What’s it like living in Europe? Here are 10 things I’d like to share with you.


That’s a great question.  I am sure that every Expat American that lives in Europe has an opinion, how about I share mine?

I should start by sharing some information that will give you background information about me.

1.  I am from the desert of Arizona. Hot.  Dry.  Beautiful.  3rd Generation born in Arizona.  For Europe, 3rd generation born in one area could be a small joke===but, in the States, that’s quite the accomplishment!

2.  We moved to Poland in 2001.  That’s 12 years after the Berlin Wall was opened.  When we first arrived in Poland, we did not get to travel freely within Europe even though the Wall had fallen.  There were still two border crossings to go West.  We had to stop at the Polish border and allow for Polish border guards to rifle through all of our luggage.  Then we had to do the same thing as we entered Germany.  Sometimes border crossing took 3 hours.  And, yes, we saw many people escorted off of the trains with their passports.

Another fact:  American or other Western European Countries’ Passports were very hot commodities often stolen or sold.  If you had a passport that allowed easier travel, then you had more opportunities for work.  We have known people that have bought illegal passports, been caught using them in varying countries to try and find work, and have found themselves in prison because of this.

You should know the majority of the people that participated in these crimes were people with the best intentions—people looking to work.  Work hard.  And save so that they could send money to their families.    It doesn’t make it right—but after living in what was once a country with unemployment raging in some cities at the extremes of 20-40% (in the days when we first arrived), I did have great compassion on those that simply wanted to find work.

*Again—I do not condone illegal measures, I am just sharing facts*

3.  We came without knowing anything but “Byc or not byc.” Which is the funny way to say in half Polish/half English the phrase “To be or not to be…” I think you probably need to speak Polish to giggle at this one.

Anyhow, since we came to Poland without any Polish during a time when hardly anyone spoke English, we lived a life of loud words with lots of hand gesturing and crazy facial expressions or animal sounds to get what we wanted.

For example, if we wanted some beef but didn’t see any behind the butcher counter, we would say, “Czy Pani ma MOO?” (Do you, Ma’am, have any MOO?)

You would think we would attract a whole lot more smiles, but we did move to an Eastern European country, so we mostly just got blank stares 😉

Figuring out everything from how to ride a tram, to buy a train ticket, to shop for milk—everything was extreme amounts of work. We are so thankful we had friends to help lead us along the way. The rest of the time we just suffered humiliation at attempts on our own.

Well, without further can’t hardly sit still in anticipation, ready to read it…Here is my Top 10 List of What It’s Like to Live in Europe as an Expat American:

I will go backwards from 10 to 1.  But please know that I do not succeed at all 10 of these.

10.  Grocery Shopping.

Bring extra money to buy your grocery bag!

Oh, and don’t forget to pack your own groceries, QUICKLY!  As fast as the grocer is throwing them at you, separate and shove into the bags you just bought (unless you are amazingly fantastic at always having extra plastic shopping bags with you).

And never forget your coin for the use of the shopping cart.  Otherwise your arms spilleth over or fall to the floor.  Depending on whether the grocery store HAS a spare basket for you to use (a carry one) or not (some don’t).  So NEVER…and I repeat NEVER…forget your coin to use the grocery cart.

Okay—shopping ALL around is quite the experience.  It’s not for the faint of heart.

Funny labels, different foods, small stores, personal packing, plastic bag buying, grocery cart renting experience.  When I got to the States and started to pack my own groceries the “bagger” was a little upset that I was taking over his job.  Oops.  Habits are hard to hand over.

In the end, I am a rather fast separator, packer, and general bag buyer (I guess I have only accomplished 2 of the 3 needed grocery skills in Europe—I still end up buying a bag EVERY SINGLE TIME).

But, in the end, I have mastered grocery shopping and, therefore, my family eats in Europe.  Phew.

9.  Know how and make your own jam, pickles, pickled items, fresh bread, sausage, and borscht!

You will learn to love cabbage, mushrooms, beets, and repeat.  On top of that, sweet pickles will be considered an unhealthy treat while salted pickles will be what’s good for you!

In other words, your bread will only last a day, you will eat loads of cheese, and your palette will greatly change yet increase!

Bring on the snails, please!  And pickled herring.  Oh, and where is the blood sausage?  Yes!  Put it on top of bulgar wheat.  And, no, not that white cheese—the blah blah blah fancy one over there.

In fact, as long as there are potatoes, wheat, and cabbage in Europe, everyone on this continent will survive.  Oh, along with dill.

It’s a continent of culinary genius!  For sure.  And I L.O.V.E. eating here.


