“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” Sage advice from St. Augustine, who was born in 354. I don’t know where he visited, to cause him to make this timeless statement, but I’m pretty sure if he were here today he wouldn’t be talking about Disneyworld.
No doubt about it, travel expands our view. It may be something simple, such as how milk is sold boxed and unrefrigerated in many countries. Or it may be something complex, such as how Muslims have the same values as Christians: Do good works, take care of the poor, honor your elders, don’t kill each other. When we go away, we should come back feeling a little changed, a little wiser for our experience. I know that’s true for me.
With this in mind, here are several more things we can learn from Europeans; we started this discussion in What We Can Learn from Europeans–Part 1:
First: Slow down.
One of the striking sights in Europe is the number of cafes. Acres of them, with tiny tables and chairs facing outward. Just pick one and settle in. Order a drink: coffee, wine, beer, soda, or a bottle of water. With that order, you have ownership of the space for as long as you like. No need to order anything else. For Americans, accustomed to grab-and-go, just sitting and watching the world go by can feel awkward. But watch the Europeans: they sip their espresso, read the newspaper, meet a friend, get lost in a book. Sometimes they actually just sit! You don’t see people clutching commuter cups as they dash about. It’s practically impossible to get a coffee to go, a la Starbucks.
It’s not hard to be a little envious of their ability to slip into leisure-mode. It’s a skill that we Americans sometimes have to work at, or think happens only on vacation. The Puritan work ethic has been hardwired into our brains; we look at these relaxed Europeans with a mixture of awe that they can slow down at will, and a smidgen of judgment that they aren’t being productive. Whatever “productive” means.
Second: Invest in people, not weapons.
One of the reasons the European Union was formed was to prevent war; two devastating wars in less than forty years made Europeans realize there had to be a better way. Social programs instead of military operations. With this in mind, Europeans pay huge taxes, in exchange for cradle-to-grave “welfare,” a term we hate and they love.
Would you be willing to contribute in order to:
- Be hired to stay home and be the “nanny” for your own baby? European governments pay new parents to take full leave for a year, with a guarantee that their job will be safe. Moms and dads can each take a year to give their child a good start. After two years, child care is provided at state-run Kindergartens.
- Have excellent, free–or cheap–education, all the way through college? The universities are public, so on admission, a student can attend a school such as Cambridge or Oxford at no cost. Not bad credentials to have on a resume, eh?
- Know that your country’s children are taken care of? Until age 18, parents receive a monthly benefit check for their children, along with free health care and prescriptions.For sure, all this costs money, lots of it. By NOT investing in bombs, fighter jets, or military labor, funds can be channeled into what Europeans consider their most important resource: people.
Third: Bigger isn’t better.
Whether food portions or autos, things are smaller in Europe. You won’t find Big Gulps or Costcos. A “regular” American car looks like a tank next to the compacts that maneuver their way through the cities. Order a Coke at a cafe, and you’ll be amused by the tiny bottle that’s served; then you’ll remember when Coke originally came in those tiny bottles before Big Gulps were invented.
All major European cities have a greater population density than American cities, even New York City or Los Angeles. There simply isn’t room for big things. Homes and apartments are smaller, kitchens are smaller, closets are smaller, parking spots are smaller. Heck–countries are smaller! So, what people can keep on hand is radically different from what we are accustomed to. And they are fine with that. Since space of all types is at a premium, it’s expensive to live in cities. They’re fine with that, too. Instead of keeping two cars, families may have a Smart Car, then rely on the excellent public transportation, or use a bicycle.
At this point, some of you will surely be asking, if I love the European life so much, why I don’t just pack up and move there. Simple. Because, I do love my country, warts and all– the energy, diversity, and bold nature. The potential and possibilities, the beauty, as well the doctrines on which it was founded.
All I’m saying is that it’s not perfect here; we don’t have all the answers. And travel exposes us to other ideas, which ought to be considered. There are things we can learn, just as we have things to offer. Complacency is a dangerous thing. We Americans should never think we have the only, best way. Never.