People say Americans are always in a rush–always on the move and always needing to get somewhere immediately. I never really believed this idea until I came to study abroad in Europe. Although I come from the busyness of New York City, I had never even considered our constant need to be on the move as something out of the ordinary. However, after living in France for three months it has now become quite apparent.
The mentality of Europeans seems entirely different than us Americans. Why not sit in a cafe for hours with one cup of coffee and good conversation? The French have no problem doing this. And after taking part in it myself, (although I do prefer hot chocolate), I have discovered that this makes everything so much more worth while.
It may sound corny or completely over said, but how can one really appreciate everything around them if they are constantly in a rush to get to the next place? This is what I have found as the thinking of most Europeans. They take the time to sit down with people they enjoy spending time, and can continue doing this for hours, quite often. It is not strange for two, three or four people to frequent a cafe and sit at the table for a period time only ordering one beverage. If in the United States, that group would quickly be pushed out of the restaurant in order for another party to take their seats, which would completely defeat the purpose of going out to spend some time together.
In Strasbourg, I love walking through the city watching the relaxed locals, sitting inside and outside the numerous cafes, completely enjoying life moment to moment.
In France, the same idea applies to their food, where dinnertime is an essential part of the day. It is the type of activity where friends or family can spend their evening eating several courses at dinner, drinking good wine and having great conversation. It really is not just a meal for them, but more an event for the night which they love to take part in. In America, it seems like getting everyone in the family together is a large ordeal, but the French seem to have a greater appreciation for this nightly activity.
It is not only France where I have encountered this appreciation of living in the moment. When I visited Vienna over my fall break, I learned about this huge cafe culture the city has. It is known for its cafes, some dating from the end of the 18th century, where the locals love to drink the numerous types of coffees offered, as well as eat the many kinds of delicious cakes and pastries, and sit and talk for hours.
In Madrid, I found their tapas culture completely fascinating. All over the city, they have these small places called cafeterias, where one goes for a drink and tapas, which are little bites of food. From afternoons to evenings, people just sit there eating, drinking and talking to more people as they come in and out. The Mercado de San Miguel, that my friend studying in Madrid took me to, was definitely a sight to see, full of the local Spaniards enjoying their day. The very modern indoor market, that has apparently been there forever, was bustling with people. Everywhere around you people were ordering wine, champagne, sangria and endless tapas. My friend and I stood at small tables enjoying our own too, and I couldn’t help but just people-watch at the site around me. The Spaniards didn’t need any large show or spectacle to spend their afternoon, just some time at the local market with good company and good bites of food was all they seemed to need to be satisfied.
Clearly, Americans are not Europeans. But, Europeans are not Americans either. Yes, there are pros and cons to each side of how the two different groups of people live, but I would say Europeans definitely have some of their priorities straightened out well. Appreciate the more important things. Hang out with your friends because you want their company. I’m not saying that when I return home, I won’t stop being the on-the-go crazy New Yorker that I am, but instead, now I am truly experiencing so much more than that. It is an experience filled with a culture completely different than my own. I see now, sometimes it is important to just slow down, and take it all in.