8.  Dress like you meant to wear it!  And then walk like you mean it.

Seriously, Europeans are so fashionable.  But, and here’s the secret.  They have stockings, funky shoes, scarves, sometimes hats, skinny jeans, and second-hand skirts and throw it all together with a little bit of mascara and a few accessories, looking like fashionistas.

My husband and daughter are amazing Europeans.  Disclaimer—neither are European.  But they put on clothes daily (So now you know that they are REALLY not European.  Smile and wink kind of joke) and voile!  They look amazing.

My daughter wears whatever shoes she wants with short skirts and leggings and then a sweater and allows for her hair to blow in the breeze.  Then she boldly walks to school and smiles.  She is gorgeous and natural and looks like she belongs.

My husband accessorizes his outfits with a fitted sports coat and the right belt, throwing a scarf around his neck and grabbing his leather work satchel when he leaves.  It’s as if GQ dressed him for a photo shoot.

Then there’s me.  For some reason, my love affair with my flip flops prevent me from accessorizing properly.  Therefore, I will remain the staunchly proud American and take gorgeous photos of the European fashionistas that reside under my same roof.

Even my 2 and 1 year olds are already rocking the right shoes, hair, and fedora hats.

I’m glad that when we’re out in public, there only appears to be one tourist in the group—that’s ME!

No, seriously.  If you want my advice:  throw it on and wear it boldly and proudly!  Wear less makeup!  And allow your hair to flow naturally.

Pair that with leather shoes and just the right hat, and there you have it!

You’ll do really well in Europe.

7.  Be Quiet.

No, seriously.  Be quiet.  Unless there is a football game on television, a festival going on in town, or a really drunk singing German nearby (no offense, Germans), be quiet.

This day to day life of walking and shopping and talking and playing is VERY quiet.

I walk outside and the birds fly away.  I am pretty sure that I scare most every European on the continent the minute I walk out the door.

My American voice soars the clouds.

My daughter hides.  My husband shushes me.  My small ones are the only ones that smile.  They still don’t know any better.

Perhaps it’s because Europe is considered the civilized people while we Americans are the wild outlaws.  Who knows?

But my daughter tells me often that I am too boisterous for this nation.

She is right.  But as long as they accept my volume I’ll try and overlook their staring.

So, shall we call it a tie?

Europeans chime in with a probable “No!”  But, if you are American, you hold your ground.  Because if there is one thing America has taught you, it’s how to stay strong.

Actually, that’s a fantastic trait of both countries/continents.  I just voice my strength in a louder volume, causing my daughter and husband to run for the forest where they will then find everyone in Poland on a peaceful family walk.  In silence.

It’s true.

But don’t worry—I’m used to it.  I’m just not sure it is mutual.

6.  Appreciate the old.

There is nothing more beautiful than the old.  When I was in the States, I walked or drove in awe at all of the shiny and new.  It was beautiful.  And I loved every moment.  But there were times when I was looking for the cobblestones or the old homes or the buildings with ivy crawling.

I was looking for the chimneys blowing smoke and the cracks in the walls.

There is nothing wrong with shiny America, but there is something surreally stunning about lovely and lived in.  Quaint.  And peaceful.

And the castles.  Now, mind you, there is a palace or a castle like every 15 minutes, so my daughter told me in the car the other day, “WHY do you have to point out the window ALL THE TIME?!”  Apparently the thrill of a castle or palace does not resonant as strongly when a child grows up in this culture.  But to the never-ending foreigner—ME—I LOVE the turrets I see around every bend!

In the end, America will always be the far younger and shinier cousin country.  And Europe the elegant, older family member.

My vote will always be:  Arizona Deserts 1; Polish architecture 1.  TIE!

The weather, of course, sends it from a draw to an Arizona win.  But that’s just my opinion.

And, since we are mostly talking about architecture, I would have to ultimately say that Europe and its history of brilliant places and buildings takes the cake.

So, who wins?  I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s up to each individual to judge that one.

5.  Shop Europe!

My daughter got so frustrated when we were in the United States.  She began looking at EVERY item and would proclaim, “WHY IS EVERYTHING FROM CHINA?”

She was proud to be in America but very sad that she could hardly find anything at all that was truly American.

In Europe, however, even though products from China are slowly creeping into stores, you will overall find most items proudly made in Europe.

America, take a hint!

4.  Drink REAL Coffee.  Not brown water!

My husband and I were in the United States when we asked for some coffee at a restaurant.  The server brought us brown water.  We tasted it and thought, “What did we do to deserve such torture?!”

