Why It’s Better to Be Broke in Europe than Anywhere Else
Let’s face it, folks. None of us are as rich as we would like to be. Comfortable, yes, and maybe even happy (GASP). But rich…not so much.
I realize that this is easy to say that as I am writing on my laptop in Spain. We are all, obviously, real people who need real food and a real roof over our head.
But I say this having been living in what is arguably abject misery for the past couple years due to my own decisions, but having STILL eaten amazing food, traveled to amazing places, and not died.
In other words: I moved to Europe, I am now broke, and I will now explain why you should, too.
I occasionally wonder about the possible alternative realities, had the coin landed on tails instead of on heads. For example, a me that hadn’t moved across the Atlantic and that still worked a job that gave me a gym membership along with my paycheck (like a grownup).
Note that I often ACTUALLY got to where I am by flipping a coin, which by the way I don’t even do that well. To give you a vague idea, think four year old tossing a ball into the air for the first time and then seal with prosthetic flippers trying to catch it before it hits it in the face.
Ultimately, the reality I chose is to be far away from most people who get American cultural references enough to understand how hilarious I am.
I also wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Without further ado, this is why it is way better to be broke as hell back in your Bubby’s homeland.
1) The European welcome:
What better way to make an introductory point in an article in which I overly generalize an entire continent than with an equally sweeping statement: European hospitality is tits.
Now, hospitality is something very different than customer service. As the stereotype dictates, in most countries, if you go out to eat, the waiter usually won’t introduce themselves with their name and a catchy anecdote.
The words “harrowing experience” come to mind.
However, a true warm welcome is something completely different. Granted, this warm welcome is sometimes borne from an ingrained cultural need to prove that you were raised well enough to know how to properly set a table. Sometimes, however, people genuinely want to help.
If you go for an aperitif at someone’s house, for example, you will be presented with a myriad of tiny foods, alcohol, and mood music. If you go for dinner, a laudable amount of thought will have been put into it (although this will be fervently denied), and you will be verbally assaulted if you try to do the dishes or help in any way. If you stay the night, you might even get pajamas and slippers.
Why yes, I am super fun to have at parties!
Then, if you are actually in need, the level of overwhelming helpfulness increases a million fold until you feel crushed, comforted, grateful, and really guilty all at once, like spending the holidays in the terrifying embrace of your own real family.
As Americans, I feel like we are maybe perhaps somewhat a little inept at graciously accepting such help, since we’re perhaps a lot less used to it.
While we’re at it, here’s another stereotype!
Since in America you can easily do things without anyone’s help (so long as you benefit from all the various gender, racial, and sexual orientation stereotypes, of course), even if you can make friends more quickly, you may not be able to rely on all of them for help.
Of course, people are still people wherever you go, and Europe has its fair share of jerks, too.
Pictured: not Europeans.
As a general rule, though, people in most EU countries are willing to open their house and home to you, throwing you into a vortex of self doubt about whether you’ve overstayed your welcome and endless questioning of if you should deep-clean their fridge for the third time as a thank you.
Ultimately, if you are in a jam and you have friends, everything will be OK.
2) The European food:
As everyone knows, this continent is as good at eating and making food as America is at then proudly transmogrifying it into microwave-ready dishes.
Before everyone gets their panties all tied in a tizzy, also know that some Europeans (see: the French) sometimes make some hilariously bad judgment calls, and are now obsessed with Burger King.
In America, if you’ve really fallen on hard times, you risk being banished to the world of creative Ramen cooking. If you’re lucky enough to live in certain states, you might be able to occasionally stuff your face with Mexican food, which is sadly lacking in Europe, a fact which I now will gloss over to not take away from the amazing point I am making.
Obviously, there are healthy alternatives, but you usually have to get real creative and it certainly isn’t cheap.
Constantly moving and traveling on a laughably small amount of money in the EU more or less forced me to apply said creativity to the local food. In doing so, I realized that people here don’t know how good they have it. For example, you often hear the average French person bitching about the price of a good baguette. In that event, I light a candle in my heart and think of the price and quality of good bread at your average supermarket in the States.
Every country has a different specialty. In France, chocolate, cheese, pastries, bread, mustard, and charcuterie are good and stupid cheap. Yes, even in Paris. In Germany, you can get phenomenal meat, beer, and random fizzy drinks that you had never heard of, but that you are now forever addicted to.
While in Spain almost everything is more affordable, that doesn’t detract from the abundance of Vermouth, olives stuffed with anchovies, Spanish tortillas, ham, and Fuet.
In addition, due to many years of expertly being a broke-ass continent, most European countries also have peasant dishes, usually made with stale bread and always filling and delicious. (For example, migas, pappa al pomodoro, pot-au-feu, acquacotta, etc.)
