Episode 376: In Europe, Nothing is Just the Beginning

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we tackle Mark’s European Vacation.

otip-logo-podcastonePeter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather overthink Mark’s European vacation.


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9 Comments on “Episode 376: In Europe, Nothing is Just the Beginning”

  1. Nicholas Nutter #

    Playing music? Instrumental benefits? I see what you did there, Wrather.


  2. Adrian #

    I had the amusing experience of watching Keanu Reeves’ ’47 Ronin’ dubbed into Spanish while visiting Colombia. I don’t understand nearly enough of the language to follow any of it, but I actually enjoyed it a lot, just absorbing all the visual weirdness. Interestingly, the actual Spanish-speakers I was with found it more boring than I did, because there wasn’t as much action as the trailer promised.

    One common thing I’ve noticed whenever I’ve been outside the US is I’m always told never to flush toilet paper. The pipes are too narrow to accommodate it and it will cause a clog, so there is generally a small trash bin next to the toilet for that purpose. I’ve never been in a restroom with a bidet, but I imagine one advantage to using them is you avoid that problem entirely. It would certainly seem preferable to having to deal with a can full of used toilet paper, especially since visiting foreign cultures usually involves a period of digestive adjustment to the local cuisine, and I believe I’ll stop there now, cheers.


  3. Tom D #

    Two special requests:
    1. Could we get a compare and contrast Europe with other large cultural shifts you have made? Mark often brings up he is from the American south; are the ways we talk about differences between America and Europe similar to the ways we compare the North to the South? You discussed the differences in the importance of religious standard and the importance of day to day laissez faire behavior.

    From Wrather, how is this similar to your move from the east to the west coast?

    You sought to explain experiences that confirmed your redetermined biases, did your moves after college have the same effect? I imagine that staying in America gives you certain through-lines and cultural touchstones to allow you to interact with institutions and norms in a similar way. But hey, perhaps as ‘implants’ to this south and the west of America you are still not exposed enough to your new environments to be ‘insiders.’

    Please please please give Pop Fixers a come back in some form. Mark’s perspective as a professional administrator of policy is uniquely valuable for discussing these kinds of topics. Also, I think discussing how problems are solved in these pop culture worlds gives the listener a vocabulary to discuss the world building choices that are made in the work. If you do bring it back, please do so as a podcast so I can catch it in my pod catcher, and if not a podcast as a post (keeping my screen on for Youtube drains my battery).


    • Mark Lee OTI Staff #

      1. Could we get a compare and contrast Europe with other large cultural shifts you have made? Mark often brings up he is from the American south; are the ways we talk about differences between America and Europe similar to the ways we compare the North to the South? You discussed the differences in the importance of religious standard and the importance of day to day laissez faire behavior.

      That’s tough. At this point I’ve spent about half of my life living in Georgia/Alabama, the other half living in Connecticut/New York, whereas I’ve only popped into Europe for a small handful of vacations, a week or two at a time. I did live in South Korea for three years, and I grew up in a Korean-American household, though. So after reflecting on this for a bit, I think perhaps the most striking contrast I’ve experienced when moving across cultures is that of collectivism vs. individualism. This plays out most dramatically in East Asian cultures (like the aforementioned South Korea), and it has some backing in psychological studies that take this theory beyond the level of mere stereotype. I’ve observed this play out countless times, both in my lived experience and in pop culture from this part of the world.

      Beyond that, I’d point to the urban/rural divide as another key contrast that I’ve seen play out in my travels. Population density seems to have a remarkable effect on how people view the world and interact with other people.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      I think one of the many ways Demolition Man is spot-on about modern life is that differences in how you use the bathroom are some of the most affecting and meaningful differences you experience when you travel – and that a lot of your experience in a place is shaped by how you use the bathroom and how you sleep. It’s funny, ironic and true that changes that might seem small by other metrics end up being the big changes that really matter, even if maybe that’s not how we like to think about it.

      For example, when I moved from New York to Massachusetts in 2005, I encountered a jarring difference in going to the bathroom — in Boston and certain other parts of New England, for some reason, the light switch for bathrooms is traditionally on the outside of bathroom doors rather than on the inside. I could look this up and figure out why it is, but I think my experience of the mystery of it is really what’s important.

