Guest Post by Sean Abbott: Stranger in A No Longer Quite So Strange Land

A couple of weeks ago I had a fucking brilliant idea. That was after I was thinking about commenters who add so much value around here. I wondered to myself, how can I repay them, beyond just engaging as much in comments as time allows? Once I asked the question the answer seemed too obvious: give the best ones center stage now and then.

Sean Abbott at Prague Stepchild was an easy first on the list. Lots of commenters come and go, but Sean somehow finds a way to add value to virtually every post I do, and he’s been doing it for a long time. He’s a veritable co-blogger in that sense. So here we go. The first in a long series, perhaps every couple of weeks. I already have a couple of others in mind.


As an American who’s going on 17 years living as an expat in Prague, Czech Republic, I suppose one of my biggest self-identifying characteristics is being an expat. One has to be careful self-identifying with things like this, or thinking ‘this is what makes me a unique snowflake’. I remember when having long hair was an important part of my identity. And that’s frankly pathetic. Still, having spent more of my adult life abroad than in my native land has come to shape a lot of who I am today.

When I first moved to Europe I had a bad case of white liberal American guilt. I only spoke two languages (and my Spanish, even at it’s best was never exactly stellar), Bill Clinton was getting impeached for getting a blowjob, OJ Simpson had just been aquitted of a crime everyone knew he was guilty of, etc.

Living abroad cured me of all that. Nowadays, with a lot more perspective, I’m not ashamed to identify myself as an American, or to realize that America has a healthy percentage of the smartest humans on the planet.

Yes, I’m now going to start making some broad sweeping generalizations about Americans and Europeans.

America has more stupid people per capita than Europe. They also have more intelligent, risk-takers and I’d say more interesting, wacky people in general. In other words, American has a flatter bell curve with more people at both ends of the spectrum (or spectrums) than Europe, probably a result of hundreds of years of European emigration. Lots of miscreants emigrated because they were losers, but lots of them didn’t fit in because they had higher intelligence, along with the drive to take the risk of looking for greener pastures.

Europeans have it tougher in general, so they tend to be leaner and meaner than Americans. This is mostly my experience living here in Prague, but I think it generalizes to many European countries. Things are frickin’ expensive here, thanks to taxes, regulations and tariffs, purchasing power, even with a decent salary, is much less than in America. Buying things in general is much more painful, with less availability, ruder shopkeepers, more crowded stores, etc. As a consequence Europeans are much more careful with their money. People have effectively less money, but they spend it in much better ways. They buy nicer stuff for their usually smaller flats, they take nicer vacations, etc. Americans work harder than Europeans, or at least a lot more hours, but they tend to spend more of their spare time and money buying giant TV sets and watching them. Sort of like the days when buying a CD or even an LP (explained here for you youngins) was a big deal. One was very careful what to buy, and then it was listened to over and over.
Europeans are more provincial than Americans. Sure, there is the cliché of the suave European who speaks seven languages, dresses impeccably, has a flat in Paris, Milan and London, etc. And those people certainly exist. But the average European only speaks one language, travels abroad only on group tours where they stay in their little bubble speaking their own language, and receives their news and entertainment from state-owned TV station(s).

Most Europeans think they are familiar with Americans, they see our movies, TV shows, they see American tourists, they think they know Americans. And this false familiarity breeds provincial contempt, because most of these people have never lived in America, spent much time there beyond a week in New York, or even interacted with an American at all beyond the internet, yet they feel qualified to piss and moan about how we are all ignorant cowboys.

vI also think there’s a much stronger undercurrent of independent thought in America. Yes, the United States has it’s cathedrals of political correctness, but this disease has a much stronger foothold in Britain and Scandanavia in my experience. Americans tend to be, or at least have more opportunity to be, less conformist than the average European.

The thing is, none of these sweeping generalizations really matter, because while people are different all over the world, they are also mostly the same. Of course, there’s only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch. I’m not saying let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya, because I’m really quite the misanthrope. What I’m saying is that it’s easy to talk in platitudes, but actually living in other countries helps one to understand, on a visceral level, that other cultures can be different, and how they are different. I’d say it is similar to people who’ve never spent any time around animals (kitties and puppies don’t count), yet have so much ‘respect’ for them that they demand the world renounce meat. The reality is that farm animals are dirty, stupid and even dangerous. Still, the ranchers I’ve known who raise livestock to be slaughtered love and respect their animals, much more than the vegan animal rights activist spouting empty platitudes like ‘meat is murder”.

Finally, here is my opinion on travel and language:

Travel Tips

My idea of traveling is to go to one place and soak up the atmosphere. Find a nice pub or cafe to become a regular at, learn or improve your grasp of the local tongue, explore the less-beaten pathways, the local haunts, etc.

I’ve had to wrangle with the wife about this one. She used to be into the idea of stuffing in as many sights as possible but I’ve managed to win her around, more or less.

I’ve seen the Eiffel tower, but I don’t remember much about it. However, I do have fond memories of playing a pick-up basketball game under the shadow of the Eiffel tower (there are, or used to be courts at the far end of the park). Me, two Aussies who were staying in the same hostel, and a French guy versus four Italians. Ironically, I was probably the worst of the bunch (although I’m almost 6’4″ so that makes up for a lot). It was a hell of a game and we barely won—fist pump.

When I’m on my death bed, I’ll probably remember things like that multinational pickup basketball game more than how many famous buildings or works of art I’ve seen. 


Languages are great. But they also require a huge amount of time and energy, and they are only useful if you are going to actually use them. Okay, languages do have some intrinsic value, they give one insight into one’s own language and teach grammar (I never really learned English grammar until I studied Spanish). But if you already speak English, the fact is you can get by with this in most places. Spending four years studying French is great, but if you only use it for two weeks in your life on a dream vacation to France, was it really worth the effort?

There are plenty of skills that might pay off much better depending on one’s life choices, learning an instrument, learning a sport, etc.

I don’t have a problem with learning a language per se, but as someone whose American Language Guilt has been assuaged by knowing three of them, having encountered many Europeans who could barely speak their own language, and being someone for whom languages do not come naturally, I think they should be put in perspective.

That being said, knowing a language is going to help open doors. An American friend of mine majored in chemistry and Russian in college, and now he’s living in Kaliningrad, married to a Russian woman with two kids. Had he not had that language under his belt his life would’ve definitely taken a different and probably less interesting path.

Another advantage of knowing a language is language groups. Master any Slavic language and it is much easier to learn or even get by in any of their cousins. Ditto for the romance languages and other language groups (so stay away from Hungarian!).

If you do want to learn a language quickly, technology has made things much easier nowadays. I think Gabriel Wyner has some excellent advice along these lines.

…Okay, that’s it. I want to thank Richard for allowing me this opportunity to guest post without saying fuck even once.

[I took care of that in the intro – Ed]

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Kamal Patel on May 11, 2012 at 18:30

    I haven’t read the post, only the title. But any post referencing Heinlein smacks of awesome. Has anybody read The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress? It was my first sci-fi book as recently pubescent (TMI) child. Memories…

    • Richard Nikoley on May 11, 2012 at 18:36


      Now that’s just silly because anyone who’s read it knows in a deterministic sense that Heinlen meant it to separate the know from the know nothings. And the rest of us ought to just go set up an off-world colony, somewhere

      Having to solve a polynomial equation to open a voting booth was for if that doesn’t work out.


    • April on May 15, 2012 at 12:23

      It’s a quote from the bible… Exodus 2:22 – And she bare [him] a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.

  2. Nikhil Thomas on May 11, 2012 at 18:50

    This is awesome. I’m graduating from college in a week and moving to Finland in early June for my first “real” job. I’m nervous as hell but it’s cool to hear some experiences from American expats in Europe.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 11, 2012 at 18:59

      That’s great Nikhil, because living abroad makes you so superior to any American who hasn’t. 🙂

      • Nikhil Thomas on May 11, 2012 at 19:01

        Lol not quite what I was implying but thanks!

      • Kate Ground on May 13, 2012 at 06:29

        That makes me superior? Yay! Self adoration… I lived mostly in Western Europe and Mexico, and Sean, you couldn’t have said it better. Great post.

    • Sean on May 12, 2012 at 03:33

      Heh, probably not as nervous as I was first going to Eastern Europe without a job, a contact, or having ever even set foot in Europe.

      Finnish is a tough language though. To quote Wiki:

      “Finnish has fifteen noun cases: four grammatical cases, six locative cases, two essive cases (three in some Eastern dialects) and three marginal cases. Notice that the word in a given locative case modifies the verb, not a noun.”


      Plus it’s not related to any other language, except distantly to Hungarian. That would be motivation enough for me not to try too hard to pick up the language.

      • Richard Burian on May 12, 2012 at 07:07

        Hungarian here. If you pick up (badly used phrase; it’s gonna be hard!) Finnish, Estonian or Hungarian, it makes it easier to understand the others, especially if you get into the way prefixes, suffixes and infixes work, the cases, verb endings, meaning derived from vowel-pairings, etc.

