America and Europe- A Wide Value System Divide
Born and bred in the US, I believe that American individualism is a central pillar of society. Of course, it may mean slightly different things to different people. But generally, it is the idea that with minimal government intervention, people are free to pursue their dreams. I as a human being am free as long as I’m self-sufficient, and this is central to our value system in the US. Moreover, I am my own person, meaning I am unique, autonomous and responsible for the consequences of my own acts. Let’s explore the hidden qualities of life in Europe vs US.
Therefore, my life is centered around myself rather than my family or community; sounds egotistical or a bit selfish. And it is this individualism that allows remarkable American innovation and growth, from science to technology to the economy.. But the fact is that the individualism that prevails in American culture does not hinder us from also serving our society, with a multitude of factors bridging the two concepts, including tradition, shared experiences and religion.
That individualism that characterizes the US is not found in Europe. European society, while valuing the individual-ness factor, moulds individuals into a cohesive collective. The “group” is a central aspect of what Europe is today. As a society, Europeans have decided that the group is better off when everyone in society has a chance to compete, while leaving nobody behind. In general, European countries, in contrast with the US, offer citizens access to an education, healthcare, transportation services, a plethora of social benefits.. A true level-playing field! Society has indeed decided that it is only as strong as the least well-off citizens within it.
Public Spaces- A Distinguishing Factor
It’s easy to routinely spend Sunday mornings at your local coffee shop. But sometimes, all you want is to be in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. In contrast with cities in the US, cities in Europe offer a ton of public spaces to roam around. You don’t have to share rare green spaces with a ton of other people. You don’t need to possess a car or any means of transportation- public transport will take you anywhere! And, just as importantly, you don’t need to pay fees or spend any money. This is hardly the case in the US; more and more people realizing that modern life is taking a huge toll on their mental and physical health. Unfortunately, there’s a real dearth of natural spaces within American city centers for people to wander about and reconnect with mother nature.
Europe enjoys a healthy relationship with capitalism. Education and healthcare are red lines. Citizens’ data and privacy online commands respect. Not all aspects of life are easily commercialized in the name of profits, shareholders and corporations.
Culturally, people have not abandoned their taste for original culture and authenticity. Take local theaters for instance. In Prague, Czech Republic, people go to local theaters rather than watch Hollywood productions in cinemas. Yes, go watch a local theater in France, Lithuania or Austria. You’ll be lucky if there were subtitles; but the point is to be conscious of locals’ need for sincerity away from Hollywood sex, violence, and advanced visuals. Thank goodness, humanity is well alive and tangible in Europe.
More Regulation- from Apples and Bananas, to GDPR, Privacy, Facebook and Tech
Regulation is a centerpiece of European institutions. Sometimes too much regulation is just too bureaucratic for no apparent gain. But regulation has achieved so much already to justify its existence. Quality standards are high. In the US, your lifestyle is largely dependent on socioeconomic standing; however, the same can’t be said for European societies. All citizens access clean sanitary water. Medicine is not a joke in Europe, with EU institutions authorizing medications only upon establishment of safety parameters- long after the same meds are introduced into the US. The same goes for supplements we consume on a daily basis, many of which would make it onto American store shelves but not European ones.
No wonder Europe boasts the highest life expectancies despite many of its member countries on the peripheries only recently joining the club but quickly learning to adhere to higher standards- despite varying levels of wealth and resources. Remember Flint, Michigan’s water scandal? That would never happen in France, Germany, Italy, or Poland. Of course, there’s a silly side to the story as well, with apples and bananas receiving a fair share of regulation as well. A banana produced in Western Europe should have almost exact characteristics and dimensions as that produced in Central Europe. Now this is excessive; maybe one day some high ranking official in the EU can communicate the official stance on the topic. Btw you can see our other article about the privilege of being born in an advanced, democratic nation here.
GDPR- Europe Leads the World
As the world undergoes a rapid digitalization, policymakers and institutions have been slow to act. In brief, regulation is failing to police now-commonplace digital practices that violate and infringe upon people’s personal freedoms and right to privacy. These practices are far from limited to the large tech corporations. For example, by booking a session at the spa or going to your local massage parlor in Chicago, you may soon fall prey to a complex array of targeted ads luring you to buy healthy cosmetics and spa products- through various channels such as your web browser, email, or phone texts. It’s happening as we speak, from the supermarket to the car rental, hotel booking, and e-commerce etc..
The EU has decided to act, moving quickly to introduce the landmark GDPR regulation, also known as the “General Data Protection Regulation”. GDPR addresses seven core areas. The first is lawfulness, fairness and transparency. The others are purpose limitation, data minimization, accuracy, storage limitation, integrity and confidentiality (basically security), and finally accountability.
For instance, in the EU, if you get a massage at the spa, the spa is not allowed to sell your data and that of other customers to a 3rd party. You shouldn’t expect any less than that, given that you haven’t given consent to some massage parlor selling your name, number, email address, health info, and all sorts of private confidential data to another company. Who knows how that could play against you in the future! Imagine a US insurance company refusing to grant you insurance or imposing much higher premiums just based on information suggesting the existence of higher health risk factors. Such practices are now all prohibited, outright a breach of the law, in the EU. The US, hopefully, should and will follow.
The Sick Men of Europe
Europe is not perfect, but there’s much to learn from the “sick men of Europe”. We have a society that provides for its weakest individuals, irrespective of their personal circumstances or struggles. It’s also a society that prioritizes nature and provides green escapes within city centers. Moreover, people seek authenticity, rather than accept to be pawns or passive victims of complex corporate marketing schemes persistently fixated on targeting your ever-thinner wallets. Institutions, meanwhile, work to provide quality services in return for taxpayer money. True, you can’t make it to a million dollars as fast and simple as you can in the US- it’s called the “American Dream” for a reason. But there’s much more than money to life, and Europe can provide that simple life that we’re all learning to appreciate. Explore the European culture more here.