After our 3-week family trip to Europe, I am reminded that American time and ways are not the only way to move through life. And, in fact, it’s a relatively new way to live compared to cultures who have been around for more than a thousand years. But, of course, that is one of the great benefits of travel: not only seeing amazing places and beautiful things, but to be reminded you are part of a bigger world and remove yourself from your insulated environment.

San Gimignano Restaurant

As we traveled through Ireland, France and Italy, and especially through Italy, we felt the rhythms of a different way of life, a way that has been lived since ancient times. My husband and I easily fell into their mode of eating, with a kids struggling a bit. Light breakfast of a pastry or two (no eggs to be found), a sandwich lunch (I am forever hooked on the ham and cheese with butter baguette in Paris), a light snack (gelato anyone?) to hold you over until dinner and then a late dinner (7 p.m. at the absolute earliest) lasting for hours.

We were surprised how naturally we fell into this rhythm, seeming as though that’s the way we had been meant to eat all our lives. While we seemingly gorged on pasta and wine as plentiful as water in Italy until 11 p.m. some nights, one of us came back losing weight and the other with no weight gain at all.

In Italy’s hilltowns, locals came out as dusk set and the tourists went back to their hotel rooms for a rest. Old men sat reading books and newspapers in chairs outside their door, kids kicked soccer balls around the piazza or chased pigeons, women chatted with big gestures and loud talking about some local gossip.

Seasons and holidays are set around Christian celebrations and ample time is left for long vacations where their entire country seems to be “closed for business.” We were surprised when arriving in Paris that the Monday after Pentecost, a Christian holiday in June celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles after Jesus’ ressurection, was an official “holiday” with stores and restaurants closed. Certainly few in American even know what Pentecost is, let alone celebrate it as a day off. Italy takes off the entire month of August in celebration of Mary’s assumption, body and soul, into heaven with festivals and parades held in honor.

Bologna restaurant
The food in Bologna was amazing!

Everyone is more relaxed, unhurried, enjoying the simple pleasures of fresh local food and locally-produced wines. Waiters NEVER bring you your check unless you ask for it; that would be rude and seemingly hurrying you through your dinner.

These are rituals and rhythms that have been lived for hundreds of years, passed down from family to family, culture to culture, country to country, town to town. We are stepping into the way people have lived lives in 1000 A.D., in 300 A.D. and even before when the Etruscans filled Italy. Is it right because it’s old? It certainly feels right.

While we try hard not to overschedule our kids or sign up for too many volunteer activities, we still feel the stress of sports schedules, school schedules, meetings, grades, clients and phone calls. I suppose we get through these times so we can have time off to just “float” through life, taking in new people and places and seeing wonderful things. It’s a balance. Swing one way for a bit so you can swing the other way for a bit.

We find ourselves now back in our regular routine, though a bit more relaxed with school out for the summer, and already longing for our relaxed days in Europe. I hope we can adapt some of the culture we absorbed there into our own lives: perhaps searching out fresher produce, a new Italian or French market, sleuthing out a good Bordeaux or Chianti here in America, learning French, delaying our dinner past our standard 6:30 or 7 p.m., making meals something to enjoy rather than something to get through.

Is it possible adopt a European way of living in our American culture? I guess time will tell…

What has your experience been incorporating what you loved about other cultures into your own life?

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  • Lyn Mettler

    Lyn Mettler is a longtime travel writer for US News & World Report, USA Today 10Best and The TODAY Show who created Families Fly Free, a program which teaches families her simple system to use travel rewards to fly for free.

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