Afterthoughts regarding my European Adventures

It’s been a busy month since we got back from Europe. A lot has happened, both good and bad. Spurred in part by those things and in part by the opening up of my perspective after visiting another, very different part of the world, I’ve started to make some changes in my life, workload, and priorities. And I’m planning to make more. Tom and I are examining some possibilities we hadn’t considered before. The realization that we have many different options is, in itself, liberating.

Life, the universe and everything

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about how short life is and how important it is to enjoy it to its fullest and allow other people to do the same – and how unimportant petty little disagreements and arguments are. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight for what’s right. It does mean you shouldn’t let those issues become personal, or be upset if some people don’t understand your point of view or dislike you because of it.

The European lifestyle seems to be about taking things less seriously and spending more time in the pursuit of happiness and less in the pursuit of money. I grew up with a strong (one might say iron-clad) work ethic. Relaxation is an idea that’s as foreign to me as the words on the roadsigns in Belgium – and, I suspect, harder to learn. But I’ve decided I’m ready to try.

Meanwhile, I’m working on putting together another overseas trip – this time, to a place where they all speak English (albeit not necessarily Texan). My son and I are trying to work out a time when we can both get away to go tour the British Isles. I have a dear friend in Newcastle-upon-Tyne whom I haven’t seen since 2010, and I want to visit with her and meet her husband. Then we want to see Scotland (the origin of my son’s dad’s family) and Ireland (where my mom’s ancestors came from). I’m excited about spending a week and a half exploring the “old country” with Kris (who is a pro at European travel since he goes over there all the time for his work).

Different strokes

In my last post, I said I wanted to discuss some of the things I would find most challenging about living in Europe. As a former police officer and someone who has been involved in studying law all my life, I admit that I find the differences in legal systems scary. A lot of that is just fear of the unknown. In the U.S., I know what the law is and what my rights are (although those are increasingly coming under fire – but that’s a subject for a different time). In a foreign country, I’m not so sure of myself.

The parliamentary monarchy system of government that’s common in European countries works very differently from our tri-branched system and bi-cameral elected legislative bodies. Their police operate differently and their courts have very different rules of procedure. Their constitutions are different and don’t necessarily guarantee the same individual rights we’re used to in the U.S.

Under the Gun

One of those rights that is lacking throughout Europe is the one addressed by our second amendment: the right to bear arms. Although there is much contention in the political arena over whether that was intended to be an individual right or a collective one, there is no such doubt about the wording of the constitutions of many states, including that of Texas – which states specifically in Section 23 that “Every citizen shall have the right to keep and bear arms in the lawful defense of himself or the State.”

I exercise that right on a daily basis and I support the right of other law abiding citizens to do so. When I was a police officer and in the prime of life, able to bench press more than my own weight and practicing hand-to-hand defensive tactics skills on an almost daily basis as an academy trainer, I had a fighting chance against an attacker even if I was unarmed. Now, in my “later years” with some minor health issues and far less strength, weighing in at 118 pounds, I don’t want to go up against a 150-200 lb. 20-30something male – the physical profile of the typical mugger or rapist. I want and need that “great equalizer” to be able to protect myself and those I love.
In Texas, we have the right to own and keep firearms in our homes and vehicles. Those of us who have been vetted by the state can get concealed handgun licenses that allow us to carry guns to most other places. Since leaving police work, I’ve never fired my weapon except at the range. I’ve never drawn it, outside my own property (e.g., checking out a noise in the night). I might never need to. But there have been numerous occasions when I was glad I had it with me.

In Europe, I felt that lack acutely during the wee hours of the morning when I was alone in a vehicle with a stranger (car service driver) on the way to the airport for my flight to Copenhagen. I felt it again when we took the train into Brussels and were trying to find our way from the train station to the city centre, which took us through some pretty rough-looking streets. I thought about what I’d read concerning the Brabant killers and the Belgian mafia and other gang-related crimes. Certainly the rate of violent crime is lower there than in most U.S. cities, but I still felt somewhat helpless without a means of self defense.

During my visit to Copenhagen, I mentioned this to my Danish friend. She noted that it’s something she would never think about. People are less likely to miss what they’ve never had, and since most Europeans grew up without the ability to legally carry a gun, it doesn’t bother them. And of course, most of them live their entire lives without ever needing one. Would I get used to it over time? Probably. I was less cognizant of my unarmed state by the end of the trip than at the beginning. I’ve adapted, after an initial period of discomfort, to being unarmed while visiting in the northeastern U.S. and California.

Do I want to get used to it? I’m not sure. I’m big on freedom and individual liberties, much to the consternation of some of my friends and acquaintances. I can give some of those up temporarily, if I have to. I’d hate to have to give them up permanently, even if it could be guaranteed that I would be perfectly safe. It’s a matter of principle. No matter how relaxing the pace of life might be, I don’t think I’ll be moving to Europe any time soon. However, I’m looking forward to my next visit.


DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER

About debshinder

Technology analyst and author, specializing in enterprise security. Author of or contributor to over 25 books, including "Scene of the Cybercrime." Fourteen-year Microsoft MVP, married to Microsoft FTE Tom Shinder, and proud mom of two wonderful grown-up human children and three amazing Japanese Chin pups. In my spare time, I love to travel - especially on cruise ships - and write about my grand adventures.
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