Homeless and Abroad: A Yankee’s view on European politics

Travelling around Europe for two months, visiting nearly 13 countries, I met some interesting people from all over the world – from the casual homeless man in Switzerland who spoke perfect English and just wanted to have a chat to the Austrian drunkard who “very well could be my uncle, you don’t know.” But in between, I learned a lot about European politics.

These are my favorite explanations and teachings of politics:

UK leaving the EU From a Scottish Guy

This is a large painting on a wall by a river also in Vienna, Austria. All the outside area by a river in Vienna is deemed legal to graffiti by the government, so many works of art exist among many political messages. Photo by Andrew Fraieli
This is a large painting on a wall by a river also in Vienna, Austria. All the outside area by a river in Vienna is deemed legal to graffiti by the government, so many works of art exist among many political messages. Photo by Andrew Fraieli

I arrived in Prague, Czech Republic at 9:30 p.m. on a Friday in June and went straight to a karaoke bar to find somewhere to sleep — don’t judge me it was a couchsurfing event; I didn’t choose the place. There, I ended up meeting a Scottish guy. The first thing I asked him, because the United Kingdom had left the European Union only a week prior, was what he thought of it.

His response: “On the day of the vote I got extremely drunk. When the votes came in in the evening, I drank more and blacked out. The next morning I awoke, remembered what happened and the votes and wished I was still drunk.”

I thought this was hilarious. It was the most common reaction I heard from people from the UK. Before it happened, I hadn’t met a single Englishman or otherwise that thought it was a good idea. I’d heard enough from everyone to believe it was a horrible idea that would lead to many UK citizens losing jobs in other countries and negatively affect the EU with one of its most powerful countries leaving.

France Protests

Painted onto the walls of many apartment buildings in Vienna, Austria is this notebook sized piece. Photo by Andrew Fraieli
Painted onto the walls of many apartment buildings in Vienna, Austria is this notebook sized piece. Photo by Andrew Fraieli

The morning after I was trapped in Saint-Avold, France, I got picked up by a French guy on the way to Strasbourg — the city closest to the eastern border of France. We spoke about music (he loved Elvis) and eventually politics and the protests happening in France. He told me there was a law getting passed that would make it easier for people to get fired. Not a single political party wanted that so everyone protested.

However, he said, “Even if there wasn’t that law being passed, people would protest. French people would protest about there being nothing to protest about. It’s in their blood.”

It wasn’t uncommon for me to see these protests, no matter where I was in France. In La Place de Republique, where the protests happened to have centered, I stayed with someone who told me that the day before he had to walk through tear gas to get to his apartment because people were rioting.

On the border of Slovenia and Hungary is a border control stop with abandoned (or semi-abandoned) restaurants, banks and other shops. Photo by Andrew Fraieli
On the border of Slovenia and Hungary is a border control stop with abandoned (or semi-abandoned) restaurants, banks and other shops.
Photo by Andrew Fraieli

The law ended up getting passed, but not before I was told that the protests had spread all throughout France to the point that people in the West couldn’t get gas because protesters were blocking deliveries. I learned this from a lift who said his brother couldn’t get to work on account of his lack of fuel.

Refugees into Germany

There are millions of Syrian people fleeing their country into Germany because of war and because the German president welcomed them. Germany, however, didn’t expect the massive amount of Syrian refugees that entered the country, and many citizens were not very happy that these people, now living off their taxes, came.

Many do not have jobs – and cannot get jobs because of no passports or papers – and do not have places to sleep so they stay in metros.

I walked through one in Stuttgart with a friend and his opinion differed from the vocal majority: “There’s a lot of refugees that sleep here and hang around here. A lot of people don’t think well of them, but they’re harmless.”

My favorite graffiti I found is this writing on a wall in Venice, Italy. Venice was famous for its high-class masquerade balls, where party-goers would dress up and wear masks. Photo by Andrew Fraieli
My favorite graffiti I found is this writing on a wall in Venice, Italy. Venice was famous for its high-class masquerade balls, where party-goers would dress up and wear masks. Photo by Andrew Fraieli

I didn’t have much of an experience with refugees myself, but I met a lot of people who were very passionate about helping them. Multiple friends I made volunteered their time to helping out at shelters, bringing clothes and passing them out and cooking food. My only direct connection with any people who had fled Syria was in Vienna when my host had about five people over. I was introduced to them and learned they were from the refugee center he volunteers at. He’s worked with these five so much he thinks of them as family.

As I traveled, barriers of thought between different kinds of people – homeless, beggars, rich, poor, French, Russian, Arabic, religious, atheistic, vegan – all fell apart. People are people. Countries and culture cannot define people and neither can circumstances. The impression I had of refugees is that they were people like any other but caught in bad circumstances.

 

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