freaking American ideas about availability means that I no longer have an excuse to be a lazy-ass on Sundays. 

So, travelers and ex-pats: what are some little differences you’ve noticed? Anything big, or not so big, that I’ve missed? Let me know.

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2 thoughts on “5 Little Differences between America and Europe

  1. I totally hear you on the American toilet thing! I’m British and that was one of the first things I noticed when I first went to America!

    Just a word of caution, in the interest of accuracy be careful how you use ‘Europe’. It’s a very diverse little continent! The UK is a part of Europe even though in many ways we share more similarities with you guys in the US than with our continental counterparts. Europe comprises the likes of Russia and Turkey, completely different to Spain and France, for example. It’s one of the things that astounds me even having lived and travelled around Europe all of my life.

    On that note, I’m currently living in France and find supermarkets not opening so bizarre! I go to university in a small town in northern England where even Tesco will be open for a short part of the day. While it is nice to have a quiet day, it’s a bit annoying if you desperately need something and I also wonder how businesses survive without that extra trading day.

  2. In Spain, people go to meet friends at a cafe and leave the studying for their home or the library. In the US, everyone goes places alone. When I arrived home after a year in Alicante, I couldn’t believe how many people were reading alone by themselves around campus!

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