It was disgusting.

To be fair, we had not been in the States for many years at that point, so we had forgotten that brown water in the States is what they refer to as “Coffee”.

Coffee my foot!

You get better coffee at the gas station in Italy then you get at most places in the United States.

Just saying—weak, cheap, and flavorless brown water is not coffee.  America, take this lesson from Europe.  Stronger is better.

And it will definitely MAKE YOUR DAY!

3.  Prepare for the onslaught of Tourists.  And, no, they are NOT all Americans.

Europeans are GREAT European travelers.  But, if you think about it, it makes SENSE!  Europe is geographically not the largest continent.  Yet is has a million and one countries.  Therefore, to go on vacation, you can cross two borders in one day.

I think that we often believe as Americans that we are the only tourists in Europe.  We’re not.

And, don’t let the Europeans give you a hard time about speaking English.  Because, guess what.  When they cross the borders for their vacations, they generally have to speak English in their country destinations, too.

But—and these are what I wouldn’t mind most American tourists hearing loud and clear—don’t be rude and obnoxious and demanding.  And DON’T put down America at every conversation with a foreigner.

There are a whole lotta countries in the world.  No one knows them all.  So no need to apologize for your desire to travel the world and yet LEARN about it while you travel.

That’s okay.  And, when all is said and done, after you are home, you will know more because you were there.

Come and enjoy Europe.  You’ll leave with a new zeal and zest for life after you do.

And definitely come to Poland.  It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest countries you could ever experience!  No joke.  And see you here soon.

2.  Kissing is Good!

Just come prepared to kiss.  Many and multiple times.  Do not be shy.  And carry breath mints.

I have not met a European yet that does not greet with lovely kisses.  On the cheeks.  1, 2, 3 times or more!

Some, depending on the celebration, on the lips!


So, come to Europe and pucker up, for you will get kissed.

1. Climb the Stairs!

As much as they are constantly renovating and revamping, Europe is one big castle.  Lots of cobblestone.  Lots of small streets.  Lots of stairs.

And very tall buildings.  Without elevators or escalators.

But with stairs.

Our office is on the 3rd floor.  I think nothing of it when I grab my bag, my lunch, my coffee and hike the stairs.

But, when I am in the States, to even go to the 2nd floor of a building, I head over to the elevator and wait.

And while I wait for the elevator, I could have walked up and down the stairs a couple of times.  Yet I still wait.  And wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Yep!  As active as America is, we are still, in the day in and day out activities, still rather inactive.

Like driving to school or the grocery store.  When, technically, they are but a 10-20 minute walk away.

What’s it like living in Europe?

It’s one big walk.

And we like it that way!

How about you?  Are you an expat American living in Europe or perhaps another country?  What do you agree with?  Disagree with?  Please share!

Top 13 reasons why I am “Lucky” to be married to Rich. Happy anniversary, Baby!


(c.photo eol.photography)

Okay, so I don’t believe it’s luck.  Actually at all.

It’s God.  It’s grace and forgiveness.  And it’s a whole lotta fight!

But today, on two different continents, and 4 babies later (does a belly baby count?), we celebrate 13!

Happy September 30th, Baby!


So, my dear Richie…If I may, here are some of the Top 13 Memories I have with you.

Oh, and I am not going to include our engagement, wedding or children’s births…those are givens.

Starting at 13 and going toward number 1…

13.  Backpacking through Yosemite with you and being robbed of our food by bear cubs and THEN mama bear!

Remember what you and Brian did?  We were told, if a bear approaches, make noise, wave sticks in the air, and throw rocks.  Well…I am still pretty sure it was NOT a good idea to throw a rock at baby cub, knocking it out of the tree.  Mama came back—big and MAD!  None of us got great sleep that night, eh?  Good thing there were two of us couples to take night-watch shifts.

But, truly, the greatest memory from all of this was when the sun was rising and mama and her two cubs were crossing the horizon just in front of the sun merely hundreds of yards from us.  I have hardly, to this day, seen anything so beautiful.

12.  Going backpacking with you in the middle of November—straight up—switchbacks!  I was freezing cold.  My feet were tired.  And it was HARD!  Once we finally reached the top, you put up the tent and ditched me outside in the dark.  Alone.  And threw yourself in and went to sleep.  I was left organizing the packs and fending for myself.  Twas not what I thought my first year of marriage would be like 😉

But the funniest was on the way back down, in the SNOW (because of course it had to snow that night), when you told me to NOT step on the logs.  Yet I did.  And very ungracefully landed on my back.