This means that while questioning how the heck to afford toothpaste, I was also drinking good wine/booze/beer/coffee, eating good bread/cheese/meat/fish, and had access to good fruits and veggies.
Bottom line, Europe takes their amazing food for granted, and continues to staunchly refuse to compromise its quality.
This, despite the current financial situation of many of its countries, which of course leads me to…
3) The European economy:
As it turns out, I am definitely not an economist.
None of my friends are, either. Still, everyone on this side of the ocean seems to be able to eloquently discuss the failure that is the Euro. While vaguely understanding Merkel’s economic strategies doesn’t make being broke any more awesome, it does at least show that everyone is in the same boat.
In the States, I was faced with a choice. I could either stop being friends with my more financially stable buddies, or I could just buckle down, swallow my pride, and have to admit that I often just couldn’t hang out with them because when it comes down it, it is a bit tough to do things in a big city without money.
I by no means wish for everyone to continue being broke. One day, I hope we can all look back on this article with snifters in our hands and monocles on our faces, and oh how we will chortle (as rich people do, I think) at our poverty at the time.
It does change things for the better, though, when everyone would collectively rather cook a meal at home than go out, and when bringing a cheap bottle of wine is perfectly acceptable (and, going back to point 1, is also still generally good).
If misery (as in being poor as heck) does indeed love company, if we’re broke we can all at least be broke together.
4) The European values:
You may have heard the slightly aggravating factoid that discussing income is a social faux pas in Europe.
As was recently pointed out to me, rarely is it not considered a super dick move to breezily discuss the amount you earn with random strangers.
And if this does not apply to you..well……I mean………
This is the one thing I would rather avoid gleefully over-stereotyping, so I will begin by saying this: the United States mindset can be refreshingly open, which I suppose is why it’s the land of opportunity.
However, in the continuous search for the “new,” some priorities that go along with the not-so-desirable archaic values have been lost, too. For example, preparing and eating a meal together, sitting and talking for hours, going to the park, drinking and sleeping it off in the sun, adventuring, reading books, or even just doing nothing at all are done a little too infrequently.
I am by no means suggesting that you, the reader, aren’t into the above mentioned hippie things. I would also like to point out that Spain is definitely on a very extreme end of the spectrum. There are countries that are much more efficient (and wealthier), and are less in love with their own right to nap.
Because adulthood, damnit.
I suppose the difference is that the exception, in Europe, is the person who is willing or who may be obligated to sacrifice family and their own free time for money.
When hitting a financial rough patch is no longer often looked upon as your own lack of motivation, it helps you live a bit better.
5) The European transport systems:
In America, if you want to travel and visit that giant ball of string which I heard about at some point and I’m 43% sure is a real thing, for example, you’re forced to spend the equivalent of rent on a plane ticket or pile into a car, Chevy Chase style.
Road trips are great, mind you – they are almost always incredibly fun, but they end up being more or less the same price as a flight, and by the end you arrive to where you are going twitchy and having eaten altogether too many taquitos from truck stops.
We do have the Greyhound, but…don’t forget…The United States is fucking huge. Ultimately, if you choose competitive prices, you will always have to sacrifice time, something which is a little heartbreaking to do if you don’t get many (see any) days off (as in point 4).
In Europe, trains used to be a thing, but now they’re expensive and the bathrooms are scary and the peanuts are overpriced. Now, you have your pick of cheap airlines (like, 20 euros cheap), bus companies (which of course take a long time as well but WHO CARES YOU CAN SLEEP FOR HOURS), and Blablacar, a rideshare venture started in France which connects you to drivers going to different cities/countries.
This has led to some interesting phenomena. Everyone in Europe has more or less been everywhere in Europe.
Now, they hate a wider variety of tourists than just Americans!
This not only means that on a larger scale Europe as a whole is changing and my generation will have a much more global understanding of their continent, but it also means you can go cool places for the weekend and make everyone in America jealous.
5.5) The things I haven’t talked about:
All in all, I live a pretty comfortable poor-kid life, here, and I haven’t even touched on European hitchhiking, government aid, and squats.
Don’t get me wrong, the United States is better for doing many, many things. For example, if your goal is to accumulate enough money to change into gold coins, put into a swimming pool, and then pay for the staggeringly high hospital bills that will come pouring in as you break your face trying to dive into said pool of coins, then maybe you read this list for no reason at all.
However, if any of these points apply to you, I suggest you put your slightly troubling Blue Bottle coffee addiction on hold, save those bitcoins, and come on over.
Non-linked images courtesy of: Sullivan Bluth Studios and Amblin Entertainment; American Greeting Cards LLC; Modern Problems, (director) Ken Shapiro, (producers) Alan Greisman & Michael Shamberg; Matt Groening, FOX.
top image from gzjz