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What are the differences to life at home in Europe compared to North America? Here’s a snapshot of an answer from our globe-trotting writer Steffani Cameron.

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When I was young, I thought I’d travel all over the world, but it’s taken four decades to finally get to mainland Europe, and now that I’m here, I’m learning that Europe seems way sleeker in the movies, but real life comes with all the strange little things you only see when you’re living there.

Fact is, there’s some strange stuff out there when you start travelling.

Feeling flushed: Bizarre bathrooms

Here in Croatia, for instance, toilets flush with the power of Niagara Falls. Water conservation? That’s not what’s going down the drain here, folks. I never knew a toilet could be so downright inefficient. It’s probably why no two toilets look the same. They haven’t found a design they like, maybe.

In fact, bathrooms are just weird all around. My shower is in one room and the toilet is 15 feet away, in another room. I have to make sure the bedroom AND living room curtains are closed, or keep my clothes on, if I intend to do some of nature’s business immediately before or after a shower. It’s bizarre, but it’s due to the age of these buildings and how amenities at home have changed over the centuries.

And then there’s the scented toilet paper. Have you ever given thought to just how much a losing battle scented toilet paper is? It’s as foolish as having scented garbage bags back at home. What kind of delusions are you living under if you think those scents have any hope of overpowering the stench they’re designed to deal with? Talk about unnecessary chemistry.

It’s a lock: entrance hijinks

The door locks here, now those baffle me. It’s like they were designed by people who deliberately want you to use less of your life for constructive activities. Some of the locks here have a 5-day learning curve. It takes three full turns to the left or the right to lock or unlock a door. God help you if the door shuts and you’ve forgotten your keys, because it’ll be locking anyhow.

european door flower pot exterior

I remember with faint chuckles now how I thought my old lock at home was a hassle. I’d kiss it now after five weeks of finagling with these fussy European locks.

Another thing that takes getting used to is being in apartment buildings where hall lights are not on 24/7. Energy is expensive here, so there are illuminated light-switches instead. They’re on timers and you’ve got 2 minutes to make it to your door or the lights go out again, but fortunately the switches are by every suite doorway.

Legacy spaces

Then there’s just the weirdness of living in places that are a couple centuries old. 250 years ago, where did they put the electric and plumbing? Oh, wait, there was none. That’s why, where I’m staying now, the floor jumps up and down all over the place.

Six inches higher in the bathroom and shower rooms, six inches higher right in front of the kitchen counter, because that electrical and plumbing has to go somewhere, so why not raise the floor? It makes “wheelchair accessible” lifestyles tough to score here in the Old World.

Addresses and streets

Probably one of the hardest things to wrap one’s head around, though, are the addresses and streets. It’s baffling to try and figure out the numbering system here, and I thank the good lord I live in an age with GPS and smartphones, because I just need to follow the little blue dot on the map.

Some streets have ascending numbers on one side and descending on the other. And building numbers? Oof, not easily found, I assure you. There’s something we’re really doing right back in North America. I’ve seen articles that explain how clearer home-addressing literally saves lives because emergency services can easily find homes.

european streets

Kitchen appliances

It’s surprising how much culture clash comes with just the little things. Here in Croatia, toasters aren’t as common as they’d be at home. Why? Because they go out for their morning coffee. It’s a social and cultural thing.

They’ll grab a pastry, enjoy some coffee, and go on with their day. If I’d known it’d be 2 weeks before I saw a toaster again when I left England, let alone before I saw toast, I’d have made that midnight snack of toast with my friends on my last night there a much more religious experience than it was.

But it’s not all weird

But they get a lot of things right here, too, and I’ll be telling you about them sometime soon as well. It’s great, getting to compare and contrast the lives we lead and how we do so. It’d be wonderful if we all had the chance to travel and try out new cultures and methods and then improve upon them.

Sometimes it really does feel like North America is the new world; the world’s emigrants have all migrated there and decided to end the weirdnesses of their worlds back home and find new, better, more efficient ways of doing them. Sometimes, though, the old ways have a lot of appeal too. That’s for another day.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.