Tag Archives: humor

7 things Americans don’t understand about Europe

I don’t understand Americans in Europe. Actually, I don’t understand them in their own country as well. I mean, I don’t get baseball, NASCAR, American gun laws, the American insistence on using an archaic measurement system and above all I don’t understand ice in whiskey. But I think Americans do not understand Europe either. Not all of them, of course, but I think the average American has no clue about may things that are quite common in Europe. Here’s a small guide to the visiting American, helping rectify the most common American misconceptions about Europe.

What most European cities really look like

What most European cities really look like

  1. Europe is a continent, not a country
    “Europe is my favourite country” – how many times have I not come across this statement? Admittedly, the last one I saw was made by a Canadian, which only serves to prove the point that Canadians (and Australians) are a bit of Americans in disguise. Perhaps for people from countries the size of a continent it is difficult to understand. But Europe actually consists of more than 50 countries (depending a bit on how you define “country”). They have their own flags, anthems, culture and for what its worth their own foreign policy. Lumping them together is like saying “animals are cute” – sure they are, but a bit overgeneralizing.
  2. Europe is not the same as the European Union
    Its true that by now the majority of Europeans live in EU-member states. But there are still dozens of countries in Europe that are not a member, and the EU still covers less than half of Europe’s physical area. Besides, contrary to what Eurosceptics and Europhiles alike would like you to believe, the EU is not a super-state. Its members are independent countries who largely run their own affairs.
  3. Europe is more than the tourist hotspots
    Sadly, most Americans who visit Europe, and even many of those who live in Europe rarely leave the beaten track of old town centres, business districts and tourist top destinations. Their impressions of Europe are limited to Paris and Venice, and perhaps a bit of the countryside of Tuscany or the valley of the Loire. Their image of Europeans is therefore that of sopisticated, cycling, latte-drinking fashionistas. Sad truth is that most of Europe is less like the Champs-Élysées and more like the suburbs of Dusseldorf or the Bulgarian countryside – full of moustached people in jump-suits, who drink beer for lunch.

    What most of Europe's countryside really looks like

    What most of Europe’s countryside really looks like

  4. The UK is not a part of Europe
    This is actually what the British themselves believe, and their Anglo-Saxon cousins have inherited this belief. However, the UK is separated from the European mainland by a stretch of water just 33 km wide and less than 50 meters deep. People have even crossed swimming! The UK has been a part of the EU for over 40 years. Culturally, economically, socially, ethnically, religiously, geographically – any way you put it – the UK is firmly a part of Europe. Dear Britons – you are Europeans. Get over it. And mention it to your cousins, will you?
  5. Europeans have more than two parties
    In the USA it is simple – you’ve got the Republicans and you’ve got the Democrats. Europe is a bit more complicated politically. In most European countries its an elaborate game of multiple parties and coalitions. I know Americans like things simple, but European politics just doesn’t work this way. But don’t worry about this one, most Europeans don’t get it either.
  6. Football – no, its not soccer, its FOOTBALL
    Americans don’t even understand the name of the game that drives Europe crazy. They think they have football and what the Europeans play is soccer. But seriously – American “football” is played with the arms and hands mostly. Even if the occasional kick is taken into account its “limbsball” at best.

    What football really looks like

    What football really looks like

  7. European social system
    “Social=socialism=communism=DEVIL” – that’s pretty much the line of thought of the average American. “Europe” is in the USA a symbol of all that goes wrong when the government takes over. In reality, in the USA government spending is ~47% of the GDP and in the EU government spending is ~49-50% of the GDP. Hardly a difference, isn’t it? True, in Europe poor people get various benefits and social subsidies. But in the USA the system is pretty much the same – the benefits are just called “tax credits” so that it sounds more business-like. But how can people who pay no taxes get tax credits? A-ha! That’s just social benefits in disguise!

So dear Americans – whether you’re visiting Europe, or just hearing some news about “Europe” – do keep in mind that things are a) a bit more complicated and b) perhaps not that different than at your place. And if you have stories of European misconceptions about the USA – I’d love to hear, I’m sure there are plenty.

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To my fellow Dutch cyclists

A unique case of a cycling path in the Middle East (or does it prove once again that Israel is a European country?)

A unique case of a cycling path in the Middle East (or does it prove once again that Israel is a European country?)

My fellow Dutch cyclists, we live in a cycling paradise. It may rain and storm here, and at times we may feel a bit stressed, but compared to any other place on Earth, our country is a cycling Valhalla. Just think of it – there are whole continents out there without a single kilometre of a proper bicycle path! And we here are so used to it, we don’t even realize how privileged we are. I think that, since we are so well-off, we have a responsibility – we have to be worthy of this extraordinary privilege. We have a standard of cycling behaviour to keep up. We must serve as a beacon of light to the world, as a shining example to all those oppressed and threatened cyclists elsewhere, to demonstrate them that there is a better (cycling) world they, too, can hope and aspire for. Therefore, I would like to ask you to attend to a few points that would make our cycling experience more blessed and make peaceful coexistence with other road users easier to achieve.

  1. Use a proper light. Its winter time, and it is seriously dark out there. So many cyclists do not realize how poorly visible they are from a car, especially in bad weather. A simple, constant light is best – try to avoid those flickering torches, as they are absolutely blinding.
  2. Have a bell and use it (when needed). Especially you, the sports cyclists – the added weight of the bell is about 10 grams, much less than that beer belly you’re lumping along. And to you, Amsterdam cyclists – lighten up, its the taxi’s that are out to get you, not the pedestrians, and the taxi’s won’t hear you even if you blow a ship’s horn.
  3. Ditch the headphones. If you don’t hear my bell its bad enough. But if you don’t hear that bus coming, its a disaster. And no, you won’t hear it coming. I mean, your music is so loud, I almost don’t hear it coming. Want to listen to music on your commute? Take the train.
  4. Don’t use the whole road/cycling path. And no, I am not only talking to the teenagers riding 3 abreast on their way to school. I am talking to you, families with children – it’s great you teach them to cycle, but for God’s sake ride between your child and the traffic! And especially to you, senior citizens – yes, you’ve built this country from scratch and all, but now you have to share it with other people, too.
  5. Mind the cars. Its basic physics – the average car is 10 times heavier than you and 5 times faster. It means it hase 250(!) times more kinetic energy than you. And it has crumple zones. You don’t, and no, if you have boobs, they don’t count either. The car is just bigger, faster and stronger. It will win the wrestling match. Even if you were right (and I am reminding this to myself here most of all).
  6. Have breaks. If you ride a fixie with no brakes, you don’t look cool, you look stupid. Because most chances are you have no idea what you’re doing, unless you’re a real indoor racer. And let’s be honest here – you’re not.
  7. Don’t use your phone. Is it really necessary to WhatsApp and pedal at the same time? Would you like the truck driver to chat on his mobile while taking the same corner you do? So why are you doing this? I’d say the upcoming traffic will have more impact on your life than the latest status update on Facebook.

All of these points are common sense. I’m sure you know it all without me having to remind you. And failing to meet these points is a traffic rules violation that can be, and often is, fined. But the most important point I want you to remember is that cycling is fun. We do it because we enjoy it. Really, we do, because otherwise we’d drive or take the bus, or use some other smelly tin box. Relax, smile, and enjoy the ride. You’re in a better position to enjoy it than anyone else in the world.

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The 7 things I now understand a little bit better about Americans (in Europe)

My post titled “7 things I don’t understand about Americans in Europe” keeps drawing new comments, and not all of them are friendly. But I welcome them all, since the goal of the post was, in fact, to learn more about Americans in Europe and why they behave the way they do. Thanks to all those people (mostly Americans) who took the trouble to comment, I have indeed learned a few new things.

  1. Why don’t they drink tap water?
    Still unexplained. Possible answers were “Maybe it’s because we’re next to Mexico”, blaming low quality of tap water in some parts of Europe (and extrapolation to other parts), and more generalizing “American paranoia” (the last one is from an American, I merely quote here).
  2. Why do they think Europe has a “low season”?
    I was duly pointed to the fact that “Certain parts of Europe do in fact have low seasons, they just tend to be tourist magnets.” So yes, some sea-side resorts have low seasons, but the weather then is rather bad, and most businesses are closed, so in fact, they have no season at all then. If you’re going to Ibiza or Dubrovnik in the “low season” be prepared to visit a ghost town.
  3. Why do they use money belts? and
  4. Why don’t they use ATM’s?
    Commentators combined answers to these two questions, so I guess they are related.  I can live with the explanation that (some) Americans are not used to the crowds – “In America, we usually drive in cars and don’t walk much or use public transport.” Another commenter says that “pickpocketing certainly exists across the globe but is pronounced in Europe due to social problems.” I tend to disagree with this broad statement – social problems anywhere in Europe are nothing compared to India or Latin America. Perhaps, indeed, as another commenter suggests, “Money belts are a combination of paranoia and ignorance.”
    As far as ATM’s are concerned, apparently, “For Americans, ATMs often have very high fees for foreign transactions.” On the other hand, it does not apply for all Americans, as these comments clearly show: “Money belts are stupid. My wife and I use ATMs.” “I have never owned a money belt! They’re totally useless. I find that you’re better off with a little bit of street smarts and an ATM card with no international fees.”
  5. Why are they in such a rush?
    The most common explanation is the one I originally came up with myself – limited vacation days. But, as I’ve written in another post, the shocking truth is that Americans don’t even use the little leave they have! Why they insist on choosing quantity instead of quality? One commenter explains it as follows: “I could sit around in cafés or parks lounging and relaxing but how is that any better than moving at a fast pace to see as many sights and museums as possible?” Personally, I think a good vacation is exactly the opposite of “moving at a fast pace”, and is actually intended for relaxing. But has made a career out of writing about it, so I’ll refer all further questions to him.
  6. Why don’t they have a clue?
    Still a bit vague here, even though my question seems justified. Apparently, “most Americans think of Europe as Disneyland”. This is perhaps explained by “They don’t have a clue because they are never taught to be curious about what the rest of the world is like”, although it seems a broad generalization. But, as one commenter rightfully pointed out, “99% of them won’t even come over to Europe for not having enough time so, support the ones that do!” I couldn’t agree more.
  7. What’s up with Paris?
    As one commenter puts it, “there’s an unhealthy obsession in American culture with Paris as the capital of romance and beauty. Personally, I think it is neither.” On the other hand, another commenter says “I don’t know if I can explain Paris if you haven’t been there. I don’t think I would want to live in Paris, but as a tourist, I love Paris. ” According to others, “Paris is dirty, overhyped, and overrun with tourists”, “Paris is incredible but it’s also a dirty, angry city with tons of social problems.” So there’s definitely something about Paris, I just didn’t have the chance to check it out for myself yet.

It does appear that my post has hit a nerve, even though for some it was the wrong nerve – if you want to know more, check out the comments of the original post here. I still don’t understand (some) Americans, but thanks to the feedback, I understand them a little bit better. More comments are warmly welcomed!

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