I went to Europe with preconceived ideas of amazing castles, languages, people, and really old stuff. It met and exceeded expectations: it was gorgeous, and the castles were amazing, and the people and the language and the buildings were beautiful. I remember a long train ride through the French countryside into Spain, looking out the window at the trees and fields swaying in the breeze…Honestly, I’m already bored writing this. Something I remember from an English class: “If the story doesn’t interest you…it won’t interest anyone.”
When I finally sat down to write about the scenery, the beauty, etc., I realized that none of it was what I wanted to talk about. You can google Europe. You can read Rick Steves’ travel blog. I was interested in similarities, weird people, awkward situations, and stories. Stories that don’t romanticize traveling, that don’t show you as the winner of every interaction, that don’t show you enjoying every single morsel of a month.
I wrote my posts with those people in mind who aren’t travelers (for whatever reason). And conversely, to those people who have been and think Europe’s poop actually smells quite good. It was aimed at those folks who feel like the U.S. is inferior because of a lack of culture, because we’re younger, because we don’t have what they have.
After visiting various countries, I got the impression from other people who traveled—people who lived in the EUtopia, complete with that health care and free education that we’re envious of—that America is the place to be. They’re as excited about America as we are about Europe. We want to see the Alps; they want to see the Rocky Mountains. We want to take a train; they want to road trip. We can’t believe how in-shape they are; they can’t believe how fat we are. (YES, I’m sure some of em’ still hate us.)
I started the trip ready to apologize for Americans and our country, but it never happened—maybe trashing the States got old. Everyone we met said things like, “I love the U.S.!” “I was just in San Francisco.” “I’d love to come to Chicago!” “I spent time in New York and LA and Las Vegas.” (You had three weeks and you burned time in Las Vegas?) By far, the most common thing we heard was, “I love that the U.S. is so open-minded.”
Hear that, guys?! Woowww. Open-minded compared to Europe? French people in Paris were saying this. The English, the Irish, ze Germans. Europeans. But we know differently.
They think that the U.S. is open-minded because gay marriage is legal. Maybe they don’t know about Ferguson and South Carolina and Sandra Bland and the awful stories between. Maybe they don’t know about systemic racism, about our stocked prisons, our incarceration rate (highest in the world), about the growing divide between rich and poor, about radical idiots that we keep in the spotlight, about Donald Trump.
Maybe you’re like me, maybe not. I saw Europe from the States and thought: what a continent! It’s a group that gets along so well. There are trains there! Neat. There are bakeries everywhere! Great food! They don’t go to war like the U.S. does. They are anti-conflict. And then you go there.
You go to Ireland, and you can count on one hand the number of black people you see. You learn that Irish people from the West don’t like the Irish from the East. You go to England and you realize people outside London don’t like London, people inside London don’t like anyone else, and the entire U.K. doesn’t like England. You go to Spain and you find out that the Catalans (Barcelona, Lleida, Tarragona, Girona) want independance from Spain. You go to Italy and you discover that the Mafia there is not only alive, but they are thriving, and if you aren’t a part of the right family it’s very hard to get a good job (and the North hates the South). You go to Germany and you hear that the Bavarians (Munich, Nuremberg) want to separate from the rest of Germany. You go to Austria and you realize that people are still wearing zip-off pants. Which is an epidemic.
You can’t see all that and leave thinking, emphatically, “What an amazing place! These guys have it figured out.” You leave thinking, “These are the same people, with the same problems, living in older houses” You leave thinking, “Everyone is fragile.”
Europe is an amazing place to visit, and if you get the chance, do it. It’s incredible. I can’t name all the awe-inspiring places and sights we saw. Please don’t read this and think, don’t go. Go. Just know that pee smells the same in every city in the world.
Bart Tocci (’11) lives in Boston where he writes essays, performs at open mics, and threatens to start taco restaurants. He’s been told that he looks like the kind of guy who stands up for what’s right. And who goes to the store before the party. Read more here: barttocci.wordpress.com