I live in Europe. In London, to be precise. That makes me a European. Europe is better than America because it is filled with diverse countries and cultures. Right?
For example, one of the big advantages of being a European is that you can visit other European cities so easily. For me, Paris is only 40 minutes away by plane, or 90 minutes by train. You can be in Rome in less than two hours. Hamburg in an hour, Barcelona in two. And we Europeans benefit from this proximity by virtue of having access to a rich diversity of places, environments and experiences to stimulate our minds.
Or maybe we don’t.
Europe is amazing. At first. Until you start to discover, certain… let’s call them… patterns. I can honestly say that every time I visit a different European city, whether it’s Newcastle, Lyons, Verona, Berlin, Madrid or Ljubljana, I have at least one moment where I look up from my table at the café and realise that I’ve completely forgotten which European city I’m in.
You see, the thing travel agents don’t tell you about Europe, is that the cities over here are all actually remarkably similar. Instead of some magically diverse cultural potpourri, when you travel around the continent, you find places that are really only about as different from each other as two Starbuck outlets in the same shopping mall. If you’ve ever considered taking a holiday to the old world, I’m about to save you a lot of time and money on guide books. Here’s a manual that can be used to describe any and every single goddamned city in Europe:
Welcome to Generic European city !
We have a long history, that started around Roman times, when London / Paris / Rome / wherever was first settled. Our city, Stockholm / Amsterdam / Krakow / wherever has an excellent location, very conducive to trade because it lies on a river / harbour / lake. Speaking of history, we could talk about the plague years / great fire / great earthquake / inquisition / Nazi collaboration / past Eurovision song contests we have hosted, but why dwell on the negative?
Your first stop should be the old town, near the castle, where you will walk along cobblestone streets, and you can go to overpriced cafés – don’t worry about making yourself understood, as they all have rude, multilingual waiters, as well as menus printed in four or five languages! There are many shops in the old town where you can buy crap souvenirs from immigrants. Who doesn’t want a teaspoon with the word “Lisbon” / “York” / “Bucharest” printed or engraved on it? Or how about a small replica of the Eiffel / Pisa / Blackpool / Tallinn TV Tower? It’s the tallest structure in the city, but you can buy one that will fit in the palm of your hand! Ha ha ha / jajajaja / bjork bjork bjork !
As for tall buildings, over on your left you can see our Cathedral. Of course we have a cathedral. There’s always a cathedral! We are very proud of the fact that our cathedral is the largest cathedral in the world / outside of Rome / in this country / er, I dunno, but it’s pretty big isn’t it ! Please when you go into our cathedral, be respectful – it is an active, holy, religious site. And it costs only £9.50 / 11 Euro / 80 Danish Krone to visit. American Express not accepted. Souvenir shop inside, of course.
If you pay to go up to the top of our cathedral, you will get a spectacular view of the city. You can see the old bridge, which is one of the most beautiful in Europe. It has sculptures of Lions / Neptune / Poseidon / some bloke you’ve never heard of on a horse at its entrance. Very beautiful, ja / si / oui / da / yes ?
And here is the main town square / piazza / platz. It is lovely now, but back in medieval times, this is the location where we used to execute by hanging / firing squad / guillotine all of the criminals / jacobins / heretics / collaborators / mimes. But now there is a museum, many expensive outdoor cafés with menus printed in four or five languages, and of course our amazing and unique shopping stores- just look, we have Benetton / H&M / Zara / Gap outlets. We are very fashion-savvy!
But we are most proud of our food. You will eat well here, (if you avoid the old town cafes that have menus printed in four or five languages). We have the best bread / chocolate / smelly cheese / tasteless potato dumplings in the world. On Tuesdays / Saturdays / alternating winter solstices we have an outdoor market right in the city centre, where you can buy olives / fruit / smelly cheese / tasteless potato dumplings directly from the people who have produced them or made them smelly! Unfortunately, we will be closing down when you get here- it is a shame that our markets somehow seem to always close just when you tourists arrive!
Perhaps this is because we know that life is not all about work and we like to go home early for our daily siesta / drinking session /workers strike. You Americans think we Europeans are lazy, but when you visit Naples / Prague / Marseille / Liverpool you will see that we know how to live. It’s not all work, work, work with us- we also have culture. We have our annual religious / communist / smelly cheese rolling festival, and we are very literary-minded, as we have a rich history of illustrating / printing / authoring / burning books. In fact, we are proud to let you know that this city is a UNESCO world heritage site / a European capital of culture / a place where people wear socks and sandals together ! I know we have a reputation among Americans who find us to be rude / patronising / disinterested / slightly odorous but this is merely ignorance – and jealousy. You wish you had the diversity of culture, food, architecture and experiences we have here in Amsterdam / Cologne / Brussels / Geneva / Chernobyl / wherever. So broaden your horizons, you unsophisticated, provincial Yankees – I invite you to come visit us, see our old town, our beautiful bridge, our huge cathedral, our busy town centre, and try our smelly cheeses. They are all truly, truly unique.
— Hugo or Maria, your multilingual but underemployed and overeducated young tour guide
I have translated this
menu blog entry into four or five languages