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Monday, October 26, 2009

How to Survive and Prosper during a Summer/Semester/Year in Europe


Travel Light
I’m not talking about losing ten pounds before you leave, although this isn’t a bad idea considering how much more you will be eating and drinking while away. I mean travel with just a backpack, preferably one that fits in the overhead. Here is a simple rule of travel: carry only the amount of baggage that you can carry while outrunning a cop. I won’t say how I came up with this observation but let’s just say that it’s based on a true story. Your sense of adventure will be directly proportional to how light you are. Dragging two clunky suitcases may give you more clothing options but you’ll be too tired to go anywhere.

Keep it Simple
Call it quits with the boyfriend/girlfriend before leaving, that way you won’t have to explain anything when the pictures start making the rounds on Facebook of you lying face down in the gutter in the Amsterdam red light district or giving a lap dance to a Greek goat herder. They always say to keep your story simple and nothing is simpler than saying, “I’m single.”

Se Habla Español
You studied Spanish, French, German, or Italian for a semester or two, now it’s time to start using it. Foreign languages aren’t just a general education requirement, people actually speak them. You probably speak one of these languages better than most Europeans speak English. A simple Buenos Días or Bonjour when entering a bar or shop will go a long way in how people perceive you. Just remember that when you’re talking to someone about how much you like their little country don’t use the word “little.”

When in Rome Eat What the Romans Eat
The late-night, cheap food of choice for drunks almost everywhere in Europe is döner kebab or gyros or shawarma or whatever the hell name they use for a sandwich of pita and meat—either lamb or chicken. Döner kebab is actually Turkish for “It’s not cat, goddammit!”

Adhering to a vegetarian diet while in Europe is more of a hassle than traveling in an iron lung. Take your pick: spend the day in Paris searching for a vegan restaurant or actually see the place. Finding anything to eat in Spain that doesn’t contain pork is all but impossible; even the deserts have bacon bits. If you have religious proscriptions against certain foods I’m pretty sure that Yahweh, God, and Allah will forgive you for trying some jagerschnitzel, they probably won’t even mind if you go back for seconds.

Be Moderate with the Alcohol
Just kidding. For many American university students this is the first time they have been able go to a bar legally. The problem is that the service is so slow in many cafés that getting drunk is logistically impossible. You’ll sit down and wait 15 minutes for a waiter to take your order; 15 minutes after that he’ll deliver the drinks…maybe. It’s possible that the slow service will mean you’re more sober when you get back to the hotel than when you left (wasn’t that an episode of Star Trek?). I’ll shut up now because I’m sure that nobody reading this needs any help from me as far as drinking is concerned.

The New Americans
Believe it or not, people in Europe like Americans, so give them a reason to like you, too. They even respect the U.S. soccer team. Leave your University of Nobody Gives a Shit t-shirts at home and try to comport yourself like you would in a police line-up. And if you do something really bad just say you’re Canadian.