Disclaimer: I realize all European countries are not alike. The entire continent is not a monolith. However, I have visited six European countries over my lifetime, and there seem to be a few commonalities.
Europeans like things small. This ranges from coffee to living spaces. Our Zagreb Airbnb was 400 square feet; that’s the size of two dorm rooms or a garage. Maybe I’m set in my big-ass American ways, but even if I was alone, that wouldn’t be enough space. I’m a little over five-feet tall and around 135 pounds; the showers in both rentals were too small for me to wash my hair or shave my legs. I found this interesting, especially in the Netherlands, where the tallest people in the world live! How does the population function in capsule-like spaces?
A Dutch Uber driver found out we were from the States and shouted, “Yay, Trump! Yee-haw!” in a facetious way. In our Rotterdam Airbnb, the owner asked us to use the heat sparingly, because “it’s not that cold outside, because of you know…climate change.” We met a thirty-year-old biracial woman from the UK who wants to visit the US, but is afraid because she “doesn’t want to get shot in the street, minding her own business.” And a Croatian Uber driver began a conversation with me about the “race” and “gun problem” we have. According to him, he wouldn’t even know how to obtain a gun in his country. He would have to “find someone in the underground, like the mafia, and even then, know exactly who to speak to to get a gun.”
FRESH BREAD AND MEAT
If you like bread, then go to the Netherlands. The bread is freshly made, and it is evident. One time, we bought a loaf of bread on a Monday and by Wednesday or so, it was moldy. When we’re home, bread stays “good” foreva…and that’s probably not a good sign. If you like meat, then go to Croatia. That’s all we found in the grocery store: red meat and chicken. I had fish when we went to Hvar, which is off the coast; otherwise, meat is what’s for dinner there. But be careful of fillers. We bought some ground beef, and you could literally see and taste the filler. Well, that’s what we think it was.
Both countries offer salad, whether it is breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The Dutch seem to really enjoy arugula, in particular. I don’t mean a spring mix with arugula, I mean…that’s the salad—arugula. In Croatia, the salads are a mix of shredded varieties, like iceberg, romaine, and arugula. Croatians also have a fresh, light vinegar and oil dressing. However, if you want something other than salad, then you will probably have to buy it at the grocery store or market, and even then, especially in Croatia, it is hard to find other types of green veggies.
HANGING CLOTHES ON THE LINE
I know I’ve spoken ad nauseum about this, but hear me out one more time. Hanging clothes on the line seems to be cultural. When we were in the Netherlands, everyone in the apartment hung their clothes out. They even had special contraptions that allowed the clothes to hang out further and be brought back into the house. When we toured ruins and other places, I noticed surrounding areas where residents hung their clothes on the line. And when we got to Croatia, that again, was the expectation. If any of my European friends want to enlighten me about this, then please feel free in the comments. The only place I saw a dryer was at the laundromat.
WASHING WITHOUT A WASHCLOTH
Years ago, when I visited Spain and England, I learned that washcloths weren’t a thing. But I totally forgot about this on our trip. The owner of the Holland Airbnb had hand towels, but they were really too big to use as washcloths. When we visited Belgium, it was the same; there were hand towels but no washcloths. By the time we flew to Croatia, I was prepared and had purchased some smaller towels (but they weren’t washcloths). I looked this up to find out why some people, not necessarily Europeans, don’t use washcloths, and the answer is because it’s seen as unsanitary to repeatedly use a washcloth due to bacteria buildup. Who knew?
The Dutch and Croatians smoke…a lot. I legit thought I was going to get an illness from second-hand smoke. Whether it was when we were at home, relaxing or out and about, eating, cigarette smoke wafted through the air and into our nostrils. Europeans smoked so much I thought maybe no one had told them that it was bad, until I saw an empty pack on a table that said, “Smoking kills.”
UNITED STATES IS A MICROCOSM OF EUROPE
If you’re familiar with any United States’ history, then this should be a no-brainer, but sometimes you have to see something to fully understand. When I visited parts of London, Manhattan’s setup made sense. New Orleans reminds me of parts of Spain. On this trip, I learned more about where specific cities, ideas, and people originated. For example, do these cities sound familiar: Breuckelen, Haarlem? Yeah. They originated in the Netherlands, so did the stock exchange. Neckties came from Zagreb, Croatia (as well as Nikola Tesla), and lace was invented in Bruges. Finally the Belgian waffle, which we (or I) love so much, is not Belgian due to its shape; it is Belgian because of the ingredients, which by the way, is not pancake flour.
Overall, this trip has broadened my perspective of the world and myself. I think it’s important to see how other people live, and traveling, whether it’s for a short or extended period of time, provides that. I’m grateful we were able to take this trip, and I’m looking forward to the next one.