5 Simple Things the US Should Adopt from Europe

I’m an American who lives in EuropeSwitzerland to be exact, and I’m home for a visit. I love Europe and I love America, but both could use a bit of infusion from the other to make things better off. (And when I say Europe, I want to acknowledge that there is no “European” culture or policy or procedure. Each country is very different!) For instance, if Switzerland could just adopt a bit of the attitude of customer service that American establishments have, that would make my heart sing. But, if the US could adopt these 5 things, they would make your hearts sing.

1. Regular doors in public bathrooms.

You know what we don’t worry about in Switzerland? Where Transgender people use the bathroom. You know why? Because bathroom stalls are equipped with full sized doors that have no weird gaps around the edges. You don’t have to peek under or peer through the crack to determine if anyone is in the stall–you know because when the door is locked, it shows red on the outside and when it’s empty, it’s green. It’s like magic. Seriously, USA, can we adopt this one?

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20 thoughts on “5 Simple Things the US Should Adopt from Europe

  1. I’m opposed to self checkout, because I believe that part of customer service is scanning, bagging and charging customers for, their purchases. Furthermore, I cannot see how they save businesses any money, or customers any time — at least here in the U. S. — since an employee is constantly required to assist customers having difficulty with the process or equipment. I refuse the use self checkout and will continue to do so until and unless there is no other alternative. I do believe that every public restroom should have individual stalls with doors that lock, which most already have. It’s shocking to me that some of our public schools have restrooms for the children that do not have doors on the stalls or toilet tissue; that is outrageous on numerous counts.

    1. I only have problems with American self-checkouts because of all the things I named! I never have problems in Switzerland.

      1. I love the self checkouts. I do agree the bagging thing is frustrating, but I think it’s to prevent people from scanning a cheaper item and putting in a more expensive item, or scanning one item and dropping in two items. As for the trucks – I WHOLEHEARTEDLY FRIGGIN’ AGREE! And yes to the bathroom stalls, too. The first time I saw one of those it was a revelation! (that and the green/red lights above parking spaces in certain garages over in the UK — genius!)

      2. I’ve seen different types of self-checkout systems here in the US. The one I love and use regularly is at my “home” supermarket, where I can pick up a scanner, scan items as I shop and place them right in my reusable bags. Then at the register I scan the “checkout” bar code, pay, and it’s off you go. Is this similar at all with the system you like in Switzerland?

  2. My immediate thought is the same as always with these sorts of things: The USA is not Europe, and attempts to implement European institutions in the USA tend to end badly. See shopping malls. You’re addressing symptoms of a much deeper issue–not a problem, just a fundamental difference between two cultures.

    #2 is entirely cultural as far as I can tell. Americans get less vacation time than practically anyone else because we WANT less vacation time than practically anyone else. I can say this with a certain amount of confidence because we don’t use what we have. There are of course confounding factors (the fear of being fired if we do, various issues with PTO vs sick time vs vacation time, etc), but the end result is that we have a culture that’s already not using its vacation time. This strongly suggests that, for whatever reason, workers don’t want it.

    #4 is also problematic. Often semis will block both lanes because they know there are cops ahead, and they’re slowing down traffic. I’ve been saved a number of speeding tickets that way. But again this is largely cultural–in the USA it’s acceptable to use the police force to generate income for the town/county/whatever via traffic fines. If the police weren’t actively engaged in such activities we as civilians wouldn’t have to develop coping mechanisms. (Please note that I’m not judging the morality of either party here–I am merely pointing out a cultural issue that underlies the activity us Americans engage in).

    #5 has been a complaint for, oh, 400 years or so. The USA is a more informal culture in general, and always has been. This includes the way we dress. I’ll agree with sometimes take it too far, but that’s the way our culture works. This is evident in our styles of dress, in how we eat our meals, even in our language.

    I’ll agree with the bathrooms, though. I have never understood the way American bathrooms are built.

    1. Our freeways are slowed down by trucks ALL THE TIME with no cops in sight, and with WAZE, that tactic is outdated. But, honestly, I’ve never once been behind a truck blockade and seen a copy anywhere up ahead. Not once. And I drive a LOT.

    2. James, In my experience on multiple trips from the U.S. to Europe, I have noticed a massive cultural difference with respect to speeding on highways. We in the U.S. exceed the speed limit on highways regularly because the posted speed is so low. Thus we have things like your comment about slowing down for the police. I’ve noticed that the speed on European highways and autobahns is so high or nonexistent that my European friends that I’ve talked to about this, really don’t have a concept of driving over the speed limit – why would you even consider driving faster than 130kph/80mph on certain roads, or how do you exceed the posted speed when the limit doesn’t exist? I’ve been on mountain switchbacks in the Pyrenees that had speed limits of 90kph/55mph and we crawled along at 30kph/20mph so we wouldn’t fall off the side of the mountain. The speed between 1/2 kilometer roundabouts (1/4 mile apart rotaries) goes up to 90kph but getting all the way up to that speed then immediately slowing down for the next roundabout is near impossible without getting whiplash. I’ve also seen the in-town speeds and those slow down for a good reason and people obey it. As for the semis in the right lane, I agree it’s nice to not have to figure out how to get around them as they slow down going up hills.

