Our European Odyssey

This blog covered our month-long trip to Eastern Europe -- specifically the countries of Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria and Slovakia.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Eastern European Differences (The Good)

For the most part, the countries we visited were a lot like the U.S. The one glaring difference was the different languages, but other than that, they are very similar to the U.S. There were some cultural differences we noticed, however. Some of the differences were better and some worse than what we experience here in the States. In this post, we will talk about the good: the differences that make Eastern Europe better than the U.S. in some ways. Tomorrow we will write a bitchier post in which we complain about the bad and the ugly of Eastern Europe. We also plan to write a post devoted entirely to bathroom differences and one to food differences.

As we have never traveled to any European countries but the five we visited, we cannot claim that these differences are common across Europe, especially Western Europe. Also we only spent about a week each in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria and two days in Slovakia, so our impressions are rather cursory and might be a bit ill-formed. Now that the general disclaimer is over, we will begin.

The main difference that we witnessed was the less wasteful behaviors. We mentioned how small the cars were -- no gas-guzzling SUVs -- but that's just one example. The toilets use less water, we saw less food go uneaten in restaurants (perhaps because the portions were smaller) and in grocery stores, people brought their own baskets or sacks to carry home their purchases. (This could be annoying, though, as some grocery stores didn't have sacks at all.)

Many people seem to walk and take public transportation. The public transportation system is much more efficient than in the U.S.
Whether we were going by subway, bus, tram, trolley or some combination, it was easy to get anywhere quickly in the cities we visited.

Furthermore, it was very easy to get from town to town by utilizing the rail system. The trains were quick and comfortable, especially in Austria (at a higher cost, however, than elsewhere). If you are taking an international train that leaves at 8:10, then you can plan to arrive at the station at 8, find the correct platform and get a seat in the train with time to spare. It is nothing like going to the airport, where you need to arrive at least two hours before your flight to check in, clear security and whatnot.

Maybe the extra walking and the lack of waste are why there does not seem to be an obesity epidemic in Eastern Europe. We very, very rarely saw any overweight people.

Another plus for Eastern Europe (and the rest of the world, for that matter) is that it uses the metric system. This makes everything a lot easier than trying to keep track of how many miles 20,000 feet is or how many ounces are in a pound (or a quart).

We were also pleased that in all the countries we visited, they had the numeric values of the coins or bills printed on them. In the U.S., the bills have numerals, but the coins do not. American coins spell out their values in English (like "five cents" or "quarter dollar"), which is only helpful if you speak English. If not, you have to memorize the values of the coins. In the countries we visted, however, the numeric value was printed on one side of each of the coins. See the pictures of Polish coins versus the American penny and dime below for an example. This made our lives as monolingual tourists much easier.

Finally, one of the more impressive things about Eastern Europe was the ability of people to speak several foreign languages. Luckily for us, English is becoming the standard second language to learn for most Europeans, but it was amazing to regularly meet cashiers, waitresses and people on the street who spoke very good English. We met quite a few people who spoke four or more languages. It made us wish we could speak another language or at least be able to say "hello" in Polish without embarassing ourselves.


At 4:57 PM, June 21, 2006, Anonymous Millie said...

Efficient public transportation, smaller portions, less waste and more walking--we could all benefit.

At 4:57 PM, June 21, 2006, Anonymous Millie said...

Efficient public transportation, smaller portions, less waste and more walking--we could all benefit.



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