Disclaimer: This is more of a personal blog entry than the others (besides the previous entry), but you may benefit from or agree with my observations about England and France.
I was only in each country for four days, but I gained a lot from the short period of time I spent in Europe. Even though I prefer the efficiency, pace, ethic, and lifestyle of the United States, I still think it’s valuable to travel to other places. If nothing else, one can appreciate where they come from after experiencing the different ways of foreign countries.
Restaurants, Food, Service, and Tipping
My mom hasn’t cooked in more than six months, so she was thrilled at the prospect of dining out for every meal. At our first restaurant, I ordered a small coffee. To my disappointment, it was watered down tremendously. Life everything else, coffee is different in other countries. Most places didn’t have drip coffee, which I’m addicted to, and any faithful coffee drinker knows that one shot of espresso in water doesn’t feed addiction.
The cooks and waiters take their time at restaurants, and meals generally last longer than they do in the United States. The waiters also refrained from handing the customer’s their bill. You have to ask for the bill because the waiters don’t discreetly say “you can leave now” as they do in America. This allows families to enjoy a meal, and it’s relaxing, but frustrating if in a hurry.
I was blatantly told that “customer service is not a part of [European] culture,” so I understand why tipping is unimportant. A British waiter said a 10% tip is considered generous, and no tip at all isn’t socially unacceptable or stingy. An Italian man told me that “Americans are such idiots for tipping the way they do.” I tend to agree with this. If tips are expected, there’s no incentive to give good service.
College students spend a lot of time walking. If they’re lucky and adventurous, they bike. This is considered sufficient exercise for students who don’t have time to do anything but study and imbibe heavily. I thought I walked a lot until I went to Europe, where the cities were designed for travel on foot. We walked about ten miles a day, and we walked quickly to distract ourselves from the 32 degree weather. We also walked on top of cold cobble stone roads, which require more energy to move past. It would be nice to have a walking culture over here. Everyone would be healthier.
Europe is widely known as socially evolved. Racism is still pervasive, however. Without generalizing too much, the people aren’t always quiet about their prejudices. One of our British cab drivers went off on a ten minute rant about all the unemployed mothers living in houses for free. He tossed me four articles about similar situations before screaming about his tax dollars going towards too many translators in England. He handed me a sheet with ten different languages on it, and he blamed the “dirty Muslims, Russians, and Indians” for all the unwanted immigration. Then he pointed to an apartment complex for the “greedy Indians and Muslims whose religious practices started the opening of Sunday stores.” There are crazy racists everywhere, but this person would not be tolerated in the US, and he’d surely get fired.
We were the loud Americans in both countries, and we’re not very loud people. Everyone seemed pleasant and calm, but reserved. I’m not one of those Americans who speaks disparagingly of the French. Every French person I met was really nice, but I’m also familiar with the language. I spoke to them in French, and they were even polite to my mom who tried hard to speak the language, but just sounded ridiculous. An attempt seems honorable over there.
A lot of people complain about how uneducated Americans are. Europeans are often multilingual, so why can’t Americans master other languages? It’s easier for the Europeans to speak other languages. Spanish, French, Italian, and many other languages are spoken in Europe. English is the dominant language in the US. We border Mexico and that’s pretty much the only other language in proximity besides Canadian French. I’m sure we’d all speak more languages if we bordered other countries. There’s only so much you can learn in a classroom environment.