Thursday, July 4, 2013

Top 5 Things The Old World Can Still Learn From Us Whippersnappers

While we anticipate the next exciting episode of the new hit show Where Goes Jozy?, I'll make the wait bearable by posting one of those non-soccer Top 5'ers I often promise and then forget - complete with a star-spangled theme. There's a couple more of these lists also ready, but let's save something for another wait-y day.


I'm not the only one. Some may find me on the Eurosnob-ish side (I love my bicycle and don't care who knows it), but we all often sit around enjoying the sublime virtues of the things originated over here that practically litter our lives. Americans may seem stubborn at times (in good and bad ways), but don't be fooled.

Pizza and croissants, beer and wine, cars and clothes, Cat Deeley and Simon Cowell... Europe's everywhere in America, we could go on for days. Adding in that much of the United States is made up of bloodlines that started there, it should be no surprise we also want their longer vacations.

And even though lots of cool stuff and people are imports, let's not forget our relatively young country does actually often know unquestionably better about certain things. But I'm not going obvious, such as with something like burgers or badass goalies. Instead, this list will present five golden peculiarities that prove it, ranked by level of real life annoyance for ex-pats missing them. Ahem.

#5 - Cheddar, yo.

The English version tastes like nothing. It's that simple. Every time I cook or go out to get Mexican food, the taste buds are left screaming something about Wisconsin. Sharpen it up, Europe, we know you like strong cheeses.

You had to know one of these was going to be a food item. But if you think this isn't a big deal, try living without proper enchiladas. I dare you.

#4 - Water and refills come gratis at restaurants.

Sheesh. Can a brother get some hospitality? Or at least an eight-ounce glass of palate cleansing quencher? Considering they like to be so green (and earn profits), it's so weird that Europe seems allergic to the wondrous soft drink fountain/bar gun.

Speaking of which...

#3 - Seriously, what's the story about ice?

Is it because it's essentially more free water? I'm not sure I understand the confusion here. Cold. Beverage.


Often, European shop fridges are even set barely above room temperature. There's not too much worse than a flat, lukewarm soda or cocktail, especially on a summer's day.

#2 - Public Transport Hotboxes!!

Sticking with the theme of heat - if not also to the train seat - what the hell? Even many of the newest trains in Europe have sparse ventilation, no windows that open (why ever, why?!?!?!) and plenty of glass to pull sunlight into cars already crowded with human warmth generators. Aside from worrying about every toddler and old person I see riding an offending tram during the hottest days of summer, it's damn near a human rights violation for me. My systems do not care to swelter.

Wanna see me freaking out? Stick me in a packed, fully enclosed Swiss bus, the ones with extra glass but no windows, wearing long pants and a sportscoat, with near-100 readings on the thermometer and humidity index. Oh, you'd see it alright if I would ever allow that to happen again.

#1 - Comfortable Chairs

Erm... what happened to the back support in pretty much every upholstered chair/couch I sit in over here. Seriously, the piece of wood that supports the back end of the cushions apparently does not exist here - IKEA needs to recognize. Don't laugh, their stuff is everywhere.

If I'm 5-foot-10 and the Dutch are the tallest people in the world on average, I guess that explains the preponderance of for reals Chinese massage salons, acupuncturists, chiropractors and yoga teachers in Amsterdam. I surely can't be the only one over here with ass striving for the floor, knees up to elbows and a lower back DEFCON chart. It's not that rare for me to suddenly jump out of a chair and yell "No more!" like I have spine Tourette's.

- Greg Seltzer


Tony M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony M said...

Awesome list. But one thing on their side: the BBC version of Top Gear blows away the American, which a surprise considering we invented car culture.

But that doesn't make up for lousy cheddar and insufficient ice

heythisisrobbie said...

Couldn't agree more on 2-4.

On this subject, I know there has been conversation in the past about why Heinekin is so bad in the US. I work in industrial automation sales and recently found out that all Heinekin beer distributed in the US is brewed in Mexico. Good, quality water may be the most important ingredient in beer, and it has a direct effect on taste. The green bottles certainly don't help the beer during shipping, either. I can't remember if I have mentioned this before, so I apologize if I'm repeating myself.

