I’m just a couple of months shy of marking my second anniversary of living abroad (almost) full time. And even though I come back to the US pretty frequently, I’ve found that there are some European habits and qualities I’ve already adopted that I stick to even when I visit the US.
Drinks without ice
One of the things that drive most Americans crazy when they travel to Europe is not getting ice with their drink. Because we’re used to drinking everything super hot or super cold. But Europeans really don’t use ice that much. In fact, it can be hard to find. So I’ve gotten used to not having any. And I’ve found that room temperature water is really not that bad. Unless you live somewhere unbearably hot, room temperature is usually cold enough. And when it comes to drinks, if they’re kept at the right temperature to begin with, they don’t need ice. You also avoid the problem of ice watering down whatever you’re having. And you know how annoying it is to go somewhere and get a drink that’s 90% ice and 10% liquid? Yeah, I like not having that problem.
I’ve always been pretty adventurous when it comes to food. But for a long time, this meant indulging in the American culinary tradition of nauseating excess. I’ve enjoyed quite a few deep fried candy bars and burgers with donut buns. But that kind of stuff doesn’t appeal to me so much anymore. Every time I see a video on Facebook of burgers on a pizza or a 4-foot burrito or a Nutella heart that you need both hands to break apart, I feel disgusted (which is probably the only correct response). And having an American-sized plate of pasta and garlic knots in one sitting reaaaally doesn’t agree with me anymore.
My body has definitely gotten used to eating smaller but sufficient portions of food, both at home and in restaurants. So it definitely takes me some time to adjust to the mountains of food that they serve in US restaurants. I mean do we really need mountains of anything?
Being comfortable with nudity
Since I was raised in a culture where even the female nipple is so controversial, I internalized a lot of body insecurities. When I was in high school, I was one of those people who used to change inside a stall for gym class. Which looking back on it was ridiculous. I’ve never been skinnier and my tits were at their prime. That would have been the best time to feel comfortable about my body.
But in Europe, nudity doesn’t come with the same sense of image baggage and immoral sexuality. It’s just a body. We all have one and they come in all shapes and sizes. And it’s not necessarily something that has to be sexualized or kept private. And it’s certainly not something others scrutinize for flaws. So living with neighbors who don’t pull the shades to walk around naked has rubbed off on me. Why should I live in a cave of body insecurity when the sun is shining and I want to have my windows open? It’s really freeing. There isn’t any creepy voyeurism about it; it’s just about people being comfortable in their own space and their own skin. Honestly, we could all be a little less uptight about totally insignificant things like this.
Using shopping baskets instead of carts
Such a big part of American culture is lazily pushing around a shopping cart at stores finding random stuff to fill it with. But in Europe, people get in and out of stores picking up only what they need. So many stores, even grocery stores, don’t even have carts. Because even if you could fill a whole cart full of food, it would go bad before you could eat it. Not to mention, you usually have to walk your groceries home. So you fill up a basket with only the ingredients that you need for tonight’s dinner or tomorrow’s breakfast, and then you’ll be back in two days for another basketful of things.
So now even when I go to Target in the US, I pick up a basket and get only what I need. That also prevents me from being tempted to buy a bunch of random crap I definitely don’t need and barely even want. Having to browse bathing suits when you’re carrying a basket of things is a great deterrent.
Air drying clothes
When I first moved abroad, not having a dryer was the hardest thing to get used to. But I’ve come to understand why most European homes don’t have one. Dryers are unnecessary and kind of awful. Do we really need an appliance that wastes a ton of energy and does the same thing air and a little time gets done? Besides, there’s nothing worse than wearing something once and then drying it to never have it be the same again. There are very few fabrics that don’t change or shrink or wrinkle when you apply hot air to them for 45 minutes.
So I’ve come to prefer air drying even though it takes up space and looks ridiculous and takes forever. But my clothes always maintain their appropriate size and texture. I never feel like I gained 5 lbs because my shirt went down a size in the dryer.
It’s funny how even the things you might find weird or annoying at first kind of start seeping into your own habits. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s worse. It might even be better.