10 Things I “Hate” about Europe
A phrase that we British often say to refer to mainland Europe is ‘on the continent’. I’ve never given too much thought to the oddity of this phrase, until I said it myself recently in an interview in the Netherlands. I was speaking to an Italian lecturer and an American lecturer, and they both laughed at the phrase and the subconscious ‘othering’ behind it. It’s pretty indicative of the long-standing negative British attitude towards ‘Europe’, a word which more often than not is used by Brits to refer to the rest of Europe excluding the UK, despite the fact that we Brits are very much part of the European geographic continent too, we (currently) belong to the European Union and we are of course Europeans ourselves.
However, in the UK, the connotations of ‘Europe’ actually meaning ‘Europe excluding the UK’ still persist. I myself have even used it on an embarrassingly high number of occasions! Just look at the title of my blog post in July announcing that I was “moving to Europe” when in reality I was moving from one European city (London) within Europe to another European city (Groningen). But as much as I might hate my own hypocrisy, the phrase comes from the UK’s historical Euroscepticism and antipathy towards all things ‘European’.
So on that note of British Euroscepticism, and in the spirit of the age, at a time when British-EU relations have never been worse in my lifetime, I fancied writing down the 10 things I hate most about Europe. Do you agree?
1. European food is just inedible
Don’t you just hate all the incredible cuisines over on the continent? I mean, French fromage, champagne and fine wines; Spanish tapas, pintxos, paella and jamón ibérico; Italian pizza, pasta, gelato, aperitivo, prosecco and Aperol Spritz; Greek salads, souvlaki and halloumi; Danish pastries and smørrebrød; and that’s not to mention all the seafood and beers (that I don’t personally eat or drink but which I’m repeatedly told are fantastic). And what does Britain have in comparison? Baked beans. I rest my case.
2. Travel on the continent is no longer a luxury treat
Over in Europe the public transport is so much better, newer, faster and cheaper than in the UK. Even countries with struggling economies like Spain and Italy still have world-class train networks that run on time, that carry you between cities and countries effortlessly, without costing a small fortune. No pesky airplane baggage and liquid restrictions, no travelling to remote airports miles outside the city centre, endless waiting in airports, queuing to pass the border controls (thank you Schengen!), fuel surcharges and carbon dioxide emissions. Instead of having to flying everywhere, Europeans can take quick trains, coaches or simply drive a car to anywhere they want to go, and having so many options means that travel is democratised and cheap enough for everyone to do! Which is just so much fairer, don’t you think?
3. I can’t have conversations about the outrageous cost of living
The British love to complain about how expensive things are – it’s like our love of talking about the weather. But over in Europe things simply don’t cost enough for that! Rent is very reasonable (in Italy I used to pay €300 per month, in the Netherlands €270 and in Spain just €180!), food in supermarkets is much, much cheaper, a glass of wine in a bar is only €2-3, public transport doesn’t cost a fortune, and you can afford to live happily without a gigantic salary.
4. Europeans are so damn equal and everyone is so damn well educated
The social welfare system on the continent gives everyone an equal shot in life (and although nothing’s ever perfect, it’s a damn sight better than in the UK). The British class system is a mystery to them, the education systems are equally good for everyone, so that the concept of private education is bizarre to them, and higher education isn’t so prohibitively expensive that only a slither of society can afford to enter certain careers and professions. Yes, they still have their own regional stereotypes and regional differences like we do, but wealth is pretty much taken out of the equation when it comes to educating their society, unlike in money- and status-obsessed Britain.
5. You can’t have secret conversations in your own language in Europe
The Europeans’ multilingualism really does put Britons to shame! Not only do lots of them speak English, but because of their proximity linguistically and geographically to nearby countries, they also invariably speak or understand another few languages on top. Such an intelligent and international bunch!
Europeans are too laid back and don’t work hard enough
The European philosophy and attitude to life is less about slaving away in offices, chasing promotions and pay rises, and more about spending time in good company, enjoying long relaxed meals and living the good life – la dolce vita. And it’s not only in Southern Europe that there’s an emphasis on quality of life, the Danish hygge and the Dutch gezellig both focus on cosy, happy, comfortable environments with an appreciation for the small things that make their lives complete. Not the materialist ostentation of wealth that drives the British workhounds, who strive to buy their way into happiness one possession at a time. I know which philosophy I prefer of the two!
7. Europeans are overly dependent on their family
We Brits pride ourselves on our independence, the early age at which we fly (or flee?) the nest, and our ability to “look after no.1” and survive just fine by ourselves. The result is independence, sure, but also high divorce rates, lots of single parents, fragmented families spread out across the country and a weaker suppprt network than our equivalents over across the Channel. Family is simply a more important institution for the rest of Europe (especially in more Catholic regions) and families stick closer together. There are pros and cons to this (have you ever heard of an Italian mammone? It means ‘mummy’s boy’), but on balance, the benefits of keeping your loved ones close and not being so individualist appears to be a better recipe for happiness, in my opinion.
