Let me clue you all in on a little secret: Europeans can spot an American from a mile away. It was a complete shock to me when I was clued-in to their not-so-stealthy detection method. It’s not about the color of our skin, or even our accents (we sound like a lot of Canadians!); rather, it’s the way we dress and act.
Photo from www.memecenter.com
First of all, European men dress totally different than American ones. On average, Americans are uber casual “cazjh”. In the evenings, you will never ever see Europeans dress in shorts. I don’t care if it is 90 degrees and humid. When the sun sets, men cover their knees. Period. Sandals with linen slacks, black pants, or even khakis are totally acceptable. But shorts? That is a major fashion crime and a complete no-no.
Secondly, in the daytime, you will never, ever see Europeans (both men and women) sporting shorts and sneakers. Shorts are completely acceptable and totally fine to wear under the scorching summer sun, but paired only with flip-flops, strappy sandals, or loafers. Nowadays when I see someone wearing khaki shorts, socks and sneakers, I inwardly tsk-tsk and shake my head.
But the teeny-tiny fashion faux pas are not what have caught me off-guard about Americans traveling abroad. I really couldn’t care less if American men wear shorts and baseball caps to a nightclub and charged double the price for a beer as their price for coming from a wealthy nation and demanding to speak English wherever they go.
I was more surprised to learn this other tidbit of information about our young, amazing American culture. We always carry to-go cups. My knee-jerk reaction was to stick up for my American roots. Then I realized, maybe she’s right?
Photo from www.houseofadrene.com
In Cyprus, our children go to a private British school known for its academic rigor. This particular school attracted an international mix of families on the island: locals (Cypriot), British, Russian, Eastern European, Turkish, Israeli, Iranian, Arab, and yes, American. Actually, there were only 3 American families. It is such a remote island in the far eastern Mediterranean seas, that we were so genuinely happy to find one another. We often stand around and chat after the morning drop off or before the afternoon pick-up.
My family is slightly unique: my husband is Cypriot and I am American. Additionally, of all the “new” Americans on the island, I have been on the island for the longest. I also learned the language and adopted the culture. My current social circle straddle both Americans/Brits and locals alike. Recently, one unassuming morning after we dropped off our children and the morning bell had rung, a Cypriot friend and I stood chatting. She cocked one perfectly manicured eyebrow and said, “why are those American parents always in a rush?” I glance over and spot our American friends standing around in a circle chatting and laughing in the sunshine, much as my Cypriot friend and I were doing. I was confused. They didn’t appear to be in a rush. However, my friend noticed one thing that I had not: each and every American parent (both moms and dads alike) were carrying a to-go coffee mug. It was such a common sight; one my eye wasn’t trained to see. But she explained it perfectly: Americans are always on the go. Even when we live on an idyllic Mediterranean island, we are not accustomed to sitting down and enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee, unless it is for a purpose. Generally, we meet for a coffee to discuss business, or to catch up with an old friend. Usually, it is scheduled and it is for a precise amount of time (30 minutes or 1 hour). Or, how about lunch? “Let’s lunch” is a slogan back home, right? And “lunching” is now for work (relaxed method to discuss strategy), networking, and a chance to meet single guys/girls (www.itsjustlunch.com). The point being: there seems to always be a purpose for Americans to meet. Rarely, do we Americans sit and meet just to kick back and relax. We relax on vacation, not at home, and definitely not during the workweek.
Starbucks in Cyprus serves its coffee only in ceramic mugs. In fact, all coffee shops only serve in ceramic mugs. They must hire a dishwasher. Or, on a totally different discussion: consider the environmental consequence of using reusable ceramic versus disposable paper cups?
In Europe, we want to sit down, enjoy a cup of jo, drag on cigarettes (not me personally. It’s a total yuck, but still totally acceptable here), relax, or the other National favorite pastime: people watch. Only within this last year have I seen one (seriously, just one!) coffee shop offer to-go paper cups for those who want to enjoy their coffee on the run.
Photo from www.gofrance.about.com
Wouldn’t you like to look as happy as like this French couple? Wouldn’t it be easy to say “put down your mobile phones and connect with loved ones and you’ll be as happy as them”? Obviously, it’s not quite as simple as that. But, we could take a step closer by trying to make less appointments and just showing up and being present.
So some food for thought: perhaps we can spend less time scheduling meetings, coffees and lunches, and spend more time with impromptu, sit down, old-fashioned, curbside people watching. Or grab a good book, or a good friend, and a cup of coffee: no planning or coordinating. Stop off at a friend’s house and just connect.
Don’t get me wrong: I still carry a to-go mug from time to time. But every time I reach for it, I remember my Cypriot friend who made me aware of my American tendencies to not sit back, relax and enjoy a cup of coffee in solace or in company. And what’s the purpose of life if we are constantly running from one meeting to another?
Any other ideas on how we can connect? Or how you spot an American overseas? I’d love to hear from you.
Discover your Inner Aphrodite . . .