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A Techie's Love Note to Europe

Steven Blum
25

Europeans are lucky bastards. Not only can they hop on an Easy Jet and, an hour later, land in a country with a completely different culture, but they're also protected under the strictest privacy laws, have access to the newest super phones and are on the fast-track to net neutrality. While the number of tech start-ups populating Silicon Valley has yet to be replicated on this side of the Atlantic, being a tech-obsessed person in Europe has its own great benefits. Let's take a techie's look at the top four perks of being European:

Reason #1: The Newest Phones

(Android Booth at Mobile World Congress)

By the time the U.S. got the Samsung Galaxy S2, nearly everyone in Europe had access to the phone. It was absurd how long it took for U.S. carriers to integrate the phone into their plans (under different names of course) and install their bloatware. Lucky Germans got access to the Galaxy S2 unlocked almost as soon as it was announced. When the Galaxy Nexus came out, the slim, unlocked GSM version was available first in Europe. Then Verizon gave it an ugly hump and began selling to Americans. Most recently, the  HTC One X was released first in Europe. It happens over and over again.

Reason #2: Stricter Privacy Laws

We've laughed about how a German town banned anyone from liking anything on Facebook, reasoning that Facebook uses information from individual likes to collect user data. Sure it seems a bit paranoid to ban expression on the world's most popular social networking site, but the fact is that Europeans seem to care more about data protection than Americans. In fact, data protection laws on this continent are much sticter. An entire department at the European commission is dedicated to protection of personal data. This has led to suits against Google Street View and others. Under EU law, personal data can only be gathered "legally under strict conditions, for legitimate purposes." The U.S. government has no such department.

Reason #3: Better Data Plans

(Photo: Blau.de)

In Finland, an operator named Elisa offers unlimited data for as little as 5 euros per month. As a result, Finns consume on average 1 gigabyte of wireless data a month over an operator's network, almost 10 times the European average. Now, it is cheaper to provide these kinds of data plans in smaller countries, because less towers and traffic reduce carrier costs. But still, that price is quite impressive. In Germany, a company called Blau offers contract-free 1GB of data per month for a mere 10 euros. Not quite as good, but still much better than America's offerings. Verizon, in contrast, offers 2GB for $30, and no you can't halve that for $15. AT&T is no better. And a-la-carte plans (AKA Pre-Paid) tend to be more expensive in the States.

Reason #4: Net Neutrality

(Photo: Pspword.com)

Just a few days ago, the Netherlands became the world's second Net Neutral country (after Chile). Their new net neutrality law requires websites to ask users for permissions before cookies can be stored in their browsers. It also requires all companies providing access to the Internet to treat all Internet services equally. They cannot favor their own services, nor charge extra to access a competitor's services.It would be vastly over-simplifying things to say that all European countries offer unfettered access to the Internet. But there are certainly more initiatives pointing in this direction. The Pirate Party – which advocates for universal, unrestricted access to the Internet – received 7% of the vote in Sweden in 2009, winning 2 seats in parliament. More recently, in Germany, the Pirate Party won a whopping 8.9% of votes in the Berlin state election, 2011. With 51 municipal county seats, the party is poised to affect legislative processes, especially in regards to the Internet.

Of course, there are drawbacks to being an Android addict in Europe, as well. Prices for new, unlocked phones tend to be more expensive. While it feels freeing to not be locked into a contract, not all pre-paid European carriers offer great deals. Plan prices, of course, vary greatly from country to country and France, especially, seems to have high data costs. That said, when it comes to data protection, net neutrality and the newest phones, you'd probably be happier on this side of the pond.

(Top photo: iloveeruope.tumblr.com

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  • Yan Matusevich May 11, 2012 Link

    Well done, Steven. As someone that takes a lot of pride in Europe, this article definitely is pleasant to read, but I cannot whole-heartily agree. The thing, the big telecommunication giants continue to have a death grip on consumers in Europe. Whether it's Telefonica, Orange, Vodafone or T-Mobile - all of them tend to equally customer-unfriendly and offer noncompetitive rates to their consumers.

