Across the Pond
Before my husband and I took the leap to move to Europe, we had our own thoughts about which of our friends and family would be the first to jump along with us. Between COVID and the intimidation of international travel, we placed our bets on a select vaccinated few.
Well, I'm honored to say I was right in my guesswork: one of my closest friends decided to visit on her way through Europe. Back when Vilnius was just an inclination, she encouraged me towards this move wholeheartedly, and it's been a joy to share my new country with her. Yesterday, we made our way through the Lietuvos Nacionalinis Muziejus to learn more about the history of Lithuania - a real treat to learn more about ancient tribes, shamanic tools and burial grounds, as well as the more recent uprising from Russification. (Pro tip: Vilnius provides free museum entry on the last Sunday of every month!)
Moving through these museums had me thinking about my own lived experience in Lithuania, especially hosting a well-traveled friend from the United States. Developing an understanding of the cultures around you allows you to have meaningful interactions with those around you, as well as providing a new lens with which to view your own. To an uninitiated mind, the new ways of living life may seem scary, but I truly believe they're just different. Having been here for a bit over a month, that's where I'm at now, so I'd like to share a few of the bigger differences I've noticed:
Safety and trust in the greater good. I haven't seen a single yellow school bus for transporting children to and from school. When I inquired into this, I found that public transit was as safe a daily option as driving. People also leave their dogs outside grocery stores, something we've begun to take on. While our greyhound initially got confused by her dog-allocated spot, I secretly think she enjoys the freedom. ;) There may be other states in America that do this - please let me know if this is the case! - but I'm still getting used to this trust in the greater good. And along this same line, coming from Freedom Country, it's refreshing to see others follow moral and social codes to protect their community - from mask wearing to being respectful on public transit.
Dining differences. Coming from a tip-based American culture, I've observed that Lithuanians are way more relaxed in their dining experiences - patrons and wait staff alike. Whereas Americans typically leave restaurants after a while, Lithuanians (and Europeans, in general) relax into their stay, enjoy their company, and stay as long as they'd like, maxing out at a 10% tip. This relaxed environment creates a dining culture of leisure - something I thought Americans were good at, until I moved to Europe. And back to our dog, she certainly doesn't mind relaxing outside a restaurant with her family, either.
Grocery purchases. While I'm sure this isn't always the case, Steve and I have noticed that people typically get their groceries in smaller batches. Because grocery stores and markets are everywhere, people can get what they need from smaller or larger stores at the same price. I didn't even realize how conditioned I was to a Walmart culture (or H-E-B culture, for that matter!), bulking up for a week and letting my parsley go bad. (Oops!) I've definitely seen some Walmart-style purchasing, but the smaller purchases are even more noticeable. As a couple who home cooks often, this has been one of those small differences we've gotten used to.
I could continue with my list (y'all, why is the mayonnaise in the cold section!? And why is not like that in America?), but having a friend in town has really highlighted some of these differences for me, as well as the smaller daily life differences - central heating, opportunistic window options, etc. The true impact on my daily life comes in these small differences, just another lived experience. If you're thinking about making the move abroad, I'd suggest learning as much as you can about the culture you're moving to - but know that immersion is key. But, the point is that these differences are just another lived experience, one I am slowly getting used to.