The Italy Years

Cultural Differences: Spacing Out

If there is one big cultural difference that has jumped out at me lately it’s the idea of space. As in, what constitutes having enough space for your lifestyle. It never fails that when we have friends or family visiting from the U.S. that we discuss how we will eventually grow out of this apartment. Having more kids? Apartment too small. Livia turns three? Apartment too small. Business grows? Apartment too small. You would think that we live here.
This is culturally hilarious because when our European friends are over it’s the exact opposite reaction. Quite often the conversation turns to how great our apartment is because we’ll be able to grow into it. More kids? Bunk beds. More space to lounge? Buy some outdoor furniture. I won’t generalize too much because it’s also about individual preference, but you do realize how differently cultures interpret something as simple as space.

Back when we lived in Louisville we heard a lot of the same comments about our adorable shotgun house — as soon as we started a family we would just have to move. This always baffled me because the thought of taking on more spacial responsibility with a young family seemed totally bananas.

I realize now that I’ve had a European outlook on space for quite some time. I grew up in a normal sized home and any time I’d visit “big” houses, I’d be really weirded out by unused rooms. I mean they, like, really bothered (and still bother) me. Why on earth would you want a dining room that you don’t use? Why do you have a den and a living room? As you get older you realize that different things make different people happy, but I’ve known for a while that a bigger house does not equal happiness for me.

File this post under random musings if you will, but I’ve found conversations about space particularly fascinating lately. What about my fellow North American expats here in Europe…what are your thoughts? Europeans, does the American obsession with 4,500 square foot homes drive you crazy?

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    Jane Pearson
    April 28, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    I’ve noticed this with Americans as well, and I still live in the US.
    We’re in the DC metro area, and I know so many people who say they "have" to move further away from the city to get a house that has room for them to grow. This usually means a McMansion with multiple living rooms, offices, and 5 or more bedrooms. I look at our 3-bedroom ranch with both a basement TV room and a living room, and feel it’s too much space to keep up with and furnish. Our TV room still isn’t finished, for that reason. You can raise kids in any size space. The key is to stay organized and practical. Kids need love and parents, not square footage. (Same with pets, and trust me. . .I’ve tried spaces of all sizes with 2 cats and 2 dogs!)
    I think I’m meant to move to Europe. 🙂

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