With World Cup fever heating up, I find myself torn between my two favorite teams – America and Italia. Thankfully, the teams are not in the same group and so I can root for both squads guilt-free (hopefully all the way to the finals). As I was comparing and contrasting the strengths and weaknesses of both teams; it occurred to me that perhaps I had stumbled onto something much more important. I realized that it might be fun to compare America vs. Europe… not just the ability to move the soccer ball around the field, but “bigger picture” things. What common sense things do Europeans do that Americans fail to recognize?
For the purposes of this first post, I will focus solely on the items that appear in the “win” column for Europe. I will follow-up a little later with another post listing America’s “wins”. It seemed only fair to publish the posts in this order since Italy logged their first World Cup win before America.
Some background… OK, this piece is not a serious look at which place is “better”. I’m not weighing in on art & architecture, natural beauty or economic importance. I’m not comparing the food or the people. I’m only noting a few of the systems in place that perhaps we would do well to share with one another. Without further adieu…
1.) Use of the Metric System
Let’s start with an obvious one. With Europe (and most of the civilized world) using the metric system… it only seems to make sense that America should join the party. Of course, why should we use such a simple and common-sense system?! We are ‘merica after all. Land of the free and home of the brave (and sometimes home of the confusing). Sure… let’s not make 1,000,000 mg = 1,000 grams = 1 kg when we could make 2.2 lbs = 35 oz. I see the logic there! There’s a reason that drug dealers have adopted the metric system, people!
2.) Put Your Pocket Calculator Away
When you’re dining in a restaurant in America, you’ll need to do some mental math when the bill arrives. Ask yourself if the service was mediocre or exceptional. Then establish a figure in the range of 15% – 25% that you desire to leave the server. Do you want to tip on top of the tax and alcohol or remove that portion before you establish a fair gratuity? Finally, do the math and triple check it – someone’s livelihood depends on your generosity. In Europe, it’s a bit simpler. If your bill is €46 – you can leave a €50 and be finished. Here in northern Italy, tipping even that small amount is the exception, not the rule. Waiters are paid fair wages and so it’s not necessary to subsidize their income. I understand the concept of tipping (I worked as a server all through college) but I do often resent paying an extra 20% to the surly server who forgot my ketchup, out of some sense of social obligation or guilt.
3.) No More Banged Up Shins
It took me some time to get used to the placement of light switches here, but now I’m a full convert to the European system. In America, the light switch is on the inside of the room, usually next to the door (but not always). If you’re walking into your own home, it’s no problem. But if you are entering a foreign space under the cover of darkness, you may hear a “shreeek” from the cat whose tail you just crushed. In Europe, you don’t have to worry about banging your shins or stepping on Garfield. The light switches are on the outside of the room. Simply illuminate your path and… go!
4.) Operate With Military Efficiency
You’ve never heard a Lieutenant in the Army bark, “get to the mess hall at 6:00… PM”. They say, “18:00”. So why does the rest of the American population divide a 24 hour day in half? I suppose it has something to do with the design of a 12 hour clock, but I do see value in using the 24 hour system. Admittedly, it takes some getting used to. After a little while I realized that when Jen asked what time our favorite shows came, I was responding, “21:00” (9:00pm) in line with the television guide I was consulting.
5.) Baby, it’s Cold Outside
OK, I realize that this is very similar to the first point about the metric system… but some of these things just make sense. Freezing starts at 0°? Nah… let’s make it… say, 32º. Yeah, that seems about right.
6.) Eat With Razor Sharp Efficiency
Pick up your fork in your left hand and knife in the right, keeping your fork tongs down. Cut a piece of meat. Set your knife down on the plate. Reverse your fork from your left hand to your right, twisting the tongs up. Stab your piece of meat once again and put it in your mouth. Repeat. Clearly, you’re eating in America (I’m also guessing it’s a 2-3 lb steak). Here in Europe, this process is altered as follows: pick up your fork and knife keeping the fork tongs down. Cut your meat. With the piece of meat you just cut on the fork, simply move it directly into your mouth with the tongs still down. No extra puncturing the meat. No setting utensils down. No reversal of hands. Simply enjoy your food. Just imagine how many precious seconds of your life you could have been spared if you had been doing this your whole life!
7.) I’ll Be Getting Off On First Floor
If you’re visiting an office on the first floor of a building in America, then you’ll need to ascend to the second level of the edifice, according to the elevator. So when you ascend one floor from the lobby… you’re on the second level. Hmm? So, in America, we really “start” on the 2nd floor. OK. I guess. What if that office is on the sixteenth floor? Well, then you’ll need to go fourteen levels above the ground, since we don’t “have” a thirteenth floor in most of our buildings. Wow. Now I’m lost. Here in Europe, they keep it simple. The lobby is 0 and the first floor is… the first floor.
If you liked this post, check out my lists of observations about more differences between Italy and America.
ALL THINGS ARE A LITTLE DIFFERENT
Part One (January 23, 2013)
Part Two (March 26, 2013)
Part Three (June 19, 2013)
Part Four (March 26, 2014)