I was on holiday in Paris with Alex and the kids earlier this month, and in assorted cafés and bistros, it was easy to let a lot of my cares and troubles slip away. (That doesn’t include the “Am I a good parent?” anxiety, which crosses international borders and time zone boundaries unattenuated.)

But sooner or later l’addition arrives, and with it a little reminder that this holiday comes with a price tag.

That’s a message that North America has been sending to Europe loudly and with more than a little disdain over the past few years. Our governments and pundits have looked askance at European social programs; our news runs stories of cradle-to-grave ChocolateCare and iron-clad guarantees of job security, vacation time and wage parity with the cast of Grey’s Anatomy.

European societies may not meet with the demands of North American business elites for fiscal discipline. They may not have made the same tough (read service-and-benefit-cutting) decisions as Canadian and American governments.

But they have made tough environmental decisions… even if they weren’t necessarily deliberate ones.

Vehicles here are small – in part a function of narrower streets and pricier fuel. Appliances are smaller and more energy-efficient, and hot-water heaters are of the small, instant-on variety; again, small space and costly fuel play a role. Rail transit abounds, thanks to greater population densities, and bicycles are a viable and much-used alternative to cars.

Europe is still wrestling with the decisions that will allow them to grapple with the economic crisis. (Not all mean cutting services, by the way. For instance, Greece’s problems also stem from their astonishingly small number of people who actually pay the taxes they owe.)

But they’ve already made many of the sacrifices we’ll need to make to cope with a future of high-priced oil and strictly-capped carbon. It may well be that, before long, it will be the French who are shaking their heads over OUR lack of discipline… all the way into their early, comfortable pensions.