8. The single currency takes the fun out of travelling
As the majority of mainland Europe uses the Euro, I no longer get to practice my maths skills in converting currencies or add new currencies to my scrapbooks… Boo. But apart from that, having one currency is absolutely brilliant! With a Dutch Euro bank account, I don’t pay any fees or charges for international payments or purchases when I’m in Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Spain or 13 other Eurozone countries and I don’t need to exchange currency before crossing the border or juggle multiple currencies in my wallet. So much easier!
9. I have taken too many beautiful photos and my memory cards are constantly full
A common problem for Europeans! The architecture, the cities, the countryside, the coastlines, the mountains, the food, the colours, the style, the design, the people: the rest of Europe is bursting with beauty and it becomes simply impossible to choose which photos to post on Instagram! The UK does have its gems too, but who is trying to kid – it’s no competition for Spain’s Alhambra, or France’s Versailles, or Italy’s Cinque Terre, or the Netherlands’ canals, or the Scandinavian people, or Switzerland’s Alps, or Greece’s islands, or Germany’s castles?
10. Europe comes to a standstill several times a year while everyone flees to the coast
Many European countries have the tradition of closing offices for the whole month of August, and for several weeks at Christmas and Easter. This used to frustrate me, as when I worked in Madrid lots of businesses and shops would close and it made it harder to take time off at other times of the year. But from a wellbeing point of view, it’s perfect. They do this so they can take a long break, see all their loved ones at once, decamp to some idyllic spot on the Mediterranean or in the Alpine mountains, and recover for a decent period of time. Families can spend decent time with each other throughout the year, there’s a better work-life balance and there isn’t such a culture of overworking and burnout. And who doesn’t feel instantly better with a glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea…
As you can (hopefully) tell, I don’t really hate much about Europe at all. I love it! The result of last year’s EU referendum and the rhetoric surrounding it prompted me to reflect more acutely on my nationality, my values and the kind of society I want to live in. All this reflection was combined with 4 blissful months living in the Netherlands, where I started studying for a Master’s in European Society, Politics and Culture.
I’ve learned a few things in the last 6 months since Brexit: the EU is categorically not a dictatorship or a federalist state; the UK is indeed (as all the experts attested) far better off inside the EU than outside; I previously took my EU citizenship far too much for granted; the quality of life in the rest of Europe is significantly better than in the UK; I fundamentally disagree with the values of 52% of the British electorate; the misinformed, xenophobic, populist decision those people voted for infuriates me and I honestly have trouble speaking about Brexit with any of them; I feel more European than I do British.
Luckily, it’s the kind of subject I get to spend all day researching, discussing, investigating and critically analysing with other young Europeans, all the while living in European countries like the Netherlands and Sweden.
If you share any of the same European values as I do, then please send this blog post to someone who needs to read it. Share it on social media so others can read it too, and perhaps together we can change some of the negative attitudes towards the rest of Europe. In the words of film maker Leontine Petit:
“I really think it’s our duty to help the people remember that Europe is a miracle that we have to celebrate, not a curse that we have to oppose.”
PS. If you’re interested in more of my thoughts and analysis on the political situation between the UK and Europe, then check out The Well-Travelled Journal, where I publish the academic essays I write for my Master’s.
Very funny and topical!
Disappointed in this article, I don’t think the key is in criticising the UK and painting Europe as superior (the flipside of what Brexiteers do) but accepting our differences and celebrating them. This Us vs Them mentality needs to stop, agreed with all the points in this article, but more from a “10 things I love about Europe” point of view….
I completely agree about the ‘us vs them’ mentality which completely needs to stop – that’s one of the points I’m making. And it is in fact very much a ’10 things I love about Europe post’, just written from a different angle. And yes I am angry about Brexit and about the UK’s euroscepticism, so I struggle to write completely neutrally on the subject – I confess I am biased!
Great post! I experienced a lot of these things too when I “moved to Europe”, also from London 🙂
Thank you – glad you agree!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Brilliant, Virginia. I’ve been reading your blog for some time. This post is one of my favorites.
My American friends have no idea what a functional train system is. We have an embarrassingly deplorable train system here in the U.S. We boast about our freedom. To enjoy true freedom of movement at reasonable prices, my family and I try to spend time in Europe each year.
I, too, am concerned by brexit. By the way, has it changed our ability to move in and out of Schengen yet? Do you know? I am British/American living in America. Moving to Greece soon and I remain confused by brexit and schengen. Have you figured it out?
Thanks again for your blog.
