I first went to Europe—on my own—in college, spending a summer exploring a dozen countries. From then on, smitten, I went as often and for as long as I could. Twice I wangled jobs there—first in England, then in Spain—that enabled me to stay for years.
Both gave me what I was seeking—the chance to immerse myself in European life. Because, for me—after that first heady trip there—Europe isn’t about the great monuments. Rather, it was the people and the daily way of life that attracted me…the diversity of languages and customs…the wealth of culture and history…
Life in Europe may be less luxurious than the U.S. by the standard measures we Americans often use—the houses smaller, the cars more compact, the utilities pricey—but it often feels richer in quality, more textured, more civilized. It’s easy to glean pleasure from the simple moments there.
When I talk to IL readers who dream of living in Europe, these are the things that attract them. They dream of living in a thousand-year-old village in Tuscany; of lounging in sidewalk cafés in Paris or Palermo, or enjoying a pint with the locals in an Irish pub; of taking part in festivals in Brittany or Bavaria; or shopping in markets where you go from stall to stall, buying food often grown or made by a neighbor down the road.
Many readers are drawn to the countries their forebears came from, or to the British Isles because of the language. Personally, I lost my heart to Spain. Its romantic—and sometimes brutal—history, its people, and the rhythm of the days there suited me perfectly.
In Madrid, for instance, I loved going to lunch with my work colleagues. Make no mistake; we worked hard. But every day we took time for a civilized, sit-down lunch, in a restaurant, away from the office, because this is what you do in Spain. We seldom discussed work at these lunches—yet the time together improved our team work and returned us to the office refreshed.
I loved visiting Spanish country villages to walk through the cool, quiet aisles of medieval churches and have a drink in the main square, under the shade of spreading elms. I often went with friends to “their” villages—for everybody, it seems, retains ties to the countryside…to family roots in provinces like Avila or Huelva or Soria.
Eventually, when the opportunity arose, I moved to the provinces myself. The living there is cheaper, as many an expat knows. In Cuenca (Spain), I bought my produce in the local market, and my olives…and honey, the latter rich with the taste of rosemary, which grows wild and as tall as hedges there. I got my wine from the local bodega, or from small vineyards in the country. For city thrills, Madrid and Valencia were just a few hours away by bus or train.
Spain has dozens of small cities like Cuenca that I could have chosen from…cities with culture, history, an age-old lifestyle…and a relatively low price tag. And every country in Europe has its Cuencas.
Today I live in Mexico. Like many expats, I chose to make my home here for its convenience to the U.S. and to aging family members, and for the lower cost of living. But it also offers me something that I loved about Europe: a quality of life that’s rich in small details and fulfilling in ways that money can’t buy.
Colors and smells seem more intense in Mexico than anywhere else….like the dusty tang of dried chillies…the clear turquoise of cool, Caribbean waters…the heady scent of bougainvillea on the air.
This is the New World, and there is still, at times, a sense of discovery. Much of Mexico is wild and untamed, especially here in the Yucatán. Go off the beaten path here and you can still find beaches that are almost unknown, or jungles where jaguars and pumas roam.
You can clamber ancient ruins and know that, under the jungle growth, vast cities still sleep, waiting to be unearthed—they’re found all the time. I recall nothing in Europe like this.
Yet, as in Europe, it’s the people and the daily way of life that I find most alluring…there’s a diversity of languages (over 200 of them) a rich culture, a long history…
Other aspects are familiar, too. In colonial cities like Oaxaca, for instance, near the Church of Santo Domingo, you can almost feel yourself in 17th-century Spain. In Guanajuato, where I now have a house, strolling university troubadours, in their medieval garb, carry on a tradition that Don Quixote would have known. In Mexico I can still enjoy mid-afternoon lunches, and siestas, and long, lingering evenings in cobblestoned plazas…all vestiges of Spain.
As expats, we seek out places where our lives feel more complete and our days more fulfilled. And you can find that in the Old World and the New. And today, with much of Europe in crisis, it may be time for Europhiles to return, perhaps for good. Today the euro trembles, inflated property prices tumble, and bankers bluster. But in the villages of Spain, as elsewhere in Europe, the sun still blazes, the plazas flutter with pigeons…and the siesta, God bless it, lives on.
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