When Maggie and I arrived back in Nuremberg we were exhausted but it was my last night and we had no other choice but to spend it wisely. Maggie's friend Kathrine from Switzerland was in town visiting her parents so we joined her for drinks at a New Orleans Festival in downtown Furth.
Kathrine and Maggie had been friends for a very long time. They studied textile design together in university and had lots of stories of the fun memories they made along the way. Kathrine also met her boyfriend in university. He works on textile machines and when he received a job in Switzerland, she followed and has been there ever since.
I was interested to hear that her boyfriend was currently doing work in Charlotte, North Carolina for two weeks. One of the most ridiculous things he had seen was the plastic breakfast dishes at the hotel. He could not believe that the hotel laid out plastic dishes for a self-serve breakfast. I laughed and shrugged my shoulders upon hearing this. I knew he was talking about the standard continental breakfast I had seen hundreds of times before. I told her the opposing viewpoint was that I couldn't believe Germans served festival beer in real glass mugs. Maggie and Kathrine both laughed at this.
The whole evening seemed to consist of such light-hearted comparisons between our two countries. Maggie laughed about all the funny things I had said during my stay and I laughed at all the funny things Katharine's boyfriend told her about the states.
One of the funniest stories Maggie shared was that of how differently we look at parking. From previous trips together Maggie already knew that Americans were huge on cars. We frown upon public transport and puff up with pride at the fact that we all own a car and rightful drive it wherever we darn well please. With this mindset it is easy to understand that we feel very strongly about the fact that we deserve to park as close to our destination as possible, sometimes to the extent that we will willingly drive in circles for ten minutes until we find said parking spot. In contrast, the Europeans almost never drive their own vehicles. They rely heavily on public transport and almost always walk 10-20 minutes to reach their final destination.
Just to drive the point home, I showed Kathrine the pedometer on my phone. I told her before I left I was bartending so my steps were extremely high by American standards. I was easily walking 3-4 miles a day just at work. I thought this was impressive until I began my journey, upon which my walking average climbed to 6 miles a day. Maggie said that was the European standard.
Once Kathrine asked me what was the most surprising thing I had encountered on my trip in Europe. I thought about it for a moment before I replied.
“You can't understand this because you were born here, but coming from America I have been consistently amazed with how much history Europe is submerged in. It's really hard to fathom how old everything here is when the entirety of it existed well before my home country was founded. In America we're taught about the medieval times, the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia and such but we those things exist only in abstract form. We read about it in history books growing up and we see it occasionally in a Disney movie or a fairytale or something but it all seems rather fictional until you come to Europe and see just what it is that you've studied. You guys walk around every day in cities, streets and churches that are hundreds and hundreds of years old and think nothing of it. I live in a homestead farm house that's been in my family for one hundred years and that's a novelty in America, but to Europeans that's a new structure with a lack of depth.”
I went on to explain that I totally understand why Americans are so surface level and dumb in the eyes of foreigners—because we are. We aren't as sophisticated because our country isn't as sophisticated. We're infants in terms of history and culture. We're still discovering what makes our country work and yet Europe has changed societies, cultures and kingdoms and countries dozens of times already.
In Italy an American girl asked me what I thought of Rome. I told her the best American comparison for it is the Disney movie “Hercules.” She laughed and said she thought of the Disney movie “Hunchback of Noterdam” when she saw England.
Any outsider would surely roll their eyes at such juvenile suggestions. Some could even find it rather offensive. Yet as Americans that is the closest thing we have to relate to this mind-boggling history we are experiencing in Europe.
On a similar note, I received a text from the Houston guy I met in Venice to wish me luck in Brussels. He had just arrived back in Houston and said he was unimaginably grateful for the traffic and for American fast-food. Though it is completely ironic and irrational to crave such things, I totally understood. Europe was classy and sophisticated and full of deliciously fresh food and easily accessible public transport. The beer was local, the wine was affordable and historical art and architecture surrounded it all. Yet somehow the familiarities of home which I often complain so much about were just the things I missed. I wanted to jump in my car and go exactly where I wanted to go. I wanted to park at the front of every building I entered and I wanted to do so while cramming a stale five dollar burger down my throat. Such things are disgustingly barbaric but they are also home and nothing beats home, even after a life-changing experience.