    Having said that I think, they are much more limited in their actions than in the US. The European Commission has done a great job of curbing roaming prices across the EU, despite the strong mobile lobby. Consistently, European legislatures have been taking the side of the consumer on key issues (data security, costs and privacy rights).

    Obviously, in the US the mobile lobby has much more sway on Congress and there is little incentive for the government to step in and legislate. Hopefully, things will be moving in the right direction in the EU despite the regional differences (i.e. terrible customer service in Germany, just to name a few country traits).

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  • Stefan E. May 11, 2012 Link

    It is not quite as easy with data plans!

    Blau.de is a discounter in the slowest available network with the largest gaps. They can afford to offer you large data packets because you can hardly use them up... ;)

    There are some better choices even with the discounters, though, but they can't quite match those prices - to get one GB on Vodafone (one of the fastest networks), you could choose deutschlandsim.de. They offer 50 minutes and 50 SMS and a small data plan (200MB) for €8 and then upgrade it to 1GB for an extra €10 per month (€5 if you can live with 500MB).

    Also when you choose to buy such a SIM card, you will not receive much of a subsidization on the phone, if any. You will have to pay e.g. about €550 for a Galaxy S III. On a regular contract, that can go much lower, but the conditions will not be as attractive as on the discounters SIM. Almost every contract only offers between 200 and 300 MB of a data plan with NO UPGRADE OPTION at all. Also they mostly charge RIDICULOUSLY much for SMS usage - discounter is expensive with 8-9 Cents, on regular contracts they often charge 19-20 Cent per SMS!

    You will have to carefully evaluate and choose for your needs, I always recommend to make up your mind how many minutes and SMS you need and how hard you want to hit the pocket internet. Then calculate the total costs of ownership and usage over two years.

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  • Lynda Morrison May 11, 2012 Link

    First off,my Oma was from Germany - my Mom is 1st. Generation American. When my Oma came to America with my Mom's older brother Oma remarked how behind America was with technology ect.. Things that were "new" to Americans over 70 years ago was nothing new to Europeans! This article is no way surprises me! :) And they say America is a Leader! She is Way behind the times! lol

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  • Lynda Morrison May 11, 2012 Link

    America is a VERY greedy Nation! Price gouging,corruption,so many in power lining their pockets at our expense! It is no wonder why so many of us are defecting!

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  • Ti Mo May 11, 2012 Link

    Do you live in Europe Steven?

    Another point you could mention would be, that England and Germany are, I think, the two countries with the most Internet accesses...

    And blau.de, as Stefan said, is using the worst service.. Use congstar or so, they still have good offers.

    And @Lynda:
    I cant say that America is behind Europe in technology. Its more vice versa, really.
    Im 17, lived in Germany till last year and Im here in the US for an exchange year at the moment. And looking at the technology at school... Man, here every class room has a smart board in it, in my Web Design class we have nice Windows 7 Computers, Morning announcements on the Tv etc. We dont have any of this in Germany. All we have in the class room is a blackboard and one computer room.
    The only good thing about the computers at my school at home is that they dont block youtube and Facebook. The only thing my school blocked was pornpgraphy hehe :D

    Edit: Another Thing is the Roaming costs. They just lowered them like a couple days ago. Coulda made a blog about that

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    sean Stockemer May 11, 2012 Link

