I moved to the United States in 2013. When I returned to Europe for summer 2014, I enjoyed many aspects of life that I’ve missed while living in the States. But after a few days, I became annoyed by the super controlled mood of my German friends. And when I later arrived at my parents’ home in France, I felt the same sense of frustration after a few days. It’s not that French people are as controlled or pessimistic as the Germans, but they have a habit of criticizing everything all the time without reflecting on their own faults.
What Could the United States learn from Europe?
No, living in Europe is not necessarily better than living in the States. I prefer France for the food, and Germany for the mechanics, but I appreciate the air-conditioning in my American house during the summer. And I love the easygoing attitude of many Americans. However, the world is not black or white—it’s sometimes grey and sometimes blue. They are a lot of points that Americans and Europeans might consider learning from each other.
Americans, please take at least 20 hours of driving lessons before hitting the road, and do not copy your parents’ driving habits. Driving in one lane does not mean that it belongs to you forever. Allow others to change lanes and don’t accelerate every time you see another car blinking.
I’m not kidding about the challenges of driving in the States. And if you don’t really feel like American driving is a problem, check out my recent post “10 Reasons Why Americans Can’t Drive.”
On average, Americans work longer hours than Europeans. I know how challenging it is for Americans to work with French people during the summer. For advice on completing summer tasks with European professionals, see my post “8 Tips for Doing Business with European Companies during the Summer.”
However, French are among the most productive workers in Europe, scoring better than Germans and only slightly less productive than Americans. At the same time, Europeans take more vacation time and have longer average life expectancies. According to the CIA World Factbook from 2008, a French person has a life expectancy of 82.3 years, while an American has only 79.8 years. Taiwanese and Costa Rican individuals also have higher life expectation than Americans.
Reduce portion sizes
“Super-sized portions at restaurants have distorted what Americans consider a normal portion size, and that affects how much we eat at home as well” says Elitzabeth G. Nabel, Director of the NIH Heart, Lung and Blood Institute on the organization’s website.
German portions are larger than those in France because Germans eat only one plate: the entrée without an appetizer and most of the time without dessert. Consequently, I am used to a single, larger portion. But what we get here in the States is crazy! Eventually, I learned to order one option from the child menu for my son and daughter (ages 6 and 4) to share.
Help save the planet
Energy costs are lower in the States than in Europe. I refueled my car last week for €0.42 per liter! No wonder Americans cars are incredible gas-guzzlers and Americans don’t really care about constantly heating or cooling their house.
Every year, I fight with my children’s teachers about the schools’ extreme air-conditioning in the summer and overheating in the winter. I also ask about the set temperatures, which are around 70°F in the summer and 78°F in the winter. That’s crazy—why would you cool to a lower temperature than you heat!
According to the World Bank, America is the second largest producer of greenhouse gases after China. With the third-largest population in the world, just below China and India, the United States could have a sustainable impact on the reduction of these gases by following standards like those in Germany or France. For example, the US could implement a deposit fee for plastic bottles or for plastic bags in supermarkets.
Develop farmer markets
Farmers markets are traditionally part of the European culture, and they sell a lot of locally grown produces. In France and in Southern Europe, purchasing on a farmer market is cheaper than in supermarkets.
Regional produces don’t look so perfect as supermarket ones, but they taste better as they travel a shorter way to our kitchen.
Use less plastic
When I buy groceries, I wonder how much plastic American producers use to pack everything. Even organic food is packed with a lot of protective plastic. I wonder if we really can consider food organic when it’s so overpacked with plastic or has to travel all the way from Peru. What about the CO2 footprint?
Even if not organic, the CO2 footprint of regional farms is lower than organic food from a farm in Peru as they reduce the carbon emission from transportation.
Develop high-speed trains
The United States is an extremely big country. And yet, Americans can only travel by car or by plane. As the speed limit on American highways is quite low, and highways are quite congested, taking a high-speed train would save a lot of time. Traveling 230 miles by car from Washington DC to New York takes around 4.5 hours without any traffic and around 3 hours by train. The high-speed train in France needs only 2 hours to cross 290 miles between Paris and Lyon.
However, let’s avoid the mistake of the German high-speed tracks: don’t put stops at smaller cities or stops that are too close together, as this causes slower trips.
Do you have more tips for Americans? Share them in the comment section below!
In my next post, I will point out what Europe could learn from the United States.