"The true gentleman is friendly, but not familiar." - CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, August 6, 2008




F**KING EXPENSIVE. Hanging anywhere in Europe reminds me of standing on a corner, getting punched in the stomach, coughing up a $20 bill, saying “thanks!” and moving to the next corner. In particular, England’s 2007 vacation season has been referred to as the Summer of the Two-Dollar Pound, a friendly way of saying you didn’t know that 75-pound bar tab you charged to your card actually cost you $150 until the sneering bartender calmly explained the currency exchange rate before suggesting you go “ask one of your mates for it.” It was exactly a week from there to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus (just google it), the proud owner of maybe the strongest currency in the world - currently $2.50 for each Cypriot pound. Thankfully, we were given permission by the government of Cyprus to turn in our wallets at the airport and sequester ourselves at the beach.
COIN OVERLOAD. The Europeans, and Brits in particular, are very fond of coins. They have one-pound coins, two-pound coins, two-pence coins, five-euro coins, etc., so nine times out of ten when you hand over your equivalent of a week’s eating money to some sullen barback in a promotional hat, you won’t even get a handful of pretty bills – you’ll get a big gruesome pile of coins that will weigh your pants pockets down so much that you’ll look like you just robbed your mommy’s penny jar by the end of the day. If Europe had the amount of bums America has, you’d never make it down the street. I think this is a tactic to make you spend all the change in your pants just so you won’t have to lug half a kilo of metal in each pocket for the rest of the day, a theory I feel is confirmed by the stuffy look you will receive from 90% of the retail workers if you ask them to exchange your change for a bill. You do not exist to a European retail worker unless you have paid him to exist. And forget about needing change for payphones because…
THREE QUARTERS OF EUROPEAN PAYPHONES DON’T HAVE COIN SLOTS. Apparently two dollars for a three-minute local phone call (during which a computerized voice repeatedly threatens to cut you off throughout the last minute) isn’t enough to warrant a coin slot for your money. All they have is a slot for your credit card or calling card. And this is if you can even find a payphone. We have walked blocks upon blocks – in major metropolitan areas – before finding a payphone booth, which almost always smells like a public toilet, because it actually IS a public toilet, but more on that later. Current point being, you will eventually decide to do what you think is the smart thing and buy a calling card. And half the time…
THE CALLING CARDS DON’T WORK. The first calling card I bought was from some bootleg cellphone store in London’s Oxford Circus. Every single time I used it, I received an automated message telling me “this service cannot be used with this phone”. Apparently only certain calling cards work with certain brands of payphone, and of course, although I tried this card on maybe 30 payphones in the London area, not one of them happened to be a payphone compatible with my card. The second calling card I bought was from a convenience store in Gent, Belgium. This card was supposed to work in any country in western Europe, but did not work anywhere – not on any Belgian payphones, not in my hotel room, not in any of ten payphones in a row I tried it on in Paris. I’m perfectly willing to spend triple what the cards cost me ($20 in total) in long-distance calling charges and skip on health insurance for one more month to call their help lines and ask them what the fuck is on their mind.
NASTIEST PUBLIC TOILETS IN THE DEVELOPED WORLD. Some say that the surest way to measure a civilization’s progress is to visit their public toilets. Considering that, it’s tough to believe that at one time Great Britain ruled most of the world, because I can’t imagine a public toilet in Malawi smelling too much worse than the average London bog. They all use hand dryers instead of paper towels, and since there’s normally only one per restroom, there’s a line to use it, and since drying your hands with a hand dryer is time-consuming even when there is no line, most people just skip the whole handwashing process and walk the fuck out and go shake five peoples’ hands with shit on their fingers. Maybe that explains why there is almost always at least one person hacking and wheezing and coughing something disgusting up in every toilet you’ll enter (just as is the case in pretty much every bus, waiting room, restaurant and other public area in England). And eight times out of ten there is an old lady sitting outside the door at a rickety desk who actually wants to charge you to get in. Faced with all this, the average shitty-drunk Brit will just dip into the nearest phone booth, steam the windows up a bit, and keep walking. And that’s why ammonia and ass is the smell of England’s toilets as well as its phone booths, one of the many side-effects of the European philosophy of Pay & Obey. In Europe, there is no public service, good, right or any such thing that they aren’t – or aren’t working on – charging you for, or making slower, dirtier, or more difficult. If they can’t make money out of it, they’re doing their best to make the ordeal as painful as possible. The fact that you can’t go ten seconds in the city without being faced with a sign telling you what to do is only the most obvious tipoff.
