Today I was considering some of the things that I learned about myself, and my fellow Americans, while abroad.  It’s fascinating to see the differences in cultures and people, and see how many different ways there are of doing things.   Obviously “the norm” will be different in every country you visit, but here were some surprising things I learned about myself as an American.

1.  We eat really early.  It seemed like every time I was hungry, so was every other American.  Every time we went to a restaurant in Europe around 5:30 or 6 when we were starving, no one would be in there.  Oh, except other American tourists.  At least you know where to find us.

2.  We are always in a hurry.  I love that in Italy no one gets their coffee to go.  People stand there and drink it.  Or in Paris, they take their time drinking their coffee and having their morning meal before jetting off for the day.  I didn’t see anyone on the metro with giant to-go cups or Frappachinos.  I also didn’t see piles of cars lined up at a drive-through line impatiently waiting and honking to get their Sausage McMuffins.  I loved that they take their time in the morning.   I also love that in England people take afternoon breaks for tea, or in Spain, they have afternoon siestas.  It seems like in America, “THERE IS NO TIME FOR ANYTHING.”  Just work, work, work.  Go, go, go.  I loved seeing how even taking an extra 15 minutes to drink coffee in the morning or stopping in the middle of my workday to ponder life over some tea can actually be a fantastic thing.

3.  We are loud.  This is an easy one, but people really keep quiet when they’re in social settings.  You could hear a pin drop on the metro in England.  People aren’t loudly laughing, or gabbing on their cell phones or announcing to everyone on the train about their hemorrhoids.  People had a healthy respect for the ears of those around them.  This was hard for me because I can be rather loud.  I have to learn to keep it quiet when I’m in a social setting.

4.  We are a tad on the lazy side.  People walk every where in Europe.  When I got home and did some research, I wasn’t surprised to find out that once our cuisine (fast food) was introduced into a lot of European communities, people started getting bigger.  Not only do we eat twice as much junk, but we drive every where and walk very little.  This isn’t true all across America, for example New Yorkers or Washington D.C. dwellers have an opportunity to get more exercise by walking… but it certainly is true in the Midwest.  If you’re from the Midwest, I guarantee you can count on your hand the last few times you walked anywhere in the last month.  I mean like walked to the grocery store or to a park.. didn’t you just drive?  You didn’t even think about how far it was and if you could walk.  We just don’t think much about that.  We just hop in our cars and zoom our ways to the next place.  (Of course while we’re on our way we stop and pick up a couple chicken nuggets.)

5.  We have an overabundance of material things and just overall space.  Our houses are HUGE.   Some people in Europe live in a small apartment with their entire family.  We have enormous houses because we need a lot of space to store all of our stuff.  It’s surprising how much stuff we have that we think we need and how much stuff we accumulate.  We feel like we need so much space, but we really don’t.  People all over the world are living in much smaller spaces and you know what.. a lot of them aren’t unhappy for it.

How about you?  What have you learned about Americans, and in turn about yourself from other cultures?

Nina Thomas

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