So, whats it like living in Europe? Its difficult to describe, because living in Europe is so subtly close to living anywhere. Mostly everything is the same, yet just slightly different enough to remind you daily you’re somewhere new. Try these just-for-fun steps for your own at-home experience.
1. To immerse yourself in foreign language find a toddler. Preferably one who has a handful or two of vocabulary words, most of which only his mother can understand. Converse only with them all day. Additionally, use them as your exclusive form of communication during your daily activities. Take them to the grocery store and have a toddler make small talk with the cashier. If a plumber comes to your house, the toddler must be the one to tell them what needs fixing. Give the child your phone and let them online order dinner via your favorite delivery app.
2. To experience the closest thing to driving in Poland, do not turn right on red. Always let others merge. Stop in traffic to allow a driver to turn left in front of you. Pass in the passing lane and then immediately get back over to the right. Passing a slower vehicle is not sign of aggression, merely a necessary act as we all move at different paces through life. Pass, and be passed. Be sure to drive in a circle around every intersection to best experience a roundabout. Find a bumpy back road, drive back and forth, pretending you’re motoring down the cobbled streets of European old towns. Set a timer to count seconds at every red light, so you know exactly how long you have been stopped. Set up dummies at crosswalks, have your friends stand by and throw them at your vehicle as you approach, while you practice slamming on your brakes to avoid tragedy. When you have reached your destination, park either up on the sidewalk, or in the actual middle of the street. Whatever seems easier.
3. Work to live, but don’t live to work. Leave work every day promptly at 4:30pm. Arrive on time, but never work late. Take frequent smoke breaks. If there is a birthday in the office bring champagne for a morning toast. Tell your boss you require 6 weeks off annually, minimum. If you are pregnant, make it a year. Close up shop and stick a handwritten note on the window, or your desk, that says you’re on “holiday” until 16 August.
4. Convert everything. This will be exhausting, but persevere, as it is crucial to the experience. Inches to centimeters, dollars to zlotys, degrees to other degrees and so on and so forth. Buy an area rug and a dining room table, but you have to convert feet and inches to meters and centimeters. Order American standard photo prints, and try to figure out which standard European size frame is the closest to 8×10. Get your exacto-knife out and jerry-rig your frame mats to fit. Keep a tape measure in your purse and frequently bust it out in shops to get a visual you can wrap your head around. When cooking, convert cups and teaspoons to milliliters, ounces to grams, and Fahrenheit to Celsius. The easiest way to do this is to ask Siri. I’m sure Alexa does a stellar job as well. A bachelors degree in nursing isn’t required, but comes in handy. When a recipe says it will take 30 minutes, allow additional 10 minutes simply for the time it takes to calculate and measure out the conversions. Cover up the “mph” on your speedometer. Drive around town and wonder how fast you’re “really” going. Figure out what size shoes your toddler wears. Then do 85 Google searches to confirm the size shoe your toddler wears in Europe. Start over when you discover your toddler outgrew this size last week. Go shopping, look at your receipt, multiply by four to figure out your rough spending from US Dollars to Polish Zloty. Since currency values fluctuate daily, download a currency conversion app and plug in the amount on your receipt to find the exact amount you spent, before it surprises you on your bank statement.
6. Speaking of shopping, there are two ways to have an authentic trip to the grocery store. One is to shop like an American in Poland, the other is to shop like a Pole in Poland. For the first, write a long list, grab a cart (don’t forget your coin to unlock it from the cart corral) then only buy 3/4 of the items written. Leave the store wondering when cucumbers will be in season and if maybe they moved canned black beans elsewhere. The other, more European approach, is to use a hand held a basket and only purchase what you need for a day, or two. Be sure to include potatoes, onions, and sausage. Whichever route you go, only buy bakery bread, bring your own reusable bags and plan to bag your own groceries. When you get to the register get ready to work. See if you can get the cashier to play along, by hurtling your milk and canned goods down the conveyor on top of your eggs and bread, while you try to bag them with all the speed and strategy you possess before they are crushed and you offend the person in line behind you by taking too long. Don’t be surprised when you break a sweat.
6. To simulate having a whole entire different country right nextdoor, drive to Indiana, or other neighboring state. Marvel at the differences in landscape and culture. Do their roads have more potholes? Are their corn fields flat, or are they planted on rolling hills? Can you buy beer, wine and liquor at the grocery store? Do they have a ten-cent return on cans and bottles? Do they have an accent? Say y’all? Call it soda, coke, or pop? How exotic. Take note of their architectural styles. Visit a landmark and take pictures. Buy something. When your total is rung up, hold out a handful of cash and trust the person behind the counter to select the proper amount and deliver correct change.
7. For exercise, simply walk or bike everywhere. You could also buy hiking poles and take up Nordic walking, or try roller blading again for the first time since 1996. Those are big. If you are a runner, continue running. Be sure to smile and greet no one, except your fellow runners. Then you must wave, smile and give them an informal “Hey!” as if you are the best of friends, bonded by sweaty fitness journey.
8. Slow down. Reserve Sundays for a day of rest and togetherness. Pretend all the stores are closed and you cannot run a single errand. Chill out. Have a glass of wine, or a beer. Have a beer with breakfast. Don’t worry about it. Buy an electric kettle and make tea. Go for a leisurely stroll in the woods. Gather together. Sit outside. Put down your phone. Opt to walk, instead of drive. Ride a train somewhere. Make your meals from scratch. Start a home improvement project and finish it in 6 months to 3 years. Bike to a bakery and buy your daily bread.
9. For a taste of life at home, take your shoes off when you enter someone’s house. If your kitchen sink has a garbage disposal, pretend it doesn’t. Put up a low fence around your entire property, with a gate at the end of the driveway to keep out the riff-raff, I mean, wild pigs. Plant some fruit trees in your yard. See if your oven has a metric setting and turn it to Celsius for a couple of days. Install a large soaking bathtub in your bathroom, under floor heating throughout your home, and an eco-regulator knob on your showerhead to control the flow of water. Remove the screens from your windows. Get out your mini fridge from college and cram all contents of your actual fridge inside. Wash your clothes in your washing machine, but pretend you don’t have a dryer and when they are finished washing, drape them on a drying rack, over chairs, on a clothesline, whatever you can find really, and wait for them to dry in one hour, up to two days.
10. Pretend you are in a European restaurant by walking in and seating yourself wherever you prefer, unless the table has a reserved sign. Then, check with a staff member to see how long the table is free. They might tell you that you can have it until it is reserved at 8pm, or by then the hostess might have caught up to you and told you to get lost. Instead of high chair for the littlest member of your family, ask for a “baby chair”. Look around for a children’s play area and send your kids to entertain themselves until meal time. Order a large bottle of water “with gas” (or without) and specify that you would please like ice. Order a bottle of inexpensive wine. A while, later flag down your waiter to order your meal. An hour or two after that flag them down again to tell them you are ready for the bill. Be sure to communicate whether you plan to pay by cash or card. If you’re in the USA, where they take your payment and return with card, or change, follow them to the register so your credit card is never out of your physical presence. You are not under obligation to leave a tip, no one expects it.
So there you go! Since you probably aren’t traveling to Europe right now, give it a try and have your own Polish-European experience, right at home.
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