You Americans

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When I was in college, I found it vastly irritating when friends coming back from a semester in Europe made loud proclamations about  "you Americans."

"You Americans just don't know what culture is."

"You Americans have such a dull palette."

The ones who had been in France were the worst. "You Americans are afraid of your own sexuality," they would declare with clove cigarettes dangling out of their mouths.

Well, I didn't spend a semester in Europe. I spent two weeks last month, a middle-aged mom with my husband and two teenage kids. We didn't even go to France.  But I've come back with my own "you  Americans" proclamation: You Americans, I find myself thinking, are just so behind in energy conservation and recycling.


Throughout Europe, gas prices are double what they are in the U.S.  So people walk a lot more, take the train and drive really small cars that are twice as fuel efficient as cars in the U.S.  And a whole lot easier to park.

In Italy, some hotels are now equipped with a simple technology that turns the electricity off in rooms when the key is at the front desk. The lights, the TV, everything. It doesn't come back on until somebody picks up that key.

In London, store clerks ask if you want a bag when you make a purchase. If you do, they'll add six pence to your bill and give you one that's completely biodegradable. Turns out that in South Africa, China, even Bangladesh they have similar fees or outright bans on plastic bags.

The list goes on and on, but here's the point: they're doing it. They're thinking about little things that make a big difference.  And yes, the government is mandating a lot of it for the simple reason that conserving energy and protecting the environment are in everybody's interest.

I was thrilled to come home to the news that California seems on the verge of becoming the first state in this country to stop most stores from giving out plastic bags and charging for paper ones. But that doesn't change the fact. You Americans -- we Americans -- are woefully behind.

With a Perspective, I'm Carrie Klein.