        Let me also just say that as someone who has been an interpreter on various tours throughout Eastern Europe, going from Hungarian to English and vice versa was… an exercise in mental pain. See, you have to wait for the Hungarian sentence to get right to the end, then reverse the whole thing in your head and say it in English, _all while listening to the next sentence the other way around to what you’re actually saying_.

      • Sean on May 12, 2012 at 08:14

        Translating has to be the best way to expand your knowledge once you have a decent grasp on a couple of languages, I’ve done some myself and my brain was hammered after a couple hours of it. That has to be a good thing though, hell of a brain workout.

        I forgot about Estonian also being an Uralic language.

        Czech, like most Slavic languages, has very minimal prepositions because of its seven cases. But Finnish, from what I understand of it, has no prepositions at all–just cases, lots of cases. I assume Hungarian is similar.

        As a native English speaker, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around seven cases. In fact my spoken Czech is pretty much straight accusative. A language with only cases instead of prepositions would scare the bejesus out of me.

      • gallier2 on May 12, 2012 at 11:23

        Hi Sean, finno-ugric languages don’t have cases like the indo-european languages. In fact they have suffixes that are added to the stem word and are therefore much more regular than the case system of our languages. Trying to shoehorn the case system on them make it appear more complicated than it is in reality. As you cited wikipedia about finnish with 12 cases you would have to count more than 20 cases for hungarian. At work* I wrote a little algorithm to substitute the dates and weekdays in translations in the official EU languages. Paradoxically from all tha languages that can have flexions on the months and weekdays, hungarian, estonian and finnish are those for which the algorithm works best. Czech, slovenian, croatian, slovak and polish are the languages for which the program can not handle every case. The only slavic language for which it works is bulgarian.

        * I work as a programmer for the European Commission in the translation directorate.

      • Sean on May 12, 2012 at 18:49

        Gallier, interesting, okay so Finnish and Hungarian sound a little less daunting.

        Czech has the extra problem that the gender is not very correlated to the ending, unlike say Russian, but to properly decline a sentence one has to know the gender of the noun. This is why I just tend to skip the cases altogether.

      • gallier2 on May 13, 2012 at 00:58

        Don’t get me wrong, these 3 languages are still very difficult to learn, but mainly because the stem words are completely alien and you can not use analogies from other languages. To give an example, I’m daily confronted to all 23 official languages of the EU in written form (important as reading/writing and understanding/speaking are 2 different concept with only limited overlap). I can read perfectly the 3 procedural languages (english, french, german), I can decipher quite decently all romance languages (italian, spanish, portugese and romanian), all germanic languages (dutch, danish and swedish). I can extract some meaning (granted not much) from greek and the slavic languages including the cyrillic written bulgarian, even in irish I can glance some words,. But for the finno-ugric and the baltic languages, except for the dates, there are very very few words that makes sense to me.

      • Sean on May 13, 2012 at 02:26

        Well, when I first got here, all the words felt pretty damn alien to me 😉

        The nice thing about Slavic languages is that they are pretty closely related. I’d say Czech and Croatian are more similar than French and Italian, mostly due to the pronunciation difference. The Cyrillic thing is a big pain in the ass. When I was in Russia for a week my brain hurt from not being able to read the signs. It seems like it oughtn’t to be that hard to pick up 20 or whatever symbols but it sure eluded me.

      • marie on May 14, 2012 at 07:11

        gallier2, translation directorate – are you maybe located in luxemburg ?

      • gallier2 on May 14, 2012 at 08:52

        Indeed I am, but I’m a so-called ‘frontalier’, which means that I work in Luxemburg but live in France.

      • marie on May 14, 2012 at 09:37

        Oh it really is a small world. First off, I was too when I was in Alsace, lived-in France (Saint-Louis) but worked (well, lab intern) in Basel 30′ away in Switzerland. My 2nd-cousin and godmother to my daughter is still there, doing the same.
        There’s no border crossing on the back-roads, just a big red X over the word France as you enter Switzerland -this always made me smile.
        Now let’s test the degrees of separation idea (just 1-degree in this case) : you may know my first cousin, he’s a manager in your directorate, first name Dimitri (greek origin), about 1.7m, early 40’s, married to a translator in the same department…they now have a toddler. If you need a last name, I could ask Richard to give you my email address, if he would, I see he knows you personally.
        It’s an anthropological internet experiment, yes? 🙂

      • gallier2 on May 14, 2012 at 09:50

        I don’t mind if Richard gives you my email. As for your cousin, I doubt that I know him by name, may be I know him from seeing in the cafeteria or in the street. There are a lot of people here, you know. Furthermore there are several institutions with translation directorates here. The Commission has the biggest one with nearly 1000 translators on site, the Parliament, the Court Of Justice, the Court of Auditors, the translation center and the EIB also have several hundreds here in Luxemburg. So you see that even if it is a kind of a small world the odds are not that high that I know your cousin.

      • gallier2 on May 14, 2012 at 09:52

        A btw I forgot, I was in military with someone from Saint-Louis.

      • marie on May 14, 2012 at 10:04

        “there are a lot of people here you know” -LOL, in Luxemburg?!
        O.k. o.k., too many to know personally, I know.
        He’s exactly in the European Commision’s translation directorate, that’s what caught my attention. And yes, even so, 1000 folks is a lot :-).
        Meanwhile, I didn’t know Luxemburg was a translation hub (an odd thing to specialize in?)
        Oh, and words like commission, directorate etc. are not even in the common vernacular in US. They are a very “European thing” I think, these frankly centralized institutions.

      • Richard Nikoley on May 14, 2012 at 10:15

        “Oh, and words like commission, directorate etc. are not even in the common vernacular in US. They are a very “European thing” I think, these frankly centralized institutions.”

        Don’t even get me started on “syndicate.”

      • marie on May 14, 2012 at 11:08

        “Don’t even get me started on “syndicate.””
        No? Then how about “anarcho-syndicalists” ?

      • marie on May 14, 2012 at 11:10

        “..I was in military with someone from Saint-Louis” – Oh, did I say a small world, I meant microscopic 🙂

      • Richard Nikoley on May 14, 2012 at 11:29

        Ah, laf, marie. I’ve got to roll up that flic again one of these days.

        Anarcho-syndicalism is a contradiction in terms, BTW.

      • marie on May 14, 2012 at 12:06

        Yes, I thought you especially would like that. Contradictions are one of Python’s faves 🙂

      • Galina L. on May 15, 2012 at 10:08

        I always like to read what you comments too, and it was nice to learn a little bit more about you. It is amazing that we all could communicate so easily while being in different places. Thanks to internet in English language.

      • Galina L. on May 15, 2012 at 10:10

        I am sorry, I managed to misspell. I wanted to type ” I always like your comments too”. My apologies.

      • gallier2 on May 16, 2012 at 00:42

        Hi Galina, thank you, I like your comments also. They are always full of smart, common sense ideas.

  3. Evan on May 11, 2012 at 19:24

    ” My idea of traveling is to go to one place and soak up the atmosphere. Find a nice pub or cafe to become a regular at, learn or improve your grasp of the local tongue, explore the less-beaten pathways, the local haunts, etc.”

    Couldn’t agree more.. I never much agreed with the whole seeing a country or area by you’re t guide

    • John on May 11, 2012 at 20:09

      Not to mention that every culture and/or nation has its own deeply rich tradition of prostitution to experience. Why stop at pathways and haunts?

    • Shelley on May 14, 2012 at 06:18

      I agree, too, with wanting to be so immersed in the place, which is why I tend not to travel anywhere unless I know someone there. What’s the point of seeing some structure without feeling some emotion behind it?

      Do you think Americans tend to be stupider because of the amounts of junk food available? I can almost swear that people around me seem to be getting more obnoxiously stupid every day. What is it – the gaming, the food, the prescription pills? since Americans seem to have easy access to everything as opposed to Europeans?

      And isn’t the Internet an awesome tool that we get to share each others experiences – thanks for sharing, Sean!

  4. Jan's Sushi Bar on May 11, 2012 at 19:59


    Thou art God.



    • Richard Nikoley on May 11, 2012 at 20:06

      No, he’s a fuckin’ cunt, just like Nigel.

      There is not God before me. I think that’s actually a Commandment, so let’s go this it.

      I love Commandments.

      • Nigel Kinbrum on May 11, 2012 at 23:24

        Sean didn’t put a nice picture of himself in his post, the silly cunt.

        I’m not a writer, so I haven’t got a fucking clue what to write for a guest post. I’d much rather be singing in some Vitamin D-deprived, omega 6-riddled dive.

        And how the fuck did Bill know about the carpet-munchers? Is he stalking me? And why do I keep starting sentences with “And”? And why do I keep asking questions?

      • Richard Nikoley on May 12, 2012 at 00:02

        Alright, either you or Gallier2 get to go next but my ethic is this: you get to write a post on whatever the fuck you want, no boundaries,

        You can write one on kareoke, Nigel. I did that a lot in my 5 years in Japan and so, I totally get it. I could get the Japanese to give me a standing ovation with I left my heart in SF.

