We grow up hearing America is supersized and wasteful, yet for most of the younger generation this country is the only place we have ever lived — the only place we have ever known. It wasn’t until I took enough time to adopt the lifestyle of another country that I realised how dissipative America truly is, and how much we take for granted.

Mara Paley.

In Wurzburg, Germany, bike lanes are about as wide as streets and just as flowing with traffic. After a week in Germany, the only time we rode in the car was on the way home from the airport.

On that drive, my brother Mark pointed out the surplus of windmills decorating the countryside. Peter, our house host, then explained that by 2022, Germany will have closed every one of its 17 nuclear power plants, and the country is transitioning to solar and wind power. As if on cue, we rounded a corner and approached a glimmering valley of solar panels.

This impressive concept prompted me to wrap my mind around energy. Invisible to the senses, it powers every blow dryer and microwave and charges every electrical socket in the world. Still I was puzzled. Where does energy come from? Where is it stored? How is it created? Most of us have never even pondered these questions — I certainly hadn’t — so naturally conserving energy isn’t at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

I wondered if there was anything the country as a whole could be doing, such as following in Germany’s footsteps and mainstreaming windmills and solar panels, to preserve the health of our planet. Only seven hours from Wurzburg lies the City of Lights, Paris, so naturally our families crafted a road trip. As we coasted down the German Autobahn (where there is no speed limit) on a slight decline, Peter shouted out, “Let it roll, baby!”

I, curious, asked him what he was talking about, and he explained that he was simply shutting off the engine of the van, and we were literally rolling down the highway. I paused. Why was such a simple concept, an easy way of saving energy, so foreign to my ears?

I summed it up to this: it’s not that Americans are thoughtless, the “German mindset” is just different; with saving energy constantly in the back of their minds, behaviors such as “letting it roll” become second nature as it would for us if we were to adapt to these customs.

Well into our ambitious trek, we approached a traffic jam and soon slowed to a stop. We were stuck — Volkswagen bumper to Volkswagen bumper.

However, instead of participating in the stop and go, Peter turned off the engine and waited for the gap to widen to a sizable distance. “Lets give it a push!” Peter exclaimed. My dad then opened the passenger-side door in the middle of the Autobahn and proceeded to push the van along until the gap was closed; we continued this way until the jam was over.

Now this may not be typical of the “German mindset.” It may just be Peter and his eccentricity.

Americans are not intentionally wasteful out of laziness, we are simply misinformed and out of practice. If every American adapted one German, energy-saving oddity, imagine how efficient we could be.

Furthermore, I do not recommend pushing a car down the German Autobahn or any highway for that matter, but perhaps, if the timing is right, let it roll.

(Republished from the Gaucho Gazette student newspaper.)

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