American Travelers Share Their Surprising European Culture Shocks

American Travelers Share Their Surprising European Culture Shocks

One of the top reasons people travel is to experience different cultures. Being immersed in another language, cuisine, and landscape all make traveling one of the most worthwhile experiences you can have. But it's the differences we don't expect that can really make a trip interesting. Paying for toilets? Ketchup mockery? Nudity? We got American tourists to dish on the European culture shocks that surprised them the most.


55. Let's get this out of the way.

The French are generally nice, it's Parisians who are jerks and give the whole country that reputation. And they're not singling you out because you're American - they're jerks to each other too.

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54. It's old.

The sense of history and age that is everywhere. Buildings that are hundreds and thousands of years old, roads that have been walked for a hundred generations, etc.

I should add that the state I live in is roughly only 150 years old, with the first American settlement appearing at around 1820 or so. The oldest building here dates to about the same time. My house is about 90 years old, and that's considered quite old for this area.

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53. The melons.

As a teenage texan boy who visited Germany in high school, I'd say the biggest shock was the billboard at the end of our street with a topless woman on it. I looked at that thing so much I still have it memorized 20 years later.

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52. So normal.

To me it was a shock seeing actual, normal-sized bodies. Very few jacked body-builders, very few morbidly obese people. They just have generally lean, healthy physiques.

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51. It's not cheap, but we are.

Going to Europe I realized how many freebies we get in the US. Free refills, as much ketchup as you want in fast food places, free toilets, etc. In Europe, you have to pay for everything. I got used to it.

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50. That sweet infrastructure.

Germany's transportation system blew me away. The U-Bahn for traveling within the city, the S-Bahn for getting out to the burbs, and the train for getting to far away cities. I was able to get anywhere I wanted to go without a car. It was also impressive to see how much more pedestrian friendly most places were since they didn't need so many massive roads and parking lots all over the place.

Coming from California where you can't survive without a car, it was inspiring to see how public transportation could be made so efficient and accessible.


49. Cough, cough...

The smoking.... People smoking everywhere. Restaurants, street corners, cafes.....

When I landed in Vienna there was a 10 x 5 meter plexi-glass box in the airport where 7 Austrians chain-smoked while waiting for their luggage.

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48. Not Irish enough.

I grew up on corned beef and cabbage. Every couple of weeks we had it. We went to Ireland when I was like 18 for two weeks. Never saw it on a menu anywhere. I know now that it's primarily considered an Irish-American dish...not an Irish dish.

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47. Better than no hole in the ground.

Remnants of the two world wars are everywhere. You can actually see lines across many of the buildings where they used new brick and mortar to rebuild after Hitler blitzkrieg'd them. Many of the towns I visited in Germany and Czech Republic still had anti-tank hedgehogs sticking out all around the borders or along main roads. The locals said they figured it was more of a pain to dig them all out, so they just left them as a daily reminder of the cost of war. A British friend of mine once told me that one of the reasons Europeans don't crave violence in their entertainment as much as Americans is because they've lived it. They're reminded of the war/violence every day when they commute to school or work. After seeing all of this, it makes perfect sense. Fascinating to me.

Also, paying for public toilets in Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary. Had to toss the attendant a few schillings to pee in a hole in the ground.


46. Let freedom reign.

Beer and other drinks in places I wouldn't expect to find them. I was quite surprised to be able to have a beer at a museum; I'm used to the intellectual set pretending to not want anything to do with alcohol. It was like I was actually in a land made for adults instead of children.

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45. Look both ways.

When I visited Rome, people just walk into the crosswalks and the cars just stop for them.

I'm from NY. I can jay walk with the best of them...but man, I need my pedestrian crossing signals! Crossing streets in Rome really took up the majority of my was like playing a terrified game of double dutch.

And those drivers...they sense weakness.

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44. Off the continent.

It surprised me when the people of England always referred to Europe as if they weren't a part of it.

I was talking to a girl in the Royal Navy and I asked her if she liked something that I can't recall. She said, "No that's way too European."

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43. Not always right.

I lived in France for 6 months. One general observation about why a lot of people think the french are rude is that they DO NOT CARE ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE WOES. North America has a "the customer is always right" philosophy a lot of the time. France? Yeah, no. You're not happy with their service, they'll ask you to take your business elsewhere if you try and pull any crap with them.

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42. They treat you like a grownup.

The education system is totally different - particularly at the University level.

I studied abroad in the south of France for a year during my Undergrad. I was placed into the 4th level of an actual French Insitute, instead of going through an American immersion program. Basically, at the start of each semester, they give you a big long list of classes, and the only requirement is that you take 4 exams at the end. Meaning, there is no enrollment, no set schedule, nothing like that. You can show up to whatever classes you wanted, whenever you wanted, so long as you took a certain amount of finals at the end (which, by the way, were ORAL).

