Three hour meals are rare in the United States, but a European staple.
I spent this past semester in the Netherlands and every day was filled with magic and adventure. I can honestly say that I learned more about myself in 90 days than I have in my entire life. One of the biggest cultural differences that I miss about Europe is the dining routine. Eating a quick meal is considered rude in many cities and leisurely dining is more widely accepted.
At first I was taken aback by two hour dinners and sitting down for a 45 minute coffee break. “Can I have this to go?” isn’t a common phrase at a European coffee shop. You take your cappuccino, sit by the window and watch the world go by. The European lifestyle forces you to sit down and immerse yourself in the culture and I am so grateful for that. Americans don’t know how to relax! Our lifestyles are so fast paced, going from point A to point B, with no time to stop and look around. I wish there was a way to adapt our dining style to the European ways but it would be nearly impossible to break the speed across the country.
Europe is the place to people watch, listen to different dialects swirl in the air as people walk by, listen to street musicians, watch the sunset. I have a vivid memory of at least one meal I had in every city and what was going on around me as I ate. In Rome we ate pasta outside the Pantheon, in Barcelona we tasted tapas along the Mediterranean Sea, in Copenhagen we enjoyed drinks by the harbor and watched the birds dive into the water. In those moments, life seemed so simple. It was those times that I reflected on where I was and how big the world is. There are adventures around every corner if you look hard enough and I was lucky enough to find some pretty incredible places all across Europe.
As I adjusted to the longer dinners, I found myself having more intelligent discussions over a meal. Dining was the only opportunity to sit for an extended amount of time because we were so busy walking around the cities we visited. I bonded with my friends and we got to reflect on where we were and how far we came. The first trip was filled with, “I cannot believe we are finally here!” and then what seemed to be the next day we were sitting around the dinner table saying, “I cannot believe we are leaving Europe next week.” Time sped by faster than any of us could grasp but the meals we shared allowed us to bond and appreciate each day.
When I look at pictures of the food I ate, I connote each meal as moments filled with laughter and insight. Most of my fondest memories happened at the dinner table and I am so grateful to have inherited that dining style. It is harder back in the U.S. to feel relaxed at a restaurant, but I am eager to practice soak in everything and everyone around you. If you don’t step back and appreciate the atmosphere, the moment will pass by and disappear forever.
Cherish every meal spent with people you love because food brings people together. Thank you, Europe, for teaching me this crucial life lesson.