Friday, November 11, 2016

Best Parts of Living in Europe (as an American)

Hi all :-D

I just want to preface this article with saying that there is not necessarily any legitimate weight to the claims and points I am making.  They are merely reflections of my own thoughts and experiences.  Therefore, these are just my own opinions.

With all of that said, I have lived in Europe for a little over 3 years now.  On one hand, it feels like there is no way it can possibly have been that long already.  The time has flown by.  And yet on the other hand, it feels like its been much longer then 3 years.  Let me explain briefly.

As an example, with regards to my close friendships (both those back in the US and the ones I have grown here), with my close friends back in the US, somehow I have managed to remain just as emotionally close with a handful of them, which I am both overjoyed and so thankful for.  They are incredibly special to me.

And with regards to the close friends I have made here, with most of them it feels as though I have known them for much longer then just 3 years.  I feel like most of them know me nearly as well as my closest friends from back in the US do.  With the majority of my friendships here, it feels as though we have known one another for years and years.

So, back to the list.  Yes, despite the recent election outcome, there are still many things I love about the US, and a number of things I miss about it as well.  With each and every country, there are wonderful things about it, as well as challenging or not so great things about it.

Living in Europe has given me a different perspective, for which I am so thankful.  I feel this has added richness to my life in monumental ways.  Given me different ideas about how one might live, having experienced alternative value systems and different ways of things being done.

The things I personally have loved about living in Europe thus far (and in not specific order):

1. Cafe culture.  The US in mainly dominated by sit-down restaurants or unwelcoming to-go eateries where one is encouraged to grab their food and hurry on out.  Either way, one often gets the sense of being hustled out of these places the very second they have taken their last bite.  This is kind of a bummer.  It doesn't really allow one the chance to feel relaxed, as though they can linger and just hang out for a while.  Cafes allow this.  And actually, they encourage it.

Cafes are abundant throughout Europe.  Cafes are often inviting, charming, cozy.  They tend to have an atmosphere that encourages people to sit for a long time, all afternoon if they might like, with absolutely no pressure to leave.  No pressure to spend loads of money (since people arent working for tips) in order to earn the allowance to stay.  The concept of a cafe is, with the purchase of a cup of coffee or tea, you are more then welcome to stay, revel, wile the afternoon away for as long as you please.  Whether writing, reading or chatting with friends.

I love this.  I think it encourages a mindset of truly enjoying life and the company of others.  Of actually taking time to relax into the moment.  Of appreciating and reveling in what and who is right in front of us, without pressure to race off to somewhere else or on to the next thing.

2.  This segues into my next point, which is the work-life balance over here.  Its SO much better than in the US.  On the one hand, I do admire the ambition the US encourages.  There is definitely a sense of go-getter, especially motivated, rampant desire for achievement over there which I think can absolutely be a good thing if harnessed correctly and not taken to the extreme.  However.  I think in the US, they often take this to the very extreme.  With regards to the hire-and-fire mentality that seems to infiltrate most of the workforce mindset, the minimal to non-existent allotted vacation people receive, the overworked and often underpaid way that many people are pushed towards.  All of this to me adds up to less life happiness.  In America, the mindset is generally that one should live to work.  In Europe, its that you work to live.  Your job is a means to fund the rest of your life.  A career is an important and fulfilling part of life to many, many people.  But, family is equally if not more important.  Time with friends.  Time to pursue passions and hobbies.  Time to relax and actually feel good.  Time to visit other parts of the world and actually see the planet on which we live.  All of this is just as important as a career.  And in the US, it is not touted as being this way.  Job is first, everything else is at the bottom of the rung.  I dont like that at all.  I think its a disheartening and ultimately stressful way to live.  I think its important that ones life outside of work is given equal weight and value as part of what is important in life.

3.  Friendships <3.  Allow me to explain.  Yes, the close ones I have maintained back in the US are deep friendships.  They are fantastic and they are very special to me.  I hope to maintain those over the long term, regardless of where any of us end up throughout our lives.  I hope each of you know who you are...
There are also a few people to whom I wasn't that close with back in the US when I first moved away to Europe but to whom I have grown much closer while being away.  That is also way cool :-D

However, with all of that said, I have found that the friendships in Europe, in general, tend to be approached in a more steadfast way than how Americans tend to approach friendship.  Americans are often more bubbly and may act like a friend more quickly, which they may or may not really mean over the long term.  Here though, friendships stereotypically take a bit longer to establish, yes, many Europeans take a bit longer to warm up to you, BUT I have discovered that once they do they are generally the real deal.

So, in conclusion: you will meet hundreds and hundreds of people throughout your life.  Most of whom you will not connect with deeply.  Most of whom you will not love.  Most of whom will not go on to become "your people."  Therefore, when you find the ones you do really connect with, when you find the ones you do feel yourself loving.  When you find "your people," whether romantic, platonic or familial, hold on to themPut in the effort to maintain those connections.  Those are rare.  And that are what make life AWESOME, full and are what will bring you the most joy.

4.  The ease of travel within Europe.  Oh man, I have tried to take advantage of this as much as possible!!!  For example, one week in Portugal can be done for 500 euro total, from the standpoint of living here in Europe.  That is including airfare, hotel and spending money for the week.  A steal of a deal.
If I were to plan that same trip but from the US, the total would be a couple thousand dollars!!  This is an aspect about living in Europe that is THE BOMB!

My own photo, taken in Paris.

