My return to the US in the wake of my first trip to Europe--Canterbury, 1990--left me reeling with (literally) sophomoric misery. Everything American seemed dull, embarrassing, shoddy at best. Subsequent returns from subsequent trips have been easier (after a semester in London I ached for nothing more than a comfortable couch, my friends back home, and a bag of proper American pretzels), but the feeling that our fellows abroad are onto something we aren't has stayed with me.
While our president vaguely admits that global warming is an actual problem but follows that with the defensive stance that Americans should do nothing to change their ozone-wrecking ways, our European brethren drive ever-smaller cars and pay a premium for their petrol.
While we're almost willful in our waste of water, those across the sea (and, I'm told, the Japanese before them) have created toilets that one can half-flush or stop mid-flush, using only enough water to get the job done.
I won't even start on Europe's relative lack of chain restaurants, or the superior quality of their fast-ish food across the board, or the fact that a proper coffee is taken casually at a bar and does not cost a small fortune--all too hackle-raising to get into.
There are annoyances: diesel is pervasive, smoking is (mind-blowingly, to the American mind) permitted everywhere, and the toll system on the autoroutes is incomprehensible at best. But for the most part, I'm still left with the impression that despite the US's bluster and overweening pride, our quality of life doesn't match up to that of Europeans. There's a good deal we could learn if only, for a few moments, we'd shut up and listen.