I have been trying to figure out how to close this thing. By the time we get home tomorrow we will have travelled some 13,000 miles visited over 16 cities and places and met innumerable interesting and wonderful people. Our version of the Great Race. Good thing they didn’t have the cameras on in the rental car for various map readings in Tuscany. Actually it was rather humorous as we circumnavigated a couple of roundabouts several times until we got the right exit point.
Let’s start with countries first. Denmark, Finland, Estonia and Holland were beyond charming. Russia was predictable if not disappointing. Lithuania and Italy were worrisome in their own way. Germany and the UK seemed open for business. Not only each city but their respective countries had their particular quirks and personality traits. It is odd but we have had very little discussion about politics here. It does not seem to be the center point of conversations as it is in the States.
Europeans as a whole stick to themselves and are not overly friendly unless approached. Take the Brits. They appear a tad cold and detached but when you engage them they are both upbeat and quite humorous. Their way of phrasing things causes one to pay attention carefully so as not to offend by saying “What?” several times in a row.And we supposedly speak the same language. The saddest and most forlorn had to be in Russia. The most laid back were the Finns. You felt like you were in Maine.
The Continent as a whole has the same problems and challenges that affect us. Their postal services are somewhat quaint but fast becoming irrelevant due to our cyber world. The pressing problem everywhere is the Aging Generation. People are living a lot longer but their care is becoming more complex and that in turn is putting pressure on the young.Retirement funds of all sorts are unfortunately underfunded.
Russia, Italy, Lithuania and Estonia are seeing populations contract and it is not good. The young people are fleeing in droves for opportunities elsewhere. Those bright lights appear to be in Germany and the UK and you can see it reflective by both the young people on the streets and the soaring real estate prices here in London. With less of a working population to tax the lesser states are forced to curtail services or raise taxes even further. Either way the situation is borderline untenable. Everyone understands that they have to lengthen the retirement age but no one is willing to broach the issue.Sound familiar?
Whether in the more socialistic countries or traditional states the taxes are high…for everyone. They probably range from a low of 35-40% for lesser incomes to 65% on the high end. Everyone pays. Especially in places like Holland and Denmark they really don’t complain because they feel they are getting a lot for their buck and they probably do with free healthcare and education through college.
In the latter they seem to be happy with their lot in life and don’t slack off but don’t become so rabid about their careers that they forsake quality of life. Many of these countries are minimalistic in their life styles. Homes are not chock a block with furnishings and are usually small and functional. I am sure there are manses and estates in the countryside but there is not a large presence in the cities. Square footage is expensive and they make every one of those square meters work.
Most of all these people like to eat….big time. In the morning there are sweet things of all sorts to choose from….almost to the point of distraction. There are croissants and pastries of every description and taste with a cappuccino or expresso to take away.
Lunch features paninis etc and snacks follow mid afternoon. Dinner doesn’t start any time before 7:30 and it goes on for 2-3 hours. That’s not non stop eating but a very leisurely pace between courses. People just linger as meals are an event and not merely a chore to be done with. There is not huge amounts of drinking either. In 30 days we only saw one well inebriated chap and he was a visitor.
I come away from all of this without a true sense that I would move here or there. We have a wonderful country and most definitely more than most. We should be proud but not haughty. As it relates to commerce and national success it is survival of the fittest here. I am not quite sure how the EU will survive if the top two or three have to keep footing the bill for the weaker allies? You get a good or bad feeling coming into the country by the airport and its major cities. Germany and UK are exemplary. Not always the rest. You ask yourself would you invest here or there and the answer is usually quite evident.
As with all the cities I have been to, the nations have a personality of their own. When you see all the countries in relative proximity to one another you can’t help but think of our United States. Some are dynamic and creative and others live off their more successful kin and not really contributing anything to the process. Some assemblies are thoughtful and demanding while others are politicians in the truest sense of the word. More talk than action.
We have met incredible people from a plethora of nations and a true diversity of occupations. Fellow passengers, passersby, waiters and bartenders. Hotel clerks, ship board stewards and maids. Talk about interaction. Incredibly there was a minute percentage of rude or obnoxious denizens of our planet. I’d have to think hard to recall them.
People are truly like you and me. They’re trying to make their way on this big blue marble.There are immigrants banging on the door here as well as America. Funny thing how people just want a better life and that is a universal concept. How we can accommodate all of them is our mutual challenge but an exciting one. There are a lot of very smart and talented citizens of the planet Earth.We just have to figure out how use these abilities to everyone’s advantage
As always and Ciao Bella for the last time this trip.
Ted The Great
Too many to figure our for this tired body and brain.
Will close with one thought projected by graffiti on a wall in Florence:
“If it is tourist season,why can’t we shoot them?” I hope not.