Sorry, homeland, you’re beautiful too, but you can do better.
Good morning, y’all! This post comes to you from the smoky mountain highways in Tennessee. (I’m not driving, don’t worry!) This is my first mobile post. Thank goodness for the WordPress app so I can flow on the go! After my first week back in the USA after six months, I was feeling impassioned to write about some of the key differences between Europe and the US. Well, one key difference, and, hint… It’s not so good.
The Europeans seem to have a better grasp on the fact that this is the only earth we were given, and we’re kinda stuck with it for eternity, or at least the rest of our lives. My friends and family in Spain practiced good resource conservation. They did the basics like using electricity only when needed, be it lights, heating, air conditioning, and appliance usage such as dryers and dishwashers. No one in Europe uses a dryer to dry their clothes. Anyone who has visited any European town or city knows this. Clothes lines are iconic symbols for European living. In addition to the basics, their overall energy consumption is a little more mindful than ours. Take note!
In southern Spain, homes are designed to respond to the environment efficiently. Most interiors are comprised of marble to respond to the sub-tropical climate. The marble keeps the inside cool during the warm months, which include April-October. Most spaniards suck it up, hang at the pool, turn a fan on, but rarely turn the a/c on. The only place you can find a/c is in corporately owned shops and cafes such as Zara, Sfera, and Starbucks. On the contrary, in the US, my body is shocked by the intense temperature difference between the 90-degree summer air and 65-degree interiors of restaurants, homes, and shops. Let’s just say I have not adjusted. I understand that not every location has a perfect climate like Andalucia, but this American desire to keep buildings below 65 is excessive and ridiculous. It is not a need, it’s a luxury. A waste of energy.
Speaking of excesses and luxuries- the European people I meet are adamant about not wasting food- as we all should be. It is considered impolite if you do not eat all the food you were served, and any leftovers are carefully stored to be consumed. The smaller portions of food makes this task less daunting. Meals are not super-sized and are often shared in groups. I mentioned that I’ve been in Tennessee- I’ve been vacationing with my family here, and one day we went to Paula Deen’s for lunch. It works as such: the table chooses two meats and four sides, and the whole table shares the meal. It’s “all you can eat.” They bring you as many servings as you ask for… And you cannot take home any leftovers. While this seems logical from a business standpoint, I observed that many families felt the need to over-order (including ours), and on our table alone, two chicken plates, a bowl of potatoes, and half a salad were left over. Dessert was included, and each of us took one or two bites and then complained about our full stomachs. That’s all we could manage after feasting on unlimited lunch. Those leftovers, that wasted food, was for four people in one day. I looked at everyone all around me and became sick at the thought of all the food going to waste, and all the people, even in America, all the children, who go without food. I was already sick from gorging on creamed corn, and when I saw the excessive leftovers that go to the trash, I was ill. No wonder we have a bad reputation with other countries. Foreign tourists likely go to tourist destinations where they witness this excessive lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, my family doesn’t eat like this all the time. We were on vacation. But that restaurant is open year-round, wasting food every single day.
Water is another excessively used resource in America. Pre-Europe, long, hot showers were a favorite of mine. In Spain, all shower heads are designed to be used as a wand. This means that they don’t actually hang at the top of the shower like standard showers in America. Europeans turn the water off in the shower as they’re washing, shaving, etc. so that they don’t use extra water every time they shower. And basically no one takes baths. Think about how much water this saves over the course of time! Europeans also don’t buy cases of drinking water like we do. In some US locations, it’s necessary when the local water source is not safe. But Europe has a system of springs and wells, and often when my friends and I traveled, we filled one water bottle up in the public fountains. I joke that Europe made me “hard.” Before my trip, I worshiped bottled water and spent too much money and wasted too many bottles. Now I drink it from the tap. Europe didn’t make me hard. It made me smart. It took my spoiled ass and said, “Here! Here’s how the world works! Suck it up!”
And finally, my favorite topic, recycling. I’ve always tried to recycle since I discovered techniques at age 15. I forced my family to save cans and bottles to give to me, so that I could dispose of them “greenly.” However, we got nothing on European recyclers. My Spanish family and all my European friends had a specific system in their homes. Glass, paper, and plastic went in separate bins, and any food, minus eggs and meat, went in the compost. At the end of the week, my friends and host-parents made a trip (literally down the street) to the appropriate bins, and recycled nearly *all* their waste. Insert applause emoji here. Plus, the euros try to reduce their waste in general. For example, they keep glass jars and re-use them in the way we use Tupperware. They really know what’s up, and I thank them for teaching me their ways.