1. Actual New Yorkers.
Every time you go and see a show, an exhibition, or a movie here, there is invariably someone who ends up saying: “Oh, tell me what you think about it when you see it, I saw/did/tried it in New York several thousand years ago and I absolutely loved it!” Obviously, their talking about how they raised themselves above the rest of their European peers and pre-experienced all the current trends in New York makes them incredible show-offs. But at that point, they’re still bearable — still friends. They only become truly insufferable when they insist on living all year long like they lived during their precious weekend in NYC. They name-drop concept stores importing obscure Yankee products, only eat according to the latest trends they read on some food blog, and always answer the question “What should we do tonight?” with the question “Uhhh… what would we do if we were in New York?” No, we’re not jealous. We just wish we could still carelessly enjoy being in Europe without constantly comparing it to The City you saw for three days.
2. 24/7 stores.
While we’re still stuck in a “should stores be open on Sunday” debate in France and most of the grocery stores close at three P.M. in Poland (but then again, there are some that never close in Warsaw), it seems like Americans can shop anytime they want at their local supermarket. Any time I’ve discussed it with anyone here, though, the major argument I’ve heard is: “Yeah, but we can’t allow that to spread to Europe — look at Walmart, they are open 24/7, but at what cost? It’s removing employees’ essential right to have days off, a family life, time for leisure and meditation and a spiritual life. First you allow shops to open 24/7 and then there is no national health service anymore, college tuition skyrockets and you get a subprime crisis.” I usually totally agree. But craving Sour Cream and Onion Pringles and lemon Perrier at two in the morning makes me see only the good in the concept of 24/7 stores.
3. Barack and Michelle.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to espouse any kind of crazy, socialist political opinion no one here actually wants to discuss. I’m only talking about the incredible, casual coolness of the 44th President of the United States — I mean, look at the European leaders. We don’t care much about their private life, but what we find out invariably erupts in a humiliating volcano of scandal (Mitterrand’s secret daughter, Sarkozy’s too-rich friends and expensive hobbies, DSK’s entire existence). We don’t often hear about their hobbies, but when we do, we immediately start mocking them (Chirac’s fascination for farm life or Sarkozy’s recent discovery of some of the more major works of French literature come to mind). Our leaders are busy marrying former models who slept with Mick Jagger and having pool parties with underage Slovenians.
Meanwhile, Obama is singing at the AP dinner, wearing jeans while jogging outside of the Elysée Palace, and having a First Lady who mixes H&M with upcoming designer labels. How is it even possible to make the most difficult job in the world look so pleasant and easy and… normal?
4. Burgers chains everywhere.
Imagine it’s two in the morning and you’re lost in some wild European city you barely know. You’re drunk and, naturally, craving a burger. But not just any burger. You want something you can rely on, junk food you know. You don’t necessarily expect a burger you like, but just one that won’t disappoint you because everything will be exactly as you expect it. The thing is, all fast food chains and places where you can find good burgers are closed. You’ll have to settle for some uncertain, likely unsafe burger in some no-name shack. If you’re lucky, it will be passable. But it will usually taste unsettling because the meat is terrible and without that delicious, fast-food-chain meat flavoring added, and the sauce will make no sense (it was actually meant for a gyro, but they ran out of ketchup). It will be horrible. We just want a burger we can count on. We need to somehow justify our overpriced gym memberships. We need more fast food chains.
There are two places French actors move to when they are at a turning point in their career: Japan if they’re washed-up, Hollywood if they’ve managed to win an Academy Award and French movies aren’t good enough for them anymore. Even though I still can’t understand the former and the overall refusal to go on with a normal life, who am I to blame them for the latter? Think about it. You couldn’t say no to all the shiniest cars, the biggest producers and the best cocaine dealers gathered in one place — not when you’re on the verge of a career featuring a Michael Bay movie, a sex scene with Kristen Stewart, and selling out completely.
Because, you see, everything is much more complicated in Europe. Celebs here don’t have their own caste system where you can be safely hidden between one neighbor who’s the most bankable actress and another one elected 2012’s worst dressed. No, you have to cope with finding the right place in a capital city or somewhere that is isolated enough to discourage paparazzi from coming and finding you — we only have so many “really famous” people, after all. And there’s also the reality that the only places you can randomly meet a producer when you just happen to be carrying some business cards are Saint-Tropez in the summer and Gstaad in the winter, and no one should ever have to go there.
6. Easy access to peanut butter
God, I love it — but as I’d likely be morbidly obese if it was sold everywhere, it might be for the best that it’s so hard to find here.