Greg Seltzer said...

I don't recall you sharing that, interesting note. And yeah, Americans can't believe the difference in quality when they get some Heineken or Amstel on tap while here.

Desert Rat said...

>>On this subject, I know there has been conversation in the past about why Heinekin is so bad in the US.

Your theory is wrong. First off, truly Mexican beer is quite tasty. There are few things better than a Dos Equis Amber on a hot day in Arizona.

The problem is entirely the green bottles. A green bottle, or worst still, a clear bottle (yes, I'm looking at you, Newcastle), is pretty much an invitation to allow sunlight (or artificial light) to degrade the beer, causing it to go skunky.

Now any beer will go bad if left in a bottle for too long. I've had the proverbial brown bottles go bad when it got buried in the back of the fridge for too long. Green and clear bottles just accelerate the process.

Buy a six pack of Heineken in green bottles at the store, and you'll be lucky if one of the six is still good. If you have to drink Heineken, do yourself a favor and buy the cans...they'll serve you much better. Or better still, buy something that tastes better than Heineken. IMO, it's a mediocre beer even if it hasn't turned bad in the bottle.

Andy said...

5. You're not buying the right cheddar. It's like Gouda - you have to know where to get the good stuff.

4. It's an historical/cultural thing. Water wasn't safe to drink for centuries, hence the prevalence of beer and wine with meals. It can be tough to get over centuries of habit.

3. Besides the above, central and northern Europe don't typically get hot enough for long enough to warrant it. Humidity is much lower in Europe than say, the East Coast of the US.

2. See above. Also, considering the trade-off of no-AC public transportation or what we have in the USA, I'll take the European version any day. After living in Europe for 22 years, besides the food, it's what I miss most.

1. :shrug: not something I recall having an issue with (and I'm 5'11").

heythisisrobbie said...

You obviously are not aware that Heinekin owns Dos Equis.

It has much more to do with the water source than the green bottle. Heinekin in Serbia is going to taste a lot better than the Heinekin here in Indiana even though they travel the same distance. Keep in mind that they use the same bottle, wort, yeast, brewing process, hops, etc.

Jay said...

Desert Rat, you're close: the problem is that it's being shipped. Yes, green bottles accelerate skunking, but that's only in the presence of UV light. Some brands (Becks in particular) have convinced their US drinkers that the skunkiness is a positive thing.

The real problem is that those bottles get loaded onto a truck, in the heat, and are allowed to stew in it for days or weeks at a time. Especially the stuff that actually makes it from Europe -- that stuff is sitting on a customs dock for a month or more! Heat accelerates all of the negative aging processes that naturally occur in beer: lipid breakdown (body of the beer), loss of bitterness by isohumulone breakdown, and the formation of unwanted carbonyls.

Jay said...

And as for the water source: any major brewery is going to use reverse osmosis to get water with literally no salt component to it, and dose it with their preferred additions. The water used in Netherlands will be no different than the water used in Mexico.

heythisisrobbie said...

Jay, they absolutely do not. They use the local municipal water most of the time. Trust me on this..

Greg Seltzer said...

@ Andy:

5. If you know of somewhere to buy Wisconsin sharp cheddar over here, do tell. English cheddar is weak weak weak.

4. How many people running or eating at restaurants remember centuries of unsafe drinking water? People here also drink water with meals.

3. First of all, I didn't say only England, the Netherlands, northern Germany and Scandinavia. Plenty of places in Europe get plenty warm. Either way, cold beverage means cold beverage. It does not need to be Moroccan desert summer for a beverage to served as it is intended. Soda and cocktails should be served cold.

2. Okay, but I did not say overall public transport.

1. Perhaps it's a new phenomenon, I don't know.

Andy said...

@ Greg,

5. My point was, get the RIGHT sharp English cheddar (from/in England)and it will more than satisfy your Wisconsin sharp cheddar cravings.

4. People having water with meals is a very recent phenomenon in Europe, likely heavily influenced by American tourists. It was practically unheard of 20 years ago.

