After having spent three weeks in Europe, there are a few things I am thankful to have in the United States that I had previously taken for granted, and there are a few things that I think we can learn from Europe. First, I am thankful to have free water in the United States. For the most part, wherever you went in Europe, you had to pay for water, and oftentimes it cost as much as beer or soda. In addition, there are virtually no drinking fountains in Europe. This made me appreciate the fact that we have cheap/free water here in the United States. Another thing that I enjoy having in the United States is free bathrooms. In Europe, if you wanted to use a bathroom, you either had to pay for it or you had to buy something from a restaurant that had a bathroom. Again, it is nice to have free bathrooms in the United States.
There are also a few things that I think Europe does better than the United States. One major difference between the United States and Europe is quality. In Europe, quality is emphasized in almost everything, from the meals to the production line to the businesses. For example, when buying a Coke at a meal, you would oftentimes be given the drink in a glass Coke bottle and then given another nice glass to pour the drink into. In the United States, however, you oftentimes are given a paper cup to drink out of. It seems that while Europe stresses having good quality in everything, the United States stresses having the cheapest products with okay quality. I think that one of the things we can learn from Europe is having a little better quality in various aspects of society.
After having traveled through parts of six different countries (Netherlands, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Czech Republic), it was interesting to see how communicating with others whose native language is not English would work. In each of the countries we visited, most of the natives know English to varying degrees as a second language. As a result, it is normally not too difficult to communicate with others when ordering dinner, asking for directions, or buying something at the store. However, the European natives’ willingness to communicate with us in English differs quite a bit between countries.
This contrast can especially be seen between France and the rest of the countries we have visited. In the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and the Czech Republic, most people would be willing to communicate with us in English to the best of their ability. However, in France, people would not be as willing to communicate with us in English until we had attempted to communicate with them in French. Even though most of the people in France know English, they appreciate it much more when others speak to them in their native language, just as Americans would appreciate it much more if someone spoke to them in English as opposed to Spanish. Some of the people in France also like to try to teach you a few words in French when they realize that you do not know French. I found it very helpful to have known a little French from taking it throughout high school. As a result, with respect to communication, it seems that it is more helpful to learn a few words in French as opposed to a few words in other European languages.
As we visited Amsterdam, I noticed a few cultural differences from what one normally experiences in the United States. The most prevalent cultural difference had to do with the bikers in Amsterdam. There, bikers always have the right of way, no matter what. As we walked around Amsterdam, we constantly had to be on the lookout for bikers who could easily run us over if we didn’t get out of the way. Another major difference from what one normally sees in the United States is the vast number of bikers in Amsterdam. Almost everyone in Amsterdam owns a bike, and of those who own bikes, most use them as their means of transportation throughout the city. As a result, the streets of Amsterdam are always filled with bikers.
Another cultural difference I noticed in Amsterdam was the way the buildings were designed. First, all of the buildings were crammed very tightly together. In addition, many of the buildings leaned forward and looked like they were about to fall over. However, these buildings were intentionally designed this way in order to ensure that goods wouldn’t bang against the side of the building when they were hoisted up to the building’s highest floors. These were a few of the cultural differences I noticed as I walked around Amsterdam.