The Greener Grass

I often find myself longing to be part of a different culture when I travel. As Americans we can become very ignorant to other cultures, often stereotyping them. Our education comes from the television and we often think little of anywhere beyond our borders. But I wonder what would life really be like if I lived somewhere else? I’m tired of the American way of life…work, work, work. For what? So we can afford the ever-increasing healthcare costs? So we can afford the high blood pressure, high cholesterol…medications that are purely necessary because of our lifestyle? No thank you!

There are things that I would love about living in Europe (I’m purely focusing on Europe here because I was just there, but I may talk about the positives of Ecuador later while I try to convince myself we should stay).

1. Excellent mass transportation. Buses, trains, boats, airplanes. It is quite easy and fairly inexpensive to get from one place to another without needing a car. It’s much better for the environment too.
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2. Europe is full of amazing history. I’m sure many people that live there are not as enthusiastic about this as I and many other tourists are, but as an American it blows my mind to see buildings that were erected in 1100 BC, hundreds of years before the founding of our nation! Also, since spending most of our time in Germany on this trip, I am heartbroken that so many wonderful sites have been destroyed. Yet another thing to thank Hitler and the stinking Nazis for! Thankfully, many sites have been rebuilt according to the original plans, sometimes even leaving some damaged areas as a reminder of the tragedy of war.
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3. Europeans are, for the most part, much healthier people. They walk or ride their bikes most places. They flock to parks on warm summer days. Fast food restaurants, while ever-present are less numerous and way too expensive to eat at every day. But fresh fruit and vegetables are easily accessible and open air markets are weekly, if not daily occurrences. Organic, low-pesticide-laden foods, non-GMO foods, and unadulterated meats are the norm. All-you-can-eat buffets are rarely seen. And yet these are not purely fruit and nut eaters! No, the foods here are delicious! Plenty of hearty breads, sweet pastries, Meusli, and the Germans and Swiss know how to do pork (and beer)! Bratwurst, salami, ham, Emmantaler, Gouda, Edam, etc. But the portions are small and filling and the calories taken in are appropriately balanced with an active lifestyle.
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*The one caveat I’ve noticed is that smoking is VERY common here. The young and old all partake in this awful habit. Perhaps it’s just more noticeable as anti-smoking laws are not as strict here, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find smoking rates were higher among adult Europeans.
Check out the smoking rates in other countries here. These stats are 10 years old but mind boggling. From my experience, I don’t think they’ve decreased much.
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4. Europeans are miles ahead of us in earth conservation efforts. If they must drive, they drive smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Many times they walk, ride a bike or make use of the excellent public transportation.
Recycling is so common and easy to do. In fact, Germans and The Swiss recycle half of their recyclable waste while Americans only recycle a third. There are separate cans for recyclables and trash in public places and in Germany you got €0.25 back for each plastic bottle with a special label that you took to a special recycle place, typically a grocery store. At the current exchange rate it’s like receiving a dollar back for recycling 5 soda or water bottles. Not too bad, in my opinion. In Lucern we also saw several men in a horse and cart going around collecting compost materials. No wonder the plants grow so well here!
Another mind-blowing fact is that the water in most lakes and rivers is safe to drink. In Munich and Lucern there are fountains throughout the city pumping cold, refreshing, potable water. They were perfect to cool us off and keep us hydrated in the hot summer weather.
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There are solar panels EVERYWHERE! Even farmhouses in the middle of the countryside have them. They use what they need and sell the rest to power plants.
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5. Perhaps one of the most important things to me is that they tend to live a much simpler life here. They do not feel the need, nor is there the room, to collect all the clutter we do. They work to live, not live to work. And paid maternity leave can be up to 12-18 months in some European countries. In the US there is no mandatory paid vacation time or maternity leave. No wonder breastfeeding rates in the US are so poor!

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These are just a few of the things I love about life in Europe. Of course my views are mostly coming from being a vacationer and not a member of the society, but my mother works in the UK and I have spoken with others who live or have lived in European countries. I am in no way anti-American but I have grown weary of the fast-pace of life in the states and I long for a simpler, healthier, easier way for myself and my family. I hope that these travels and this move to Ecuador can help us find a place we feel at home, where we can enjoy the culture and time with our family, whether it’s South America, Europe, the United States, or another country/continent.

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