As we were wandering the streets of Madrid recently, my dad turned to my sister and apologized for drinking coffee as we roamed. “I know, it´s so North American,” he remarked.
This reminded me of a recent encounter with a wonderful Couch Surfer (although that´s a bit redundant as I´ve never met a non-wonderful Couch Surfer!) who loves her particular brand of European car. As a very active fan of the Swedish car brand, she is a member of various forums related to Saab-topics. (You just vicariously experienced my google search to confirm that it was, in fact, a Saab. I´m not so great with cars, as evidenced by the fact that when my husband asked me what kind of new car my dad got, I told him “White.”)
On one such forum, she posted a casual inquiry regarding the lack of cupholders for coffee in her Saab. Someone replied something to the tune of “You Americans! Here in Europe, we have a coffee before we leave for work, and then we have one when we arrive. We don´t need to have coffee on the go!” She thought this was a worthwhile point, but she still uses a sneaker for her beverage needs, since she lives in a state that is quite a bit larger across than Sweden can ever hope to be and her driving needs are somewhat different than the average European. (The forum responder neglected to point out that consuming beverages in one´s vehicle was, until recently, against the law in Sweden, if you can believe everything you read on the Internet.)
My sister added that some European visitors to the US were horrified to see drive thru food service, people eating hamburgers in their car, and people drinking all manner of obscenely large beverages in transit. They made the typical remarks about obesity, stress, and other affiliated North American impediments to European enlightenment.
Once upon a time in a castle in southern England, our class was preparing for a midterm trip to Scotland. Our British program director told us to bring blankets, pillows, movies, books, snacks, and sundry supplies for this *gasp* four to six hour drive with frequent stops. Our motley North American crew of Canadians and Americans merely chuckled at this poor British person´s concept of distance and settled in for a good long stare-out-the-window contest paired with brief, intermittent naps.
While we may have much more stamina for such trips (you can be in the car for four hours and still be in Chicago, after all, while in Europe you´re liable to have crossed six countries depending on how fast you go), my uncle (formerly an insurance representative type person for a car rental company) did give a good warning to all of my sisters and me when we turned 16 and began, in some cases, driving. He told us that at any accident, at least one party involved would have something in their hand, be it cell phone, hamburger, coffee, other beverage, or radio dial, at the time of the accident, so multi-tasking is not really in your best interests or in the interest of safety when operating a motorized vehicle of any sort. This applies especially to lawn mowers and chain saws, for the record.
All that to say, Canadians and Americans (United Statesians is just too awkward) have a lot going for them when it comes to endurance travels. After all, I´m pretty sure we´re on the continent that brought you Ice Road Truckers (yes, yes we are). However, there is something to be said for stopping in a cafe for a coffee, or going home to make a phone call, or sitting on a park bench to read your Facebook status updates (or, in the case of most people in Spain over the age of 4, have a smoke). But I can be just as happy spending time with my mom in a smoke- (and dog-) free coffee shop on the South Side of Chicago as I am wandering the streets of Spain sans cell.