Sunday, March 20, 2011

America vs Europe

Around a table over coffee I was having a discussion with some French folks. As an American living in France, I was asked to describe the biggest differences between life in the USA and in France/Europe. Here’s the list I came up with:

1. New vs. Old
Everything in America is new. This is something I’d never noticed nor thought about until I came to Europe. The USA is only 235 years old. That’s miniscule in the scope of our world. Travel around Europe and you see chateaus, castles, walled cities, and palaces nearly as old as the written word. In America, the oldest thing I can ever remember seeing was a log cabin in my home town that dated a mere 100+ years. What age does exist in America is natural and God-created, not man-made (i.e. Grand Canyon, Redwood Forest).

2. Big vs. Small
This one is a derivation of the first. Where America’s known for its vast plains, ranches, highways, backyards, and Super Wal-Marts, Europe’s characterized by tight streets and passageways, closet-sized apartments (our place - large by Marseille standards - can be vacuumed completely without ever unplugging the vacuum), mopeds, fruit stands, and elevators that would terrify even a mild claustrophobic. Because of the age of things, they are smaller in Europe. City streets weren’t built when cars were on the scene. The doorways that I have to duck to walk through were constructed at a different time, when 6’+ was a height not thought of. Most cities have been around for centuries, so we can’t go back and plan them to be built around modern inventions like cars and elevators.

3. Airplanes/Automobiles vs Trains/Walking
Also a derivation of the first. In America, you can’t really live without a car. Imagine going to work, doing all of your shopping, and going to visit family without a car. Stateside, nearly impossible. In Europe, if you don’t have a car that makes you normal. Here, we walk to get groceries, we hop the metro to go out to eat, and if we want to visit friends in another city, we take a train. In the States, for vacation or business, there’s cars and planes. Flights around the country are pretty common. We live in the second largest city in France, and our airport compares to that of a domestic airport of a minor city in an average state. Why? Because few people fly here, they take trains instead (easier, cheaper, more comfortable, and when you factor in check-in and waiting for bags... faster, plus no ear-popping).

4. Theism vs Apathy
If you ask a random person on the street in the States what it takes to get to heaven, you may get a trip through the Romans road, an admonishment to follow the 10 commandments, a “live a good life” answer, or even an honest “I don’t know.” Ask the same question in Europe and you’re likely to get ignored, or simply told that the question is dumb/irrelevant, as heaven doesn’t exist.

We also talked about smaller differences, like the number of cheeses in France vs the number of cereals in the States, but these were the big ones that stood out to me. So what did I leave out?

Ever travelled? Read a book? Seen a movie? Have a European/American friend? What do you see as the big differences between two western worlds?


Kevin Eby said...

Europeans stay in queue. Americans budge lines and avoid process. Linda Scott is a great example choosing the shortest line through customs even though it was labeled "French Nationals Only"

Michael & Joe Joe said...

Interesting Kevin! Linda is indeed a great example :), she did good in my book. I'll have to watch on this one, you may be right about Europe in general, but in France lines/queues are almost never seen.

I'm told there's an interesting reason. During WW2 when France was occupied by the Germans, the people were forced to stand in lines daily: for food, registrations, etc. Afterwards, the people hated it so much that they vowed to never stand in line again. Thus today if you walk into a bakery, you won't see a queue, but a bunch of people milling about, all knowing the order of who's next.