It wasn’t until I was watching
the plane carrying my two sons speed away from Barcelona airport that it really
My boys, who had what I felt
was a pretty sheltered European childhood, were heading straight for Los
Angeles—on their own. Sure, this is a city full of amazing opportunities, but
Hollywood has made certain we are all too familiar with its darker side. As the
plane disappeared a series of L.A. film scenes flitted through my mind: streetsmart
teens dealing drugs out of school lockers, random drive by shootings and
bullies pushing kids around the school corridors.
While our whole family was
moving to America, the boys, ages 14 and 12, had flown ahead as they were
playing in the water polo Junior Olympics and training started before my husband
and I could leave Spain. Realizing a new team would give them an instant
opportunity to make friends and feel part of their new home, I ignored the
gnawing doubts about how my mollycoddled European kids would cope and packed
It turns out I didn't have to worry.
Within an hour of landing in L.A.
the incredibly generous family hosting the boys sent photos of them with their
first shakes from In-N-Out Burger. They couldn’t have looked more content. And
when I finally got the kids to call me (I had to ask their host mom to remind
them) they were so happy that they really
didn't have time to talk.
Photograph by Amy Antill Egan
'No one here can go anywhere without their Mum or
Dad driving them,' scoffed my eldest.
“Look, Mum, don’t WORRY” said my eldest. “Everyone is
really friendly here. OK, I’ve got to go, too.” A swarm of neighborhood kids was apparently waiting to do something
much more important than talking to your mom.
A couple of weeks after my
husband and I arrived with our youngest son, so about a month after the older
kids landed, I asked if they still thought Americans were friendlier than
Europeans. “Definitely,” they said without hesitation.
It led to a
conversation about what the kids saw as the big differences between Europe and
1. "Pretty much everyone is nice."
“Not just the waiters and
the people who are paid to be friendly,” said my youngest, who had been
fascinated by the over-attention he’d received from American waiters.
“It’s not that they’re nicer,”
said my middle son, ever loyal to his Spanish roots. “It’s just that they’re
friendly from the beginning. It’s like they just assume
they’re going to like you, not like in Barcelona, where people already have
their friends and you have to kind of work your way in.”
2. European kids have more independence.
It turns out the kids thought
my idea of Americans being street smart doesn’t hold up, or not in the suburbs
of L.A. where we live anyway. “No one here can go anywhere without their Mum or
Dad driving them,” scoffed my eldest, who has been taking the metro to school by
himself for years.
In fact, according to my kids,
their European friends are more street smart than the kids they know in L.A., as
they are used to getting around on their own on public transport or on foot. My
boys, who grew up walking everywhere, were fascinated by L.A.’s car culture. When
we first tried to walk down to the store my youngest turned a corner and
announced “You’re not going to believe it but there’s actually not any pavement
here!” We trooped on for a few minutes, dodging cars and feeling increasingly
ridiculous, before going back for the car.
While the kids love the comfort
factor of being driven everywhere, they realize this means they have less
independence. It’s a shock as they’re used to making their own plans, knowing
they could walk, bus or metro almost anywhere. So now my 14-year-old is looking
forward to driving (in less than a year!) Because I'm used to a legal driving age of 18,
this is almost unthinkable for me.
3. It's easier to be social in Barcelona.
The other result of people in
Barcelona walking everywhere is that everyone is always outside, so you always
run into people you know. So many Europeans live in small flats that they want
to escape at the end of the day, plus we didn't have the space to invite people
over. So everyone organizes to meet in the local square or the local park.
It’s very easy to be social.
A few days after starting
school my youngest said a kid in his class wanted to come over for a playdate, which made him feel a bit nervous.
“It’s easier in Barcelona if everyone just goes out to the park together,” he
4. People in the U.S. eat out all the time.
Fast food really
hasn't taken off in Europe, at least not to the extent it has here. They were
amazed by the vast array of it, and delighted by the idea of drive-thrus.
Trying to describe the
differences, my middle son said “In Spain, when you go out to a restaurant, its
a big thing, you go with the whole family, and maybe your grandparents and you
sit down and eat a three course meal. Here everyone just seems to eat out all
5. American kids have packed lunches—and it's the best thing ever.
Another very different way of
eating here in the U.S. is one the boys love. My youngest said he thought it
might be the best thing about America. The fact you can take a packed lunch is
a huge liberation for kids who have been brought up on the Spanish lunch
tradition. There, everyone sits down for a three course meal, staring with
salad and ending with fruit. While it’s great for parents to know their kids
have had a sound meal in the middle of the day, the kid generally hated having
no choice in what they eat.
Which brings me to the thing
the kids love most about the U.S.
6. U.S. kids have shorter school days.
Accustomed to a 9-to-5 school day starting at 3 years of age, my youngest is reveling in his 8:15
a.m. to 2:40 p.m. timetable; even the older kids are happy to leave school at 3.
Who wouldn't love a country that gives kids the afternoons off?