      • Nigel Kinbrum on May 12, 2012 at 00:33

        1) It’s karaoke, ya cunt!

        2) I’m moving away from karaoke and am singing more with musicians.

        I’ll let gallier2 go first as I’m rather preoccupied with my God-daughter, who’s in (possibly very serious) trouble with the law. She’s on remand at the moment.

        I’m half considering shooting a “Shit Nigel says” video, as I’m more comfortable talking than writing, plus I’ve already published my entire life story with photographs in my blog.

      • marie on May 12, 2012 at 21:00

        Yes Nigel, because “Immanuel Kant was a real pissant”

        Bittersweet :

      • Sean on May 12, 2012 at 07:03

        The problem I have with Nigel is his unstinting belief in the categorical imperative. In short, he is such a Kant.

        Nigel, stop being such a Kant.

      • Nigel Kinbrum on May 13, 2012 at 00:50

        Categorical imperative, my arse! Your problem Sean is that you are too negative about things, which makes you a total can’t.

      • Nigel Kinbrum on May 13, 2012 at 01:01

        Richard, how about the following idea? As I prefer to talk to people rather than write (as there’s a 2-way flow of information), how about a video call on Skype?

        The resulting post can be titled “Shit Richard and Nigel says”.

      • Richard Nikoley on May 13, 2012 at 01:55

        That’ll work for me, Nigel. Well get on it in a coupla weeks.

      • Sean on May 13, 2012 at 03:53

        I always thought Immanuel Can’t Dance would make a great band name.

      • Kate Ground on May 13, 2012 at 06:31

        Or “shit Nigel sings”. Now that would be entertaining.

      • Nigel Kinbrum on May 13, 2012 at 07:28

        I do occasionally spontaneously burst into song in addition to saying “fucking” without realising it. You have been warned!

      • marie on May 12, 2012 at 21:06

        “I love Commandments”.
        Two of them? :

      • Nigel Kinbrum on May 13, 2012 at 00:45

        Two Commandments is one Commandment too many*.
        I propose one Commandment. It’s a negative, but I think it’s a good ‘un.

        1) Thou shalt not fuck with other people’s shit. If thou fucks with other people’s shit, thou art a cunt and the penalty is that thou shalt have your shit fucked with to the same degree.

        *In the same way that bigamy is one partner too many….as is monogamy 😀

      • Sean on May 13, 2012 at 03:55

        Ie, the right to swing your fist ends at my nose.

      • Nigel Kinbrum on May 13, 2012 at 07:43

        Just think how careful everybody would drive, if they knew that hitting a pedestrian at x mph would result in them getting hit at x mph by the same make & model.

        People can fuck with their own shit, so personal drug use isn’t breaking the Commandment. Getting other people hooked on drugs is.

        P.S. It’s thy shit, not your shit. Writing Commandments is harder than I thought.

      • Kate Ground on May 13, 2012 at 08:30

        I was going to say something, but glad you corrected yourself.

    • Sean on May 12, 2012 at 03:21

      But Jan, my mamma was never on David Letterman.

      • Jscott on May 12, 2012 at 20:15

        That gave me great pleasure. I am not sure I want to know how that link entered your orbit.

      • Sean on May 13, 2012 at 02:29

        That was Jan’s mother. See here.

  5. Bay Area Sparky on May 11, 2012 at 21:26

    “A couple of weeks ago I had a fucking brilliant idea. That was after I was thinking about commenters who add so much value around here. I wondered to myself, how can I repay them, beyond just engaging as much in comments as time allows? Once I asked the question the answer seemed too obvious: give the best ones center stage now and then.”

  6. Erin on May 11, 2012 at 21:42

    Thanks for the post Sean, now that I am traveling more and hoping to live abroad for extended periods I love reading about different culture perspectives.

    Your comment about meshing with the locals made me laugh. My husband and I have been shifting that way unconsciously the more we travel. I realized recently that when he talks to people about our trip to Barbados not long ago he doesn’t say “oh the tourist cave thing, snorkel area and zoo was fabulous”, nope. It’s ALL about Chicken Rita’s, a local place where we ended up eating multiple times, sitting out on cracked plastic lawn furniture watching the stray dogs and cats work out their pecking order for scraps. Canadians and locals mingled at tables, mixed their own rum drinks, and everyone had no complaints that it could take over an hour for your chicken to be cooked.

    Chicken Rita’s was by far much less expensive then the tourist traps.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 11, 2012 at 23:53

      “It’s ALL about Chicken Rita’s, a local place where we ended up eating multiple times, sitting out on cracked plastic lawn furniture watching the stray dogs and cats work out their pecking order for scraps”

      Careful, Erin. I’m about to tag you as smart with a strong spirit,

    • Sean on May 12, 2012 at 04:01

      Chicken Rita’s sounds like my kind of place, Erin.

  7. Trish on May 12, 2012 at 01:30

    I took two years of Spanish in high school, two in college, but I learned enough to carry on decent conversations through living six months in a small northern New Jersey town populated by Colombians. Immersion for the win!

    And I’ve only ever been to England, but I hooked up with two Irish guys who were roommates and working for British Telecom who showed me London stuff other than the usual, introduced me to their sweet old landlady with whom I would munch on cream cakes and watch “Coronation Street”, with whom I had an epic threesome which broke the bed and had said sweet old landlady pounding on the ceiling with a broom and took me to see a most epic Pink Floyd concert at Wembley Stadium. Interact with the locals, people.

    • Sean on May 12, 2012 at 04:01

      Yeah I had a roommate from Curaçao when I was in music school and we spoke a lot of Spanish, that was a big supplement to my high scho0l Spanish. Papiamento was his native language so we were both speaking a second language. Actually using a language is quite different than simply learning it in a classroom.

  8. Sean on May 12, 2012 at 03:05

    Thanks for the guest post spot Richard.

    When it comes to traveling, I’d like to mention that there are times when moving around a lot can also be fun. We had a great week renting a car in Dublin and driving around Southern Ireland, getting in a hike or walk in the afternoon.

    But in general, I prefer to spend two weeks getting to know one place (say Barcelona) than trying to check a bunch of sites off a bucket list.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 12, 2012 at 13:40

      In 2005 Bea and I flew into Paris, rented a car, and drove to our hotel in the 2nd arrondissement, within a walk to the Champs Elisees. That was the only hotel reservation we had. Took off the next afternoon, destination Barcelona. My wife was a bit freaked but quickly got into it. Basically, you drive until you can’t not stay somewhere, and then you find a room you really want to stay in. From Barcelonna, we hugged the Med all the way to Pisa, stopping for a day here, two days there, mostly in small villages tucked into tiny ports & coves. After a couple of days in Florence, we headed NW, via Switzerland to complete the 6,000 KM triangle back to Paris and home. Three weeks in total.

      Couple of years ago we took a spur of the moment trip back, but to the place we loved the most, in Motorosso, IT, Cnque Terre. Ended up staying in the same hotel which I had reserved and by total coincidence, they put us in the exact same room and the ceiling fan still squeacked. I loved every chirp it put out.

      • Sean on May 12, 2012 at 18:55

        Yeah, playing it by ear is much better in my opinion. Some people, like my father-in-law, have to compulsively plan every millimeter of their vacation. When they visited the US for three weeks, he’d mapped out this huge itinerary which I believe they followed pretty religiously.

  9. Kim C. on May 12, 2012 at 03:23

    Great post, Sean.

    I only lived abroad for half a year as an undergrad (Leeds, England). I roomed with another American, 2 Brits, and an Aussie, in an apartment complex filled with British students. Unlike most of the Americans I knew who were studying abroad at Leeds who stayed close to campus and only hung with other Americans, I completely immersed myself in the local culture. With the exception of my roommate, I kept no American friends. I’m so thankful I didn’t waste my time being a tourist.

    I completely agree about foreign misconceptions, and sweeping generalizations, about Americans. I often had to fight for intellectual respect from my Brit friends and argue that we weren’t all Jerry Springer guests and South Park kids. My Aussie friend got more respect, the cunt! 😉 Beyond nationalism, what also struck me was a sense of regionalism. Those from Leeds would mock the dialects and generalized foibles of those from Liverpool, from London, from Wales, etc. That said, the locals I friended were generally open minded about those they met on an individual basis. It taught me a similar lesson about humans having more commonalities than differences.

    I’m feeling very reminiscent of good times in strange places and plugged in to my humanity right now. Thanks, Sean.

    • Sean on May 12, 2012 at 04:19

      Wait, how could you immerse yourself in local ‘culture’ in Leeds?

      Yeah, there really is a false familiarity with the Brits as they think they know Americans because they’ve watched Friends and the Simpsons. They can be rather obsessed with taking the piss. I like a healthy dose of contrarianism and irreverence but too much of it gets tedious, IMO.

      • Kim C. on May 12, 2012 at 05:45

        Yes, ‘culure’ was a poor word choice.