You came to me and asked, “Are you hurt?”

Do you remember what I said, “Nope!  But my pride is.  And, well, maybe my bum, too.”

We had a good laugh all the way back down.  I still laugh today!

11.  Stinky Feet Jake.  He will always be one of my funniest and favorite memories of ALL times, married.  Remember how it started to pour as we were biking through Austria, so we headed high and decided to sleep on top of the wash?  Well, low and behold, another biker also got caught in the night.  Remember how Stinky Feet Jake only had a kid bike helmet and only rice to eat?  No salt.  Nothing.  So, we invited him to share our meal.  And then, because of the rain, we invited him to share our tent.

Do you still SMELL his feet when he took off his shoes and socks?  I thought we would die of “stink inhalation” that very night!

And the freakiest part was how he kept talking about the probability of being murdered on a wash in Austria that very night!

I am pretty sure you slept with your hand on your Leatherman.

He was the most interesting creature I have ever met…and I was GLAD when he took off the next day.  I do believe, however, it took us WEEKS to get rid of his “stinky feet”!

10.  Renting scooters with you in Corfu.  Actually, I am going to have to make memories 10 and 9 about Corfu, Greece!

Remember how we got the scooters for $10 for the ENTIRE day!  We scooted all over that island, in our bathing suits, stopping at different cliffs to jump off of, beaches to swim at, and then, oops, a Monastery.  Good thing they had wraps for people like us…a bit unprepared to enter a sanctuary!

When the rain started, remember how we were stuck on the side of the road when an older Greek gentleman invited us into his garage/apartment for cookies and coffee.  He didn’t speak a word of English…We not a word of Greek.  But, somehow, over cookies and coffee, no words were really needed.

We waited out the rain and had an absolute blast with our new Greek friend!

9.  YOU DANCING IN GREECE!  One of my all-time favorite memories of you was when you were called out on the dance floor at the show we were at in Greece!

First of all, you are extremely handsome.  But get you in front of an audience in Corfu, Greece, with Greek music playing—and you are not only FINE but QUITE THE ENTERTAINER!

They were showing you and the other participants how to dance with the table in your mouth.

I am going to go out on a limb and say they never suspected you were going to put that table in your mouth and take over the dance floor!  You had the crowd going wild.

The hosts for the evening lost control—but you were a hit!

I can still picture you twirling all Big Fat Greek Wedding style on the evening.  And you rocked!

Thanks for always being so much fun!

8.  Definitely one of my all time favs was swimming 5 months pregnant with the Manta Rays and you!  Feeding them was also a hoot.  Those Manta Rays would jump up on our legs like little dogs, all hungry and begging for food.  Remember how we had the entire place to ourselves because everyone else left to drink.  We just swam, and swam, and swam with these beautifully graceful creatures, stroking their slimy backs and in awe of how awesome they really were!

You already know I’m a huge animal lover…and so to be on this journey with you was awesome.  I’d swim with them daily if we lived in the Caribbean…Alas, God has planted us in Poland.  So, I guess now I’ll just swim with them in my sleep!

7.  Of course one of my favorite memories with you has to be on the SAME journey…5 months pregnant.  Except this time we’re snorkeling in the crystal blue waters.  And, oh, yes.  I was stung by a small jellyfish.  And yes, I was in pain!  But, you…You saw a lighthouse in the distance and insisted on still snorkeling.  After all, you were SURE you were going to find treasure!

On top of that, you said, “Stay near the boat!  They can help you if you get in trouble!”

And off you swam, leaving your pregnant, snorkeling wife all alone in the same water with the jellyfish that just stung her on the arm.

Again—not exactly what I expected my Prince Charming to do, much like the backpacking adventure.  But, I guess that is a huge part of marriage—realizing that fairytale and reality are two different things!

And, forevermore, I have a story to goad you about-leaving your pregnant, jellyfish-stung wife alone so you could go and find treasure.  You truly are unique (is that putting it mildly?).

6.  Singing a duet with you in church.  Was that brave or stupid?  And, without a doubt, I know the answer.   Stupid!  But, with you, I have already done so many crazy things that displaying my very out of tune, tone-deaf voice was just one other thing that I could now cross off of my bucket list of NEVER SHOULD HAVES…How you made it through the duet without laughing your head off, I’ll never know.  And how our lovely congregation made it through our song without either running out or busting up, is nothing short of a miracle itself!

Why I did it?  Who knows.  Put a microphone in my hand and I’ll pretty much do anything.