Take DRIVING, for instance. The best example of this is the Central London Congestion Charge, a policy where if you drive a car into a certain section of the city, a camera on a lamppost will take an automatic picture of your license plate, from which point you have until nighttime to walk into a convenience store, post office or the like and pay the eight-pound Congestion Charge, or face a healthy fine. What this basically means is that broke drivers are not allowed in Central London anymore. And where is all that money going? To projects aimed at easing the traffic congestion so that one day the Congestion Charge will no longer be needed? I doubt it. As confusing as the London street system is, you can easily end up in the charge area without knowing it, struggling to read a complicated map as your head repeatedly bashes into the ceiling of your ridiculously small European car thanks to the three million speedbumps that seem to line every square foot of road. This happened to us twice, right after stomaching three or four $35 toll bridge charges on the way to and from Amsterdam.
The fun continues at THE BAR, where a bottle of water is half the size and twice the price. Bartenders measure each shot of alcohol down to the milligram with the seriousness of scientists, and you’ll need ten to get any kind of buzz, and a few bottles of that expensive water the morning after to deal with the inevitable headache you’ve developed courtesy of the awful quality of the liquor, all the fake smoke you inhaled from the smoke machine, and the awful house music. Ask for a drink in almost any establishment and you will get a rinky-dink hotel glass two-thirds full of something approaching cold, with a glaring lack of anything floating in it. Ask for ice and your server will drop one ice cube from a dusty ice bucket into your drink using a pair of lightly stained tongs. If you want four ice cubes, you will have to ask four times. Pay & Obey. And consider yourself lucky that you got any ice at all. Because in Europe…
CUSTOMER SERVICE DOESN’T EXIST. Service workers in Europe love nothing more than telling you they can’t help you, and normally in a manner that could make a peaceful person punch through a foot of bulletproof glass. I’m asking a lady behind the counter at Disneyworld for directions. “UH-UH, UH-UH,” she barks, without even looking up from her magazine. I’m getting into the pool at a water park from a ladder that I shouldn’t be, unbeknownst to me. “OI! OI OI OI OI!” the female lifeguard thunders at me as if I was a dog sniffing at a buffet table. They’re very helpful when it’s hotel room checkout time, though. If you’re in Amsterdam, they’ll send two dirty Arabian men into your room to rip the blankets off your bed, even if you’re still in it. Add all this to the fact that almost everyone is pretty rude to begin with - and even ruder once they figure out you’re American – and I now understand why guns are illegal in Europe.
EUROPEANS SMELL. I lived in several countries in Europe and the Middle East off and on before I moved to the US at the age of fourteen. Ninth grade was a lonely year for me, because it was almost a whole year before any of my new American friends had the heart to tell me that in America, people take showers every day, and use deodorant and cologne – every day. For the most part, the people of the rest of the world do not do this, whether out of financial difficulties, lack of running water, or simply the fact that everyone around them smells musty too, so being too clean would actually almost be weird. Whatever the case, the fact remains: most Europeans smell. Believe me - I was one of them.

- Freezing cold cross-country buses
- Heathrow Airport is a joke
- Half the food leaves your stomach in knots
- Most restaurants have never heard of vegetables
- Like three trashcans on the whole continent
- Everyone smokes
- Every joint is half tobacco
- Girls have no ass (Africans and Parisian women excepted)
- Kilometers / meters / liters / driving on the right side of the road / different wall plugs. What is the point?
- Racism. I saw a basket of Sambo dolls in a gift shop in the south of England. The opening paragraph of English writer Michael Bywater’s bestselling book Big Babies equates black men with terrorists. A black friend of mine visiting England from America was detained by immigration authorities, who chided her for not listing her nationality as “African-American”, as if African-American is even a nationality.


GOOD AIRLINES. Air flights are maybe the one area where Europeans have America beat as far as customer service. Unlike American airlines, European airlines aren’t too broke to actually give you a real meal every time you fly, at no extra cost. Shit, sometimes they’ll give you an extra plate if you ask. And on the whole, their flight attendants are much younger and hotter; I was waited on hand and foot on my Lufthansa flight by a small unit of tall, tanned, smiley German women plucked straight out of Hitler’s dreams. You really get the feeling that flying is something special again, as opposed to the cut-rate cattle-transport vibe you get on American flights. Bargaining with some 60-year-old over an extra bag of pretzels is not how I get my kicks.
