By Elien De Schouwer Special to Published Nov 27, 2011 at 9:47 AM

Europe and the United States are, despite being an ocean apart, a lot alike. We eat with a knife and fork, drive on the same side of the road and even watch the same stupid reality shows.

Nevertheless I've noticed that it's the small things in everyday life that make us different.

The other day I went to an outlet mall, because just like any American woman, this Belgian girl also loves to go shopping and get great deals. I was walking through the mall hunting for the next great pair of shoes when I suddenly got distracted by some blue fluorescent light. I looked over and couldn't believe my eyes.

In the middle of the hallway, right in front of a Starbucks, there was something that vaguely resembled a dental practice.

"Patients" lying in big, white chairs, an uncomfortable-looking mouthpiece forcing them to smile, a blue light reflecting off their teeth and eye-protecting goggles that came straight out of a bad sci-fi flick.

While some people were sipping their coffee and looking for shoes, others were having their teeth bleached in front of everyone to see. Perhaps to an American that doesn't seem awkward, but to me it was rather funny, comparable to seeing somebody having his back waxed in the middle of a mall (another thing I wouldn't necessarily want to witness).

Sometimes I forget that I'm living in another country, far away from home, but then once in a while I notice the little things that are different ... and smile.

Elien De Schouwer Special to
Born in Brussels, Belgium, Elien has found herself in Milwaukee for several months to accompany her boyfriend for his ex-pat assignment.

Elien writes about the little differences between the U.S. and Europe, going from food and drinks to people and places.