Her nail polish was orange. Tangerine orange. That’s what I noticed first. “Can I please sit this here?” she asked. I was sitting outside, under a table with a huge yellow umbrella. The umbrella was so massive it threw a glow of yellow beneath it—onto me. That’s what she did too, I guess—she threw her light onto me. I motioned that it was fine for her to sit her cup down while she used her cell phone. She was beautiful—radiantly so. I knew there was something different about her from the moment she came within my line of vision. I stopped what I was doing just to watch her. I was captivated. “Where are you from?” I questioned. It wasn’t just the accent that gave her international origin away—it was the lucidity in her movement. She moved like water. She really moved like water, without hesitation. And when she smiled it was without limitation. She smiled from a purely joyful place. It was as if she had never heard an unkind word or nothing unpleasant bestowed upon her eyes. As she stood there, talking to me, every word she spoke she breathed life into. There was meaning behind those words. Her entire body had an organic uninhibited breath to it. She was expressive and animated. There was nothing superficial about her. I adored her in that moment.
And just as quickly as she walked over to me and we began our exchange she was gone. Abruptly. She said, “You have a nice day,” and she was gone. And that was that. It wasn’t rude it was direct. She obviously had somewhere else to be. Maybe if I didn’t intimately know where this woman was from I might have been put off by her straightforwardness. When she left she was gone—there was nothing of her that lingered. The yellow glow was still cast upon me from the umbrella, but her light—she took that with her. She possessed all that she had. That’s what Europe teaches you though, it teaches you to live for you—no one else. I learned how to do that in Europe. I learned how to live in Europe. I learned how to walk down the streets and just laugh at nothing in particular. I learned to walk down streets with no end point in mind, stopping for gelato along the way. I owe my life to Europe. I owe my renewed spirit to it too.
After she left I grew nostalgic. I grew nostalgic for the place that, without exaggeration, taught me how to live. Taught me the difference between living and breathing. I miss that place. I had forgotten how much so until this woman approached me. I lived in Italy for four months. I was twenty years old and I don’t believe there will ever be a time in my life that will ever touch the caliber of that experience. I don’t think anything or anyone will even come close. Prior to me living abroad I was truly American, possessing all of the collective hesitations that come with our nationality. Watching the woman with the orange nail polish reminded me of all the limitations we embody. It reminded me of the limitations I place upon myself when I’m here.
The limitations of American women are difficult to describe. Instead, it’s something you can’t quite understand until you see it, when you look at them in comparison to European women. In addition to being nostalgic after the European woman abruptly left, I also stopped reading the legal transcript that I was working on. Instead of reading, I began watching the other women passing by. I watched these American women to see if there really was a difference between their dispositions and that of women living only an ocean away. I wondered if maybe I had confused this particular European woman’s beauty and radiance with something that American women seem to collectively lack. I hadn’t confused anything though. I watched these American women and I identified an oppressiveness about them. They seemed bogged down. Even through their smiles there lived strain on their faces.
Of course, I took the time to intellectualize the foundation of our collective differences. I began to think back on my experience in Europe and the women that I encountered while there. I thought back to how I was different. And I was quite different in Europe. While some of the differences of me had to do with being a stranger in a foreign place, no one knowing me and therefore no expectations or limitations placed upon me; still, part of it had to do with just the culture of Europe.
In Europe there seems to be a culture focused on this pursuit of happiness. They seem to have the interplay between work and play mastered. I use to love walking in the evening around Italy; like a little girl looking through the glass of a candy store I would press my face up to the window and steal moments watching families eating at restaurants. They were laughing and so amicable that I longed for the days back in the nineties when I replicated that scene with my own parents. As I sit here now, I wonder if this cultural difference, the way Europeans slow down and take time for the truly important things in life could have saved my broken home. In America there seemingly is a staunch difference, a culture focused on the pursuit of happiness, but through monetary gain. We wake up to work and do it all over again the next day. The dichotomy between the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans in itself is so implicated that there lies one of the substantial differences of the spirit of the people living in the comparative countries.
Add on to that, that Americans are so muzzled at the mouth. America ironically is a country prided on citizens speaking freely. Yet, we are so unequipped to do so. We have opinions about everything, constantly talking. Talk. Talk. Talk. However, if you ask us to verbalize a difficult emotion or an unpopular sentiment we are at a standstill. We are so fearful of offending people. We are so fearful of our own feelings. What’s more, we even restrict ourselves in the way that we engage others. We stay at a surface comfortable level. I was reminded last week of just how finicky Americans are about invasiveness and a fear of being inappropriate. European women don’t shy away from invasiveness, they embrace it. They say what they want to whomever they choose. It’s a sexy quality. They are direct. Even with their directness, though, Europeans are not half as rude as Americans. We would rather hide our true feelings behind the most disrespectful behavior of all—passive aggressiveness.
Speaking of European women and a “sexy quality.” Let’s not even get on their sexuality. They own their sexuality in a way that even if they were oppressed in every other aspect of life, their sexuality alone would give them one over on American women. They aren’t raunchy about sex but they possess it in such a way that it’s pungent, but still classical. If I had to describe European women I would simply say—sex. It’s interesting how American women have been so sexually exploited that even our liberation of that oppression is still—oppressive. American women many times don’t know the first thing about sex, pleasure and passion. It’s understandable though, we aren’t taught to passionately indulge in many other aspects of life.
Europe is no utopia, don’t get me wrong. If it was—I would be living there now. I have played with the idea of how it would be to live there permanently. Still, America is my home. I went to Europe fleeing from a college that I was quite positive was stunting my growth. I grew so much aboard that when I came back to that same college I realized that I had outgrown it. I had the European spirit within me then, so even though it was inappropriate during my last year of college to do so— I abruptly left. I didn’t care about the ramifications of my departure or my friend’s disapproval of it. I was living for me and on my own impulses. I, like the lady with the orange nail polish, had somewhere else to be. And that was that.
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