        And, yes, I was on the receiving end of that piss more often than a porn star specializing in the golden shower. I enjoyed the battles for the most part, though; I think even after spending time arguing with me, however, they saw me as more of an outlier than an exemplary American, and continued to believe (nearly) all Americans are fat, stupid, and ignorant. I’m sure it would have worn on me if I stayed longer. There’s nothing like British pub culture (is that a decent use of the word?), especially if you are a 20 year old, inquisitive Anerican.

      • Sean on May 12, 2012 at 06:56

        Heh, I was just taking the piss on Leeds myself. I’ve never stepped foot in England beyond changing planes in Heathrow.

        This taking the piss is often a hazing thing, whether consciously or not. I remember once ending up at a table of a friend of a friend and there was a Welsh guy, managing director of a big drinks company, wearing an impeccable suit, just ripping on Americans. Someone mentioned that I happened to be American and the guy was like, ‘So what?’ So I asked him why his countrymen were so fond of fucking sheep and a few other questions of this sort. We ended up hanging out until about three in the morning.

        I’ve also encountered Brits and other Europeans who were used to dishing it out but couldn’t take it when I gave it back to them–to the point of becoming enraged or almost in tears.

        This stuff gets old pretty fast, but if someone wants to go for the jugular, I’m usually able and willing to give it back in spades. And it can be amusing at times, as long as people don’t take themselves to seriously.

      • Kim C. on May 12, 2012 at 13:15

        Yep. I think I was hazed the entire semester, only to leave upon full acceptance into the brotherhood/sisterhood.

        I dealt with my fair share of wankers who didn’t enjoy the taste if their own medicine. It’s fun to fluster people like that … when there’s nothing better to do, but it does get tedious rather quickly, especially when they are being poor sports, drunken poor sports. I preferred spending time with upbeat drunks who could take a fucking joke.

      • Kim C. on May 12, 2012 at 13:28

        Yep. I think I was hazed the entire semester, only to leave upon full acceptance into the brotherhood.

        I dealt with my fair share of wankers who didn’t enjoy the taste if their own medicine. It’s fun to fluster people like that … when there’s nothing better to do, but it does get tedious rather quickly, especially when they are being poor sports, drunken poor sports. I preferred spending time with upbeat drunks who could take a fucking joke.

      • Sean on May 13, 2012 at 02:36

        Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.

        I’ve been hearing people rip on Americans for a long, long time, I’ve got a pretty thick skin. But yeah, it’s like winning the Special Olympics.

  10. Pauline on May 12, 2012 at 04:31

    I think there is a big difference between visiting a country for a month or even 6 months and actually permanently moving to another country as I did from South Africa to England. After a while you realise you are different and you see and notice this not only from the way others in your new adopted country react to the way you are and speak but also that your own country and upbringing has shaped so much of who you are. You will never know this in the same way as you do when you live abroad. It gives you great insight into your own country as you see it more clearly from a distance. I have gone back to Cape Town and living abroad has changed me, so I love it and miss it but also feel different because I am living elsewhere. You see the changes more clearly when you go back. You become that thing which is a foreigner to both worlds in a way. You are not able to totally become part of the adopted country because you are too different, and you can’t go back home because your living somewhere else has changed you. The place where you were born seems smaller in some respect and so much richer in others. The people you find a lot in common with are other immigrants like yourself, travellers, explorers, who feel like outsiders and their only sense of home really comes from within themselves. I love London as its the one place in England where there are so many diverse cultures walking side by side that it really is a cosmopolitan city, you never feel alone because like you there are so many others who are different and you feel a sense of home in this great mix. I have chatted to someone from New York in a coffee place who had just moved and September 11 had happened, we were both in shock but still found comfort in talking to each other even though complete strangers. On the trains you hear so many different languages, some of which you understand. I have met and made friends with a lovely Polish couple who have emigrated now to USA, our mutual feeling of being away from our homes and sharing of our different cultures and interests made that relationship intense and beautiful. Travel and live abroad, you will be able to understand who you are more from this experience than anything else.

    • Sean on May 12, 2012 at 04:59

      I know exactly what you mean, Pauline. As Thomas Wolfe wrote, you can’t go home again.

      Milan Kundera, a long time Czech expat in France penned a really good essay about this, which I actually quoted in these here comments a while back:

      Emigration is hard from the purely personal standpoint as well: people generally think of the pain of nostalgia; but what is worse is the pain of estrangement:the process whereby what was intimate becomes foreign. We experience that estrangement not vis-a-vis the new country: there the process is the inverse: what was foreign becomes, little by little, familiar and beloved. The shocking, stupefying form of strangeness occurs not with an unknown woman we are trying to pick up but with a woman who used to belong to us. Only returning to the native land after a long absence can reveal the substantial strangeness of the world and of existence. (Testaments Betrayed, pp 94-95)

      Despite all the time I’ve spent here, I don’t feel like I fully ‘belong’ here. Yet the US has a feeling of strangeness when I visit.

      There are advantages to this. For example, I don’t pay attention to local politics because I don’t consider it to be ‘my’ politics. Unfortunately I do still pay plenty of attention to US politics, probably more than when I lived there.

      • Pauline on May 12, 2012 at 12:56

        Finally I am beginning to accept this is how it will always be, this estrangement. The nostalgia for what was home never leaves and you know its romantic because when you go ‘home’ its not the same, you have both changed. The things and places we consider beautiful are etched on us and can’t be removed, I am always imagining Table Mountain when I drive at night, its out there as I drive along the narrow country road or English motorway. Like a haunting it follows you and even the smells of sea and seagulls send me to the places I remember where the ships and cranes were docked and the long easy waves were slowly breaking on soft sand. Or when I see a full moon in England for me its hanging in the night sky over the sea near the harbour where I used to live in Cape Town. All beauty reminds me of what I used to know from growing up in such a harsh, strikingly beautiful world. And the ugly places here too take me to those dead, burnout buildings where you felt the life was long gone or dying.

      • Sean on May 13, 2012 at 03:02

        Nice, we have a poet in our midst.

        Having grown up in New Mexico (more or less), I have to say the thing I miss most are the mountains and the wide open spaces. I’ve been to the High Tatras a few times and they are quite beautiful but a)they are a long way away, b)they are crowded as hell. Same thing with the Alps. I’m used to being fifteen minutes away from the mountains, and thanks to the fact that Americans are so typically inactive, able to be alone after a few minutes of hiking. Europe in general is just so damn crowded, there are people everywhere! And they go outdoors a lot, damn them! Even hiking in crowded Yellowstone it was pretty easy to get away from the people who are mostly retired folks with RVs.

      • Pauline on May 13, 2012 at 07:57

        I miss the immense night sky and smell and sounds of sea, and that mountain which was home if you ever lost your way it was lit up like a lighthouse. I felt I owned that beauty that it was part of me and relished every aspect of it without ever taking it for granted. I see here a few rolling hills but no depth to the vision -the sense of mountains or hills in the distance, you grow up with an immense sense of space and colour and light and something primitive around and within you, its wild and beautiful. Sometimes flashes of it I found on the coast of Portugal, the red of the hibiscus flower, the smoky smell of fish cooking on the open flame, the sand between your toes, the wonderful skins of those young and old used to the sun and it catches your breath, it stirs up this wonderful sense of life being lived. Here all is orderly and tamed and you know its value but you miss that closeness to nature which hasn’t been trimmed, gardened and hedged back. Ok now I have said it all…

      • marie on May 14, 2012 at 08:39

        “Ok now I have said it all…”
        Oh no! I hope not, I’ve been reading these over and over, really evocative, some turns of phrase are magical. I’m always yearning for some cherished aspect one of the countries where I grew up, no matter which one I’m in – irrevocably damned. Must be doing something to my voice because even fussy baby calms when I read your descriptions aloud – well, that and the blueish computer light I suppose 🙂 Thank you for sharing, Pauline.

      • Pauline on May 14, 2012 at 09:24

        I guess its the longing that can’t be assuaged for what was familiar and known and even the accents when you go back are smooth and fall on the ear like some forgotten song with the clicks and drumming tones. The colour of the dunes and wild grass and small flowers bowing to the wind as it whips the sea and your ears hum til they hurt. Writing all of this has made me immensely sad, glad that I can find the words but the ache of what I know I have left and can’t call home again will stay with me. When Richard’s cousin died my thoughts were – I will die in a strange land, my ashes will be flung out to sea on the Cape shores where once I stood fully pregnant with my daughter and watched the ocean from a small beach where the boats would moor. The strong smell of the seaweed hanging strong in the air as you watched the dark shadows as the weeds pooled amongst the rocks. I wondered about my life then and now.