    Remember, the grass is always greener...
    My wife (we live in Germany) earns a respectable amount yearly. We're far from rich but we can afford to eat a steak a couple of times per month. I'm finishing my BSc and should be earning about 2/3 what she does soon, but for now, we're a single income family (I had to take a few years off to learn German and get my degree). That's the background.
    The rub to your super-cool benefits of living in the EU are the tax obligations, and living costs. You failed to mention that top income tax brackets in the EU pay around 43% income tax, and it's not hard to his that top tier. If you earn more than ~$60K USD, you'd be in it. And let's face it 43% is ALOT but that's just the beginning. On top of that EU residents have to pay a VAT (value added tax) equivalent to 19-20% of sales costs. So, essentially, more than 40% of your income is gone before you even see it, and an additional 20% of EVERYTHING YOU SPEND goes to tax. That's a grand total of >62% of income spent which goes to taxes, and that's not all. We had to pay €180 'dog-tax' per year (~$220 USD) for having a dog. Property owners pay property tax etc. The ones I listed aren't the only taxes EU residents pay. On top of all that, we buy gasoline by the liter, and pay about €1.50-1.90 per L ($1.90-2.25USD per L). That's per liter! Multiplying that by 3.8 to convert to gallons, means that we pay almost (or around) 8€ per gallon, which is more than $10 USD!!! The same applies to foodstuffs, but to a lesser extreme. Milk costs are higher here (a typical KPI of cost of living). And if you go into a McD's, the same burger (a normal double cheese from the McValue menu) that costs $.99USD will set you back €1.49 ($2USD). And don't even think about the cost of real estate and implications of the population density found in most of mainland Europe (they're related to one another). I won't go into too much detail, but costs of buying a home are about 3-5 times what they are in my home state of Florida.

    Specifically:
    to Reason 2: Stricter privacy laws, yeah. But Americans have the benefit of 'probable cause'. Cops in Germany don't need any reason to pull you over. And they can make you pee in a cup on the spot...also for no reason, just because. If you refuse, or fail your test...it could cost you around €3000 to get your DL back. And while I'm on the topic. The costs of getting a DL in FL, are around $40USD. In Germany it costs a minimum of €2500 (~$3200 USD). This is because of mandatory 'driving practice hours'. If you've smoked pot in the last months and get caught driving, you have to start over again, but only after you complete a €1500 'idiot class' which is basically a DUI class.

    to Reason 3: I've not yet heard of 4G in the EU. We're supposed to get LTE in the next 5 years or so, but it's not near where anyone I know lives yet.

    to Reason 4: That paints a rosy picture that's not exactly a good representative of real life. The pirate party will never win ANY election in Germany. That's like the story of the inmate that gave Obama a run for his money, in last week's headlines. Yes, the guy got some votes...but realistically, will anything ever come of it? Highly doubtful. Furthermore, in Germany, I know people personally who were investigated, caught and adjudicated for downloading stuff. Torrents. Not seeding, downloading. Luckily my friends were all able to get the charges reduced, but I know of people who studied IT in school (programmers) who have received a sentence of a lifetime ban from computers and internet connected devices, as a result of illegal downloads! Think about that: you get your degree, download some music, films, and software, then get a letter saying you have to go to court where you are sentenced to NEVER be able to utilize your degree again. They're pretty much 'ufkced'. Nothing can change it, it can't be expunged and there's not statute of limitations.

    You qualified your article at the end, by stating a few pros & cons, and briefly saying that 'when it comes to data protection, net neutrality and the newest phones, you'd probably be happier on this side of the pond'.
    But, yeah, we might get tech a few months faster, and in some states there may be better net neutrality etc...but does that make it worth it to move to Germany? IMHO hell no. I'm here so my wife can be close to her family. But we'll be returning to FL once we have children, so we can afford to buy a home and take advantage of scores of other benefits of living in America. I just wanted to say all this as a reminder that Americans shouldn't take these things for granted. You're very fortunate to live in such a wonderful country. And yeah, with that somehow comes the major drawback of having to wait a few extra months for the latest and greatest Android devices...but in the end, that's a small price to pay.

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  • Stefan E. May 11, 2012 Link

    @Ti Mo: dated computers in school have little to do with technology standards, they are discarded PCs from parents because the horribly underfunded schools cannot affort to buy any.

    @sean Stockemer: Please don't mix up social benefits with income tax.

