I've visited every country in Western Europe before blogs existed. Therefore, you won't find a blog about each one, only on the countries I have re-visited recently.
I'll confess. Technically I haven't been to ALL the countries in Europe. I still have to go to Iceland (most of the island is in the European continent).
I've visited all the other European countries at least twice. This section covers the Western European ones.
Let’s examine geography first. For example, someone from Slovakia often feels smart because he can name at least ten countries near him and explain what’s basically going on there. He says Americans are stupid because they can’t do this.
Humans are regionally focused. Today, for the average human, that radius of interest and knowledge might be 500 km. For someone in Nebraska, that means being able to name 10 states around him. For someone in Belgium, that means 10 countries. The level of geographic knowledge is effectively the same. Europe and the United States are roughly the same size. Although it’s true that a Nebraskan won’t find Belgium on a map, it’s also true that a Belgian won’t find Kansas on a map. And neither will find Togo or Cambodia. People are generally ignorant of anything that is beyond their geographic radius of knowledge.
Europeans often criticize the “American smile.” They say that Americans are fake, because they often smile when they are not really happy. Americans pretend to be happy to see you, when they’re not. A customer service representative might greet you with a cheery, “Hi! How can I help you?” when she’s really a mean bitch.
Eastern Europeans somehow think that they are superior because they give you a scowl instead of a smile. Frankly, I’ll take a fake smile everyday over a sincere scowl. I might delude myself, but I don’t care. It just feels better. Why, when we have the choice between giving a smile or a frown, should we opt for a frown? The waiter and the person at the checkout counter has a choice. Why not put on a smile?
Some may say it’s not simply a choice between a frown or a smile. There’s a third way, the European way, which is a neutral face. This, Europeans claim, is the most sincere. “Why should the store representative smile at you when he doesn’t even know you? That’s insincere,” the Europeans argue. “It’s better to have a neutral face.”
Look at yourself in the mirror and put on your best neutral face. Imagine someone just walked into your store and you’re wearing that neutral face. What does it look like to the customer? It looks a bit cold, distant, unfriendly, and unapproachable. Obviously a frown is even worse, but the neutral look is off-putting too.
Furthermore, the neutral look would be fine if the customer service agent would immediately brighten up once they learn that you’re not trying to rape their daughter. However, they don’t. Even after you smile and are friendly, they often keep that same neutral, ambivalent face throughout the transaction. In Eastern Europe the neutral look will sometimes turn into a tirade against your simple attempts of communication. It makes for a lousy and cold experience.
Several Eastern Europeans thought I worked for the CIA. They asked, “Why else would you be in Albania?”
It’s hilarious what Eastern Europeans seriously believe the CIA does: