Traveling in Europe Will Teach You How Great American Malls and Big Gulps Are

2015-03-06T202811Z_157097679_GM1EB370C2801_RTRMADP_3_AUSTRIA-DAILYLIFE
The Burgtheater and St. Stephens cathedral (Stephansdom) in Vienna on March 6, 2015. Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

By now it's a safe bet that none of you have read Tim Walker's self-loathing epiphanies in The Atlantic. But I read it, and (spoiler alert!) it's about all the things he realized were wrong with him after living in Finland for five years, and how he fixed that by relinquishing his shitty American habits, from fearing awkward silences to taking his coffee to go.

Well, I've been living in Europe for a few months now, and I, too, have shed some shitty American habits, although I have managed to retain the very American habit of telling everyone what I've learned and boasting about how smart I am as a result. Without further ado:

Getting out of people's way on the street is for chumps.

Back in America, I worked pretty hard at sidestepping people in the street, even inconsiderate teenagers (I know, redundant) shuffling down the sidewalk with their eyeballs glued to their iPhones. In Europe, trying to get out of someone's way is basically admitting you're a timid tourist. People will barrel straight into you if they see you veering off to let them pass. When it's raining, they use their umbrellas as weapons, trying to stab you in the eye with the pointy parts. The only way to avoid being trampled, I've learned, is to shoulder-check people: old ladies, toddlers, I don't care. I will put you on the ground. I'm on to your game, Europeans. I'm not getting out of your way anymore.

Skip the damn tourist attractions.

They all look the same, anyway. Tourist attractions in America are rich, cultural experiences not to be missed: Times Square, Sunset Boulevard, Niagara Falls, Starbucks. Tell me what's even remotely similar about any of those incredible monuments. But in Europe, all of the top attractions in every major city are cathedrals and old government buildings. Blindfold me and drop me in front of the best cathedral in Barcelona or Prague and I'll have no idea whether I'm in Germany or France. Seen one monkey, seen them all. I'm done with you, Frommer's. I'm spending the rest of my trip in my cozy Airbnb watching a bootleg of Better Call Saul on my MacBook Air.

Only idiots drive.

In America, if you want to go somewhere, you get in the car and GO. In Europe, climbing into a car is madness. You will wind up stuck on some one-way cobblestone street crammed with tourists smarter than you (they're walking), nobody pumps your gas for you, and gas prices are impossible to figure out because they're in euros and per liter, a unit of measurement that should be used only for big bottles of Pepsi. I don't think they have highways here, either; just train tracks. And don't get me started on train travel. The windows are too big, and there's no pleasant security agent fondling you before you climb aboard.

If it's not in English, what's the point?

Learning a new language is cute but worthless. You're never going to get good enough at any other language besides English to do anything other than ask where the bathroom is, and if you try to pretend you speak another language well enough to have a conversation, luring some poor Deutschman into thinking he can talk to you in German, you're going to wind up staring blankly at him about 15 seconds after you make the mistake of asking "Wie geht's?" and he rambles back some soliloquy in a language you can't understand. Plus, everyone speaks English here, and if they don't, well, they should. You really want to spend the rest of your miserable lives watching Parks and Recreation with subtitles, Europe?

Sleeping in a bed that isn't sawed in half.

American beds are all one-piece, like a poorly designed women's swimsuit. In Europe, they have brilliantly devised a better approach: When they need a bigger bed, they just shove another twin mattress next to the original. Voila! (As they say in Italy.) Not only is the bed immediately twice as big but you never have to touch anyone you're sleeping with. If you get "lucky" at the bar one night, you can play a fun game when you get back to the room, where you try to have sex on a bed that splits apart in the middle every time things get a little too rowdy, threatening to swallow you and your amore (that's Dutch, I think). As soon as I get back to America, I'm slicing my king-sized bed in half.

Buying everything I need in one store is lazy.

The best thing about Europe is shopping, and I don't mean all the quaint little mom-and-pop clothing stores with quality, handmade, creative stuff. Those places are annoying. I'm talking about grocery shopping. It's a blast, because in no country in Europe can you get everything you need in one store. Want some Thai curry paste? Go to the little Pakistani supermarket down the street, but only after asking for it at five different supermarkets. Kombucha? Find an Asian market somewhere, or you're screwed. Toilet paper? Only available at the toilet paper store. It's a great way to really explore a city, especially if you've wised up like I did and stopped visiting cathedrals and old government buildings.

We've always known it: Smoking is cool.

I started smoking again. Everyone smokes here, even babies. There's no point in not smoking, because you're going to inhale it anyway. Even in the countries that have smoke-free cafés, they don't have ridiculous, puritanical laws banning smoking at the entrances to those places, so everyone huddles outside them and pollutes you as you walk in and out or if you sit near the door. In the U.S., all my friends quit smoking because nobody would go outside and have a cigarette with them anymore. In Europe, everyone goes outside to smoke a cigarette, and I'm left looking like a goober back at the bar. So I realized I might as well just smoke. Now I have more meaningful connections with my friends, and I no longer waste a bunch of time jogging, because I get too winded when I jog.

Only fascists yell at people who are making too much noise.

In America, when the party the college kids next door are throwing gets too loud, or when the baby downstairs is screaming its wobbly little head off, we waste no time and call the cops, and frat guys and babies wind up in jail, with criminal records that will haunt them for a lifetime. In Europe, if people want to walk down the street banging on a dolly loaded with propane tanks and yelling out "HEELLLOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" every 30 seconds, six days a week, nobody bothers them. It's a beautiful cultural experience, listening to people in the apartment next door have a conversation in some foreign language that is clearly not a fight and that is clearly happening in the same room but is also happening at the top of their lungs. Such gusto! (That's Welsh, I think.)

So thank you, Tim Walker, for your tips on how to live better. I hope you like my little contributions too. Viva la Portugal!

Traveling in Europe Will Teach You How Great American Malls and Big Gulps Are | Opinion
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