Differences between European Flats and American Apartments
Flats versus Apartments
There's an American dream and a European one. Although they do seem to be growing more and more alike, they will always remain distinctly different in certain respects. While I've always lived in an American bubble, I've always been captivated by the European realm.
The American/European debate is a big one. I'm still contemplating the pros and cons of each aesthetic. For this article, I'm talking about the physical differences between European flats for rent and American rental apartments.
For those that don't know, a British/Euro "flat" is synonymous with the word "apartment" as we use it in the US. If I say I'm looking for a flat in the States, people think I'm trying to be too Euro and sound snotty. If I say "apartment" in England, people immediately know I'm American and think I'm an idiot. You need always to be on your A game and know where you are and to whom you're speaking.
Ten Differences between a Flat and an Apartment
In general, you can get a much bigger apartment in the States than anywhere in Europe. (I'm speaking in general terms. Yes, technically, you could probably get a huge flat on some farm in Romania.) Generally though, there is more space in America and much larger living areas are built for cheaper.
2. Europe Has No Word for "Closet"
Europe has no closets. They seriously do not have closets. What do they use to store (ahem, cram) their belongings and clothes in? IKEA is their God. They've invented every kind of wardrobe in the world: one for shoes, one for pants, another for special socks and underwear (not to mention hats, suits, pullovers, etc.). When you buy an apartment in the States, a closet is always part of the deal. Why? Because it makes sense to create a special place for one's clothes.
In Germany, my parents had their clothes hanging on racks (the ones Americans often use for old clothes in their attics or basements). However, my parents had the racks in their bedrooms, practically on top of one another. It looked awful, and think about the amount of dust, lint, and crap floating around in the air landing on your squished clothing.
3. A Bathroom Cabinet is an American Thing
In my experience, having lived in numerous different European countries, there were no cabinets. You know, like the ones you have under your bathroom sink. Everyone's toiletry kit is either on top of the toilet seat, on some random ledge, or stuffed under their right armpit while they attempt to brush their teeth. In America, bathroom cabinets are a given. Why? Because, again, it just makes sense.
4. In Germany, Nothing is Included
Yeah, I don't get it. When looking for a flat in Germany, many times you'll walk inside an apartment and there is nothing there. Nothing. The people who lived there before took the kitchen cabinets, sinks, toilets, bathtub, curtains, curtain rods, mirrors, and even the freakin' light bulbs! I'm not exaggerating. I know many families, including my own, that would find completely stripped rooms when they looked for apartments. When we asked what happened to the kitchen sink, the response would be, "What do you mean? The previous occupants took it. Just like they took their TV and couch." Yeah.... It's a little different in the US. We don't walk out with the A/C unit or countertops on our back. Then again, it's true we do take the washer/dryer and refrigerators. I guess Europeans take that idea to a whole new level.
5. No Garbage Disposal in the Sink
Most Americans are accustomed to using that most excellent invention called the garbage disposal (or "garborator," as I call it). In Europe? No way. Gutting a chicken? Well, be prepared to take out all of those guts and place them into the trashcan by hand. In Europe, it's magical thinking to assume you'll press a button and grind everything inside the sink and into the sewage drains. Imagine washing dirty dishes every night.
6. Dryers? Are You Kidding Me?
This one absolutely amazes me. Ready? There are no clothes dryers in Europe! Have you been to England? Do you know what the weather is like in London, Paris, Milan, Tirane, Prague, and almost every other European capital? Cold, dark, and rainy. Not every day of the year, but generally, the weather is pretty crappy. Still, you won't find a clothes dryer. Now, the Europeans do this for many reasons. One: The cost of the amount of energy used by a dryer. Two: A dryer is not very environmentally friendly. Three: There's no space to put a dryer, anyway.
So, you may wonder, what do people do in order to dry their clothes? Well, you can try getting the washer/dryer-in-one that is by no means a dryer. It's simply a device that spins the hell out of your clothes, ultimately draining it of water. The main way people dry their clothes is the old-fashioned way: on a clothesline. Now, that makes sense, right? Think again. How will you dry your clothes on a clothesline in a climate that is cold, dark, and rainy? You don't. Instead, you hang these crazy indoor clotheslines in your very small flat with no air circulation and attempt to rotate the clothing every ten hours in order to help the water evaporate. By the end of this one- to three-day process, you'll never want to wash your clothes again. You'll wear your uncomfortable, cardboard jeans and your stretched-out, wrinkly shirt for months until the dirt and smell is so bad that you must attempt this ridiculous process all over again.
7. Carpet? No. But Rugs Everywhere
No carpets in Europe. Yeah, you could special order a company to come in and add some carpet, but generally, no one has it. You buy rugs and live on that smelly, disgusting thing for years. Then, if you're like some Eastern European folk, you beat the hell out of that rug outside on some metal fence next to the bored-looking adolescent kids smoking on the stoop.
I don't care what they say, that American feeling of toeing a fluffy, white carpet after a long day of sweaty work is one of the best feelings on earth. Haven't you seen Die Hard 1 when Bruce Willis toes the carpet in his hotel room? I mean, "Yippee ki-yay mother fu..."! As a kid, I did school projects on the carpet, wrestled with my puppy in a sun-soaked spot on the carpet, and even lay reading the Sunday paper on the carpet. Geez. I might have a carpet fetish.
8. Refrigerator Size = No Comparison
This one is easy. Refrigerators in Europe are similar, if not identical, to the ones Americans had in their college dorms. In Europe, almost every fridge I had (if I even had a fridge) sucked. Small, smelly, and no auto-defrost. Europeans argue it's because they buy food every day at the local market and eat it fresh. Americans buy everything in bulk, buy it big, and, therefore, need space to hold everything. (Note: Can you buy an American-sized fridge in Europe? Of course, but again, most people don't have one.)
9. A/C Units? Ice Machines?
No and no. In Europe, use a fan. Aside from flats, even most places of business don't have air conditioning in their offices. It's bizarre. Sure, the weather is frigid most of the time, but summer can also be pretty damn hot. You can't walk into your flat and cool off. Buy a soda and, for the most part, it will be warm to cool, never American-style ice cold. Even some automobiles don't have air conditioning, but that's a separate issue.
10. Funny Windows with No Screens
Ok, Europeans want to have funny windows that open in many different directions. No problem. That's cool. I can dig that. In Germany, I used to be able to flip my window almost 360 degrees. Only one part of the window was locked, and the rest was completely movable.
Now, what about screens? It's a very simple invention, but a genius one. In the US, if you want some cool air, then open the window. No bugs or mosquitoes will get in because of the lovely screen. I used to play evil tricks on my dog and run inside my house and close the screen fast and watch my dog crash into it. No no, he didn't get hurt. In Europe if you leave a window open, insects and other animals will come in.
Is Europe Worth It?
Again, there are always outliers that don't fit generalizations like this, but I do believe for the most part that these distinctions hold true.
Now, should my list stop you from living in Europe? No way. Living in a coffin next to your IKEA dresser; wearing cardboard jeans and holding a toiletry bag under your armpit; sweating from the heat and fighting off mosquitoes as you stand in front of your college-sized fridge: It's all worth it.