They say you can tell when a female has had sex for the first time. She walks, talks, and acts differently than the rest of her peers - emerging from the pack as a woman, as opposed to the girl she was before a penis ever penetrated her. They say these “women” appear more worldly and educated, as if they’re in on a secret few around them have yet been told - sort of like new twenty-something moms, whose newly acquired air of superiority separates them from their single and “lesser” friends - and yes, that’s my perspective as a single lesser friend.
Anyway, the first time I had sex I remember thinking to myself, “That was it?!” It was so anti-climactic (for me, anyway), and I couldn’t understand why people placed so much attention on losing your virginity. It wasn't like I sprouted boobs, a fuller figure, or a new pheromone attracting more men to a certain mystique I grew up thinking you magically acquired from the act. I wasn’t any better at Psychology, Math, Geography, or even Human Anatomy for that matter. Nothing. Contrary to popular virgin belief, suffice it to say, after I had sex for the first time, I walked, talked, and acted just as immaturely as I did the day before.
Perhaps this explains that just before my boyfriend and I left for my first time abroad recently, I publicly tweeted, “I’m about to lose my virginity, and this time it might actually be worth it.” Perhaps having sex in different nations would deliver the mature worldliness I’d somehow missed the first time? Think about it: first time a-broad??? Either way, I knew being in another country would change me in ways a penis never had, and I suspect never really could.
-7 THINGS AMERICANS CAN LEARN FROM EUROPEANS-
(courtesy of an otherwise sheltered and unworldly virginal American)
1. SPEND MORE TIME OUTDOORS -
Everywhere you look in Europe, people are outside: eating, reading the paper, people watching, sight seeing, picnicking, riding bikes, shopping for their weekly produce, catching up with a friend, taking in street performers and their art, or performing their art on the streets.
In Paris and Venice alone, nearly every restaurant or café encourages you to spend time outdoors - merely in the placement of their chairs. Arranged so they’re all facing away from the storefront and out towards the world, it’s as if they’re saying,“Be in it! Be present! Stay a while! Enjoy what this world has to offer!” Or, maybe they want Americans, who don’t bother to learn their language, turned away while they shoot snot rockets into their beverages.
Either way… whether it’s architecture, a Spanish Guitar Solo, a String Quartette, puppets on strings in a Marionette Show, or a square full of pigeons with people feeding them, it’s all worth taking in, and Europeans know it.
2. FREE YOURSELF FROM THE CELL -
You know the feeling you get if you drink from an open bottle of alcohol on the street (anywhere other than Savannah or Vegas, of course) and then you see a cop? That’s how it felt every single time my boyfriend or I took out our cellphone in a restaurant, café, or bar in Europe. It didn’t matter that we were using them to help navigate our way around the city. It felt like we were doing something so wrong, it might as well have been illegal.
If they’re out with another human, Europeans’ cellphones cease to exist. In fact, even if they’re out alone, odds are you’ll spot a newspaper in a European’s hands before a cellular device. From my observation, Europeans are too preoccupied with where they are, who they’re with, and their ensuing conversation to document their every moment or make witty retorts on Twitter. Nearly every table I saw in Paris was filled with friends conversing - sans the technological sidekick, which is in stark contrast to when I came home to the US and at brunch noticed only 2 out of the 12 tables surrounding us were devoid of a cellphone either on the table or in the hands of someone sitting at it. Not so surprisingly, the ten other tables were also devoid of conversation.
Be like a European and value actual existence over virtual existence.
3. TRY LESS, MORE -
The week before we left, I gloated to my boyfriend how everything I’d packed for our two week vacation fit into a carry-on. I’d brought the bare minimum and thought for sure it’d be a success. Imagine my surprise when I discovered I still brought too much.
In Europe, less is more. These are practical people who opt for practicality. Who wants to waste time primping in the bathroom when it cuts into one’s social life outdoors? Who wants to walk on stilts if you can see more in less time wearing flats? All of it requires more energy than is necessary and certainly more than it’s worth. To a European, there’s more value in experience than in appearance.
Even the way Europeans speak is full of value. As my English neighbor will attest, Europeans tend to say only what they mean and only if they actually mean it. Something I noticed when my favorite words in Italian and French - “désolé" and “mi dispiace", respectively, which both mean “I’m sorry” were rarely heard from anyone other than myself. And yes, I’m aware of the irony being a woman whose favorite words are “I’m sorry.” Americans tend to apologize for every little thing, even when it’s unnecessary. Direct and to the point, one could regard Europeans as rude or pushy, but really, they’re just direct, efficient, and unapologetic for things which, truthfully, don’t really warrant an apology in the first place.
Less is also more when it comes to portion sizes. This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but as a reminder, we should only be eating an amount of food, per meal, equivalent to that of both our hands cupped together, side by side. Anything more than that is simply overindulging. No judgement... :/
4. WALK MORE -
Everyone walks in Europe. Everyone. While I admit, it’s easier to do in places like Europe where things aren’t as spread out as they are here in the States, and where there’s kick ass public transpo. aplenty, it’s also the case of Americans being prone to laziness and poor soles. After three 12 hour days on my feet nonstop in Europe, the dogs were barking. But, by day four or five, walking had become routine, and the only dogs barking were actual canines out to do their duty. You build up an immunity, or muscle, if you will.