      So, routinely, for years, I’d walk into a bathroom, close and lock the door, and briefly panic in darkness, feeling along the walls for a light switch that wasn’t there. This sort of experience virtually screams “YOU ARE NOT AT HOME.”

      This is important to the asymmetry of the cultural understanding of the traveler – that things that seem strange and exotic to you – rarified by their novelty, elevated or cast down by their foreignness – are, for the people who live there, for the most part, normal.

      Their experience of their bathroom is similar to my experience of my bathroom, even though my experience of their bathroom is night and day from their experience of the same space.

      And because the exotic experience of moments of intimate vulnerability make such a huge impression on people, it leads to outsized misunderstandings of what people are like, and overestimations of the essential differences between peoples.


      • Johann #

        The bathroom/bed differences is a great point!

        I am European and whenever I am in the US (and some other places) and I sleep in a bed that has several layers of sheets and blankets (instead of the European style “duvet” blanket in a cover like a pillowcase), I just don’t feel very comfortable.

        Another bathroom difference between Europe and the US: In Europe, you generally keep the bathroom door closed most of the time, and when you use it, you lock the door for some undisturbed time. In America, the bathroom door is usually (half) open, and when you use it you just close the door. So this has caused some uncomfortable situations, where either I tried to enter a bathroom while someone was using it (thinking that the door would be locked), and also, me just mindlessly closing the door after I used the bathroom – which led to others irratedly knocking on the door to see who was in there for such a long time!


  4. Johann #

    Fun topic!
    I am a German, living now in Switzerland, but I have lived for one year in Wisconsin when I was in High School.

    I liked your discussion of the overgeneralized “Europe” :-)

    I never noticed the thing about dogs in restaurants! It never even occurred to me that this could be seen as a “health problem”! And, while overthinking it, I cannot come up with a good reasoning why this should be a problem. Because the dogs loose hair? Humans loose hair, too.
    For me, this part of an aspect of American culture of being strongly (if not overly) hygienic in public places. Another example is the very common “no shirts, no shoes, no service”, which I have never seen outside of the US, and for which also hygienic reasons are stated, right?


    • Stokes OTI Staff #

      I think “no shirts, no shoes, no service” is more of a class thing. I’ve read that they started as an attempt to keep out the hillbillies in the 1950s (who would just wear overalls w/o shirt) or an attempt to keep out hippies in the 1960s (who would sometimes go barefoot). Neither of those claims is securely sourced, but both sound plausible. These days, I see other variations which aren’t even plausibly about hygiene: a store near my old apartment had a no hoodie policy, and a restaurant near my new place has a sign that says they won’t serve men who wear tank tops. Obviously that’s about keeping out a certain kind of customer. (And arguably about, you know, racism.)


  5. Mark #

    I just got around to listening to this podcast. I’m an expat in Europe, which I guess qualifies me for graduate-level commenting and observation, as opposed to the freshman-level cultural observation you get as a short-term tourist. That is, I see myself as qualified to advise and instruct tourists and new expats on cultural differences, while I’m never going to reach the level of casual knowledge of a native.

    On the dogs-in-restaurants thing, it’s not a question of hygiene. It’s more reflective of the culture of personal responsibility, in that you are responsible for your dog’s behavior. If I see that you have chosen to bring your dog to a restaurant, I have the expectation that you will make sure it behaves and doesn’t disrupt my meal. It’s the same as with kids in restaurants. In the U.S., we’ve all experienced kids being very disruptive in restaurants and the parents not doing anything, with the “my kids are more important to me than your dining experience” attitude. You don’t see that as often in Europe (except for tourists with their kids, actually).

    It’s the same cultural attitude that allows something like the no-speed-limit autobahns, since everyone assumes that the other drivers will drive safely even without set limits. In the U.S., we assume that without limits some portion of drivers will become reckless. Likewise, if you’re allowed to bring dogs to restaurants we assume that some portion of people will bring poorly-behaved or dangerous dogs to restaurants, and therefore no dogs are allowed.


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