During our first six month trip many cultural differences were certainly expected between the United States and Europe, including the UK. However, here is a list of some differences which were unexpected, many pleasantly so.
When traveling one generally needs to embrace cultural differences and not compare them to perceived possible better circumstances back home. Try new food, get used to the clothes washer in the kitchen, no dryer, a refrigerator the size of a microwave and no ice maker or freezer. Some differences listed below were subtle and occurred to me over a period of time.
BEST, MOST PLEASANT DIFFERENCES
No Barking Dogs.
Either the dogs are smarter, their owners are smarter better dog trainers, or both. The ENTIRE six months in Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, Ireland, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales we never heard a single barking dog. Further, the dogs we saw were exceedingly well behaved. Visiting Inverness, Scotland I witnessed three leashed dogs on a morning walk with their owner meet up with two dogs walking in the opposite direction on the same sidewalk. There was not a peep from any of the five dogs. There was the polite tip of the hat acknowledging ‘good-morning’ from the owners and both parties continued on their quiet way. During our many morning walks around the golf course in Ruidoso, NM I can assure you all hell would have broken loose should such an event occur. Even real pet lovers I know personally have been unable to control their dogs upon meeting other dogs out for a walk.
Further, the European dogs were often not on a leash. The owner would command the dog to wait outside the store while shopping was completed. The dog ignored me and my camera, sitting quietly, patiently waiting. Upon return of the owner, the dog would fall into line and walk by the owner side. This was not a single occurrence but rather common.
Even the dogs sitting up in chairs at an Italian restaurant were well behaved.
No Leaf Blowers
We came back to the States and promptly heard leaf blowers in the parking lot the first day we were in Florida.
No Bugs on the Windshield
Each stop at a gas station allows one to clean the windshield, or as they say in England, the wind screen. This was never necessary as the wind screen remained clean. We did receive over 100 mosquito bites in Venice and encountered thousands of gnats in Salisbury, but on the highways, we did not seem to hit bugs as we frequently do in the USA.
No Police Activity on the Highways
We never saw any radar from a police car or any police activity pulling over an offending driver. I did see plenty of fast driving, so police on the highway might be needed, but still no highway police activity, this function being performed by cameras.
Very Little Trash Anywhere
Throughout Europe, we never saw any meaningful highway litter or trash in the villages. Unlike Mexico, Europe seems to have great respect for the land and keep it clean. Carrying this cleanliness to the next level, Ireland has annual country-wide contests for “Tidy Town.” Each village competes to see who can be the most tidy. Window and flower boxes are painted and certainly no trash lies about. I saw one perfectly good, well painted wall get another annual coat of bright paint.
Graffiti is Non-existent (Almost)
Keep in mind ‘graffiti’ is an Italian word. Other than Italy, graffiti did not exist. Despite large white painted sheets of plywood circling some construction sites and other large blank public canvasses, we saw zero graffiti. Within Italy, it is often difficult to find a wall not painted by taggers.
No Traffic Controlling Flagmen
Despite plenty of highway construction and improvements, we encountered no flagmen. Instead, temporary traffic signals were erected. The traffic lights were on trailers, ready to be moved to the next spot. These seemed to control traffic very efficiently.
No Garage Sales
Part of this may be the lack of abundant space results in fewer garages. Maybe they have flea markets or donate their belongings, regardless we never saw a single garage or estate sale sign. We were told that there were “boot sales” in England, where people sell used items out of the trunk of their car. Unfortunately, we did not come across any of these. Is it possible they live a more frugal life and have less money to conspicuously consume?
Gas Pump – No Credit Card Payments at the Gas Pump
Never did we encounter a pay-at-the-pump credit card reader. Every time we had to go inside and wait in line to pay.
Gas Pump – No Gas Nozzle Lock
Never was there one of those convenient locks on the gas handle to allow hands free filling of the gas tank. Without this, one must squeeze the handle 100% of the time and attend the nozzle.
Gas Pump – No Fume Trap or Fume Reducer
The American style gasoline nozzle is a large, heavy contraption with several plastic and rubber gaskets to force fumes back into the tank, reducing air pollution and minimize the possibility of a spark creating a fire. At least that is the government regulation safety argument. In Europe the gas nozzle seems like it is from the 70’s, a simple skinny metal pipe with no frills.
Fewer Traffic Signs
There were no slow down, curve ahead signs. Nor was there a reduction in the speed limit for a 90 degree turn around a narrow blind curve in Ireland. The same ridiculously fast speed limits applied. We frequently encountered open range situations with livestock in the road, yet no sign alerting the driver. I went below the posted, legal speed limit 99% of the time, much to the chagrin of the locals.
Speed Limit Enforcement
Replacing the hiding policeman with a radar gun, Europe has unmanned traffic cameras which enforce not only speed limits but also restricted bus lanes, we later learned. Upon return to the USA we found a traffic violation waiting for us, including a photo of me driving our rental vehicle apparently in a bus lane in Glasgow. I went ahead and paid the fine and late penalty to avoid any possible issues in the future.
Speed Limit Enforcement
Worse yet, are two traffic cameras recording your license and entry time, for example, at mile 10 and your exit time at mile marker 11. Your average speed is then easily calculated and you will receive your ticket in the mail. What an efficient revenue producer for our highways await…..
Aspirin, a Highly Controlled Substance in the UK
Obtaining a supply of aspirin proved to be a real challenge. This apparently dangerous substance is only sold in pharmacies and only one eight pack per family per day. We tried to split up and enter the Boot’s Pharmacy separately to buy one pack of eight aspirins each but we were busted. The cashier knew my wife and I had been together so they refused the second purchase.
Finally, the Big Flush or the Little Flush
Instead of limiting the size of the toilet flush, as is done in the USA, European standards are to let the user decide if they need a big toilet flush or a small flush…. I guess I need not go into any more detail here….