To me, living in Europe after having lived my entire life in the U.S. is like learning to drive a standard transmission car after only driving an automatic. At home, I knew exactly how everything worked, and it was fairly easy. But in western Europe I am constantly hamstrung by process, by language, or by rules… and it’s usually a matter of learning how to navigate all of these obstacles – clutch, shift, gas. Or whatever the order is.
For instance, I’ve learned to do all of my errands (dry cleaning, buy milk, buy printer paper) during the week or on Saturdays, because either there’s no place open to buy them on Sundays, or you’d have to hoof it across town to find the open store. I don’t have access to a car, because the car-sharing program here only has standard-transmission cars – which I can only drive with a gun pointed at my head – meaning that a trip to Ikea or the post-package depot (40 minute bus/metro ride) takes serious planning. The English-speaking customer service assistants are all on vacation in August, so better have my phrasebook handy if I’m going to deal with an internet outage, a missing electric bill, or the phone banking system. Hardly anything has a web site, or the pertinent information on that site; so whereas I might go to the DC DMV armed with the right papers to get a driver’s license, it took a couple of visits to figure out what I would have to do here. I won’t even get into the process to get a residence card other than to say it took 6 trips to the city hall and 3 months.
When I first moved here it just felt like life was a series of bad days. Any little thing that went wrong seemed worse because I was living in a foreign place without much of a support network, and there were a lot of times where I just crawled back into bed. But slowly, things got better. Now the idea of doing errands on Sundays seems a sacrilege when I could spend the day reading in the park or playing tennis. I’ve traveled nearly every weekend, I eat the freshest food, and I’ve learned to live on less money because I don’t feel the need to impress anyone here. The good days are outnumbering the bad.