My own photo, taken in Rudesheim, Germany

My own photo, taken in Rudesheim.

My own photo, taken in Edinburgh, Scotland.

My own photo, taken in Edinburgh.

My own photo, taken in Edinburgh

My own photo, snapped in Stockholm, Sweden.

Stockholm, Sweden library.  AWESOME.

Library in Stockholm, Sweden.

Sandhamn, Sweden

Sandhamn, Sweden

One of the only photos that is not my own.  EzeVillage on the French Riviera.  I was just there two weeks ago :-D

Another one of the only photos that is not my own.  Saint Paul de Vence on the French Riviera.  I was also just there two weeks ago.  It was breathtaking.

5.  Six week of paid vacation per year.  Enough said.  This makes a HUGE difference, in terms of feeling motivated at work during the rest of the year, in terms of feeling rested and healthy, in terms of having things to look forward to often, in terms of just increasing life satisfaction and awesomeness.  This relates back to point #2 regarding work/life balance.

6.  Christmas markets.  These are prevalent throughout all of Europe but they are especially concentrated in Germany.  Lucky me ;-)  For someone who is passionate about Christmas, this is an especially compelling point regarding what makes living in Europe fantastic.  I LOVE Christmas.  Christmas, for me, feels magical and romantic.  It fills me with feelings of nostalgia.  I always feel especially happy and grateful around this time of year, for all the awesome people I have in my life to whom I am close.  I love getting people gifts, but not just any gift.  Taking the time to chose something personal and special for each of them.  I love baking and cooking.  Love the parties, the decorations, the lights, the glittering snowfalls.  I just love everything about Christmas.

Check out here for my visit to the Heidelberg Christmas marketAnd here for my visit to the Freiberg Christmas market.  
Both with LOADS of photos.

7.  Gorgeous, impossibly charming towns and villages which are ultimately works of art.  These super sweet, romantic, magical, ornate cities and villages are littered throughout Europe in thankfully large number.  These spots give their visitors a sense of having traveled back in time when one visits them.  They help us remember to slow down.  When wandering these tiny towns, they evoke feelings of romance, awe, and wonder.

Check out here for loads more photos and details about Rudesheim am Rhine in Germany, one of the most scenic, romantic little towns in the country.

8.  Dirt cheap to in some cases, free, education!!!  I sadly have not yet taken advantage of this awesomeness (though its looking like a distinct possibility sometime in the near future...we shall see).  But in general, education in Europe is far more attainable as opposed to somewhere like the US, where getting a basic college education leaves most people nearly bankrupt, which sort of defeats the purpose of obtaining a degree.  Then, when one enters the workforce they have begun with a major financial blow right from the start, which tends to follow them for years and years before they are able to actually pay off the loans in the first place.  This does not make a lot of sense to me.

9.  Train travel.  I personally, love this.  Whenever I ride on a train, it feel luxurious.  Romantic.  Taking a train ride has an old time feeling to it.  Old school and charming.  I love the excitement of going somewhere.  Yes, an airplane ride can give one the same feelings BUT with a train ride, you can actually see the landscape in significant detail as it passes by your window.  Train travel is the best.  And its prevalent as a means of transportation in Europe.  Some of the most scenic places of my life were viewed from the windows of a train, winding its way through part of Europe with myself sitting inside by the window, gazing outward.

One of the best train rides of my life...:-D, click here.

10.  Dress.  I have to say, yes, this is partially a stereotype but its rooted in truth.  Europeans tend to dress better than Americans.  I find when walking around during my daily life here, I can almost always pick out the American tourists right away.  Their manner of dress tends to be...plainer...dumpier...cheaper...just less refined and with less effort, than say Europeans tend to dress.  I much prefer the European sense of style.

11.  The Food.  I realized this to the full degree when I returned to the US for a visit last Christmas.  I had been THRILLED, filled with tittering anticipation, to go on a no-holds-barred eating extravaganza.  I had a list, literally, that I had compiled of all the mouthwatering and wildly unhealthy things I wanted to eat, which I cannot get here in Europe.

However, upon first embarking on said eating spree, I was shocked to find myself wracked with stomach pains, my skin broke out horribly and I went on to gain roughly 5 lbs/2.5kg in the span of a few weeks.  I felt AWFUL.  It was one of the worst periods I have ever felt in my life, health wise. And I realized as I was eating these foods which I had dreamed about for so long that actually, a lot of the them didn't taste quite as great as I remembered.  They tasted fatty, thick, chemical-laden, fake, sugary (too much even for my taste), just yuck.  All way too much.  I found myself longing for the foods I had grown used to eating back within my life overseas.  Simple, fresh, unprocessed foods.

Therefore, to me, the diet and foods generally readily available in the US which Americans tend largely to consume are problematic in terms of long term health, weight maintenance, how one feels on the inside both emotionally, with regards to how their body functions, and more.

Of course, healthy food is available in most places if one truly wants to seek it out and maintain that type of lifestyle.  But the US makes it a lot more difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle, thats for sure.  Healthy food is WAY more expensive over there then it is over here.  And with the easy availability of all sorts of junk, as well as people typically being overworked, its so much easier to reach for the crappy stuff.


Stay tuned for my next blog entry which will be posted within the next 72 hours.  That one will be a short list to balance out the other side of the coin, meaning the aspects regarding living abroad which I do not especially like or which I find to be especially challenging or limiting as a foreigner.

Happy Friday, Everyone!!! :-D

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