I love you, but my time away from you has been the best thing for our relationship. As it’s said, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and my appreciation for you has grown during this year abroad. I miss your peanut butter, your Heinz ketchup, and your widespread availability of toilet seat covers in public restrooms. For many reasons, you are beautiful just the way you are.
However, there’s another saying, which is “out of sight, out of mind.” And during many of my days of travel this year, I found myself fully forgetting you, spending my days and nights in the arms of others: France, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Argentina, and the list goes on. It has given me some healthy perspective and while I wish to someday return to your warm embrace, there are a few things I will need you to work on first.
So for the 2014 year, I recommend you adopt these 5 New Year’s Resolutions:
1) Stop Messing With Your Food Sources
This morning I found bird poop on my egg. That’s right, I picked it up out of the carton and right before I cracked that puppy into my fry pan, I looked down and saw a big, dried, white poopy mess stuck to its shell. And guess what else I’ve noticed: real grapes have seeds, tomatoes are not always perfectly round, fresh bread gets hard within hours, not days, and chicken breasts aren’t normally size DD.
This got me thinking about our food back home. How do you make your apples look so shiny? How do your mushrooms have a uniform shape and size? How do you get bread to stay soft for over a week? It’s not natural and common sense tells me that it's probably not good for me either. The food I’ve found in Europe may not look as “pretty,” but its more natural and tastes way better too.
So America, stop trying to make everything “better.” I want to see more lopsided apples and more poop on my eggs.
2) Learn Another Language
“Here’s your American flag sticker. What other languages do you speak?” I stood there frozen, deciding which language I should pretend to know. I glanced around and everyone in the room had 3-5 flags pinned to their chest. The top one indicated their country of origin and native language, and the flags below represented the other languages they spoke. I glanced back at the smiling face checking us in. He must have had at least ten flags pinned to his shirt. Ughhh…not again, this is so embarrassing. I thought
Most European travelers that I have met know two to five languages and they started learning a secondary language as a small kid.
But in America we don’t begin learning a language in school until we are about 15 years old. At this point, it is a real struggle. Why do we choose to make it harder on ourselves? I struggle through all five hours of Spanish class every day while the Swiss girl who already knows three languages picks up Spanish like a bad habit.
America, the world wants to dialogue, so let’s learn to speak something other than English.
3) Let Me Drink Wine In The Park
Tom and I walked through city parks all over Europe, and in each one we found friends drinking beer and lovers sipping wine. No one was out of control. No one was making a scene. It was completely civil. And it provided an affordable way to get outside, relax with loved ones, and enjoy the fruit of all that hard work done by the urban planning commissioner.
America, I’m a grown woman. Trust me to drink outside.
4) Stop Confusing Being Busy With Being Significant
When did busy become so popular? I have a Danish friend that has lived in the US for several years. When asked what the main difference is that she has noticed between Americans and Danes, she said “Americans always seem busy, always in a rush.”
Although you complain about your busy, busy life and full schedule, and all the “work” that you have to do, it seems to me that you really actually kind of like it. It makes you feel important. Your full inbox, marked up calendar, and unused vacation days have somehow become a sort of status symbol.
I know this because I used to be the same way and I still am at times. It’s a hard habit to kick. But I’ve sampled the siesta and I’ve got to tell you, there is value in rest.
I’m not saying to slack off or to not work hard. That’s part of what makes America great. I’m just saying, America, let’s take a break occasionally and stop confusing busyness with significance.
5) Be Content With Less To Get More
We met a fellow American traveler in Portugal that has both lived and traveled outside of the US. He made an interesting observation. He said, “I never feel completely relaxed when I’m in the US. If I simply enjoy some coffee and read the newspaper on a Saturday morning, I feel like I am falling behind.”
America, you’re obsessed with “more.” But I have lived the last 4 months out of a bag small enough to be a carry-on. I have stayed in tiny apartments and spent less money per day than I did living at home.
Less really is more. Because of having less this year, I have made more friends, seen more places, enjoyed more laughs with my husband, and created more memories.
So America, give “less” a try.
Bonne Année! Feliz Año Nuevo! Happy New Year!
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!