Back on American shores with convenience in store
POSTEDAugust 22, 2004
It’s that time of year again, when the heat melts the tar from the roads, when the lines from the Bursar’s Office snake through the library basement and when the offices of The UTD Mercury roar to life from their summer slumber with a walloping back-to-school issue.
I chuckle to myself seeing the freshmen moving into Phase VIII with the parking lot full of U-Hauls pulled by parents’ Suburbans. Their little babies are finally growing up.
It’s been a good summer for me. I studied Italian in Florence and then took the grand tour of Europe by visiting 12 countries in a month. I’ve seen Michelangelo’s majestic “David,” Cologne’s Gothic cathedral and Amsterdam’s streets of prostitutes – er, Red Light district.
I had a wonderful experience, but I’m jolly glad to be back in the good ole’ U.S. of A., especially because of Super Target.
I was dizzy with happiness on a recent visit with free parking, a free shopping cart and free plastic bags – all of which I had to pay for at “super-markets” in the European continent. “I sacchetti sono di dieci centesimi!” I had to pay 10 euro-cents for plastic bags there. I soaked in the hundred types of cereal (the average Euro-market had 10) and I lavished in the fact that I could just as easily buy clothes, picture frames or lawn mowers under the same roof. Consolidation of industry, and it’s open on Sundays? The shock, the horror!
The cheerful check-out personnel at Target even had memorized the numeric codes for my veggies, making the cumbersome Euro-process, in which you categorize, weigh, and label your own produce before checking out obsolete. Invariably, some idiot waiting in front of me forgot to label his fruit, so the irate Euro-checker had to plod across the Euro-shop, punch in the info and plod back again, harrumphing all the while. And then he groans and moans when you don’t have correct change!
At least I didn’t spend much of my time in currency exchanges. The advent of the single euro currency makes life infinitely easier, but generally, life isn’t as easy in Europe as in the United States.
It’s a hassle to go anywhere. The Barcelona train station reminded me of Gatwick airport when all its computer terminals have failed.
It’s a hassle to get people to help you. Language barriers aside, you’re hard pressed to find helpful service people, particularly in restaurants.
It’s a hassle to buy things – there’s always a queue, shortage or strike.
My uncle, who lives in southwest England, always used to marvel how the Americans had “got it sussed” when it came to doing things right.
Life is tremendously easy here with our big cars, even bigger roads and massive infrastructure to support the things we’ve come to expect. When power went out on campus, for example, it wasn’t long before truck-sized generators arrived to pump things back into shape.
It’s precisely that ease of life that, I am convinced, has allowed Americans to spawn not only great things – the Internet, mini-golf, Britney Spears – but also evil (of which Europeans are acutely aware, and quick to remind me) – urban murder, gang crime and geopolitical cowboy-led wars (the French are particularly quick on that one).
From the days of the cave man, the invention of fire let hunters and gatherers become established farmers which led to the development of true civilization. America’s “fire” is our ease of life – supermarkets, Suburbans and wireless Internet.
What I’ve learned from a summer in Europe is that Americans should appreciate and take advantage of our life style and continue to create a better world for tomorrow’s children. To the freshmen this year: make the most your opportunity here at UTD. Go out and join something, get involved, start a club, change the world.
And yes mom, I’ll be fine moving in on my own this year.