As I’ve looked back over our European travels for the past week and a half, one thing that’s really stuck out to me is the little differences between Germany, Italy, and America. Each country is so unique in their lifestyles, sometimes in ways that took me by surprise.
Germany, the first country we visited, was the most brusque. Germans are actually very polite, but it’s hard to tell if you pass them on the street or buy a meal from them. Smiling isn’t something they do without reason, and the American habit of grinning at strangers we make eye contact with on the subway is completely crazy to them. There were a few times in Germany and Austria when I really freaked out a local by making intense eye contact, and then panicking as the urge to smile and my knowledge of the culture battled inside me. I usually ended up staring at them fearfully and then looking down at my feet awkwardly.
Italy, on the other hand, had quite a different vibe. People were more jovial on the surface, but I felt more disdain from our waiters and the other people we talked to. I felt much more like a “stupid American” in Italy than in Germany, even though the Italians smiled and laughed much more than the Germans did. I especially felt talked down to by older men, who were often our waiters. They would get extremely huffy if we asked to split the check or if we could balsamic with our bread. I came away from those experiences feeling guilty for being an uncultured American.
Another cultural difference I noticed was the variety of food. In both Italy and Germany, there’s noticeably more native food than in America. There’s just as many Asian, Mexican, and Italian influenced restaurants in Fort Worth as there are traditional American burger joints. I was confused by this, especially as I started going crazy the last few days in Rome when I had ordered the Margherita pizza 7 times in a row. Another student on the trip explained to me that eating at restaurants is a much rarer occurrence in most European families than American ones, and thus they don’t necessarily need the overwhelming variety in cuisine that we are accustomed to.
And the last, most important difference I noticed: the soda. German Fanta is much tangier and less overly sweet than ours, and I drank it at just about every meal. Italian Lemon Soda is unlike any drink we have here, and I’ll spend the rest of my life craving that tart, bubbly, lemon-ness. But in the end, neither can measure up to my true favorite soda: Dr. Pepper with real sugar. America knows how to make a good drink.