My lifelong understanding that pizza is a finger-food and goes best with Coke has recently been demolished—apparently it is horrendously impolite not to cut your pizza with a knife and fork, and it’s only natural to accompany it with a glass of wine. Also, who knew that ranch dressing, sour cream, sweet relish, and authentic Mexican salsa basically don’t exist in Europe? Although I really am enamored with the cuisine of these countries, food and eating customs are the things that make me feel homesick for the cheap prices, large portions, and the broad belief that it is totally ok to take your leftovers home with you.
Although every day I’m getting better and better, the list of ways that I fail to fit into the European lifestyle grows continually. The first time I forgot to bring my own bags to the grocery store, I had to stuff my pasta, water, fruit, soup, and bread into my medium-sized purse. Every time I have to pay for a “toiletten,” I bite my lip as I hand over those precious forty Eurocents that could buy me half a loaf of bread. Then there was the day I accidentally wore flip-flops to class. I sunk my face into my scarf and heavy coat collar to try and hide from the searing stares of the locals, who couldn’t have looked more disgusted if I’d forgotten to wear anything that day.
The most large-scale of all the differences, though, is adapting to the work schedule of shop owners and grocery stores. If you forget to shop for groceries on Saturday, you’re stuck eating a piece of old bread and a package of peanut butter (which doesn’t actually taste like peanuts at all, depending on the brand you buy) on Sunday. In honor of the idea that living well means relaxing often, most all shops and stores close early each day, open late on Mondays, and are closed all day on Sundays. In America, if you discover late at night that you need paper for a project due the next day, you can make a midnight run to Wal-Mart (and you can pick up an energy drink and some new woolly socks if you’d like, too). But here, the city actually sleeps. Besides the slight inconvenience of not having an everything-you-could-ever-need store open all night long, this idea that relaxing is healthy for the soul is a concept I really wish America would adopt.
At least now I’m fully and openly aware of my past culture and habits; I realize how I’ve been both spoiled (gas prices…) and deprived (of a culture where life is more so about relaxation than working), and I’m so glad my eyes are being opened now so that I can fully appreciate both America and Europe for their distinctively different lifestyles and ideals.