What I Liked / Didn’t Like in Europe

Obviously I was only in two small corners of Europe, so the post is about them and does not aim to generalize.

Liked:

– a lot of nightlife both in a big city and a small town but it all feels extremely safe and friendly.

– no street harassment.

– smartphones are a lot less present in daily life, even among the young. I saw no kids with devices in public, and young people at coffee-shops would sit and talk without a phone in sight. There is a negative side to this, though. There are no places to charge your phone in public. People don’t even understand the concept.

– doner stands that are a refuge because the places I visited didn’t have amazing local food. There was a Turkish gentleman next to my hotel who was literally a savior with his great, great doner (shawarma in Russian.)

– fresh raspberries at a farmers’ market. They cost so much I almost had to take out a second mortgage on my house but they tasted absolutely divine.

– there are no children or young people who are even slightly overweight. There’s nothing like the US problem with child obesity. On the other hand, everybody smokes like a maniac, especially the young people. I haven’t seen people smoke this much in forever. Even the Spanish colleagues were shocked.

– young people don’t speak a whole lot of English. Most speak none at all.

– many young moms with babies everywhere in public spaces. Every biergarten has an army of high chairs for toddlers. But no daddies with babies in public places unless accompanied by mommy.

– European bedding is amazing. Blankets are heavy, not flimsy. Real duvet covers! None of that atrocious and unhygienic wrapping of a blanket in a sheet that tortures me at US hotels. (Do you realize that nobody washes the blanket after every guest leaves? They just wash the sheet. Your blanket was touching all sorts of places on all sorts of folks. Probably for months.)

– nobody talks about Trump. Nobody is apocalyptic. Even academics ridicule speech codes and PC culture.

Didn’t like:

– in Germany, people are weird about immigration. “In Dresden, where I live,” said one colleague, “there are so many immigrants. There are more immigrants than locals. And that’s fantastic!!! I love it! There should be more!!” she suddenly wailed with a nearly religious fervor. It would have been just as weird to hear her vociferate in the same fraught voice, “And that’s too many!!! They should all go away!” Unwarranted intense emotionality is creepy on any issue.

– food wasn’t great anywhere I went. It wasn’t horrible but I can eat better (healthier, tastier, cheaper) in my tiny town in Southern Illinois. And no, I didn’t go to tourist places. Locals took me to the most typical, everyday places far outside the tourist area.

– the railway system needs to be friendlier towards European travelers. Isn’t the whole point of the EU supposed to be that it’s easy to move between countries?

– Germans are unwilling to hear other Europeans when they say that the EU is not working for them. There is a tension here that’s not going to lead to a good place. Non-German Europeans feel dismissed and slighted on this issue.

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15 thoughts on “What I Liked / Didn’t Like in Europe”

  1. Comparing with my small corner…

    “even among the young. I saw no kids with devices in public”

    Depends on what you mean by ‘the young’ where I am by the mid-teens they all have and use them (though if they’re in a group they pay more attention to each other than their phones). And people charge everywhere…

    “no children or young people who are even slightly overweight”

    Sadly not the case where I am, not like US levels but there are some heavy kids and teens… (I remember when an overweight younger person was almost exotic…. now not so much)

    “everybody smokes like a maniac, especially the young people”

    Smoking levels in general have decreased from astronomically high communist levels to just kind of heavy (less than Germany). What I notice among teens is an explosion of vaping (I think teenage guys are much more into vaping than smoking now).

    “people are weird about immigration”

    People are weird about immigration everywhere, it’s a weird process that produces weirded out people (on both sides).

    “Germans are unwilling to hear other Europeans when they say that the EU is not working for them”

    I have almost no contact with Germans in daily life , but I’m on another (Poland related) forum where there are a couple of Germans (one very pro-Merkel one very anti-Merkel) and both absolutely cannot understand any criticism of any aspect of the EU (or German policy in general). Poland is still (passively and instrumentally) pro-EU but the emotional rush has long gone and I can see the day when Polish people would just kind of disengage (as they did with communism). Even people who really dislike the current Polish government (like me) are underwhelmed by the current conflict with the courts and tend to not see it as a problem for the EU to solve.

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    1. You know how you approach a classroom and even before you come in you hear a loud din. Students are talking, laughing, horsing around?

      Recently, the way it’s become is that I approach a classroom and hear complete silence. I sometimes get confused, thinking, am I in the wrong hallway? Did I cancel the class and forget about it?

