During my last trip to Europe I really started thinking about the food, exercise and time usage differences between Americans and Western Europeans (in general). I don’t claim to be a nutritionist, sociologist or expert in really any field, just a regular person with an interest in healthy lifestyles. Based on food, exercise and time, here is what I have observed…
- Healthy Food versus Nutritious Food
I have noticed that in US grocery stores we have lots of food that says “low fat”, “low calorie”, “no sugar”, etc. and we buy it because we think that it’s healthy. What I have found is that when I look at the ingredients in these foods I often put them back on the shelf and grab the normal ones. What I noticed in Europe was that it is so much more common to grab the normal one. Not only that, in the dairy section, American cheese singles are nearly impossible to find, instead you’re surrounded by real cheeses – the kind that I always grew up thinking were fancy, buy my boyfriend eats them for breakfast. This made me think about my time in Sweden and all the Europeans in my International House. What I remember is real food and real meals…
- Meals versus Microwaves
Sure I saw microwaves in Europe and absolutely people use them, but what I found fascinating was the level of food quality that my fellow twenty-somethings were preparing. I lived in a dorm with about five kitchens and 100 people. As you might imagine, meal times were crazy! As one of two Americans in the house, my fellow American friend and I expected macaroni and lots of pizza. We were so surprised when we saw the beautiful and wonderful smelling meals that came out of the oven and off of the stove at every meal. I had friends who grocery shopped every day so that they could have fresh vegetables. We Americans had to step up our cooking – we emailed our moms for our favorite recipes from home.
- What is Fast Food?
In Belgium I had this realization: it’s not that people don’t eat fast food, I saw a busy McDonald’s whenever I went into town, what is more common however, is a different type of fast food. Bread shops which whip up cheese and meat baguette sandwiches in a minute, fry shops (well, those can’t be good for you) and kebabs on every corner. What’s different? No drive-thru windows. Imagine if we walked to McDonald’s whenever we ate it? And even more, if we decided to go to the scrumptious bread shop instead.
- What is different about our daily 30 minutes of exercise?
After living in the Los Angeles suburbs for four years and Chicago for a summer, I have gotten used to lots of gyms all around. I had this realization during my last trip abroad…where are all the gyms? I know that people go to them, I had friends in Sweden who went daily, but the air around the idea was different. Instead of going to the gym for your daily dose of exercise, the gym was the place you went for that bit of extra. Toning, lifting, etc. because your daily exercise was riding your bike to class or walking to a friend’s apartment, it was walking to the town centre or playing soccer at the park with your buddies. Exercise had a whole different mentality around it – it was simply part of everyday life. And the interesting thing was how much difference that daily portion did make.
- Vacations and Work
While every country is different, there are a couple of things that I noticed abroad. Swedes take the end of the work day seriously. They work really hard during the day and then go home and tune into their families. Their work/family line is quite clear. Also, even the hardest working Europeans take time to go on vacation, and this reminds me that God built vacation into the world, the Sabbath.
- That Little Unknown…Le Je Ne Sais Quoi
The other thing that I continually notice is that when I return to American soil I feel stress right away. (Not because I just came back from vacation – the majority of my time abroad has been study experiences or I have been working remotely.) The US is a fast-paced and intense culture, and that’s okay. I just remember to walk places when I can, eat real food, and give myself a Sabbath.
The point of this blog is not to make one way better than another, but simply to put out there some observations that I have made during my journeys. As a young woman I have realized that simple changes make big differences. Things like bicycling instead of driving, eating foods with real ingredients, and taking time for myself make me feel so different. Every time I am in a new culture I try to pick out things to learn (even within the US!) and these are my findings. I hope that you will find them interesting too, and that they will help you to think about experiences that you have had, and ways to make your life healthier, happier and more wholistic.