Wish it was in the era of digital recording because there are some days when I could REALLY use a great belly laugh.  And this moment of our marriage was one of the biggest of all times.

So thanks for going all Jesus SNL with me.  It probably seemed like a comedy skit—but I, with great intentions, sang my heart out.  With you.  For Jesus.

I’m not saying I made a joyful noise. It was probably not joyful.  And it was definitely noise.  But it was grand—because it was with you!

5.  Going to the train station with you for the first time to help serve the homeless an evening meal in Poznan, Poland.  You handed me the food and tea and said, “Wait outside!”  And then you disappeared.  Into the train station.  With your blue jacket and green beanie cap.

You emerged about 5 minutes later with 100 men and women behind you.  All hungry.  And all grateful you came.

I was stunned.  I knew you loved the other times you had been (I think 3 before I joined you), but now I understood why you went back.  Again.  And again.  And again.

And it was on this very night that I knew…the homeless had captured your heart.  And their spirits had captured your soul.

Compassion reigned and Bread of Life began.   That was 12 years ago this coming November.  12 years I would NEVER want to go back and erase.  12 years and 3 countries and over 28,000 served annually.

But that night, with your blue jacket and green beanie, will still be one of the most vibrant memories to me.  It was that night I saw how you put others before yourself and your heart expanded to include an entirely new family—strangers they were.  But family they became!

4.  I couldn’t include 13 years of marriage without reminding you of the time you nearly KILLED me in the air.  Yes.  I was brave, bold, and foolish enough to go up in the air with you, a new pilot, in a little tarp plane.  Something that was barely bigger than you and I combined.  And I have no affinity towards heights, air, or small planes.  Yet, because I was so proud of you, I went.  Up. Up.  Up.  And then you did it to me!  You planned my demise.  Because you let go of the controllers and you said, “Take over while I tie my shoes!”

I may have perhaps wet my pants a little on that trip (okay, exaggerating—but still).

I, in my very normal Brooke-nature, freaked out and probably called you crazy.  Perhaps a few other non-loving things, too.

I think you figured out rather quickly that your joke was not funny.  But it is still one of my greatest memories to this day.


Who knows…perhaps because I thought I was going to die.

Perhaps because that is when I actually realized how zany and funny you truly were.

I guess it took thousands of feet in the air with a mere piece of fabric/tarp for me to realize that.

Zany?  Funny?  Or simply crazy?  No matter, it solidified the fact that YOU definitely were the perfect match for me!

Just keep it on the ground from now on.

3.  Playing truth or dare with you in the mountains of Austria.  Remember that camping trip?  It was hilarious—and, although we’d been married for a couple years, we still found out so much about one another.

I think that is all I shall say here, publicly, though!

I do think, however, it was probably one of the first times we were actually vulnerable and honest with one another.  Funny how we were already married and yet still did not fully know the other.

Thanks for learning how to share truths with me.  I love you, crazy man!

2.  When I thought our marriage was over, and was sleeping in the next room, you came in, laid down next to me, and put your arm around my waist.  I did not like you at that moment.  In fact, it was probably near hatred.  And yet, that small gesture let something back into my life.  And it was a sliver of light.  Very small.  And yet it existed.  Then and only then I knew, by the grace and forgiveness of God, we could beat this battle of defeat.

And it was a long road full of complete surrender.  But we made it to the other side.

So, thank you for that “one last gesture”.  It helped keep our marriage alive.

***And the number 1 memory I carry in our 13 years together is this***

1.  The night that I and the doctors were sure Maxwell was going to die.  I had to call you, because you had JUST left to go and check on Adelyne.

I called you and said, “Richard!  Get back here.  Quickly!  You will NEVER forgive yourself if you are not here when your son passes away.”

And I just PRAYED you would make the hour drive back in time to say goodbye to your son.  And I cried the entire time waiting for your return.

You turned the car around and rushed back to the hospital.  But, when you walked in, you looked at me and said, “I will say ‘Goodnight!” but I will not say ‘Goodbye!’”  And you sat, holding your son’s lifeless hand, praying for him, and crying.

I was so weak and had such little faith at that moment in my life.  But you held on.  You remained strong.

And Maxwell eventually made it…out of the threshold of death back into life.

You, my Richard, were stalwart!

Thirteen years, Richie.  We have many memories.  Good, bad, ugly, sad, funny, and full of adventure.

We have them together, you and I, because we chose to say “I do!” and “I do too!” thirteen years ago.  And together we still remain.

Crazy.  In love.  And ready for more adventures together.

I love you, Richard!  Thank you for choosing me.

Forever yours,

Your B