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  • Steven Blum May 11, 2012 Link

    Sean, I feel you on all of these points! I've lived in Germany for the past two years and can attest to the high tax rates and ridiculous barriers to owning a car. The Internet restrictions are also absurd. But I wouldn't rule out the Pirate Party just yet. When they get almost 10% of an election, that's nothing to scoff at. And in other European countries, like the Netherlands, you wouldn't face those punishments and the ban from Internet, which is absolutely crazy.

    A lot of your points have nothing to do with my article, which focuses mostly on smartphones and technology, but I agree nonetheless.

    Reason 2: I was focusing on privacy in regards to data protection.

    Reason 3: I believe Sweden is the first European country to get LTE a bit later this year.

    Reason 4: I was focusing on Netherlands, Germany and Sweden (home to Pirate's Bay, naturally), not just Germany. Of course, net neutrality is a tricky subject. I am not totally in favor of anyone being able to download other people's copyrighted art. Are Germany's rules strict? Absolutely. I've also had friends get fined, but one was able to get it drastically reduced to a few hundred euros and the other ignored the fine and never ended up paying anything. Never heard of anyone being banned from the Internet, but I'll look that up.

    Overall, my point was not to say which place is better to live in -- Europe or the States -- but simply to point out to Americans that there are benefits here as well for the techie crowd. No, there's no Silicon Valley, and the taxes might put off investors, but I still believe there are certain benefits when it comes to data costs, new phones and (especially) consumer protection.

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    sean Stockemer May 11, 2012 Link

    @Stefan I don't get your meaning. Do you mean that the VAT is a social benefit?

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  • Steven Blum May 11, 2012 Link

    @Ti Mo...good point about the Internet.

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    sean Stockemer May 11, 2012 Link

    True. As seen from specific vantage points, life in DE is super-cool. I've only had experience with Germany but it could be different elsewhere in the EU.

    I just wanted to point out that on the whole, grass is green here and back home for different reasons. (I miss FL-fishing and my motorcycle the most!)
    Good article. I forgot to mention that I do enjoy the AndroidPIT blog thoroughly, and thanks for another good write up!

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  • Eric McBride May 11, 2012 Link

    Im born in the good old US of A, and after living in Europe for the last10 years, I can say in that in terms of mobile, there are some things better here and some better in the states.

    Both places are slow at expanding 4G coverage (we literally just got it in Germany), but when it comes to getting phones first, Europe is WAY ahead. Price wise, its cheaper in the states hands down. When a phone costs 600USD, its usually around 580 euros here, which is WAY more than in the states. I paid 650 euros here for my Galaxy Tab 10.1. Thats 850 US dollars. In America it retailed for 499 dollars. Pretty massive difference. EU gets em first, but the US gets em way cheaper.

    As far as plans go, I pay 39 euros a month here for 500MB internet (throttled after that) and unlimited calling to every mobile network along with landlines.

    Im not sure what unlimited costs in the states these days, but when I left it was outrageous.

    Hard to say which place is "better" in this aspect. Both have their good points and their bad.

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  • Stefan E. May 11, 2012 Link

    @sean Stockemer: no I meant that you probably calculated the difference between gross and net income and named that income tax, which is not accurate. I am almost at 60K USD and I am not anywhere near to paying 43% income tax.

    For a more detailled explanation on the matter I have something worthwhile AND funny (if you understand german): google "pispers nutto bretto". :)

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    sean Stockemer May 11, 2012 Link

    lol@ Lohnnebenkosten!. Geil. Ja, ich kann jetzt sehr gut Deutsch. Sein 'Bit' über Merkel fand ich auch lustig. :D Der typ rockt. :D

    [Translation, for those who don't speak German: lol@ income-side-effect-costs. Cool. Yes, I can now speak very goog German. I found his bit about Merkel also funny. :D That guy rocks. :D]

    That guy's a riot. The green. The SPD & the social democrats...all very funny stuff. I wish I had friend back home who were familiar with the political situation in DE, and could understand German, so I could share it!
    True. I probably included the 'social benefits' in my numbers...so 'income tax' may have been the wrong term. 'Taxes' may be more accurate. In every case, money that is mandated to be paid without any choice on the part of the earner.