      • marie on May 14, 2012 at 11:15

        🙂 🙂 🙂

      • Galina L. on May 14, 2012 at 09:48

        Yes, the main advantage of living in a foreign place permanently is the inability to be completely pissed-of by politics. I know some people in America who think that their country is moving in a wrong direction (my guess such people are always exist in various quantities in every country in every century). Compare to what Russians have (I am a Russian living in Florida) in the form of Putin and other leaders before him, America is not bad at all. I also try to skip all news regarding Putin in order not to be upset by things I can’t change. My friends in Russia are very depressed about politics now, go to demonstrations to protest and put themselves into a risk to be assaulted or put in a detention by special forces.

      • Pauline on May 15, 2012 at 01:20

        I think you realise that there is bad news everywhere and your own country is not so special in that respect. You notice that there is huge discontent wherever you live and like Karl Popper said ‘we will always live in an imperfect society’. You notice this more when you see the clashes of identity in the country you have adopted. The accents and regions make people uniquely different from one another and maybe the evolutionary brain is always going to be suspicious of that difference on an unconscious profoundly tribal level. This discontent moves in waves across continents and where there are economic woes. I know there are more questions than answers, and maybe this acknowledgement of how little we know serves us well and will keeps us open as a society. I am not a political animal just a keen observer of life and all is complexities.

      • Galina L. on May 16, 2012 at 11:44

        Yes, it is soothing somehow to stop looking for a perfection because it doesn’t exist and it is normal that “there is huge discontent wherever you live “. It is much more reasonable to get concentrated on what we can influence – our personal life, little everyday pleasures and in keeping family’s health in a tip-top shape. It is better to regard politic battles like an entertainment.

    • Kate Ground on May 16, 2012 at 09:08

      “You see the changes more clearly when you go back. You become that thing which is a foreigner to both worlds in a way. You are not able to totally become part of the adopted country because you are too different, and you can’t go back home because your living somewhere else has changed you. The people you find a lot in common with are other immigrants like yourself, travellers, explorers, who feel like outsiders and their only sense of home really comes from within themselves. ”
      I spent two thirds of my formative years living abroad. I always felt odd where ever I lived. Not belonging but belonging. I’ve felt out of place, a bit askew, until I found another TCK to share my life with.

      I’ve noticed that there are many global nomads attracted to Richards blog. So many open minds. Thanks, Richard, for welcoming us into your living room.

      • Pauline on May 16, 2012 at 11:34

        Had to look up TCK – third culture kid, children who grew up in different cultures to their own as their parents moved elsewhere. That is an interesting dynamic for you to experience. I lived that in reverse – grew up in one place and never wanted to live elsewhere but chose to do that later in life to explore living in new places/people.

      • Kate Ground on May 16, 2012 at 16:31

        It was an interesting way to grow up and I loved every minute of it. My hardest times were back in the US. The ignorance and parochialism was hard to deal with. Now I want to go to places I haven’t been.

  11. Txomin on May 12, 2012 at 04:56

    Have been an expat myself for some 25 years in four continents and more countries than I have fingers and toes (in fact, I consider myself a professional foreigner rather than a expat). Anyway, cheers on your experience. I can relate even if I largely disagree. No biggy. Different folks, different strokes.

    • VW on May 12, 2012 at 06:16

      Don’t hint at it, write it, you goddamned piece of shit cunt. Offer up a rebuttal or else.

      Good article, Sean.

      • Sean on May 12, 2012 at 08:31

        I would guess that since Txomin has lived in more than 20 countries, and I’ve only lived in two he or she is much more into the ‘experience as much as possible’ thing than I am. I agree, no biggy.

  12. Henrik on May 12, 2012 at 05:39

    I disrespectfully disagree.

    You are the epitome of americanism. Your douchebaggish attempt at a characterization of european culture sucks the very essence out of the asshole of your homelands doomed banking system.
    You try to come across as a cultured asshole of epical proportions, but in the end you look like a product of the same shitcrate that spewed out your last few presidents. Your confirmation biased assessment of european people reeks of childish misconceptions and retarded misunderstandings. You wouldn’t be able to tell french from finnish even if your smelly old dicks life depended on it. No wonder no one wanted to insult you in your smelly mothers tongue, no one would want to do you that favour.
    In this godforsaken wasteland that is modern life, your dumbassery is akin to a pile of rotting corpses being raped by the grandchildren of Churchill. No one wants to see that.

    So go on shooting your puss infused cum into the rotting cunts of czech crack whores, as this seems to be american expats national sport. I just pray to cocksucking babyjesus that your dick falls of and george cloony goes on to rape your ugly face with his pierced black cock until the sack of maggots you use for a brain starts to drool out your ears.

    Just kidding.
    Your post was probably a fair comment on europe and america, though my experiences differ significantly. But I think it’s foolish to assume anyone could compare those two, as you could spend multiple life times traveling both ~federations, never spending more than a few days in every city.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 12, 2012 at 17:42

      Oh, Henrik.

      You make me feel unworthy. Sorry you got caught in the spam filter there. I’m sure it’s obvious why though.

      I can just hear Sean laughing his ass off now.

      Excellent hate and vulgarity filled rant.

    • rob on May 13, 2012 at 05:35

      Your father was a hamster and your mother smelled of elderberries!

      • marie on May 14, 2012 at 11:19

        Yes! I fart in your general direction!

  13. Todd on May 12, 2012 at 11:50

    I’ve been most places in the lower 48 by way of the two lane back roads. You can’t get a good frame on ‘Merica if you’re cruising down the interstates. And if you’re on vacation why would you go to a chain restaurant that you can at back home? Go to the local mom and pop dives that has a full lot. That’s where the best atmosphere and food is at.

    And if we’re talking philosophers, I’m quite the fan of Sartre.

  14. Blitzkrieg on May 12, 2012 at 13:17


    to lump everything together as “zee Europeans” as you do, exposes you as a simpleton. It’s like saying Mexicans and WASP-Americans are the same, cause the are “North-Americans” and thus the average WASP does menial jobs, earns low wage or is a gangbanger.

    Countries like Romania and Switzerland compare to each other like Japan and Bangladesh.

    So all your opinions about “Europe” qualify as the garbage they are because there is no “Europe” in the sense of a paramount cultural identity. Nothing even near to it.

    So where does this leave you on your bell curve of intelligence?

    • Sean on May 12, 2012 at 18:30

      Oh, did someone get a little butthurt?

      1. Of chief concern or importance: tending first to one’s paramount needs.
      2. Supreme in rank, power, or authority.

      Paramount cultural identity? You ought to be careful when using those big words. There’s no “Europe” in the sense of an identity of chief concern or importance? Did I say there was? Nonetheless, I think it’s possible for someone to make some broad sweeping generalizations, especially when they point out in advance, as I did, that they are broad sweeping generalizations.

      Yes, there are marked differences between countries in Europe. But there is also a commonality to the lands that once referred to themselves as ‘Christendom’, even if this commonality isn’t “paramount”. In case you haven’t seen a map or globe before, you might take a look and notice that Europe is not actually a separate continent. Yet this subcontinent that is said to end, rather artificially, at the Ural mountains and Ural river has some shared identity which is why the term Europe is useful. Japan and Bangladesh have nothing of this sort.

      If there was no commonality why did Rousseau write: “There are no longer Frenchmen, Germans, and Spaniards, or even English, but only Europeans.’?

      Why did Edmund Burke write, in 1796: “No European can be a complete exile in any part of Europe.’?

      • marie on May 12, 2012 at 20:05

        Oh Sean, the man would have to at least be aware of culture in order to understand what you’re saying, take some pity on the financial-minded simpleton.
        Evolution of philosophical and religious thought from Greece and Rome outwards to north and west?
        Evolution of art/renaissance from south to north and west?
        The great symphonic movement, ranging from Antonín Dvořák, Smetana, Gustav Mahler, Karel Husa in the east (yah, Czechia, I had to….) to maybe one or two lightweights in Germany and Austria?
        Sweeping political and social movements across Europe?
        The spread and sharing of freaking architecture, for f’s sake (Majorca to Santorini? Venice to Bruges?) . The sharing of Royal families, that had no influence on social and economic structures and so no influence on the back-lash in the recent century. Nah, a large swath of shared history and development hasn’t affected mentalities, social norms or anything, because some are now rich and some are struggling so that is their only defining characteristic.
        Yeah, I know, long rant – just received new foster baby, sleepless for days…oops, Not Mexican baby (or any other stereotype for that matter), totally white anglo-saxon protestant, from a trailer-park. This is ironically very true and what set me off.
        Thank you for a beautiful, eloquent post Sean. I’m going to re-read it after this to relax again:-)

      • Sean on May 13, 2012 at 01:58

        Yes, Marie, but none of those things were “paramount”.

        And thanks for the kind words. And props to you for spelling Dvořák correctly. Can you pronounce it correctly also 😉

      • marie on May 13, 2012 at 04:21

        Of course not, economic considerations über alles !
        See how good I am still being with the diacritics, totally pc in any language 😉 ….and you with that cruel, cruel tongue-twister -how can they stick a ‘t’ in front of a trilling r/soft j, that’s just not right. Ha! Finnish got nothing on Czech!

      • Sean on May 13, 2012 at 04:42

        If you think that’s bad, my father-in-law is from a small village called Třtěno. My wife can pronounce this easily, which makes me wonder if she’s not actually an alien from another galaxy.

      • marie on May 13, 2012 at 05:09

        Here, my good deed for the day : say to her ” jIH muSHa’ SoH” (sounds Just like it looks…).
        Then if she gets all starry eyed and kisses you, a) you’ll Know she’s from another galaxy and b)focus now, she’s kissing you….

      • Blitzkrieg on May 13, 2012 at 10:04

        I’m not a native speaker so forgive my incorrect use of the word “paramount”. I am living in Europe an am of mixed ancestry, strictly speaking that is German, Romanian and Hungarian. I was born in Romania and now live in Germany for the last 30 years, with short interludes in the Netherlands and Romania.

        So when I tell you of perceived cultural differences, it’s from my personal experience and that of a lot of other people including close relatives.

        When I lived in the Netherlands for half a year I was amazed at how different two peoples are who should have so much in common as Germans and Dutch.

      • Blitzkrieg on May 13, 2012 at 10:24

        Marie, maybe “cultural identity” is incorrectly used on my part. What I meant is more in the meaning of mentality.

        I don’t quite understand what set you off to post your other bullshit. Because clearly, the things you mention influence the whole western world. What you are unable to grasp with your half-education I suppose is, that cultural achievments of a people or a continent have nothing to do with the mentality of people living everyday live?

        You know how much the people in Ex-Yugoslavia had in common? I suppose more than a black American has in common with a white American but it didn’t prevent a cruel civil war because of very different mindset and religion.

        Now, even Japanese listen to Mahler, Dvořák or Bethoven. Nonetheless only a moron would deduce that Japanese and Dutch are the same. Or that Europeans are the same or share a common mentality.

      • marie on May 13, 2012 at 11:02

        It’s the presumptions stereotyping, Blitzkrieg (you can’t let tv/movies or even wikipedia inform you of WASPS, the idea is quite dated – many live in trailer parks ).
        The problem is also the attack mode of delivering those stereotypes.
        No one says everyone’s the same or that Europeans have a single shared mentality. No one. You took exception to something that’s not there and attacked with insults. Not well done.
        But yes, due to their very long history of Shared cultural development, not sampled extraneously (indeed, only a moron would even think to use Japan and Holland as some kind of proof in this context), Europeans do have many similarities even in their attitudes today.
        You are still blinded by the material differences between former east block and the west. And really, there is such a thing as “being to close to the trees to see the forest”.
        Come to the States (it has about the population of the EU, it’s appropriate to compare on that level) and you’ll see the difference to europe is striking, even in everyday living. But it’s greater in political/world-view outlook, in social norms, in family life, in….
        As for Mexico, US .. and Canada (why does everyone but Sean forget Canada?!) of course they have little in common mentalities, though note that Canada and US have a lot of material ‘daily living’ similarities – so it’s not the poverty/richness that make the difference, it quite simply the fact that they have different founding and separate, not shared, cultural histories.

      • Blitzkrieg on May 14, 2012 at 03:56

        Marie, you said: “It’s the presumptions stereotyping, Blitzkrieg.” and “No one says everyone’s the same or that Europeans have a single shared mentality. No one.”

        Shawn wrote:

        – “Europeans have it tougher in general, so they tend to be leaner and meaner than Americans.”
        – “Americans work harder than Europeans”
        – “Europeans are more provincial than Americans. ”
        – “But the average European only speaks one language, travels abroad only on group tours where they stay in their little bubble speaking their own language, and receives their news and entertainment from state-owned TV station(s).”
        – “Most Europeans think they are familiar with Americans, […])
        – “I also think there’s a much stronger undercurrent of independent thought in America.”

        Marie, the posting of Sean is full of stupidities and stereotypes like these. Its one single textwall of bullshit. One has to ask oneself if you have issuses with comprehending written texts. (Of course in a strictly rethorical sense).

        And whats that with your constant belaboring of economical issues? Of course rich and poor countries tend to be utterly different by design but I didn’t mention this one single time. You are the only one here who constantly does. Again your problem with comprehending written texts?

        I even explicitly pointed out my perceived big difference in mentality between Dutch and Germans who both are on an rather equal standing economically.

      • marie on May 14, 2012 at 05:35

        O.k. Blitzkrieg. I think it may really be an issue of language.
        See, none of the things you quoted are stereotypes, they’re just generalizations (describing things done by a significant number of people or even averages) -and they are always in comparison to american averages. The comment about ‘only one language’ is even Opposing a common stereotype. The first two, meanwhile, could be straight quotes from the EU’s own statistics. You could debate each one (or any of the other observations) and it would have been interesting if you did.

        As for the economic angle, you compared two European countries to two other countries where the big difference is poverty (Bangladesh, really?) and also did similar comparison for NA using US and Mexico, even highlighting the poverty of Mexican laborers – so there’s no misunderstanding there.
        If that’s not All you meant, well, maybe say what you mean rather than just arrogantly dismissing everything or everyone that doesn’t conform to your own ideas or observations.

      • marie on May 14, 2012 at 06:05

        Unless of course you think that because you live there, you have the only valid opinion, or set of eyes? There’s a few million others, including the blogger.
        I grew up between Canada, Greece, France-Germany (Alsace) and even had two years in Dubrovnik (as a young child -I remember frogs (!) in the gardens of a converted villa where we used to gather on sundays with the locals for a people’s dance). As an adult I’ve lived in three of these and for the last 14 years in the US and travel extensively for family and for my work. Just never by organized coach…really, that’s a very European thing 🙂
        Look, the amazing diversity and richness of cultures in Europe is the main attraction for tourists, everyone knows it (is that a stereotype?). It’s also the joy of those living there, coach tours notwithstanding. That doesn’t mean there aren’t common characteristics as well, some of which can be traced to a common heritage (eg. safely sticking to published stats : Europeans are much Less religious than US, have many More centralized institutions/services and labor protections, have national education systems or at least national standards in most countries…) Some also are simply due to the population density and, come-on now, the common currency (!) which has made consumer goods ridiculously expensive and not just in euro-zone countries (safe stats again : europeans live at home to later ages, get married at later ages, get divorced less….)
        Here’s some generalizations to chew on -all of them of course are only noticeable in contrast to US :
        – y’all live on top of each other > high population density, high city-to-rural ratio, even a lot of the villages are constructed tightly together (a remnant of medieval ‘keeps’ in some places, in others building economy+defensibility gave ‘hive-like’ interconnected housing -think mediterranean hillsides and islands). There’s a myriad ways this affects social attitudes, several theses-worth at least.
        -bicycles! everywhere, from Cyprus to Copenhagen and Barcelona to Prague. Astounding to see them parked at trains stations by the hundreds even in the mountainous Lucerne region.
        -trains! Public transport, and it’s Generally very good as well. Striking comparison to endless roadways and suburbs in US. Effects on mentality?-more theses, but immediately obvious at the level of just common courtesy.
        -cafes-bistros-trattorias-tavernas-….outdoors. Oh, I know, it’s the vitamin D that makes the difference there ! 🙂
        And so on, daily living conditions are visibly different to US and yes, Common across the continent (with the occasional local exception of course…)
        The above are all widely known, so not worthy of an insightful blog post – they do however make the point of ‘daily living conditions’ and enable or even cause a lot of other general behaviors and attitudes that an American might notice in Europe.
        Again, just overlaid on the very distinct, richly historical, densely distributed local-ethnic cultures.
        O.k., a wee bit long, I guess I’ve explained the idea as best I can! If you got this far, I should thank you for reading.

      • Blitzkrieg on May 14, 2012 at 15:32

        Marie, I will try one last time. You wrote: ““No one says everyone’s the same or that Europeans have a single shared mentality. No one.”

        Agreed? Forget the stereotype thing, because in the sentence above there is no mention of it. And now compare them to the things, Sean says about Europeans in general. I quoted them, if you want to look them up again.

        Now some of them may just be generalizations and some stereotypes. This of course depends on the point of view.

        The thing I try to convey is as follows: there are no “Europeans”, capiche? Because they are too different from one another. Both in terms of economical strength, culture, education, religion and everyday living. Not to forget the language.

        When Sean says “Europeans are more provincial than Americans. ” its utterly stupid, because a very big percentage of skandinavian people speak at least two other languages. You can communicate everywhere in Scandinavia and also in the Netherlands if you know english because nearly everybode does speak at least a little.

        Then you have Switzerland with four official languages and strong ties to France, Italy, Austria and Germany. Switzerland is international and to say it is provincial because it’s “European” is utterly stupid.

        I could go on now and disprove every single of the stupid claims Sean makes in his b.s. “Article”, but I am under the impression that you anyway want to believe what you want to believe.

        Maybe you think that us Germans are all wearing Lederhosen and eat Knödel with Sauerkraut all the time. Thats in fact what a lot of you hard working and sophisticated Americans think, I was told.

        One thing I still wonder about is why America is the fattest nation on the whole planet (maybe universe) if “y’all are working so hard”.