TITTIES. I’m guessing that since Europe is not known for being a place where you can find a lot of large asses, it is attempting to compensate by being the go-to spot for titties. And how. Bare titties on the beach. Bare titties on network TV. They almost converted me to a tittieman. Almost.
GOOD BEER. Europeans invented beer, and the beer game is just on a whole other level over there. For shame, America. You cannot compare their beer to the swill we make here. And most of the imported beer we drink tastes even better over there, because that’s where most of it comes from.
AMSTERDAM. What a place. The place is dripping with history and character, it’s almost scarily efficient as far as public services and transport, the food is great, the Heineken factory is there, and you can drink and smoke weed and party without feeling like a criminal. There’s nothing like walking into a bar, ordering a beer and a bag of weed, rolling a joint at the bar and then smoking it with friends, in a room full of people also smoking with friends. It’s the feeling of freedom, the feeling of being respected as an adult who enjoys getting intoxicated and partying and nothing more, not some kind of junkie. The government has even chained thousands of bicycles up around town which people unchain, ride wherever they need to go, and then chain back up at the nearest corner for the next person to use. The fact that you would never see half of those bicycles again if such a plan was implemented in a major city in America is as much the government’s fault as it is the peoples’. We’re an immature country full of immature people. In Europe, 18 is drinking age. Last call varies, but by and large, getting a drink is rarely a tall order, at any hour of the night. And weed is generally not a big deal to the police. Makes you wonder why it’s such a big deal for American law enforcement. You would think a country with the highest murder rate in the western world would opt to focus that energy on more pressing issues.
UK GARAGE MUSIC. Best described as Jamaican toasting and badass female R&B singing over breakneck, constantly changing beats that are somewhere between drum ‘n bass, hip-hop and techno. UK rappers need to stop trying to mimick the American hip-hop. The UK has its own genre of hip-hop, and it’s a lot more interesting and exciting than 90% of American rap is today. And they ain’t nothing sweet either. Garage cats roll like it’s The Bronx in the ‘80s. Big crew, big chains, and best believe the show is no sausage fest.
GOURMET JUNK FOOD. England has hands down the best junk food in the world. If you’re the type of person who needs some grease in your life here and there, this little island is your Promised Land. The choices on display on the racks of your average U.S. convenience store is enough to make you opt for a piece of cardboard instead. In contrast, a stroll through an English corner store will present you with a wealth of tasty options. Rows and rows of all kinds of candy bars, at least half of which are made by Cadbury’s, world-renowned purveyors of bomb chocolate. Potato chips with shapes and flavors you won’t find anywhere else: steak-and-onion flavor, ketchup flavor, gravy flavor… it’s like having Willy Wonka on every corner. Fish and chips is England’s signature dish, and half the reason I have been there twice in two years. The English breakfast is a thing of beauty: fried eggs, fried baked beans, fried toast, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, fried bacon, fried sausages, and you don’t have to worry about eating for the rest of the day.
BETTER CELLPHONES. Most European phones have the video conferencing function where you can see the person you’re talking to live, and Europeans are obsessed with it. Everywhere you go, there’s someone talking very loudly at a cellphone with a little face on the screen yapping back at them. And the Europeans I spoke to were all very surprised that video conferencing is not a standard feature on American cellphones. It was actually kind of embarrassing.
HILARIOUS FASHION. Almost with exception, you can only walk so far down the street in any city across the whole continent before running into someone who’s wearing some shit that will make you fall out laughing like you’re a crazy person. Luckily, since awful fashion is so widespread out there, they almost never seem to realize you’re laughing at them, and it gets to be like a fun game that you can play with your travel partners. It’s impossible to list all the many different varieties of offender here, but they basically fall into two camps: people who aren’t trying to be hip, who tend to dress much like children on the special bus did back in school, and people who are, most of who look like what would happen if Kanye fucked Fabio.
TASTY PEACHES. Don’t ask me. All I know is I lived on peaches for like a week. They taste like peaches are supposed to taste like in cartoons, all sweet and soft and dripping down your chin.

Oh, and that whole taking-it-easy-and-enjoying-life thing they do out there is pretty cool too.