I really couldn't believe the autonomy afforded to University students, coming from the US where class enrollment is highly regulated.

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41. Enlightening.

In Amsterdam, my buddies and I stopped by a McDonald's to grab drinks while we walked around the city. I saw a white kid, with crazy dreadlocks, crazy Hip-Hop streetstyle. He grabbed his tray, turned to a very crowded dining room, scouring for a table and not seeing an empty one. This is when a man in full business attire pulled his tray back a bit on his table, and beckoned the guy to come sit with him. This wouldn't EVER happen in the U.S.

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40. Take it to stay.

How slowed down everything is. When you go to a cafe, there's usually no to-go coffee. You're expected to sit down or stand at the bar and drink your coffee slowly. Out to dinner, meals last hours and start way later than they do here. We would always stand out as the fast moving Americans on our way to class.

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39. It's the glass bottles.

I don't know if I'd call this a culture shock because I was only visiting Paris for a few days... but I was surprised when I had to pay to use public bathrooms. I mean, I'm a big fan of being able to just walking into a bathroom and poop when I need to poop. Public bathrooms at an American mall might not be very clean, but I'm glad I don't have to drop two dollars to poop.

Oh. Also. Soda is expensive in Europe, man. I'm not a big beer drinker, so I'm used to ordering a Coke or something at a restaurant when my friends go drinking in the US. But whew, don't you order a Coke at a restaurant in Europe. It's gonna cost you.

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38. Service doesn't live to serve.

Most notable was the portions. American portions are insanely larger.

The other thing was the general mannerisms of people. It seems that Americans go into things defensively, trying to figure out what angles to work while Europeans were much more mellow.

Lastly, meals would take hours. Here, your servers do everything they can to encourage turnover of their tables. It was crazy sitting in a restaurant for 4 hours and seeing the server/host only a couple of times.

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37. This would never happen at McDonald's.

The biggest for me by far was when I visited Paris. My sister and I were heading back from the grocery store, arms full of grocery bags. Me being the naive 18 year old at the time was not aware of the crazy french customs. So, in the middle of a busy cross walk I happened to catch the eye of a french man. I smiled at him and the second after he puts his hands up to his ears like an elephant and yells, "NO EYE CONTACT, MONSIEUR DOO DOO! BLEHBLBLBLBLBLBLBLBL" My sister just started cracking up and so did about 5 other people on the street. I just kind of stood there speechless, wondering what the heck had just happened. She had a ton of fun using that newly adorned nickname the rest of the trip.

Also, I was ridiculed about asking for a ketchup bottle for my burger and fries at a restaurant near Normandy. Four french men in the booth behind me kept doing their Frenchy type laugh (OHhhohnnhonnn) and pantomiming out squirting ketchup onto food. They even grabbed the bottle off of my table and started to pass it around between them making jokes about it.

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36. It's oh, so quiet.

My first European culture shock came during my trip to India.

Yes, I know, India is not Europe. But I had to take an Air France flight out of the US with a refueling stop in Paris. I was still in the US, at the gate waiting to board when I realized that I was surrounded by Europeans. The gate area was crowded, but quiet - something you never encounter in the US. Sure, people were talking, but I learned that day that if a hundred people are having a hundred conversations, and everyone is doing so at a normal speaking voice (or lower) you can all hear just fine!

If even one person raises their voice it starts a chain reaction of people trying to be louder than the group nearby, and next thing you know it sounds like everyone's screaming and you want to kill everybody.

Been to Europe many times since, and the quiet crowds are always one of my favorite things now.

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35. Clean and orderly.

When I visited Germany, I was shocked to see people so laid back and calm. Nothing like the stress inducing hustle and bustle of American life. I also was generally amazed at how clean the streets and pedestrian zones were. For a country that has a lot of smokers, I never once saw a cigarette butt lying on the ground.

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34. They came first.

Brits don't refrigerate eggs. In fact, as I understand, only Americans do that. I was in the Waitrose walking in the refrigerated section for an hour. I asked one of the employees, he walked me three aisles over and blew my mind.



33. Not different enough.

For me the biggest shock was how eerily similar most things were. For example, tv ads in the UK. Pretty much the same...except not. It felt like everything was just a little different. Enough to where you didn't consciously notice it all the time, but it made things just seem odd at times.

Also meat is very expensive in Europe. Just sliced turkey was way out of my budget when I went to France. I just ended up eating baguettes with cheese and wine because it was the cheapest option available. No real complaints on that though.

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32. It's warm.