    3. “There are of course confounding factors… but the end result is that we have a culture that’s already not using its vacation time. This strongly suggests that, for whatever reason, workers don’t want it.”

      Yup, and that is exactly the justification that US employers use. “[Employees] don’t use it so they must not want it.”

      I am sorry but the ‘confounding factors’ you mention are by no means trivial, and no way endorsed by myself or anyone I know on the employee end.

      Frankly I am sick and tired of being asked to forfeit pieces of what little vacation I DO have, because, well…

      “George did! He is a Team player! He knew we had a deadline to meet (that we didn’t dedicate enough resources to in the first place) and was willing to sacrifice his vacation that was planned months in advance. For nothing more than a simple: ‘Job well done George!’ Now that is what we call dedication and taking pride in your work!”

      Well good for George. The fact that I insist on my receiving my full compensation package as promised, should not interfere or impede my progress in a company. And yet in the US that has absolutely happened to me.

      I forfeited over $3,000 in vacation time once because I was not allowed to take vacation, and was not compensated for the unused time at the end of my tenure. And of course I was in a state that did not have any employment laws regarding paid vacation, so I lost it. Had I known my employer would do this, I never would have accepted the job in the first place, because getting paid $3,000 less than the salary I was promised and not getting to take time off was not what I’d agreed to.

      So regardless of what anyone may say about stuff from Europe not translating in America, I am still on the side of workers being able to expect paid time off from an employer as the standard, not the exception.

      With all dues respect, calling this particular thing apples and oranges seems like something a business would cite just as they were giving their employees the short shrift.

      1. “[Employees] don’t use it so they must not want it.”

        This wasn’t meant to read like I was quoting James, it was meant to read as if I were paraphrasing the general idea.

        Sorry James.

  3. As a once, one-year sojourner in (cough, cough; I’m implying a lower bound on my age) *West* Germany, I concur 125% with #2 (vacation) and #4 (left-lane loafing on fast freeways). That’s 250% together, and I agree on the rest too.

    Also I really enjoyed the “blue laws”, long defunct in the US, which made the weekends more relaxing and truck-free for travel, too. So what if you couldn’t impulsively shop for lederhosen on Sunday at the town market?

    My then (German) girlfriend’s father had a 5-year contract with his employer, to my astonishment! Would sure make signing a 30-year mortgage here in the US a lot more palatable, eh?

    (Sigh, wistful longing for pedal-to-the-metal on the autobahn through the Alps on a sunny Sunday…)

  4. The reason for #1 is cost. Real doors, and walls around them, cost more to build than buying the crappy partitions. But even more important, they take up more space. Since the number of stalls is generally mandated by building codes, that means devoting more floor space to rest rooms. The cost differences are not trivial.

    The current trend, however, is to deal with the expense. And smaller businesses are tending more towards unisex, single station bathrooms (which in California now *must* be unisex by law), so some progress is being made.

  5. “So what if you couldn’t impulsively shop for lederhosen on Sunday at the town market?”

    Impulsive shopping is one thing. Emergencies are another. Only having time to shop on weekends is yet another. In an increasingly gig economy, laws restricting trade arbitrarily can have very real consequences for people, particularly low-income or young people. Or, more simply: Why should your desire for leisure trump the fact that my job only leaves me with one day to shop for food for my family?

    The religion part of this is non-trivial. Blue laws are a Catholic/Christian institution, historically and in practice–they were instituted to enforce the views of those sects. While Europe may be able to justify including such religious practices in their laws, there is no justification in the USA for scrambling my schedule to meet the demands of a religion I do not practice.

    1. Re: “Sunday quiet” (Sonntagsruhe) certainly has a religious origination, and Europe is (nominally) more religious than the USA. Regardless, IMO Sunday work restrictions have as much place in an decently-ordered society as worker safety, immigration, or prostitution laws. General restrictions on white-collar salary-serfdom (working more than 40 hours/week) should be implemented as well.

    2. There was a referendum in Switzerland a few years ago to do away with the Sunday closure laws. Switzerland isn’t very religious–most people don’t attend church, even though religion is still taught in the schools. But, the referendum lost. People really, really, really like having a day off, where all families can be together.

    3. Interestingly, Sunday trading laws in Northern Ireland are very much Protestant. The Catholic population is perfectly happy to do anything on a Sunday, but a particular (and vocal) subset of the Protestant population is in the “never on a Sunday” brigade. So it’s interesting to me that in other parts of the world it’s seen as a Catholic thing.

  6. #1 Experienced this at the place in Denmark where I worked. Very simple and effective.

    #3 One time at a local supermarket I became quite annoyed with the inane messages at the self-checkout kiosk. I started fulminating. An assistant manager politely told me not to swear. I explained that I was not swearing, nor was I cursing, but was using a few vulgarities. He seemed to not comprehend the difference among these three.

  7. The Walmart near my house has upgraded their self-service checkouts. They now have guns to scan heavy things without taking them out of the basket. They also do not annoy you about putting things in the bag. I used it yesterday and tried to make it complain because of this post but could not. It worked perfectly.

  8. I know that some states in the U.S. do have laws against left-lane loafing. I recall when IL passed one shortly before I moved from the state; however, I do wish all states had them (and enforced them).

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