While there are things I wish Europe would adopt from North America (like not charging for water in restaurants, better Mexican food, bringing the poutine to Europe!), there’s also a lot of things (although not so apparently food related) that I wish North America would adopt from Europe. After living on both continents, here are some of my thoughts!
1. Free university education
I feel like this is a HUGE thing. For one thing, people always seem to be talking about how “children are the future”….but what kind of future would this be if these children can’t afford a university education? In Canada, tuition a year is around $6,000 (compared to the staggering $30,000 + in the US), and that doesn’t include the $1,000 in student service fees, hundreds of dollars for textbooks, and an extra few thousands of dollars to cover living expenses. In general, the average middle-class family are unable to send their kids to university without some sort of assistance. In Canada, we have a lot of great government student loan programs to help us finance our studies, but at the same time, it takes an average of 10 years to pay back loans for a post grad! That’s a long time to be in debt!
In Europe (excluding the UK), most public universities offer free or next to nothing costs for tuition (even for international students! see upcoming post for more details). These include countries like Austria, Denmark, France, Italy, German, Norway and Spain. In fact, Denmark actually pays their students to go to school! The only thing they have to pay for are student fees, which average to be around 100 euros a semester, which is a pretty sweet deal! And despite the Eurozone crisis, I’ve read that the EU is actually planning on increasing government funding for education by 70%!
(Fun fact: some non-EU countries that offer free university include: Argentina, Cuba, Egypt, India, Malta, Morocco, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia).
2. More bikes and affordable public transit
In some cities in Europe like Amsterdam, sometimes you feel like there’s more bikes than pedestrians and cars. In the European cities I’ve been to, most streets have bike lanes and there’s places everywhere to rent bikes. In North America, suburbs seem to be designed to be very bike and pedestrian unfriendly.
In many European cities, public transit is so well connected, sometimes it’s even more convenient than driving. With high gas prices, and relatively low transit fares, you’ll see everyone from students, to business people to the elderly on any given European bus or subway. There’s lots of incentives as well, such as a group transit pass, to let groups of people share the cost of one ticket!
While public transit is pretty well-connected in North American cities, taking public transit can be nightmarish in the suburbs. Some places aren’t well connected, transit fares are incredibly over-priced, and simple tasks like grocery shopping can take over an hour in commutes because of how far away everything is. No wonder car culture is big here! Which brings us to….
3. Less emphasis on car culture
In North America, you’re expected to have a driver’s licence. Materialism in society also attributes to owning a car to status and money. Unless you live in a big city, walking or taking public transit is seen as a “poor man’s” option, and it’s ridiculous how often I would mention walking from point A to point B (which only takes about 15 minutes), and have people look at me in shock, and ask why I would walk such a long distance and didn’t take a car instead. Well, that’s probably why there’s a lot more overweight people in North America!
Car culture I feel like also isolates people. It’s hardly ever “lively” on the streets in the suburbs, but there’s European “cities” I’ve been to with a population of 100,000 that are way more lively than North American suburbs boosting even 900,000 people. I love how in Europe, many people prefer to walk. Yes, they have the advantage of everything being closer to them, but it definitely adds a personal charm to their countries.
4. More environmentally friendly
I feel like in general, there’s less packaging in products in Europe. In Germany they have a 25 cent “deposit” on bottles, which you pay and get back when you return your bottles. It’s great because it forces everyone to recycle, and even if you don’t, there’s always bums who will rummage the streets in search of these bottles.
In places like Germany, most people don’t even own AC’s and dryers! Clothes are most often hung to air dry, which surprised me at first, but once I got used to it, I really like the idea. Even in the winter, clothes generally don’t take more than 2-3 days to dry!
Also, in some parts of Spain, 70% of their energy source comes from renewable energy, and in most Scandinavian countries, more than half of their energy is from renewable sources.
While I feel like us North Americans are starting to become more environmentally friendly (I know in Canada, we rely mostly on hydro power, and wind energy is becoming extremely popular), there’s still a lot we can learn from our European counterparts!
4. Affordable Health care
Living in Germany, I find the health care system really efficient. While it’s not free like back home in Canada, it’s very affordable and I never have to wait long to see a doctor. I love that it’s so easy to go to any doctor here, show them my health insurance card and be able to get treatment that same day. Since I’m privately insured, I would pay for my bill first and have my insurance company reimburse me. I’m always shocked too that these costs are significantly lower than what I would pay in Canada or the US. For example, when I went for physiotherapy, 10 sessions in Canada cost over $800 while it Germany it was only 200 euros (and I enjoyed my sessions much more in Germany as well!).
When I lived in Chicago for art school, I remember my roommate was sick and had to stay overnight at a hospital for a couple nights and we were all shocked when she received her bill that amounted to a number in the three digits. I can’t imagine how most people could ever afford that. Luckily the Obama Care legislature is changing the American health care system to make it more affordable for everyone!
5. Europeans are more relaxed and celebrate more
Did you know that North Americans (Americans followed by Canadians) have the least amount of vacation time amongst the developed world? Actually, by law in America, companies legally do not even have to give employees paid vacation days! Most European countries like Sweden, Austria, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, etc tops the list of most paid vacation days with 34 + plus days of time off (*hint hint* to travel!!) Not to mention in countries like Spain, there’s siestas, that let you rest for 2-3 hours in the middle of the work day! What a perfect time to go to the beach 🙂
Also, food and drinks “on the go” are a lot less popular in Europe. In North America, paper cups seem to be the norm, especially in the city, where everyone has a cup of coffee in their hands, rushing to go somewhere. Meanwhile in Europe, street cafes are always packed with groups of people at all times of the day. Come to think of it, I don’t think there was ever a time when I bought a drink in Europe and took it to go rather than drinking it in the cafe! I think the overall vibe of Europe forces you to slow down and enjoy life.
I’d love to hear your thoughts! What do you guys think? What are some European characteristics you wish North Americans would adopt? Or vice versa?