Things Europe Got Right, and Things They Got Horribly Wrong

Ok, so if you know me in person you know that I lived in the Netherlands for six months. I don’t just mean that you kind of passively know like how people know I’m from the Albany area or something. People actively know because I talk about it all the dang time. I truly need a new audience. Here are some things I really liked about living in the Netherlands and Europe more generally, and other things I did not like as much.

  1. 1. You have to pay to use public bathrooms

    You have to pay like actual money to pee. The United States is a capitalist hellscape at times, but at least we have free bathrooms! This was a widespread phenomenon around all of Europe. Going on a trip? Better bring some change with you because it’ll cost .70 euro to pee at the train station or bus terminal. It’ll cost another euro to use the bathroom at that tourist attraction you’re going to. It was particularly annoying when you had to have specific coins too. For example, when I was in Croatia, all the public bathrooms cost 2 Kuna to use. You had to specifically have a 2 Kuna coin. My friend and I wound up buying random things we didn’t need in order to get 2 Kuna back in change. To make matters worse, most of these bathrooms weren’t even well cleaned or well stocked with soap and toilet paper. The dirtiest bathroom I think I have ever used was in Stockholm and I paid 5 krona to use it.

  2. 2. Bathroom stalls had a full door with no gaps

    While I would still rather have to pee in public in the United States any day, it was nice that most bathroom stalls had actual doors on them in Europe. This was nice because it felt mostly private. There was no fear of getting stuck in a stall that had a lowkey gap around the “door.”

  3. 3. Public bathrooms were always so hard to find.

    I promise that this is the last bathroom related point I will make. Maybe this is more of a general problem when walking around big cities, but in general I found it difficult to even find the overpriced and unclean bathrooms. In Europe I noticed that big department stores didn’t have bathrooms as often. In the United States you could just locate the nearest Target or Walmart and use their bathroom because they really don’t care if you’re a paying customer.

  4. 4. Better public transportation

    Public transportation in the United States really sucks. If you want to do any sort of sightseeing (or go literally anywhere) outside a major metropolitan area in the United States you better have a car. This never struck me as a problem before because most middle class people have at least one car and learn to drive at age 16. In Europe it was nice to have the option to get around to most places without a car. I think Americans should get that choice too.

  5. 5. Everyone dresses pretty nice all the time

    This is somehow simultaneously something Europe has gotten right and horribly wrong. Living in Europe helped me get back in touch with my personal style. I had a style in high school because my mom wouldn’t let me wear leggings to school. This didn’t allow me to wear the classic but lazy leggings and a sweatshirt look a lot of other people sported on a daily basis. I generally wore something kind of cute because I already had to be wearing at least real pants. This style faded over the first few years of college because I truly stopped caring what I looked like and comfort (leggings) won out over style most days. It’s nice to put a little effort into your outfit and appearance each morning because it helps you feel a bit more put together and confident throughout the day. The pressure of having to look at least decent all the time was a lot though. I felt like I often looked frumpy and disheveled compared to my classmates in the Netherlands. It’s sure nice to be home and know I can wear sweatpants to class if I’m having a rough week and have absolutely no one will bat an eye.

  6. 6. The celsius system

    Hot take: the celcius system is a stupid way to describe the weather. I have an entire article on this topic alone so I will not elaborate here further.

  7. 7. Grocery stores

    I am not going to lie to you all. I missed American grocery stores so much. Europe would be much improved if they had a few Wegmans and a Trader Joes or two (apparently Trader Joe’s is technically a German company, but they don’t actually have any in Germany. This means that at least the Germans know how to put together an absolutely killer grocery store, they just choose not to for themselves). American grocery stores are so big, and have so much variety! I went to some pretty big grocery stores while in Europe (especially in Austria and Sweden) but even those ones did not quite compare to my beloved Wegmans. Wegmans has so many different types of food and the atmosphere is just *chef’s kiss*. This might be a case of me just being biased though. One positive thing about grocery stores in the Netherlands is that they did sell wine. New York State prohibits the sale of wine in grocery stores, which is a real bummer sometimes.

  8. 8. No fear of getting shot in public

    It was really nice to go a whole six months without worrying about whether I would die in a mass shooting every time I left the house. Every American has played the game “gunshots or fireworks?” with themselves or those around them upon hearing a loud bang. While this game can be kind of exhilarating, one shouldn’t have to wonder if the loud bang they just heard was celebration or death.

  9. 9. Cigarettes

    Europeans have a real problem with cigarettes. While certainly plenty of Americans still smoke, it is somewhat stigmatized here. Noticing how many people, especially how many young people smoked cigarettes in Europe really offended my American sensibilities when I first arrived. There would just be hoards of students standing around, blocking the door and smoking a cigarette outside the library on a daily basis. This was a big shock to me because I very rarely see students here smoking cigarettes around the campus.

  10. 10. Tiny sinks

    OK, I lied earlier when I said #3 was the last bathroom related point. This might be really random and nitpicky, but why is it that the sinks in Europe were all practically child sized? If I’m washing my hands I want the whole thing to fit in the dang sink! Not all sinks were tiny, but enough of them were that I noticed a pattern I felt strongly enough about to write here.

  11. 11. People were more multilingual

    I think it’s really cool how the vast majority of Europeans speak at least one other language beyond their native language. Here in the United States, people generally only speak another language if they have an immigrant parent who taught them this language from childhood or they are an immigrant themselves. I know this has a lot to do with the education system in the United States. Most schools don’t start learning languages until middle school, at which point it is harder psychologically/neurologically to learn a new language. I just wish American schools started language learning earlier and knowing multiple languages was seen as an asset. I think this would help grow and preserve much of the linguistic diversity that exists in the United States already.

  12. 12. Too many dang coins.

    I’ll be honest, the one and two Euro coins were cool at first, but they quickly lost their appeal when my wallet became HEAVY! I don’t need my wallet to be heavy enough to be used as a weapon! Paper money certainly has its pros and cons, but at least it’s foldable and easy to transport! In the U.S. you can just ditch your change because it’s useless until you have enough to go exchange it for bills at the bank. In Europe, you actually have to keep your change because the one and two euro coins are useful, and you might need the other coins to get into a public restroom!

  13. 13.  People are so blunt and confrontational

    This one is a bit more specific to the Netherlands. Dutch people are very direct. This was particularly shocking to me since I’m quite sensitive even when Americans are being overly polite and indirect while criticizing me. I also noticed in general that people are less keen on using euphemisms. Maybe this is simply because the people I interacted with were not native English speakers, but I can’t be certain of that. For example: instead of “I’m going to the restroom/bathroom” people would simply say “I’m going to use the toilet” (wow, here I freaking go with these bathroom related examples again). Everyone knows that’s what you’re going to do, but here you’d never say that directly!

  14. 14. Outdoor food markets

     

    We certainly have plenty of farmer’s markets here in the United States (and I definitely missed the one that’s by my parents house while I was gone), sometimes these types of markets are hard to come by in the winter. In the Netherlands, there was an outdoor market with really cheap produce year round! This kept me eating plenty of produce even in chilly February, which was definitely a plus! The only negative thing was that much of the food available in the winter was not grown locally. In the United States outdoor/farmer’s markets focus almost solely on locally owned business and local farms.

  15. 15. People seemed less repressed

    The United States is one of the most religious developed countries. This is certainly fine by me since people should be able to practice whichever religion they choose. However, this changes the culture in the United States by making subjects like drinking, drugs, and sex really taboo. Many Europeans are more relaxed with these subjects, meaning the youth is a little less wild once they finally get a taste of freedom from their parents.

Good luck on all your European travels!