Half the reason I live where I do in Los Angeles is because it’s one of the few neighborhoods where you can walk to the bank, grocery store, post office, theater, park, mall, café, bar, dispensary, pharmacy, dog groomer, you name it. After hours of traffic and commuting, it’s always important I come home to a place where I could avoid having to get back inside of my car to run errands. While I do walk to most of these places most of the time, I’ll admit - I get lazy. I could walk at least twice as much as I do, and now that I’m home, I plan on doing just that. Walking is so good for your body, mind, and soul. There’s no reason not to do it.
5. SMILE MORE -
I’m the first person to admit that if someone smiles at me, I’m immediately suspect of that creep. I assume they’re either laughing at me, they want something from me, or they want to rape me. And that’s not a rape joke, that’s a bona fide, genuine suspicion of mine created by the fear that comes with being a single woman living in a big city and scary world. So, it’s a bit hypocritical of me to encourage you all to smile more, especially at strangers; however, I’m going to because in Europe, smiling is both a form of currency and a hall pass. It’s the best way to get you places, to get assistance if you need it, or to get you noticed if you’re feeling invisible. It’s the best way to deflate someone’s frustration with your lack of language skills, forgive you, or excuse you for something you did. Honestly, it’s a universal language that bridges the gap between us all. In America, it sometimes tends to be an action people like me misread as a threatening signal. But really, it’s like a wave, only more special and infectious. Plus, if you smile and someone smiles back, it’s kind of the best feeling ever, especially if that’s all you ever share together.
6. EAT MINDFULLY-
It’s a lot easier to be a Vegan if you’re seeing the whole animal, dead and skinned, on display in a butcher’s window. In Europe, the displays are an unpleasant, yet necessary reminder of what we are actually eating.
Let's remember: pork is pig, beef is cow, poultry is bird, and seafood is fish. Directly connecting with our food supply is important not only for us to treat animals humanely, eat them much less than we do, but, also, so we can be less wasteful. In Europe, no animal dies in vain as every body part is used - a fact you can see very openly. Despite how horrifying I find the sight to be - all eyes, livers, feet, kidneys, hearts, noses, ears - you name it - are available in a window, priced by the pound - sorry, kilo.
Freshness seems both the mandatory and the priority on which most restaurants pride themselves (which, seems a ridiculous statement, I know, but not when you’re reminded of companies like Monsanto). As a result, livestock and produce in Europe are typically supplied locally. This means menus are constantly changing with the seasons; so, supply runs out, and when it does, there’s no stress. I imagine that’s because when tables fill up for the night - that’s it. There is no wait list or pagers like there are in the States. Servers don’t rush people out the door, and they aren’t concerned about turning tables. Mealtime is an event in European culture. It lasts as long as it lasts, and sometimes that’s four hours. Because of this, I assume each restaurant orders less than they would here in America; thus, less goes to waste. See? Less is more. And with more local farms and smaller territories, each territory is responsible for feeding less than say, one here in the States. Naturally, you get better quality and organic, better tasting products.
And while a lot of Europeans dine out, a lot of them grow and prepare their own meals from scratch, as well. Something to consider.
7. WORK TO LIVE, DON’T LIVE TO WORK
It’s a known fact that Europeans observe almost every Holiday. They use all their vacation days and don’t feel bad about it. They take longer lunches, and they work less hours in a day. I believe they also take more pride in their work, as a result of more quality hours in lieu of quantitative hours, thereby not feeling like a slave to what they do for a living. They prioritize their social lives - and many things happen when this does. As a result, people tend to: slow down, have the time and will to help others, vacation more, become more cultured, learn multiple languages, read the newspaper, ask more questions, learn more, and contribute to the continuity of both history and culture. More time away from your cellphone, email, or desk, provides more social time with your family and/or friends, doing the things you love which make life worth living for you, and ultimately, those with whom you come in contact.
Here in the States, or Los Angeles at least, I find we feel very comfortable in our own little bubbles. Often, we don’t know much about our buildings, architecture, churches, artists, history, family, or even our neighbors. Buildings get torn down because no one knows enough about them to fight to keep them standing. I think I know about five people who are bilingual, and probably less that smile more than they don’t. People will curse at each other or flip someone off on the road before they’ll say hello in passing on the sidewalk. I believe a large part of this is because in the States, we are more apt to adhere to the live to work mentality; therefore, we aren’t really living, or we certainly aren’t living with anything more than a chip on our shoulders.
So, make it more of a priority to work to live. Take the time to truly get to know more about your city, your neighbors, your family, your coworkers, and your friends. Plan social events. Take dance classes to blow off steam. Take cooking classes and learn family recipes - or create your own. Learn a second language and connect with others you might otherwise not. And travel more. Be a foreigner…
…I’ve decided; you may choose to hold onto your virginity when it comes to sex, but, being a first time foreigner? That’s the virginity you want to lose. That’s the virginity you lose if you want to walk, talk, and act differently than the rest. That’s the “f” word that really changes ya.