By Michael Silverman
Here are some observations after returning from my third trip to Western Europe in the past five years.
Things you will see in Europe include really old buildings, cathedrals, palaces, walled cities and other architectural wonders. It’s amazing how so many enormous structures were built without modern technology.
You also will see lots of bikes and bike paths; motor bikes; roundabouts; sidewalks made of tiles or cobblestones instead of concrete; wind turbines and solar panel arrays; and lots of graffiti art.
Hardly to be seen are retirement and gated communities; pickup trucks and RVs; above ground parking garages; backyard swimming pools; or police armed with guns.
Europeans generally like Americans, but few would trade passports with us.
About 90 percent of them admired President Barack Obama. A similar percentage abhor our current president, are shocked that he was elected, and fear what he might do.
The European Union has 28 member nations. Open borders! You go through customs once entering and leaving, no matter how many countries you visit.
Almost all Europeans pay twice as much taxes as do Americans. For this they get free health care and education. Student debt is unheard of. Very few Europeans would be willing to give up their entitlements in exchange for paying less taxes.
A lot of tax money goes toward infrastructure. It shows. Major roads and bridges, schools and hospitals are in excellent condition, and tap water is fine everywhere. Public transit is ubiquitous, and works very well. Even traffic lights in cities are coordinated. The same cannot be said of the U.S.
Most EU citizens can speak a language other than their native one. Many speak three or more languages.
Children also are taught early on to respect the environment. Streets and countryside are noticeably cleaner than here. They also learn that illegal drugs are bad. There are far fewer drug addicts and overdose deaths.
Gasoline costs $6 per gallon or more. Most countries have no oil or natural gas. A few, like France, rely a lot on nuclear power plants. But all avidly pursue renewable energy sources, and are way ahead of us in that department. Portugal gets 60 percent of its energy from wind and solar power. Hardly any Europeans dispute climate change.
Far fewer Europeans attend church regularly than Americans.
Capital punishment is banned throughout Europe. It is considered barbaric.
Violent crime, except for terrorism, occurs much less often than here. But watch out for pickpockets!
I saw some beggars in Europe, but hardly any homeless people.
Unlike America, Europe has not done well at integrating immigrants. They know it. Many Americans resent illegal immigrants, but similar thinking Europeans don’t want any immigrants.
Ironically, Europe needs immigration. The birth rates are well below replacement level. Without immigrants, the EU’s social and economic systems would collapse in a generation.
Twenty-four European Union nations have parliamentary representative governments. Seven have monarchs, mostly just figureheads. Government is generally regarded as a necessary evil. Their system seems to work better than ours does at the moment.
If nothing else, the European Union has provided its members with 60 years of peace. A lot of prosperity, too.
America is still an adolescent nation. European countries are mature. We should learn from them.
Michael Silverman, of Amherst, is a retired educator who enjoys traveling, movies, wine and bridge.