Farewell to Europe, or 10 things I’ve learned while back in the Old World


All good things must come to an end. I’m not talking about Europe here, though a great many commentators, mostly of a more conservative bent have been predicting and bemoaning the end of the Old World as we know it (to be fair, so have some Islamist ideologues who salivate over the prospect of outbreeding the Indigenous European straight into Dar al Islam). No, I’m talking about my month-long peregrination, which has taken me to six countries and over a dozen major and minor cities and localities. Being somewhat of a late convert to travel (and trying to overcome my natural sedentary and unadventurous inclinations, as well as health problems) and thus probably tending toward the obvious, what have I learned on this trip?

1.Everyone should travel, no matter who you are, or how old you are, or what your circumstances are; simply adjust your plans accordingly – there are ways and means for everyone – but stop making excuses. Traveling and exploring places outside of your everyday experience is one of the most pleasant ways you can spend time in your life. It opens your eyes to other realities, gets you to see “how the other half lives”, makes you appreciate some things about other places, but it also makes you appreciate more some things about your home.

2.North-Western Europeans don’t have the same obesity problem that us, Anglos, have – see my longer post on the topic.

3.You might not like national stereotypes, but that doesn’t make them any less true. Germans are still very order-minded; I was given death stares as the only rebel to cross the street on a red light, while everyone else stood on attention waiting, even if there were no cars coming – the French, not so much. The Dutch really are very pleasant, genteel and tidy people.

4.Australia is fast becoming more of a nanny state than all the places we used to in the past laugh at for the very same reason – stay tuned for a longer post over the next few days.

5.The everyday life goes on as normal, but there is a growing undercurrent of disquiet about the direction in which Europe is going. This is not so much over economic issues – Europe is by and large a centre-left domain where people are used to high public debt, high taxes and big government, though even here some adjustments have to be made – as cultural ones, mostly cantered around social cohesiveness, multiculturalism, immigration and demography. Europe has been quite welcoming to an increasing number of migrants over the past few decades, partly out of the social democratic sentiment, partly out of the post-colonial guilt, partly out of perceived necessity (guest workers and the such), but the continent has reached a fraying point. The sheer numbers, native demographic decline, economic stagnation, pressures on welfare system, anti-elite feelings, all these factors contribute to the potent mix of public dissatisfaction. The basic attitude is the same as it is in Australia or the United States: we don’t mind migrants, but they have to try to fit in, not cause trouble for us, and contribute rather than scrounge. Being a migrant myself, this all seems more than fair and I can’t imagine any serious migrants objecting to such a social compact. But this hasn’t quite been the European experience.

6.Europe has the public transport system that Australia or the United States never will. This is not because some laissez-faire bias, but simply because European cities are a lot more compact, with the overwhelming majority or urban dwellers living in apartments, in contrast with the spread out New Worlds’ metropoles which were made for a private car. And yes, the public transport in Europe is great.

7.There was a time, I remember it well, not even that long ago, when Australia was a cheap place to live. That, and the lifestyle, were considered to be the compensation for the tyranny of distance separating us from the rest of the world. The distance is still there (waiting for those supersonic airplanes which will only take four hours from Sydney to London), lifestyle to a large extent, but cheap? While it’s difficult to generalise about the whole continent, seeing it spans the price range from Moldova to Finland, but on average, the once expensive Western Europe is the same or cheaper than Australia. A carton of Heineken for 10 Euro is perhaps too exceptional a value to be a good example, but even apartments at The Hague tend to be cheaper than in Brisbane (never mind Sydney), some significantly so.

8.A perfect European country would be the Netherlands but with German economy, Italian cuisine and French language.

9.”Daily Mail” is as funny and entertaining in a hard copy as it is online. Is there a better tabloid in the world? I picked up copies flying to and from Cairo with British Airways, snubbing “Financial Times” and “Sun”, and now I keep wondering, why can’t “The Courier Mail” be more like it? It would finally be worth reading.

10.I’m a miracle worker. Not only have I brought an at first unseasonably warm and generally unseasonably sunny weather for the entire duration of my stay in the Netherlands (it rained only twice, and never during the day), but the street outside the Australian embassy has been dug up for ages, only to be finally re-opened again on my last day at The Hague. In Egypt, on the other hand, my visit saw the temperature drop from the awful 39 degrees to a much more bearable 31. You’re all welcome.