Friday thought #51 Oktoberfest!

Having recently moved to Innsbruck, Austria, it seemed almost rude not to make the 2 hour drive to Munich for our very first Oktoberfest. It’s one of those mythical events that you always hear about and would love to go to, but never quite get round to organising. Well not anymore.

Lederhosen, dirndls, steins and checked shirts as far as the eye can see, Oktoberfest is nuts. It’s one of the busiest, craziest and most fun places I’ve ever been and I think a right of passage for anyone within reaching distance of Munich. If you want the finest possible example of national pride, then look no further. Stereotypes ahoy, Oktoberfest is Germany at its finest. The sea of traditional outfits is enough to make anyone smile, but what really struck me is how much fun people were having. Sure, litres of beer tends to alter anyone’s mood, but I’ve lived long enough to see how consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can have a rather more adverse effect on people. At Oktoberfest, EVERYONE is happy. People as far as the eye can see are squeezed in like sardines and space is at an absolute premium, but no-one cares, they are all there to have fun. I lost count of how many “PROUST”s we did with our new found friends, smashing our litre steins together in the middle of the table, but of the tens of thousands of people there, we didn’t hear one angry voice or witness even a hint of violence; such a refreshing change from your average booze-fuelled night out in a city.

Oktoberfest is simple fun done well. I couldn’t recommend it more highly if you’re a fan of  laughing, smiling, having fun and generally enjoying your life.

The 'Paulaner' tent
The ‘Paulaner’ tent
On the way in
On the way in
So many lederhosen...
So many lederhosen…
National pride at its best
National pride at its best
Fun for all the family!
Fun for all the family!
Be under no illusions that the food will be gourmet. Chicken means chicken (and nothing else!)
Be under no illusions that lunch will be gourmet. Chicken means chicken (and nothing else!)
The kitchen in one of the tents - expecting to sell a few chickens??!
The kitchen in one of the tents – expecting to sell a few chickens??!

Friday thought #46 The wonder of the EU

It’s a commonly discussed fact amongst Brits that ‘70% of Americans don’t even have a passport’. Whether or not this is factually correct nobody is really sure, but it’s one of those ‘facts’ that everybody seems to know, most likely because living in Europe, the thought of not owning a passport is utterly ridiculous.

2 months ago I think I would probably have agreed, how could anybody live without owning a passport? Flying is so commonplace for us Brits, and with our country being so small, to fly pretty much anywhere means to leave the country. Our passports are somewhere close by at all times. For many years I lived in France and worked in Switzerland, so crossed the border twice a day without giving it a second thought. But I must admit that spending some time travelling around the States has made me view the no passport issue in a completely different light.

The USA literally has everything you could ever need with regards to landscape, climate and sports. It has coastlines and beaches, mountains, deserts, lakes, snow and sun; meaning that every sport from skiing to surfing is possible somewhere in the States. Within Europe, if you wish to ski, you need to fly to a country which has mountains and snow, if you want a beach holiday, countries such as Spain or Greece are an obvious choice. People in Europe take it for granted that they can jump on a plane and in less than 2 hours be in a completely different climate, scenery, culture and language. But what they forget is that the entire continent of Europe could fit neatly in to the outline of the USA with an enormous amount of room to spare. The distance from one side of Montana to the other is approximately 560 miles. As a comparison, if you were to start in Milan, Italy, and drive north east for roughly the same distance, you would cross Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Germany, finally ending your journey in Prague, deep in the heart of the Czech Republic. That’s 5 European countries versus not even leaving one of America’s 50 states.

Many Europeans would consider themselves well travelled, worldly people, after all, they may visit 2 or 3 different countries each year. Yet although it would be an impossible statistic to calculate, I would be very interested to know the percentage of Europeans who have never left Europe. I’d guess the vast majority. Europe contains approximately 50 countries (debatable due to questions such as whether to class the UK as one country or 4 separate ones), the USA contains 50 states. I would hazard that most Europeans rarely leave Europe, most Americans never leave America. It’s really not that different. Europe is made up of countries, the USA of states. It’s a big expense and a long journey to leave Europe and travel to Australasia, Asia, Africa or America, so we tend to stay within the confines of the continent. This is presumably no different for Americans. If you live in Texas and want a ski holiday, why fly to France when you have Colorado just a short flight away?

Being in the States also brought it home to me just how unique the European Union is. I completely take it for granted that despite being British, I’ve lived in France for the last 9 years, worked in Switzerland for the past 4, and am about to move to Austria. No visas needed, no green cards and no need to make a special application. You can move around freely within all the countries in the EU, working and living. In no other place in the World does this happen, and we are so very fortunate that we have this available to us.

Put in perspective it becomes a lot more clear why so many Americans would choose to stay within the States. Europeans must simply count themselves lucky that they have such a diversity of cultures at their doorstep and the freedom to move around amongst them, and cut their American friends a bit of slack!

A comparison rarely considered...
A comparison rarely considered…