Heart versus head. When it comes to choosing where to live overseas, both have to play an important part.
The head side of things, the practicalities and logistics—thinking about environment, budget, climate, infrastructure, etc.—is important, no doubt…
But the more abstract side of things is equally important… things that can’t really be quantified or put into a checklist. These things are mostly cultural, the things you just love about spending time in a place because that’s the way life is there.
Some of these things might be so vague you can’t even really put your finger on them…
And they are intensely personal—you can’t expect others to feel the same way. I’ve fallen in love with places based on their scent as I stepped off the plane. When it comes to the heart, no reason is too small or silly to be ignored.
For example, here are 10 of the top reasons I choose to live in Europe. They are completely subjective, but they might matter more than any more practical reason I’d put on a list.
I live in Europe…
1. To be able to see some of the best art in the world conveniently
I love art and museum hopping is my life’s hobby… but that’s hard to do if the city you live in has just a couple of museums and the next city with a collection is a 12-hour drive or 3-hour plane ride away. Paris is home to dozens of museums, but if I ever want to see something new, within just a couple hours I could be in Italy, Spain, the U.K., etc. The beauty of the small region is that no matter where you base yourself in Europe, you’re within easy reach of anywhere else on the Continent.
2. Because I like how Europeans raise their kids
There’s no such thing as helicopter parenting in Europe; parents here are much more laissez-faire. Kids play by themselves and get hurt sometimes… they’re still allowed to eat gluten… they take the bus, metro, or walk to school and home by themselves… Here, kids are still allowed to free range a little bit and that’s the way I want my children to grow up.
Also, the family dynamic in Europe is generally much less kid-centric than in the States. Here in France, they say they kids adapt to the parents’ lifestyle, not that parents change their lifestyles to accommodate their children. They are expected to sit through a dinner out with their parents and they eat what’s on the café menu, not a kids’ menu.
3. Because the health care is second to none
Here in France, that’s literally the case. The health care system here is ranked the best in the world by WHO. Before I moved here, I knew I planned to have a baby soon, and I wanted to live somewhere I knew the health care would be unquestionably good. Western Europe has some of the best health care in the world, and Central Europe’s is generally ranked on par with North America (the States ranks far below the rest of Europe at 37th place… and Canada isn’t doing much better at 30th position).
4. To learn and speak other languages
I learned French at a young age, which helped me to learn Italian when I studied abroad in Rome and then to learn Spanish when I moved to Panama. This domino effect helped me realize what a massive benefit learning languages can be. I like being challenged by the language every day and by having to forever improve. Plus, it’s been shown that learning multiple languages helps cognitive health all throughout your life, even staving off dementia.
5. Because I like to live without a car
I am not an experienced driver, and the years I lived with a car were costly because of it. I much prefer the freedom of public transport and, above all, being able to bike and walk most places. Europe has well developed transport systems and most European cities are completely walkable. Thanks to shedding a car since moving to Paris, we’ve cut our bills significantly… and get lots more exercise.
6. Because café society doesn’t really exist anywhere else
What’s better than walking for a while and stopping for a quick coffee when you start to flag… or a champagne… perhaps a snack… Even if I’m not stopping for lunch or a drink, nothing beats being in a café city. I love walking down the street and hearing the clatter of silverware and dishes, the toasting of glasses, smelling the dish of the day, and strolling by slowly to people watch as I pass.
Here in Paris, everyone has their local café, the one they frequent multiple times a week. I love being recognized at our corner café, having the owner stop by to chat for a few minutes, and that he’s been part of our lives since I was pregnant and is always eager to see our daughter. It’s one of the things that makes me feel more than anything like a part of a community here, even in a big city of millions.
7. So that imported foods are local for me
I love French and Dutch cheeses, Italian prosecco, Spanish meats, British biscuits, and Swiss chocolates. When I’m not in Europe, all those things are expensive imported luxury goods. In Europe, they’re a trip to the grocery store down the block and cost no more than anything else on the shelves.
8. To meet interesting people
Whether expat or foreigner, people here are more interesting than those I’m likely to meet back home—either they’re foreign or else they’re expats and have some story to share about how they came to be here. Most expats are serial, they have already been living in other countries before I met them, and they have so many experiences to share. And making local friends who have a whole new culture to open up to you is invaluable as well as interesting.
9. To conveniently explore more of Europe
I love traveling, and Europe is my favorite part of the world to explore. It’s so easy and affordable to do when you’re in the heart of the Continent already.
10. To appreciate life
The American work ethic truly is a unique thing in the world. It’s a cliché, but the rest of the world really does work to live. People here don’t care if they can make overtime on a holiday or that there might be tourists to shop on a Sunday. Nothing can cut into a non-American’s leisure time.
In some parts of Europe, the daily siesta is still a time-honored tradition. I love that society here doesn’t push you to always go, go, go, it encourages you to slow down. I don’t want to miss out on the best part of life—my family—and I certainly don’t want to sacrifice time with them for work. I’m glad to live in a place that reminds me to appreciate what matters and respects—even enforces—this boundary.