Thanks Dwane, and thanks for following along! Well done for bringing your family over to Europe each year – as Americans they really are lucky to have such an opportunity and they must have such a better informed world view! I’m a big believer in travel as a great form of education. Nothing has changed yet regarding Schengen, and it won’t change until 2 years after Article 50 is triggered (supposedly this spring). But when the UK does officially leave, it’s likely to be problematic to move and settle in other EU countries. But who knows – we can only campaign and hope for the best!
Very true and wonderful photos!
Nope you disagree with the views about a third of the electorate, agree with almost as many and have no idea about the rest because they didn’t vote.
Thanks for your comment. I can still have an opinion though, regardless of how many people agree or disagree or are undecided.
Certainly, just pointing out the opposition to your views (which I think is spot on) isn’t anything like as great as the politicians would have you believe!
I’ve been living in Valencia for five years now, my boyfriend comes from a village nearby. Before that I lived in Paris and before that in a village in the South of France, my ex is from Paris. I feel European and sincerely hope that an EU passport is created because I desperately want to continue being part of the EU and the values it represents, many of which are reflected in your post. I have stopped reading articles about Brexit because they make me angry but it has made me reflect on what British national identity is – because there seem to be two very different camps and I believe that part of the problem in the UK at the moment comes from this need that so many seem to feel to be negative about the country and ignore the positive aspects of the UK (I’m not saying they’re numerous but there are some). One thing many of the non-British Europeans I have met in common is a strong sense of national identity and culture of which they are proud (even if they don’t like to say it), this warped sense of far right nationalism that is currently being expressed in the UK I believe comes in no small part from far too many years of British politeness trying to say nice things about other places whilst not saying nice things about our own culture (not true of everyone of course) – why can I not love both life in Spain and the UK? People always ask me to choose but I don’t have a preference. I know you said it in jest but there is much more to British food than just baked beans, in my opinion Edinburgh (for example) is a gorgeous city and most of my friends moved back to live near their families after university (those that stayed in the country that is…) I had a wonderful life in the UK and I miss it a great deal, I also have a wonderful life in Valencia and I know I would miss it just as much if I were to move somewhere else, just as I miss living in Paris.
Thanks for your comment Claire, and it’s an interesting point about the British politeness and not saying anything good about the UK leading to this nationalism. I’m not sure I quite agree entirely, but it is a fair point to mention that the British news exclusively focuses on negative news stories, which does mean that the majority of conversation and debate in the UK is about national problems and issues, rather than good things. We Brits do love to complain. But to be honest I think there is a hugely patriotic segment of society that really does love Britain and feels superior to Europe, and feels nostalgic for the UK’s former power and grandeur, which is no longer the reality as we’re no longer a big global player, we’re a relatively small fish on the world stage! I’ve recently written a research paper on how the legacy of colonialism affects British identity in the 21st century, and it will be published soon enough (either here on this website or elsewhere) so keep an eye out for that…
I don’t have any problems with Europe or Europeans. I do have a problem though with the unelected commissioners telling us what we have to do. Every other E.U country cherry picks ands carries on as they always have done. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could make our own laws again and regain our country’s sovereignty?
While the Commissioners are not directly elected, each member state’s Commissioner is proposed by that member state’s government, i.e. the UK Commissioner is chosen by the elected UK government. And the Commissioners are effectively civil servants, they are not politicians. It’s similar to how we don’t directly choose who becomes minister of which Ministry or Department in the UK – they are appointed by the elected Prime Minister. On the topic of EU law, the UK voluntarily signed up to all the EU treaties. In terms of EU laws passed against the UK’s will, that has only happened 2% of the time, so it’s really not as bad as the tabloids have inaccurately portrayed. Here’s more info: https://fullfact.org/europe/eu-facts-behind-claims-uk-influence/ I hope this helps.
You have put my thoughts into words, great reading
I totally agree with you. I lived in the Lot, France for 12 years.. Had to return to England as hubbie was ill and did not (was unable to) speak French. I loved those 12 years and would still be there if circumstances had allowed.
Lucky you spending a whole 12 years in France! At least you had the opportunity to be there at the time, who knows if the same will be possible in future.
Just in response to #1
A Maltese friend told me once that the reason why British food was more banal is because the high society there wanted to eat the same food as the peasant class as to not appear above them. The French and many other countries did not think that way so it gave way to more distinct cuisine. Now there a gah-zillion ways Brit high society did distinguish themselves from commoners but it was a plausible enough reason that I believed her.
I have tried to like Europe and for that reason traveled there 3 times for holidays. Each time I was glad to be home. I am from a developed country in South East Asia and we are spoilt for choice with so many exotic and affordable destinations nearby, with people who welcome tourists, don’t even have a hint of racism and offer great customer service in beautiful weather all year around. Europe reminds me of generally lonely lives, expensive with high cost of living, gothic/depressing old architecture, generally bland food and constant daily subtle reminders (sometimes not to subtle) that I am not caucasian.
Enough said I think!