      Then I come in and see that students are sitting there in complete silence. All 40 of them are staring at their screens in silence.

      It makes me sad.

      Or you see it at a coffee shop where a group of young folks are sitting together in silence, looking at screens.

      Or even when a young couple is on a date in public. It’s so creepy.

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      1. As for the EU, you need a particular kind of blindness not to understand why a bunch of folks from Spain at a conference devoted to the crisis wouldn’t be enthusiastic about the EU. But the German hosts were oblivious. I loved our German hosts but this particular issue was very bizarre. They were honestly not getting it. Somebody mentioned Brexit, and again, they were clueless as to how anybody could avoid condemning it outright.

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  2. \ – young people don’t speak a whole lot of English. Most speak none at all.

    Why did you like it? It hardly says something good about the education system. On the other hand, if those young people were working class, including service workers, one would not expect them to know English.

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        1. I was in Bavaria. I’m not surprised that in the tiny villages where the vagaries of the railway system took me nobody spoke English. But it was the same in Regensburg. People in the service industry spoke some but regular folks in the streets, students, and even professors – zero. I had to cut out my quotes in English because I realized nobody in the audience (except the Princeton guy) would understand them. This makes me happy, I’m not complaining. But it’s a situation of if you get lost in town, forget asking for directions in English. People are super nice, they try to help, but it’s useless.

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          1. It was really weird on the little train station where I ended up by mistake. I went to look for figures of authority because I was completely lost. Outside there was a group of Polizei who were hustling some poor Turkish guy. But the moment they saw me, dressed to the nines, with all my shiniest jewelry, sparkly boots, and a bright purple MK handbag, they forgot the Turkish guy in a flash, and tried to figure out what I wanted. The Turkish guy scarpered, and I feel good I at least helped him. The whole thing was beyond bizarre.

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  3. I’m surprised you encountered young people in Germany who didn’t speak any English. It’s a madatory school subject for all students in all school types; it used to start in the 5th grade, but it was moved to the 3rd grade in 2005, and some places even start in the first grade. The results aren’t always fantastic given the number of years of instruction, but it is rare to find a German under 50 who has zero knowledge of English.

    I wonder if young people’s willingness to use English has gone down following Brexit and Trump? One of my university’s partner universities in Germany has it’s English program divided into a British Studies track and an American Studies track. I know that their enrollment shifted rather dramatically from American Studies to British Studies during the Bush Era. I haven’t talked to anyone from there in a while, but I can’t imagine that Trump and Brexit would be boosting interest in the language.

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    1. “English. It’s a madatory school subject for all students in all school types”

      Having classes in a foreign language does not mean the person will be able to (or will want to) use said language outside the classroom.
      I’ve known a few Germans in Poland whose active ability in English had died on the vine after school. With a couple I spoke Polish and with one new arrival I tried to use my very rusty German in our occasional interactions (though his Dresden accent was not easy to understand….)

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        1. I know a large number of classes doesn’t necessarily equal great outcomes, but I’ve also spent a lot of time in Germany and my impression has been that they do a MUCH better job teaching English than we do teaching foreign languages in the United States. Lots of people wind up with less than fluent English, but I haven’t encountered many young people who had zero skills.

          Honestly, I hope young Germans are less inclined to speak English than they were in the past; because my students get incredibly frustrated when they go to Germany for study abroad and everyone insists on speaking English with them.

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        2. I was thinking about this on my way home today and remembered reading something in the German media a while back about fewer German high school students participating in international exchanges. I googled it when I got home and there has been a 30 percent drop in high school students coming to the US, but there are also fewer going to Australia and New Zealand. The trend goes back to 2010, so it has nothing to do with Trump. Maybe there really is declining interest in learning English among the young. https://de.statista.com/infografik/15212/deutsche-schueleraustauschprogramme/

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          1. “Maybe there really is declining interest in learning English among the young”

            In Poland the number of people who can speak some English has grown but it’s very shallow. It’s required in schools which also has the effect of making it deeply uncool and so the number of optional English expressions* in use has dwindled.

            *using English words instead of Polish ones to sound modern or cool, once very common but not much of a thing anymore

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            1. Very interesting. And it makes total sense that too much emphasis in school could make something uncool and decrease motivation to engage with the language in non-school contexts.

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