Americans often have a romanticized view of Europe – and for good reason. The beautiful architecture, the history, the food.
When I was in college I was fortunate enough to study abroad for four months and live in York, England. York is a lovely Northern England city with castle walls, and a quaint shopping district. Smaller than London, it was a manageable city where I felt very at home. I knew I had acclimated when British tourists starting asking me for direction in town – and I could give them accurately. Imagine their surprise when I responded with my American accent!
Even though I only lived there for a few months, I miss York, much like I missed my hometown when I was in college. What I primarily miss is the lifestyle I lived there. But with a little effort I’ve discovered I can live a little bit of European lifestyle here at home.
First of all, I had no car when I was in England. Cars are costly, and driving on the “wrong” side of the road didn’t appeal to me. There was a large grocery store within walking distance from my dorm – so naturally that was one of my first stops after I settled in.
The grocery store ended up being problematic for a few reasons. First, even though I could walk there, the location was definitely oriented towards cars. It was on a busy road where drivers zipped in and out quickly. Any walk there and you were truly taking your life in your hands. Secondly, when I visited the store I wanted to maximize my trip and often purchased more than I could comfortably carry. Lugging all that stuff back to my dorm was not a lot of fun.
I soon discovered that there was a quaint permanent outdoor farmers market in town. Even though the walk was farther than the grocery store – I didn’t mind. I was walking down small, pedestrian-friendly streets with historic buildings from the 1600s flanking me on either side. I was purchasing fresh food, rather than pre-packaged, thus my load was lighter. Coupled with stores in town – yes they really have a butcher and baker (no candlestick maker though), I had everything I needed. Best of all I began to get to know the shop and stand owners. Perhaps not by name, but at least by face. Everyone was so friendly.
Walking to my destination let me take in so much more than driving would have. I noticed store windows. I said hello to the elderly woman on the street. I took in the fantastic smell of Indian food from a restaurant. I read the history plaques on the old buildings. I would have missed it all in a vehicle.
Walking also had an unintended consequence - even though I was eating rich, starchy food I was in the best shape I had been in in years without an exercise routine. Walking kept me fit and active.
Since I’ve been back I’ve tried to capture a little bit of this lifestyle. I frequent the farmers markets. The oldest indoor one I have been going to since I was born and some of the stand owners know me by name. I walk to my destinations whenever I can and make sure to say hello to the people on the street. And although it’s not Europe, I have chosen to live in a city with some history and sense of place.
Is it the same? No. But by making a little effort I can capture a little piece of Europe right here at home.