There is hardly any ice to be found in France to put in your drinks. No ice machines in hotels, etc.

And if you ask for ice in your beverage, you'll get like three small cubes. On a hot day there are few things I want more than for my beverage to have a bunch of ice in it.

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31. Bad touch.

I arrived at the Charles De Gaulle airport to meet a friend of a friend who was picking me up and I was staying with his family for 3 weeks.

I am a straight man in my 20's and he is a married straight man in his 40's with three kids. We had been corresponding online and on the phone for a few months leading up to my trip. I was grateful for everything he was doing for me and already viewed him as somewhat as a father figure, my "French dad" I called him.

He gave me two big kisses on the cheek. I was a little weirded out by this but knew it was part of their culture and was happy for it. I went to give him a hug to show I was happy to see him. He FLIPPED OUT. He was trying to play it cool, but for two men to hug is totally weird and only couples do it according to him.

It was a great trip though.

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30. Get thee to Amsterdam.

Visiting Amsterdam, I was shocked to see SO many people riding bikes. I've never seen that many bicycles in my life. A lady in a shop told me, "In Amsterdam, if you yell out, 'HEY! That's my bike!', 6 out of 10 people will drop their bikes and run." Apparently, bike theft is the biggest crime issue over there.

The pace is much slower, the people were very friendly and extremely interested in our presidential election (this was in late 2007), I didn't see a single fat person, and I saw a Heineken commercial with completely naked men on prime time television.

LOVED it there.

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29. Eat, relax, enjoy.

I was surprised by how relaxed restaurants were. The group I went with went to this amazing place in Santorini that overlooked the water and all of the island and had a great meal then just stayed and talked for a couple hours. The wait staff wasn't trying to rush us out the door in fact they kept bringing us free deserts and drinks which contributed to us staying longer! Much much different than in the US where once I finish my meal it's pretty much get out.

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28. Something to stare at.

Nudity. As an American I'm used to (but don't agree with) nudity being "bad". In Europe, this isn't the case at all. First night in the hotel, flipping channels at about 9PM. News, music video, random show, show, news, hardcore porn, cartoons, news. It was just like, okay then, glad the kid's in the other room because that might have been difficult to explain.

At the store, big display of wall calendars. Hello Kitty, puppies, castles, totally naked models - male and female, quaint villages, Astrix. Right there on a turn-rack next to the children's books and obviously not placed their by accident.

I have neighbors who stand in front of their windows naked, no shame. It's just how it is, especially with smaller apartments built practically on top of one another. I don't care, but the first time I saw my neighbor brushing her teeth while topless, it was quite a "not in Kansas anymore" feeling.

Also, Germans really like to hang out their windows and stare at people. Old lady across the street does it daily, as does an older man in the house behind mine. Every day, they just open the windows and watch the world go by. If you look at them, they just stare back, like they're daring you to have a problem with their voyeurism. I caught one neighbor watching me the other day. I was just petting my cat in our winter garden (not a euphemism) and looked up to find someone staring at me from across the street. It was weird, but whatever. I guess I'm more entertaining than day-time television.

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27. Too mild a menu.

As an Mexican-American, lack of spices and strong flavors in most food. Before I started going to Europe on a regular basis I heard Europe (specifically all western/southern countries) got a lead on good cuisine and it's true in some aspects but everything is toned down a notch. As a Mexican-American I preferred heavily spiced Mexican, Middleeastern, Indian, and Southeast Asia food over French cuisine any day (unless I drop serious cash on a Michelin-rated place or some brilliant hole-in-wall).

Also mildly chilled soft drink.

Fork and knife to eat pizza.

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26. The real shock is the ending.

I'm a black guy, and my wife is Romanian. We went over there for our wedding a couple years ago. Literally, the second I stepped off the plane, I was being stared at. Everywhere. No matter where we went, people would stare in fascination. I'm use to being stared at when I'm in department stores in the states, but that's a different conversation. I remember we went site seeing to the remains of an old fortress. There I am, distracted by history, when I notice a white object fly past my head. My concentration is broken and I notice an old lady seemingly yelling in my direction about something, no clue what she's saying, I don't speak the language. Later, my wife and her brother begin apologizing to me profusely, saying she was just crazy. Turns out she was screaming at me, saying I should remain covered, and indoors. Apparently, the remains of communism are still strong with earlier generations, but whatever, I still had the time of my life. I don't want to paint the wrong picture of the country, because I'd go back in a heartbeat and plan to do so. Every single person I actually met, were more humble, gracious, and accommodating than what you see here.