3. The "cold" thing is a very American perspective. I'm a US military brat, and after spending 22 of my first 24 years in Europe, I was amazed by how cold everything was in the States. I froze in the air conditioning, my sodas were buried beneath mounds of ice, and I still don't get this "ice cold beer" fetish that Americans have. Ultimately, it's all about what you're used to. Fear not, though, with the steady influence of American media (shows on TV, movies) and American tourists, it won't be too much longer before the Europeans are burying their sodas under ice as well ;-)

heythisisrobbie said...

No English cheddar comes close to Wisconsin sharp cheddar. You've been in Europe too long.

And I refuse to go to Europe in late June/July/August because of their lack of air conditioners. There is no excuse for that.

And free refills are a common courtesy. If I get a fountain diet coke, I expect to drink as much as I damn well please. Do you have any idea the profit margin a restaurant has on fountain drinks?

heythisisrobbie said...

If you haven't noticed, Greg hit some huge nerves. That lack of refill crap drives me insane.

Tap water refill = €3. Get the hell out of here with your "clean water was historically scarce" bullshit!

Sílvia Santos said...

Greg, you are amazingly spot on! I will however also agree with the commenter that there is some good English Cheddar. I prefer ours but finding a good cheddar in Holland is pretty tough. I think water refills and what I perceived as a lack of service especially when it came to drinks where what i noticed to be most different. I do believe that Europeans in general dont drink as much water as we do, just culturally we are always told to stay hydrated. Agreed wholeheartedly on the heat in the train but no complaints here from the transport in Holland except Queen's(Now King's) Day.

Joosey said...

Cheddar may not be readily available, but I have a hard time accepting this as being particularly terrible considering the many other varieties of cheese more readily available in Europe.

Most French restaurants bring out carafes of water for the table, and refill a bit slower than my American-restaurant-going sensibilities would prefer. Soda is almost as bad an idea as smoking, so whatever on the refills.

For most of Europe for most of the summer having no air conditioning is mildly uncomfortable in an apartment or hotel room during the day, but the nights get cool enough that it's not a big deal.

Totally agree on the unventilated public transportation. Just, why? A/C is not all that much of an expense on a train, tram, or bus.

I guess I haven't been around Europe enough to form an opinion on their chairs.

My biggest complaint with Old World is the utter lack of BBQ and Tex-Mex.

Greg Seltzer said...

@ Joosey: Actually, people BBQ basically everywhere in the world - just not necessarily the style we grow up on. I'm not too bothered by this, because 1) I will usually just do my own BBQ at home & 2) it's given me the chance to fall in love with the BBQ styles of other places. For instance, Surinaam BBQ is KILLER, but I never would have known that otherwise. Now I eat it 2-3 times a week - at least I am until the best place in town closes next week. :(

@ Sílvia Santos: Coooool, spot on is what I was aiming for. Heh.

@ heythisisrobbie: The lack of AC really doesn't bother me, though it certainly would if I spent a lot of time somewhere along the Mediterranean. Windows open is my favorite, which is more than adequate further north.

@ Andy:

5 - Well, I've tried to find some, including whenever in England.

3 - You may call it cultural, but then I'm just calling theirs silly on the matter. Soda and cocktails should be served on ice, it brings the optimum drinking experience.

dikranovich said...

maybe since we got a us mens team match today, we can stop talking about BBQ and skunk beer and starting talking tactics and lineup.

happy belated 4th to everyone though!!!

Jay said...

Robbie, where do you think a brewery is going to source water from? There are two options: a well on site, and the municipal tap. Neither means that this water isn't being put through an RO plant. No brewery is going to put up with the seasonal variation in pH and chlorine additions that get put into the municipal water supply. RO plants are a cheap guarantee of water quality, end of story.

over there said...

You forgot to mention how their restaurants turn into snow globes of cigarette smoke in the winter, at least in the Balkans.

Greg Seltzer said...

I've seen or heard a few people make that remark about Europe recently, which baffles me because it's not at all true. I cannot speak for the Balkans, but most of Europe has public smoking bans in effect, including bars and outdoor patio areas.