This post goes out to anyone who’s dreaming of visiting Europe.
Ever since I came back from my semester abroad, I’ve noticed that there is some sort of dreamy, romantic view on France and Europe in general. My friends or family, after hearing I’ve been, always say things like “Wow! Europe must have been incredible!” or “I’m so jealous!” I say similar things to people I know who have traveled around multiple states because that’s something I’ve never done, but they always respond “Yeah, but you’ve been to Europe” like it’s not comparable. I find this pretty interesting since America is such a vast and diverse country yet its citizens don’t see that. I’ve experienced the same thing when I say I’ve been to Canada. What is it about Europe in particular that we as outsiders put it on such a pedestal?
Part of it is distance. It’s so far that it makes it difficult to impossible for many to actually travel there. This unattainability means that most people only know Europe through movies and TV. In every movie or television show, Europe and Europeans are always depicted as sexy and mysterious. These depictions become reality to those unable to visit the continent. We see the smooth French prince in Monte Carlo or the sophisticated Englishman in about every movie and believe that that’s what everyone is like.
I’m not going to lie. I bought into this myth as well. Yes, of course I wanted to go to France to be surrounded by the language, interact with native speakers, and learn how the language is used in real life, but I was also just seduced by the image of France that I saw in movies like Paris, Je t’aime and even an animated movie Ratatouille made me believe that French food is the standard by which to compare all other food. These images became my reality when it came to France, its culture, and its people.
So talk about a reality check when I got to France/Europe and realized it’s just a place like any other. Yes, it’s gorgeous and has so much history, but all places do. It was a little like the Mona Lisa. You hear about how incredible a work of art it is, and then you go see that it’s just a small painting of a smiling lady. Nothing grand or life changing about it.
The sexy, mysterious European men everyone talks about are really just guys. Some of them are creepy European men who think it’s ok to harass you because you speak English. The incredible food is in credible – if you can afford. I, a college student who works at a fast food restaurant, could not.
Now, I don’t want to discourage anyone from travelling or studying abroad. My experience was absolutely incredible and life-changing. I made awesome friends from all around the world and visited places most people only read about. But there are unpleasant realities. Europe – or anywhere else in the world – is not some magical land where the bad things disappear. They have their own issues they deal with like we do in the U.S.
tl;dr Europe is great, but it’s not perfect.