50 Facts You Need to Know About Europe.
For today’s review it is once more a book that falls into the category of ordered in for the awesome title.
Did you know that Dinner for One, a British comedy sketch from 1963, is an intrinsic part of New Year’s Eve celebrations for millions of Europeans, yet leaves its country of origin unamused? Santa business is slowly moving from Greenland to Sweden and oh-so-neutral Switzerland still has their citizens armed to the teeth. Under EU law snails are a type of fish and once and for all, we get proof that Europeans are indeed able to consume more alcohol than everyone else in the world. Emma Hartley presents a potpourri of (sometimes random) details that make up this “Europe”.
There are some not so nice reviews about this book online but when you pick up something with 180 pages titled Did David Hasselhoff End the Cold War? you cannot expect a scientific analysis of policies. This is an important book because it sheds a light on quirkiness and shows how cultural customs determine our outlook on life.
She’s one of a kind
Being born in Germany, the church tax is something normal to me, little did I know that other countries do not pay taxes to the church. Religion is intertwined in European business, often not so obvious at first glance. The 12 stars on the flag of the European Union for instance represent the Virgin Mary.
Hartley points out inherent cultural differences between Europe and the United States. While the average European can enjoy about five weeks of holidays per year, American citizens look at two weeks annually. Nonetheless, productivity levels in Europe are almost as high as in the US. Without minimum wage or health insurance, people in low-income households are forced to work long hours and with the ingrained idea of the self-made man, high income earners may simply choose money over free time. “Europeans, by contrast, are far more inclined to be grumpy about their social station, generally believing their life chances are circumscribed by who their parents are, where they were born and a whole host of things over which they have no control.” (p. 97)
Moreover, the land of the free has a total of 698 per 100,000 of the population in the prison system, a number that is only surpassed by the Seychelles. Recent statistics are taken from prisonstudies.org and interestingly, since Hartley’s book was published, American numbers have risen while figures in the Russian Federation have decreased. Sweden has a current prison population rate of 60 and, according to Hartley, about 30% of them are guilty for drunk driving. Swedish rehabilitation lays great emphasis on education and work, so inhabitants may spend their days enjoying leisurely activities or learn life skills, like cooking. Scandinavia is such a liberal and tolerant place that in 1998 Kjell Bondevik, then Prime Minister of Norway, took time off work due to a depressive episode and shared his mental health issues openly with the nation.
The cultivated empire
An anthropological study suggests that the average Papua New Guinean is more intelligent than the average European. While Western children enjoy the benefits of vaccinations and a leisurely life in front of the TV, children in Papua New Guinea grow up under harsh conditions and their relationships are of great importance to them. They live an active lifestyle, while Europeans have removed themselves from the laws of survival. In short, Europeans are not evolving.
As for the Hoff, did he or did he not? Well, probably not but he certainly made his mark and sang his way into the hearts of millions. In return, we provided him with an eternal career.
Recommended for: Pick up this book if you would like to find out why the Ukraine is the cradle of democracy, if they shot porn on Mir or why Europe would not exist without Islam. I am convinced you will learn something new.
Emma Hartley is a journalist who ventured out and wrote a book about the quirks that hold Europe together. She blogs for the Daily Telegraph.
Icon Books, 2007