Why do we love Europe so?

19007453Is it weird that Walt Disney, among his fantasia rides and fairyland worlds, also re-created Europe at one of his theme parks? I try to imagine what I would think if I found out that a bunch of Europeans created an amusement park where bears talked and pirates roamed, cartoon mice and castle princesses cast spells and in the midst of all this fantasy was a replica circa 1975 of my suburban neighborhood in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida. I think I might be a little insulted.

Is it presumptuous to think of another culture as our idea of an amusement park? I think some Brits and Europeans come to New York City on holiday and I’m not quite sure why. The bagels, maybe? It can’t be the history, like us with Europe. New York is, like, five years old compared to what they have back home. It can’t be the friendly natives or the pastoral vistas, the geological landmarks or the food. I’m frankly stymied. Is it just to be someplace different?39194840

The last time I visited London, I was disappointed to discover it looked and sounded a lot like the US. (Come to think of it, Paris last year felt a little too much like Epcot Center for my comfort too.) I found the charming English accents blunted by watching too much American television. I found the architecture modern and attractive—but hardly English. I found the pubs, for the most part, a strident attempt to be pub-like for all the tourists, and the department stores, although fun and attractive, devoid of everything that had set them apart—except for their names—from American retail.

I shouldn’t be surprised that the Internet is turning us all into one big homogeneous blob of diluted Americana. But I didn’t think it would happen this fast. The last time I was in Germany, my husband—who is fluent in the language—never found a single opportunity to speak it. Everyone spoke English.

37743092Even the bathrooms have done a tip of the hat to the Americans. A few years ago, one was always challenged, especially in France, with public toilets and usually had to take a moment to negotiate even hotel room bathrooms. No longer. Europe now out-Americans the Americans for modernized bathrooms. There even seems to be fewer and fewer bidet sightings.

Not that Europe’s charm was all in its bathrooms, but it did help make the whole experience feel foreign. And that’s partly the reason I travel—to jump outside my comfort zone, to struggle to order from a menu, to snap out of the somnolent death-march that marks much of my daily round in the States, and to find the unexpected around every corner.

Jeez. Is that too much to ask?

9 thoughts on “Why do we love Europe so?

  1. No problem there – go anywhere behind the former Iron Curtain and you’ll find plenty of people who don’t speak English, unreadable menu’s and filthy toilets. Europe still has a lot to offer 😉

    • Good point, Michael. And in spite of the immaculate toilets and English-speaking waiters, I think I’ll still prefer Paris, Heidelberg and Rome to some of the other options. I love Europe! Long may it (and Rick Steves) reign. 🙂

  2. Despite the recent American gloss – something I’ve noticed in the way many Europeans now speak English, particularly – the depth of their own culture never fails to surprise me in Europe. Those of us brought up around the Pacific Rim – as in, Americans and Kiwis – in any event have a shared culture that flows from a nineteenth century colonial diaspora that was incredibly similar in many respects. Europe is different and runs far deeper.

    Incidentally, as regards European toilets, I have a curious “techno toilet” story from Amsterdam. Some years ago my wife and I were visiting the Dutch half of my family. We ended up in a café near the Van Gogh museum where the facilities had what, on the face of it, looked like clear glass doors. Various thoughts about (specific) Amsterdam weirdness towards privacy followed (call it ‘depth of culture’). Actually it turned out the door went opaque when you locked it. The whole thing was a giant liquid crystal. Turning the lock closed a circuit that polarised the crystal – and…pow, instant privacy. Of course then the worry was whether the crystal remained in that state if the power failed…

    • I agree, Europeans are a world unto themselves and, of course, I love them for it. (Wouldn’t be half as much fun visiting there if they weren’t. BTW, I love your Amsterdam toilet story and have already passed it on a few times! Thanks for chiming in, Matthew!

  3. Hi Susan,
    I didn’t really expect England to be very foreign, but was disappointed to find that Ireland had changed dramatically in twenty years, most especially noticeable in the blunted accents. But if it is the exotic you seek, you can always go to Turkey and you will find interesting and challenging bathrooms, among other things.
    Best wishes,
    Naomi

    • Haha…it is tempting, I have to say…
      As for Ireland, I wish I could have seen it then but guess will just have to create my perfect Irish world in my books. 🙂

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