The small differences in Europe

As my study abroad trip to Croatia is coming to a close, I wanted to dedicate one post to the things that are foreign or annoying about my time so far. My final post will be an overarching reflection on all the positive experiences and lessons I learned, but I’m saving that for last and posting a (hopefully) comedic list of annoyances and grievances today.

To begin with, whether it was in Croatia where we spent most of our time, or during the weekend trips to Venice and Prague, air conditioning was either very subpar or nonexistent. You don’t realize the things you take for granted, such as a comfortable temperature in your living spaces, until they are gone. The locals don’t seem to care as almost every hotel, bedroom, and place of business was either the same temperature as the hot air outside in the summer or only marginally better. My complaints to classmates were met with the sentiment that if they are used to it, you can get used to it too. I personally don’t think I will ever get used to sweating while sleeping, but maybe my sweat glands weren’t open-minded enough.

Moreover, the relaxed vibe that permeated the eastern European nations gave a sense of peace and calm enjoyment in everything you do. Their café culture, as I called it, saw many locals finish work up early to go talk to friends over a cigarette and a drink at the café until the sun went down. However, this same atmosphere of slow enjoyment that made many places charming and recharging made some things so frustrating. Food servers would seldom bring a refill, checks took hours, and stores seemed inclined to be annoyed by foreign business rather than welcoming the added income. The hustle to get ahead mentality throughout the U.S. wasn’t present and it gave me ambivalent feelings on the virtues of a slower pace in life.

I think the thing about Europe is the culture is similar enough to where we expect many of the small comforts or ways of life we expect as default aren’t present. Unlike a much more foreign nation such as Japan where you prepare to embrace all the differences from day one, in Europe they sneak up on you and leave you frustrated if you let them. Breakfast foods at hotels are devoid of any hints of sugar. Water and bathrooms aren’t free and neither are refills. Outlets apparently aren’t universal and that was almost as surprising as when I found out sign language wasn’t either. I wasn’t prepared for all these subtle changes and because of my tendency to be easily annoyed I allowed it to get the better of me.

So I write this as a heads up to those thinking of traveling to Europe in order to not be caught off guard and thus enjoy their travels more. Expect to be hot as air conditioning isn’t universally present and refreshing as it is here. Prepare to spend more time at restaurants where they don’t split checks or bring refills often. Allow your internal clock to become sedated to match the more laid back tone of the cultures as a whole and you’ll find yourself enjoying the little things much more as opposed to being annoyed by them.

Most of all, learn sooner to embrace the differences and laugh at them early on. Be glad you’re experiencing a foreign culture many people haven’t and make a game out of assimilating as much as possible before you leave. It’s a big world out there, and I can wait to see more of it. However, I’ll always be glad to return to my 68 degree house with a cookout tray and sweet tea for dinner.

Author: Reid B

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