What is it about the European life style that makes it so attractive to outsiders, especially Americans? I rarely stop to ask that question, but it is actually quite significant. Have you ever noticed the way a European interacts with his or her surroundings, the way a European appreciates arts, music, history, and leisure? This should seem like an integral part of living, stopping to smell the roses, yet it is something we Americans seem to struggle with. For Valentine’s Day this year, instead of red roses and assorted chocolates, I received a wake-up call, packaged with a big Austrian bow.
Friday, February 14th
Instead of a date (I left my man in America), I went to soccer practice. Thanks to some special connections and generous people, I had the unique opportunity to train with a local club team, the Neulengbach Frauen, one of the top women’s “Fussball” teams in Austria. Herr Begusch, the man in charge of training camps for this team (and many others around Europe) picked me up. It took one whole hour to get to the field from the city. During that time, and on the ride back, we talked all about lifestyles, Austria and Europe versus America.
Herr Begusch was a diplomat until he was fifty years old. He had always known from a young age that he wanted to retire at 50. When he retired, he started his company, Soccer Solutions, which organizes training camps for teams around the world. He doesn’t believe in working oneself to the bone. He believes this cheapens life. When he was a diplomat, he lived in Austria, Serbia, and Italy. As a diplomat, he said that he made very good money, but he was always on the run, with very little time to sit back and enjoy life.
Today, in his retirement, he lives a very leisurely life. Herr Begusch said he can support himself and his wife on 3,000 Euro per month and not worry. He still has money left over for vacations and leisure. He told me that he sleeps at least 8 hours a night, and his daily routine includes long meals, a couple hours devoted to television and the newspaper, a few hours of work that he loves to do, watching Neulengbach practice on the days they train, and strolls with his wife. Some of his favorite things about living in Austria are the healthcare and educational systems. He likes not having to pay for healthcare, and thinks that any government that requires its citizens to pay medical bills is cheating its people. His daughters went to international school and then University, all for free. Compare all that to living in America. On 3,000 dollars a month in America, a single person can barely support themselves, let alone a spouse and a family. Millions cannot afford healthcare, a basic human necessity, because it is privatized and profit-based. Moreover, millions of students in America are practically drowning in student loan debt.
Aside from his hatred of America (which he was very open about expressing to me) because of the politics, government, corporatism, corruption, and profit emphasis, he hates the American lifestyle of being constantly on the go. No one has time to sit down or enjoy a meal or spend time with family. I experienced this first-hand with my parents, who always worked long hours and odd shifts. Growing up, especially once my older brother and I started to drive, family dinners were a rarity because no one was ever around at the same time in between work, school, and extracurricular activities. Such a thing is unheard of in Europe. Students get out of school and adults out of work for an hour or two each day to go home for lunch.
My mom always tells me that she never had any idea what work meant before she and my dad moved to the United States. She says that Romanians in particular have very skewed ideas of what work looks like. They believe that working hard means sitting behind a desk for 8-hours a day 5 days per week updating their Facebook pages; and if they do anything at all that exceeds those expectations, they should be highly praised and duly rewarded. Today, my mom is a Registered Nurse and she is one of those people that works herself to the bone, rarely ever taking vacation or really getting to enjoy her life.
Of course, neither of the two aforementioned attitudes about work is quite right, or healthy. People should work hard at their jobs, but they should not forget that there is more to life than work in the process. All many Americans seem to do is work and work. All anyone cares about is money. You spend your entire life working so that you can see the dollars in your bank account, or you must work that hard to pay off all your bills and there’s nothing left to enjoy.
Maybe it’s time America took a tip from the Europeans – Life is more beautiful outside the office.