Experiencing European Leisure

Something I’ve noticed about life in Europe is that the pace is much slower than it is in the US. When we were staying in Salzburg, Austria–a resort town in the Alps that is the destination of both Austrians and international travelers–we had come back from a long day of sight-seeing and shopping. My mom and sister wanted to take showers before dinner, but my dad and I were ready to go, so we decided to head outside and get a cup of tea at one of the little cafes that are everywhere in Europe.

It was delightful. We got some tea and sat overlooking the Residenzplatz, a square with a huge fountain in the middle, which was used for part of the Sound of Music film. My dad was reading a mystery, and I was working my way through Shakespeare’s As You Like It in preparation for one of my tutorials at Oxford.

After a while, a little old Austrian man who was sitting at the table next to us turned and said, “You must be very busy people, if you’re working while you have coffee.” I thought that it was a funny way to begin a conversation. We told him that for us, reading was very relaxing, but his European idea of relaxation was just to sit.

That would drive me crazy. I like to be doing things.

But this is very typical of life in Europe. Waiters don’t rush customers at restaurants–in America, as soon as the food is gone, the plates are taken and the server brings out the bill. In Europe, however, we’ve sometimes had to ask the waiter for our bill after sitting around for 30 to 40 minutes after the food had been cleared away.

One of my favorite places we’ve stayed has been a tiny village in the midst of the French alps called Le Freney d’Oisans, which consists of about two streets. Blink, and you might miss it. We stayed at the one hotel in town, which overlooked a rushing creek at the back of the building. There were hardly any people around, and the streets were quiet. It reminded me very much of the opening scene in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: “Little town, it’s a quiet village…”

It’s been so good for me to see the slow, simple lifestyles of these people–a couple tending a vegetable garden next to the creek in France, the little Austrian man who had only lived in two different apartments his entire life–and to realize that perhaps my life is a little too busy. There is something in the phrase, “Stop and smell the roses.” The roses are worth smelling.

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