        The other thing I wonder about is if Sean maybe could tell your Bible Belt about the “strong undercurrent of independent thought in America” because that surely might improve some things around there.

      • Richard Nikoley on May 14, 2012 at 15:47

        Blitzkrieg and Marie.

        Do each of you want to get in line behind gallier2 and that cunt from England we respectfully call “nigel” for a guest post or video, at your choosing?

        The ethic with those I choose to do guests posts or videos with is this: you get to choose the topic. I won’t even suggest one.

      • marie on May 14, 2012 at 16:19

        Yes Blitzkrieg! You beer-bellied, Lederhosen-stretching, sour Kraut!
        Thank you for taking the suggestion about debating points, now that was interesting. But you didn’t debate most of mine…then I saw the “you americans” reference (I’ve only been here 14 years) and I realized you can’t have read a lot of my longer comment. Not that I blame you, but I was on a roll 🙂 I think now I’ve taken up more than the usual allotment of words-to-commenter, so I’ll stop here. Your fattest nation jibe is delicious.

      • marie on May 14, 2012 at 16:31

        Wow, Richard.
        I Don’t Know Why, but I’m both flattered and hesitant. Oops, I guess my free will’s gone on vacation…. to the crowded beaches of Europe perhaps 🙂

      • gallier2 on May 14, 2012 at 23:25

        Mensch Blitzkrieg, hör auf so einen Korinthenkacker zu sein. Jeder hat mitbekommen, außer dir, daß Sean grobe Züge gezeichnet hat und keine 100% genauen Beschreibungen gemacht hat. Schau was im Originaltext in Paragraph 4 steht: Yes, I’m now going to start making some broad sweeping generalizations about Americans and Europeans.
        Das ist was marie die ganze Zeit versucht hat dir mitzuteilen. Also hör auf mit deinen kindischen Einwände.

      • Blitzkrieg on May 15, 2012 at 02:11


        first, it’s rude to write in German because this is an english speaking blog.

        Secondly, yes! I know that Sean did “make some broad sweeping generalizations about Americans and Europeans”.

        After all that is the casus belli on my part. I wonder how difficult it can be to understand this, when I explicitly stated this in my comments further above. Obviously not everybody is endowed with the neccessary intellectual tools to do so.

      • Blitzkrieg on May 15, 2012 at 02:22

        Servus Richard,

        at the moment I have nothing important to tell “the world”. I am just an asshole with an opinion. And everybody knows that both assholes and opinions share a distinct characteristic.

        But as soon as my mind concocts something worthwile or my sense of mission becomes stronger I will take you up on the offer.

      • gallier2 on May 15, 2012 at 03:03

        I know that this blog is in english and I did respond in german on purpose. It’s obvious that Sean’s comment is subjective and only a “Korinthenkacker” would object to his impression. And btw, I am European, I have to do every day with a lot of multilingual people, I grew up in a multicultural environment, but I have no problem with accepting his impressions on us. There are many many Europeans who are monolingual even in officially multi-lingual countries like Belgium and Switzerland. You tend to not see them for the simple reason that you don’t talk to them if they don’t speak german or english (or any of the other languages you might speak).
        What marie (and myself now) tried to tell you is that your view is not the reference of correctness, there are opinions, opinions are subjective and are forged by what the holder of the opinion has lived.

      • marie on May 15, 2012 at 03:35

        “…it’s rude to write in German because this is an english speaking blog.”
        Yes, but …. it’s worthwhile if it helps your poor ‘reading comprehension’. 🙂

  15. Jscott on May 12, 2012 at 20:26

    Do you find interaction with your family/friends remarkably different since being an expat?

    • Sean on May 13, 2012 at 02:03

      No, not really.

      • Pauline on May 16, 2012 at 11:11

        I left Cape Town ten years ago and so my friendships there are established, deep and hard to replace. But I am the one who keeps those links alive, I need them like a lifeline to my own history as I am living apart from my peers. Its always wonderous and like a homecoming when you see one another again. It feels like you have never been apart, friendships like these are rare when you live elswhere and you value them highly as you haven’t got the same shared stories and memories.

  16. BabyGirl on May 12, 2012 at 20:35

    Sigh. I just wish there was somewhere to talk about the newest cover of Time Magazine on breastfeeding and how it relates to eating right, Paleo and all that stuff.

  17. Real Food Eater on May 12, 2012 at 20:47

    Hey Richard, love the blog! I have a couple questions for you. Firstly, how is your moderate starch meal plan going? Have you lost weight and gained muscle? And secondly, did you use to play a lot of basketball and still play? What position?


    Real Food Eater

    • Richard Nikoley on May 12, 2012 at 22:59


      I have a post last week laying out what I’m up to. I’ll be updating periodically.

  18. Real Food Eater on May 12, 2012 at 20:50

    Sorry, disregard the second part of the question. I didn’t realize this was a guest post.

  19. Dr. Curmudgeon Gee on May 12, 2012 at 20:53


    i agree with you that Americans have a larger standard deviation, except in terms of food. their food choices are much more limited & unadventurous. most American food is pretty boring to me.



    ps. Heienlein is too wordy for me & his female characters are, uh, blah. (i’m a libertarian)

    • Sean on May 13, 2012 at 01:50

      I was never a huge Heinlein fan either. When I was in high school, Ray Bradbury and Roger Zelazny were my favorite writers. I did read Stranger in a Strange land, but didn’t really grok it.

      It’s amazing how fast this stuff develops. I was just talking about this with a Swedish friend. There are tons of really great ethnic restaurants in Prague nowadays, there’s a sushi restaurant literally next door, and a couple of blocks away is a Greek restaurant and probably the best Italian restaurant in the city, but just ten years ago, there was nothing beyond mostly mediocre Czech restaurants and “Chinese” restaurants that served the blandest crap food imaginable. My friend said something similar has happened in Sweden over the last 20 years.

      When I was growing up in New Mexico, it was impossible to get spicy food in the Northwest or Midwest, but now it’s everywhere, and not just Mexican food but Thai food, Indian, etc. BTW, the food that people think of as ‘Mexican’, or Tex-Mex is often actually New Mexican. Nowadays I can get Sriracha (made in Rosemead, California, oddly enough), from the local Vietnamese grocery store along with previously impossible to get things like fresh cilantro.

      • Richard Nikoley on May 13, 2012 at 01:59

        We just found the most amazing authentic Mexican hole in the wall a while back. It’s all moles of various sorts.

      • Sean on May 13, 2012 at 03:16

        The best Mexican hole in the wall in the Universe is in Hatch, New Mexico. Of course our appetites had been sharpened by a week hiking around the Gila, but it was pretty damn amazing. Also, the bill for the three of us was less than ten bucks (no beer/wine license) and we practically had to roll out of there. If you ever get in that neck of the woods you have to check it out. Self-serve, no chintzy bric-a-brac, just awesome food. Wasn’t strictly paleo of course but that’s definitely not the time to sweat a couple of flour tortillas. Make sure you get there after or before the lunch rush ’cause the locals definitely know a good thing.

  20. Mark on May 13, 2012 at 02:12

    Sean, I’d love to say I grok with your thoughts – unfortunately I can only give a half grok.

    Where to begin, oh yeah Yeehaa! See, my grasp of the Yankee language is coming along nicely. In terms of repudiating at least some of the more acerbic elements of your post I will begin with language. Whilst it is true that the Brits (I am one) are poor emissaries of neighbourly familiarity and as such retain an empirical view that the rest of the world should adapt to communicate with us – not the other way around. It is certainly not true of many other western and particularly central European nations. I work in an international role and am forever surprised by the number and fluency of languages with which many of my associates converse. It may be that my experience is derived from a certain professional perspective; however I remain to be convinced otherwise. As for Europeans being leaner than Americans, well, this is not much of an achievement. However, the UK is now officially the fat man of Europe with 25% of all adults officially obese and over 60% classified as overweight; we are hot on your coat tails and will undoubtedly be catching up with America soon. Turning to your comments regarding income I would posit that your experience of living in post communist eastern central Europe perhaps colours your point of view. I was in both Prague and Budapest last week (two extremely beautiful cities, with probably the most outrageously beautiful women in the world), after completing cerveza number two in the square by the clock tower, I asked for the cheque and paid with the equivalent of a £20 ($30) note. The waiter’s surprise and his statement that I must be rich is indicative of a peoples who are still in some respects emerging from poverty consciousness. On balance there are things you said with which I do agree. After three American wives (the 3rd one’s a keeper!) and having lived in both FL and CA I do share some of your views.

    Anyway that’s enough of that. I shot several squab (wood pigeon) yesterday that require attention if they are to be served for lunch.

    • Sean on May 13, 2012 at 03:49

      Well, as far as the language thing goes, I probably exaggerated. Still, I’ve often been surprised to be in a place, say a small town, where many of the locals only seem to speak their native tongue.

