Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Euro Living, Part I

Streets of Dunkerque
  You may remember, a couple weeks back I asked for a little feedback from you (my loyal readers!) about things you would like to read about here.

  One thing I consistently heard was that you'd like to hear more about what it's like to live in Europe.

  I always aim to please! So I've had my brainstorming hat on tight while I've been out and about in Dunkerque the past few weeks, taking note of things I feel are a little bit different than everyday life in the US.

  My list has grown pretty long (who knew living in Europe was THAT different from living in the US?!), so this entry will be a multi-parter (I'm no dummy. I know if I post SUPER long entry, you're not going to read it).

  I guess over the span of nine seasons abroad, I have gotten used to the differences between living in the US, and living in Europe. Now I find myself appreciating the differences, and not missing home as much as when I first starting playing in Europe.

Common street you see in a European city center.
  My first few years, I know I did more than my fair share of complaining, and lamented that Europe was 'no good' because it didn't have this, that, or the other.

  When living somewhere foreign for seven to eight months at a time, the cute intricacies aren't as cute as when you're just visiting for a week or two.

  But now, I either ignore the differences, or I just realize where I am, and try not to sweat what I can't control.

  I understand what's the norm now, and what you can and cannot get in each place. Don't get me wrong, certain things still make make laugh, and might drive me crazy on occasion. But that happens less and less.

  Still, there are many things I miss about the US when I am in Europe. Just like I miss certain things about being in Europe when I am back home in the States for the summer.

  I think I'm pretty lucky to get to spend a great deal of time getting to know different ways of life, by comparison to the one I grew up with. I'm grateful for these experiences, and will continue to take them in as much as I can!

  While there are some similarities between the two, the lifestyle, the culture, and what is status quo is pretty different. Here are some things that first struck me, when I started brainstorming about life in Europe. (And forgive me for generalizing Europe as one! The countries I've lived in are definitely more similar to each other than they are to the US!)

Don't really see scenery like this looking our your car window in the US.
On the Road:
  Surprisingly enough, driving habits are vastly different in Europe than they are in the US. I don't think many rules are necessarily different, but the way they're taught varies tremendously.

  For one, you NEVER pass on the right on the freeway. If you do, you will hear about it from the other drivers around you.

  I told my teammates a few weeks ago while we were on the freeway, that if 'we were in the US, I would pass the car in front of us on the right.' They gasped at each other, and looked at me like I was insane. You just don't do it here. I think it's a great concept, and one we should adopt in the US.

  The second thing you'll notice on the freeways in Europe is that drivers don't camp out in the fast lane (another novel idea!). They pass the person they're going by, and then immediately return to the right lane. Again, if you sit in the fast lane too long, the drivers around you will quickly let you know that you need to move over (flashing headlights are a common way to get your attention -- used most-often in Italy).

No stop signs: 'Right priority' rules in this intersection.
  The next thing varies from country to country in Europe, and it's not something I'm a fan of. I personally think it's an accident waiting to happen. It's the 'right priority'. You find it in France and Germany (and I'm sure other countries too, that I'm not aware of).

  It applies when you come to an intersection, and there are no stop/yield signs. Whichever car is coming on your right has the priority. No matter if you are seemingly on the 'main' or bigger road, or not.

  I think it causes confusion because you essentially have to memorize which intersections the 'right priority' applies to, because it doesn't apply to all of them!

  In some ways, Europeans are more conservative on the road. But in other ways, they are not. I've noticed they are more aggressive when approaching an intersection (jetting out into the lane, scaring you half to death -- because of the whole right priority fiasco). And often times, I've encountered drivers going into on-coming traffic just to pass a double-parked car, truck or bicycle.

  Another instance of this is when there is construction on the roads. The city won't close down a street, or have a flagger control the traffic. Instead, cones will be put up around the site, and each driver is made to figure out how to safely maneuver around it (and other cars) themselves.

  One major rule difference between the US and Europe is that there are no right turns on red lights. A rule I think European countries should adopt.

  Of course round-abouts are huge differences as well. They are far more common in Europe than stop lights or four-way stop signs. To me, round-abouts make much more sense, and are more efficient. They keep traffic moving, and usually prevent huge lines from backing up. I see them popping up more and more in the US, but I doubt they will ever be used in bigger cities they way they are used in Europe.

  There are quite a few differences when I really stop and think about driving habits. Definitely not as different as say, driving in England, but enough to make a big impression!

Can always find parking with a Smart car! And great for gas-mileage.
Gas Prices:
  In the US, the price of gas is always a hot topic. If you've spent a prolonged time in Europe and had to buy gas, you'll know that prices in the US still are relatively cheap!

  After doing the conversions, a gallon of diesel (the cheapest gas in Europe) will cost you roughly $7.00 in France. While a gallon of regular gas will run you about $7.60 a gallon.

  It hurts your wallet every time you fill up, and you definitely plan the trips in your car a little more carefully. That's why you rarely see gas-hogging SUVs or trucks, it's just not economical (and they don't fit on the streets very well either).

Store Accessibility:
  Another huge difference is the the hours of stores and banks in Europe. Mid-day closures of most everything (except grocery stores) are still a common sight. For example today, I wanted to go to the bank after practice. But I couldn't because it closes daily from noon to 2 pm. You get used to it, and you plan accordingly.

  Also, grocery stores have shorter hours. You'd be hard-pressed to find a 'open 24 hours' store in Europe. Every store in Dunkerque (and a common hour throughout Europe) closes at 8pm every night (except one, that stays open til nine). So if you forget something, or need to make a late night run to the store, it's not happening. You'll just have wait til the next day (and hope the next day doesn't happen to be a Sunday).

  And that brings me to another big difference. EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays. Grocery stores, malls, you name it, it'll be closed on a Sunday in Europe. For the most part, there are still laws in place keeping businesses closed every Sunday. There are a few exceptions around Christmas time, but that is it! So you better plan ahead!

The cafes and restaurants on the boardwalk in Dunkerque.
  Finally, restaurants operate differently as well. You will rarely find a restaurant in France that stays open all day (unless it's called T.G.I. Fridays or McDonald's). And if they do, they won't serve 'hot food' the entire day.

  The kitchen will close for several hours between the lunchtime hours and dinner. In those instances, you can get coffee, light snacks or desserts, but definitely no meals.

  From the looks of things, this might be a four-to-five-parter!! Lots of Euro-living things to write about, I guess!

  Stay tuned for part II ... Coming soon!


Post a Comment