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  • Ti Mo May 11, 2012 Link

    @eric: prices here in USA depend. If you want unlimited calling from Verizon, and ONLY unlimited calling, NOTHING else, you probably end up paying 60-80 bucks. That doesn't include text into, doesn't include data.
    At T Mobile or sprint you could get all unlimited for 50 bucks.. But hey I have tmobile and sometimes don't even have service in my living room lol

    And @sean. I understand a lot of points you mention. But when I look at your post it seems like Europe sucks really hard and you make it kinda sound like Russia Oo
    Cops in Germany for example are soo relaxed. I'm 17. And I really don't party much here in the US. And i already got in trouble with the cops a couple times. In Germany I go out drinking every weekend. Never even saw a cop. Here in the US there's a cop on every street corner. There's cops in school. I hate it..
    And the gas prices.. You couldn't make the gas prices that high here in the US. Litterally everybody here is committed to their car. The us economy would literally break down if the prices here were as high as in Europe. That's another thing I HATE about America. The dependendence on a car. I can't do shit without a car here. And I'm not allowed to have my license here(you know cause I'm an exchange student). I live in Berlin in Germany. And the subway system is amazing. Seriously before I came here I think I haven't been in a car in 2 months or so. And here? Can't do a single thing without a car. When I come back to Germany I probably won't even get my license till I'm in my mid 20s

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  • Ti Mo May 11, 2012 Link

    Ouh I forgot. And the school is so much better in Germany. Seriously in don't learn anything here. I'm typing everything I wrote here during class. No one cares. The education you get in Germany is a trillion times better than in the US.

    And @politics
    They are messed up in both countries.
    You know what I've learned about America politics since I'm here? There Is No difference between the Republicans and Democrats.
    Well there's one difference: the Republicans admit that they screw the middle class over, and they do. And the Democrats say that they don't screw the middle class over but in the end they do it too. So it really doesn't matter.
    And @sean. The American tax system is just as messed up. Here the people who earn the least pay the most taxes. GOD BLESS AMERICA

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    sean Stockemer May 11, 2012 Link

    Yeah, I guess we have totally opposite backgrounds and vantage points.
    I feel exactly the opposite way about subways and busses. I can't ride a train, subway, or bus to save my life. But that's because I was 30 before I ever tried. I didn't have the experience of growing up with them. And I've owned 9 cars and 3 motorcycles in my life, before moving to DE. I like that. Having a car gives me a feeling of independence and protection that I don't feel with public transport.

    My assessment was a bit harsh, I apologize for that. There are several things about Germany that I love, and beat America hands down. Take bread for example. German bread is among the best I've EVER eaten. But at the same time, Germans can't make soft white bread like Americans. It (Toastbrot) is just not the same. There's a much better variety of bread in DE (and it's probably all healthier than white bread, too), but there are certain things missing.
    But cops in DE aren't always so relaxed, and American cops aren't always so strict. With experience of growing up somewhere, though, one learns how to behave in order to NOT get involved with police. The situations in that regard are also just different. In America, we have personal rights and freedoms that just don't even exist in Germany.

    But TiMo, even those who pay the HIGHEST percentage taxes in America pay a much less percentage of their income than they would in DE. That was my point. Dollar for dollar, Euro for Euro, citizens in the EU pay much more taxes than those in the USA. And there are also German citizens who earn crazy amounts of money and get out of taxes.
    Agreed both systems are screwed. But I'll choose the one where I don't have to pay 60% of my income to the state.

