Posted by: tomkennedy | September 24, 2008

Dorothy Was Right

I recently returned home from a European backpacking trip that spanned thirty days and nine cities in seven different countries.  Needless to say I was on the move quite a lot.  As you may have already noticed by the few previous posts I have published, I’m a sociologist at heart and very much enjoy being the Dian Fossey to the Gorillas in the Mist that society has become.  Having never crossed the pond to the Eastern side of the planet, I’ve only been able to observe my fellow Americans in all their funniness.  With that experience, all I could do while in Europe was notice the differences that separate us as much as the Atlantic Ocean does.  A third of the way through my trip I couldn’t help but realize that Dorothy was right:  we weren’t in Kansas anymore.


Here are some of the things that Europeans do that stood out in my notes:


·        People don’t knock when trying to enter a bathroom – now this usually isn’t a problem because there are locks on 99% of stalls in Europe.  However if you are in the rare scenario that the stall doesn’t have a lock or the lock is broken, being barged in on in your most vulnerable state by someone who doesn’t speak English is a scarring event that doesn’t soon leave the mind…or soul.

o       Keeping in the vein of bathrooms, you can pee in any building – I thought that this was something that was really an improvement for humankind.  In the majority of businesses in America, especially in New York where I frequent, you cannot use a bathroom unless you are an employee or paying customer.  In Europe though, I went into a number of restaurants and shops just to use the bathroom and was granted access with a smile.  I guess that Europeans understand that waste disposal is something ALL humans go through and that I’m not pooping in your restaurant out of spite.


·        Nobody fucking speaks English – this may seem like an obvious observation, but you really don’t appreciate how crippling a handicap language can become until someone doesn’t speak yours.  Even if you think there are enough cognitive words that you can piece together what someone is saying, you’re wrong.


·        Everyone smells bad – some people might get offended by this but I don’t really care; it’s disgusting.  I’ve taken public transportation in America and have sat uncomfortably close to people who might not be able to afford a lot of the luxuries in life.  But one thing remains constant across all stratum of income: people in The States take pride in how they smell.  I think I may have figured out why this smelly phenomenon has occurred.  You must realize that it is hot as shit in Europe.  I’m talking about the kind of hot that pulls down your pants and spanks your bottom.  Knowing this, and knowing that they will sweat regardless of how many times they shower, Europeans have all but given up on the entire process of bathing.  It’s something that made me cuddle and nuzzle very close to the first cabbie that gave me a ride in New York.


·        Everyone, including yourself, is willing to travel anywhere for any amount of time – I live in northern New Jersey about fifteen minutes outside of New York just to give you an idea of my location.  For me, and I know that I share this notion with a lot of Americans, the amount of travel time to a location is directly proportional to the amount of time stayed in said location.  For example, traveling the fifteen minutes into New York means that, at the very least, I will be spending fifteen minutes in the city.  Traveling to school in Providence, Rhode Island took three hours and resulted in a stay of six to eight months.  Anything beyond five hours of travel and I might as well be moving there. 

This relationship between travel time and stay is completely null and void in Europe.  One of my days of travel was a thirteen hour train ride which usually means I and the next three generations of my family would have to live in that destination to make it a worthwhile trip.  However, I spent the next two days in Nice, France and was off again to Italy.  In short (too late), travel time is a non-factor in the equation of European travel.


·        Everyone loves everyone when drinking is involved – Being from New Jersey means that I’ve had more experience than any one man deserves with the phenomenon known as “Guidos”.  I won’t delve into their existence as that is an article for another day, but I will talk about one facet: their aggressiveness.  When entering a bar frequented by Guidos in New Jersey, one must be prepared to defend not only their and their girlfriend’s honor, but also their lives.  Some chemical reaction occurs when Heinekens and Jager Bombs start flowing that results in the often seen, rarely survived “Guido Rage”.  To understand more, I suggest watching this video.  This never occurs in Europe as for some reason everyone loves everyone.  I witnessed frat boys from Australia sit down at a table in the Hofbrauhaus (the most famous beer hall in Germany) with an elderly couple from Germany and a family of Asian decent.  Within an hour all of them were hoisting liters of beer in the air and butchering drinking songs in a scene of drunken debauchery.


·        Black socks are the new white socks – European children LOVE black socks with any type of footwear, especially with Teva sandals.


·        Pocket change is legitimate money – For Americans, the sad truth is that pocket change most frequently ends up on the floor of the car or in between couch cushions rather than in the hands of the homeless were it would be better put to use.  In Europe however, the one and two units of money are in the form of coin rather than paper.  This makes that handful of change you pull out at the end of the day worth on average about $5-$10.  Since my default payment method is cash, I ended up with an average of about $15-$20 in change in my pocket which, unbeknownst to me, weighs anywhere between eighty and two hundred pounds forcing me to walk like a baby with a poop in my diaper.


While I write my articles with a sense of humor in order for you to realize the ridiculousness of life, I also want you to do a little thinking as you walk away.  What separates us as civilizations also unites us as human beings.  Everyone, regardless of race, creed, sex or age acts silly and does things that are irregular (that is to say that there is a comparable way to act ‘regular’).  One of my most treasured memories from my trip was watching a street performer in Amsterdam.  Moments before he attempted to juggle a machete and baton that was on fire all while eating an apple, the performer stopped, looked at the crowd of about two hundred and said “Look at us, look around you.  Jews, Muslims, Christians, Blacks, Whites, Asians, Germans all standing with one another in peace.  All of you have gathered here in this square to watch me perform and no one is killing each other.  World peace?  Seems pretty easy to me.”



I couldn’t agree more.


  1. Ha Ha, I have been to Europe (twice) so I could comiserate with a lot of what you said! And congrats for living such an intriguing young life.

    On the whole, it seems Europe is more peaceful.

    Once upon a time in the 80’s (before the euro, the german deustch mark was 3 marks to the american dollar! Suuuuhweeet profit for soldiers back then!

    Have you seen the 1 pfenning coin (german currency) It’s worth less than 1/2 a penny for the US–talk about something to throw on the ground!

    A nice thoughtful post Tom!

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