      In the US it is easier to get away with this because you can drive for thousands of miles and everyone speaks the same language. Hell, I speak Spanish also (well I used to, it’s pretty damn rusty these days), which means I can converse with anyone on the entire continent (French Canadians don’t count, plus they all speak English). What’s amazing to me is to live in a continent teaming with all these languages and not be able to speak much of anything besides your own. Sure I know plenty of Europeans, who can speak four or five languages and get by in four or five others. But I’ve been surprised by how many monoglots I’ve encountered here. I think most Americans imagine the typical European to speak four or five languages, or at least I did.

      As far as poverty thing goes, it’s true that my experience is mostly based on living in Central Europe but I’ve spent some time visiting friends or their family in Sweden and I have had a similar experience in that things are much more expensive yet people have nicer stuff despite having less purchasing power. They might have less stuff and smaller flats, but the stuff they have is quite nice. Americans seem to buy a lot more stuff but the stuff is mediocre, especially things like furniture, kitchens, bathrooms, etc. But I could be skewed in that my wife sells high end tiles and bath stuff (here’s a plug).

      My impression of America is that it is much more of a throwaway culture, much as I shudder to use such a hackneyed cliché, people buy nicer things with effectively less money here.

      Anyway, enjoy your lunch, sounds pretty awesome.

      After three American wives (the 3rd one’s a keeper!)

      So you are really John Cleese? Hey, I love your work.

  21. Chas on May 13, 2012 at 04:49

    Sean, I found this to be a fascinating and accurate discussion that fits nearly perfectly with my wife and my experiences. I was in the military for 20 years and spent 3 years in Germany, 2 years in Tunisia, and 3.5 years in The Netherlands. We both laughed out loud at your “hating” the Dutch – we had the same takeaway; what saved us was living just 10 minutes from both Germany and Belgium and we quite often escaped to both for the beauty of the countryside and the immensely tastier food. We’re into gardens, though, and Holland’s Keukenhof tulip garden can’t be beat.

    While not quite the same as being an expat on your own (the military has an in-place support system), I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of immersing myself in a culture. We hit the major tourist sites, especially early on, but more enjoyed just driving and getting lost and enjoying the experience of the small towns and villages we came upon. Much more interesting that way.

    We both find it difficult going home now as family and friends can’t relate (one aunt came to visit us and she’s the lone exception). Either their eyes glaze over with no concept of what we’re trying to discuss or they think w’re being uppity. Conversations from their side are frustrating also as the local politics and who’s doing what now of the old circle of friends and acquaintances are just too far in the past. We won’t go home to live again and in fact are trying to find a job in Europe again as we miss the lifestyle.

    My “America vs Europe” takeaway, though, is that is all Europe is: a great experience and chance to see history (I’m a history nut). Living there gave me a much greater appreciation of the freedom that Americans have (and seem to be throwing away) a real willingness to think outside their small little world (the Brits I’ve worked with being an exception on the thinking). On many occasions I ran across people in various countries who were just thrilled to meet an American and fascinated by the greatness we represented and then turn right around in the same breath and comment on how dumb we were and unoriginal in everything (if it’s on TV or film, it’s gotta be true).

    Thanks for the article. It was a nostalgic trip and rang true to me.

    • Sean on May 13, 2012 at 08:37

      Thanks Chas.

      I have to point out though, that the quote about hating the Dutch is from “Goldmember”. I don’t actually hate the Dutch. I just hate the Belgians. And intolerance.

      I’ve experienced the ‘uppity’ thing also.

      • LeonRover on May 13, 2012 at 09:10

        At one point in my career I worked in Bruxelles – before the Common Market became the EU.

        Among the Walloons – FrancoPhones – one joke contra the Flemish (Dutch speakers), was doing the rounds, as follows.

        Q: Do you know why so many Dutch (Hollanders) retire to live in Flanders?

        A: It is just like living in the Holland of their youth – everything there is from Die RijksMuseum in Den Haag.

        Ah, well . . . .

  22. Joseph on May 14, 2012 at 05:15

    Thanks for sharing your story, Sean. I spent two years living in Spain as a very young man (19-21), and my experience confirms much of what you say here: stay away from tourist traps (local people know where the really good places are), and remember that people are people wherever you go.

    What surprised me was how many people stopped me to talk about how the USA was doing (as though I were some kind of leader in business or government). Some would praise the US (and me) effusively, and others would do the opposite (leaving me with the question, “How am I supposed to fix it?”). Some people thought I was some kind of US government spy (since the work I was doing required me to walk around in a suit all the time). That was pretty funny.

    When I came back home, it was amazing how enormous things were here (the streets, the cars, the stores), and my Spanish suddenly sounded off. (I learned to speak here in the US, among Latino immigrants, and they don’t speak like the Galegos, Castilians, and Basques I spent most of my time with in northern Spain.) I would definitely go back, given the chance. I hope to do the Camino (de Santiago) in a few years, assuming I manage to get a job and save up some money.

    • Sean on May 15, 2012 at 09:40

      I sort of have the opposite reaction when I go to Albuquerque. All the houses are one story tall and everything seems so flat. Here in Prague building are all five stories tall and I never see the horizon.

      Yeah, it can get old being singled out for one’s nationality. Like I’m supposed to apologize or take credit for Vietnam or ‘toppling’ the Soviet Union.

      • Galina L. on May 15, 2012 at 10:30

        Once a women from Japan (she taught me how to make a sushi in Vancouver, BC) requested from me the return of some islands to Japan from Russia. Also in Alberta, Canada some pollacks were trying to give me a hard time because Russia mistreated Poland a lot. Well, I was not there! I also din’t take any part in the Afghanistan invasion, however, I was involved in the choice of lubricants for some military equipment during Cold War, and my father designed weapons. It is an inheritance from middle Ages mentality and is called the group responsibility. It was worse some centuries ago when all females were hold responsible for Eva’s sin. I

  23. Galina L. on May 14, 2012 at 10:22

    I am glad there is a post by one of my favorite people who comments – Sean Abbot. Hello, Sean! I see you as a somebody who lives in exactly opposite situation than me, like my negative (or positive, whatever). I have been changing countries last 15 years, it was hard sometimes because nostalgia is real. I was therapeutic to came to the conclusion that there was no perfect place to live (Vancouver, BC, is very close to perfection, though), and it was stupid to look down on anyone on grounds on his/her native culture, or to be unreasonably proud by own nationality. There is a lot of ugly nationalism in Russia, btw. From my personal life experience a patriotism looks pretty pathetic, like a manifestation of personal narrow-mindedness.
    One of mine best traveler experiences was going across USA by Amtrak train soon after my arrival to Florida, talking with a lot of people while watching a beautiful scenery and finding out that Americans were just normal regular people.

    • Sean on May 15, 2012 at 09:30

      Heh, yeah you went west, I went east, Galina.

  24. Paul C on May 14, 2012 at 13:31

    Thanks for the post, Sean. Your perspective is valuable. The only times I have been out of the 48 states are Hawaii and Sault Ste. Marie, Canada. But now I have a daughter heading to Worcester for 1 month to visit with her boyfriend and his parents, and I feel like I need a crash course in all things Europe, although I’m not sure how much of your take applies to the UK.

    • Sean on May 15, 2012 at 09:36

      I’ve never been in the UK. But Ireland was quite nice, beautiful countryside and the people are friendly and love to gab–spent an hour talking to a security guard at a museum in Dublin, never would happen here.

      There’s no language barrier in UK and Ireland of course, and that can be quite nice. Of course there’s no real language barrier in Scandanavia either, and a lot less American tourists. The weather can be tricky (as in Ireland), even in the middle of July you might find it cold and rainy.

      • Pauline on May 15, 2012 at 12:09

        Friends ask about what to pack when visiting the UK and I advise to prepare for all seasons – bring comfortable walking shoes, jerseys for colder days and jacket and umbrella, it may rain. We tend to dress in layers here as all the buildings and shops can be too warm if they are centrally heated and we do get all kinds of seasons even in summer, sunshine is never guaranteed. We occasionally visit friends in Worcester and it is a beautiful English town.

      • Richard Nikoley on May 15, 2012 at 13:08

        Paraphrase: “the coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” MarkTwain.

        Actually, he never did say that but I like to think he did.

        I live an hour south. The climatology between here and there, and Monterey, just an hour south still, and Carmel, just 5 minutes over a small range, and even Santa Cruz, just towards the top of the same bay, is quite remarkable. Differences are most pronounced in summer, where you can have 40F variations on just a short drive.

      • Pauline on May 16, 2012 at 09:43

        Funny that ‘coldest winter in summer’, we are having a very cool spring and wonder what summer will be like…for my partner and I (both from Southern Africa) it feels too cold but we live on this Island, so what can we say. It was sunny today but temps around 12-14 degrees and sometimes 17 inside the car while parked in the sun. Its good weather for surfing the net although I am trying to get outside into the daylight when the sun shines. Lucky those who live in warmer climes. My daughter is on holiday in Portugal and its been 30 degrees all week. But France too had its share of our rain even on Presidential inauguration day so I can’t be too glum!

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