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  • Ti Mo May 11, 2012 Link

    Yeah I didn't wanna make it seem that the cops are stricter than in Germany, but there's more.
    They're relaxed here too, we talked us outta some controversy stuff here hehe :D
    And honestly, the food is so much better in Germany. And so much healthier. But I am gonna miss taco bell and Wendys and Chipotle when I go back tho :D
    And the german pizza is better. Americans always think there pizza is the shit haha. Naahh german pizza is better :D

    And i don't know if I could permanently live without the subway system. But it's as you said, I grew up with it. I think it's probably the best thing about living in Berlin. Being drunk outside at 3 in the morning with friends and still finding home completely save :)

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  • Ti Mo May 11, 2012 Link

    And @ the tax situation. Honestly im 17 and never had a job... So I can't really say anything about and to be completely honest, at the moment I don't give a damn about that :D
    I can worry about that later in life. And that's actually the first time I heard about those high taxes in Europe (of course except for the sales tax. I remember the big controversy like a couple years ago when they raised it from 16 percent to 19 haha). I'll figure that out later in life.

    But another point is.. College in Germany is free. Man, in America you have to pay 40k, a year and spend the rest of your life paying student loans. That's why I'm definitely gonna spend the next 8 years of my life in Germany.. Informatik Studium here I come :D

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    sean Stockemer May 11, 2012 Link

    But imagine (without any experience with public transport) getting on a train in Krefeld (near Düs.), and accidentally finding yourself south of Köln... and you don't speak a word of the language, cell's almost dead, and low on cash. That made my view of public transport a bit negative from the start. I'd rather just be able to get in my car, and worry about parking when I get there. ;-)

    I can't wait to have Taco Bell again (going home for a month in July), and cheap Mexican food in general...in DE Mexican food is crazy expensive! And personally, I prefer American style pizzas. But in my case, I can get some kinds of those in DE...it's really hard to find a EU-style pizza in the US (except in NYC, maybe).

    As to college, it's not hard to get a scholarship (Stupendium, ja). Or one can do what I did, and work to pay tuition/book costs. It can be done, without student loans in America but it's hard work.

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  • Ti Mo May 11, 2012 Link

    Ouh and there's freedoms that you have in Europe that you don't have in the us(sorry for all the new posts but you can't edit your posts in the app and I always remember new stuff to write right when I press end :D).
    Just go across the border to Czech Republic, without even getting controlled and heck you can do cocaine and heroine O.o
    Just mentioning that to show that were actually a lot more liberal. I mean except for all the gun freedoms you have in the US. look at Ron Paul in the US. He's tryna make the US more like Europe. With gun rights :D

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  • Ti Mo May 11, 2012 Link

    And yeah that experience might have been not so great haha. But I was primarily talking about the subway system in Berlin whi is amazing.

    And you like American pizza better cause you haven't had the right pizza yet. There's this one place in Berlin... Hmmm their margaritha is soo amazing.

    And the biggest thing I miss, of course, is the Döner. Honestly, Döner makes up for taco bell, Wendys, arbys, and everything else Germany doesn't have :D

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    sean Stockemer May 11, 2012 Link

    When I move back one day, I will certainly have a big empty hole in my life where Döner and Lahmacun should be. ;D But I miss the other garbage fast food back home, too. Krystal. Long John Silvers etc. And the fact that in a pinch you can get a big meal for $4 back home...not possible in DE

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  • Ti Mo May 11, 2012 Link

    Nahh where do you get a 4 dollar meal anymore? When was the last time you were in the us again? Haha. If you wanna go to McDonalds you do have to pay 6-7 bucks to get enough to satisfy a grown man. In Germany its like 6 euros last time I checked. And heck you get a döner with drinks for under 4 euros... :)

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  • Atlas May 12, 2012 Link

    You both don't know anything about good pizza. Why? Because you haven't eaten pizza my favourite Italian restaurant in Antwerp, Belgium.

    Well, I guess it's not about the country but about the people who make them. Unfortunately in my country you really have to search for a good pizza restaurant, because most are Turkish snacks that make very cheap Italian pizza's that taste worse or just poorer than the worst from the cheapest supermarket.

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