Also one important thing to note. Pizza Hut is AMAZING there. Not like the crappy, self-serve shacks we have here. I'm talking a full wait staff, interior and exterior decoration, incredible menu complete with wine, etc. I can't speak for the rest of the country, but in Cluj-Napoca, it was better than most upscale restaurants here.

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25. Too many babies.

A few things were very odd to me, some of them quite lovely, and some of them not so much.

I'm from NYC, and I got to spend a week in a few parts of France with my girlfriend (Paris, Beaune, Tours, Nice). I loved Nice, and Beaune was very nice. I'll elucidate the things I didn't like as much first.

I found the times when stores and restaurants would open quite strange. Everything seemed to be closed until maybe 10, or so, in the AM. Coming from NYC, where most things start to open at 6-7 AM, I sort of hated it. Also, they close restaurants in the middle of the day. I know why, but it still strikes me as quite odd. Things close early too. Much of this could be because I have lived in NYC my whole life, and am used to things being open quite early-quite late.

Also, there are so many babies in France! I know the French has a much longer maternity leave, so I suppose it makes sense that you'd see them everywhere, but I didn't think people would take babies to castles and such. And, this is a personal opinion, but I figure the kid wouldn't really appreciate the castle that much.

I did, however, very much like the style of eating. You take your time, and portions are smaller. You can drink wine frequently, and no one looks at you weird. You can sit in a cafe and people watch for hours, with a cup of espresso.

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24. Sports fans.

Went to England and France during 2006 while the World Cup was being played in Germany.

England having their flags all over the place in support of the national team was awesome. Yet the French didn't seem to have as many flags in support of their team.

I also live in the Southern US, and it was a shock to me to see so few trees on the edge of the highway. Made me realize that I live in a forest compared to the English.

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23. Parisians are exempt.

I lived in France for four months.

My biggest culture shock... Was that I didn't really feel any culture shock. Sure, French people can be a bit... direct... at times, and they have their little cultural idiosyncrasies, and theres always going to be things you find strange, but I was more surprised by how similar we all were than different. I know that's a cliche, but it really rang true to me. In a way it was almost disappointing... everyone always hyped up the culture shock, but if you're a well educated American you might not feel much if you're visiting a Western European nation. It also helped that I had taken French for 10 years, and had a pretty fair idea of what to expect. French people (minus Parisians) were pretty polite to me and I definitely think they appreciated that I could speak pretty decent French.

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22. Stand back.

I expected the food, the architecture, the history, but the biggest culture shock for me was the redefinition of personal space. I think most Americans like a 3 foot "bubble" of personal space. Europeans didn't seem to have any sort of issue just standing or sitting right on top of each other (and me). I'm a little anxious around people I don't know and large crowds, so I had a very hard time getting used to the jostling, the cheek kissing, the hugging and the right up in your face talking.

Most of it was nice once I got used to it. I don't want to be negative, but it was - well, a shock.

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21. Front of the line.

It wasn't until my second trip to Europe that I was able to put this into words, but American's are insanely competitive about everything, and most of the places I've been in Europe aren't like that at all. In the US there is a constant struggle to go to the front of the line, get the best seat, be the loudest, etc. In Europe I just did not see very much of this. It was actually kind of creepy, and made me feel like a jerk more than a few times.

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20. Peace and quiet.

England: The first time I went I was asking the waitress for some salad dressing and she said my accent is too thick. She had to have someone else come over and ask me what I needed. I'm from the Southwest US.

Netherlands: The lack of chaos there. I stayed in a college town and only saw one ambulance and not a single other emergency personnel vehicle. The ambulance was actually because some person had passed out in a bus waiting area. Also, the minute I got settled into my hotel in the Netherlands I turned on the television and literally on my television was penetration. Like holy crap, I am in another country for real. That was insane.

Belgium: Brussels and Antwerp were the cleanest cities I've ever seen in my life. The streets were cleaned twice when I was there in one day.

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19. Hot potato.

England - Queuing: I think I ticked off a lot of Brits when I walked up the escalator and decided midway to interject myself into an empty step on the side where people stand.

Netherlands - Cycling: It amazed me that there were roads and traffic lights dedicated for bicycles. It was like half the population used bikes for transit.

Germany - Free education: Although I heard that if you fail a final after three attempts, you're no longer allowed to pursue that degree (and rightly so.)

Italy - Blend between the new and old: I thought the Colosseum would be by itself, that it would be in an isolated field that tourists would come over and to visit. Nope, it's in the center of the city and there are roads around it that normal Italians walk by every day. You're literally walking through history where ever you go.

Ireland - Not potato: The people were generally nice and friendly, did not witness any bar fights, city seems pretty modern, only had potato once for a meal.

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18. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

The biggest shock for me was conservational nature of the entire continent. