Descending through the smog to our sprawling pad of concrete after a vacation is a bit depressing—especially when returning from a backpacking stint in Europe. The American-studies major in me says to refrain from being ethnocentric when traveling, but damn, European culture is just plain better than Southern California's in many ways.
Of course, most people romanticize places they're unfamiliar with, but any time someone from the EU dreamily sighed at the mention of California, I had to shake my head. Breathtaking cathedrals and ancient ruins aside, they have hundreds of years on us in the social realm.
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First of all, let's look at how they deal with the basics, such as toilets, loos and water closets. The EU doesn't have pointless toilet-seat covers; instead, you'll often find a dispenser from which you can spray antibacterial cleanser on a piece of toilet paper, then wipe the seat. Then there are the magic robotic toilets found in community areas of Switzerland's metropolitan cities. Pay a mere half a franken (equivalent to about 50 cents), and you'll have the best public bathroom experience of your life! Pass through the sliding doors of the square, metal boxes, and paper is dispensed for you; light-up buttons control the water, soap and hand dryer. But the best part is after you leave: The inside is power-washed and dried for the next user.
Second, newspapers are still alive! Turns out the hysteria about print journalism dying is mostly a U.S. thing. Get on the Tube during rush hour in London, and almost every person, young and old, is reading the daily newspaper. Imagine if people picked up The Orange County Register in those numbers—then Aaron Kushner wouldn't have to lay off all those people.
Third, there's greater accessibility to antibiotic-, hormone- and GMO-free food. England actually outlawed GMOs altogether. You'll still find shitty foods in supermarkets across the EU, but you won't have to go to a specialty store to find clean products. The evidence is even in the fast food: McDonald's is never good, but it tastes a hell of a lot better over there.