I’ve traveled a decent amount, and I must say, whenever I leave the U.S., I usually find bits and pieces of new countries that make me jealous that my home country isn’t like that. Don’t get me wrong–our country does a lot of things right. But we could all learn from a slower, more intentional life pace. If I could, I’d choose a few things to bring back to the U.S.:
- Walking as the Primary Transportation: You’d be hard-pressed to find a country more spread out than the U.S. Yes, there are plenty of nations bigger than ours, but not many whose individual towns and cities are so spread out. I live in a relatively small metro area, in the nearest suburb to the main city, and I have a 20 minute drive to work downtown (when there’s no traffic). On my drive there, sidewalks only exist for a total of about 10 blocks. There’s no public transportation. When I lived in Spain, I had a 2+ mile walk to school each way, and I walked there twice a day (everything closes in the middle of the day for lunch). I also had the option to take a bus, but why would I do that when so many other community members were walking alongside me.
- Value of Quality, Healthy Food: There’s a reason why many countries won’t allow U.S. food inside their borders–the standards of food quality are much less strict. We’ve made food so efficient that it doesn’t taste good anymore. I’ve never even been to France to taste its famous bread, but I can tell you that bread anywhere in Europe is anything you find here. If you want to eat bread today, you bought it this morning. You wouldn’t think of buying it earlier or it wouldn’t be fresh. Going to the market is often a daily task–otherwise your produce isn’t fresh. But it’s not a burden–the small, frequent trips are part of routine. Plus, they usually involve walking a block or two away (see #1).
- Emphasis on Family: In many other countries, it’s common to see multiple generations living under one roof. I’m not advocating for that personally, but there is something to be said about the importance of family and the joy of spending time together. Gathering with the extended family isn’t relegated to one holiday a year. Instead, many families gather all together every Sunday or even more often.
- Slower Pace: I already mentioned–in Spain, every single person went home for two to three hours in the middle of the day. You’d also spend most the day Sunday resting. You didn’t really have a choice since everything was closed. It’s a common site to see people just sitting on park benches for hours, enjoying the company of their neighbors. In Mexico, you’ll often see people just resting in the afternoon, not worrying about all they need to accomplish. In the U.S., so many people don’t even set aside a 30 minute break for lunch.
It’s easy to focus on these things and wish that things were different in our own culture. But what if we tried to change them instead?
I can walk everywhere I can (which isn’t many places in my current city, divided by a highway with no sidewalks). Even if I can’t walk to my destination, I can enjoy walking just to enjoy my neighborhood and those around me.
I can grow my own food whenever possible. I can avoid packaged foods with ingredients I don’t understand. I can make other things from scratch. It tastes better and honestly isn’t much harder most of the time.
I can create a culture with my own family to value each other and the time we spend together. Even if the miles separate us, we can find ways to stay a part of our daily lives through technology.
I can choose the slower, more intentional life pace.
It’s not always easy and may not seem natural, but we can choose which parts of our culture we base our lives around and which we choose to break the norm on. I’ve been reading “Notes From a Blue Bike,” by Tsh Oxenreider, where she talks about how this played out in her own life. Through her beautiful essays including stories from her own life, she challenges us to make changes that feel natural to us. It’s not a weird self-help book (not a fan of those). It’s just a glimpse into how one person started living more the way she was intended to.
After living in Turkey for a while, Tsh returned to the U.S. and found the drastic differences of societal pressure regarding food, work, entertainment and more. Then she realized she could actually choose not to pay attention to those pressures.
One step at a time, we can shape our lives more into how we were meant to live. Not with pressure from society or to be perfect, but just in ways that feel right to us.
P.S. I’m only 2/3 through the book, but I’d totally recommend it. A quick, worthwhile and inspiring read.
This post is part of the Blue Bike Blog Tour, which I’m thrilled to be part of. To learn more and join us, head here.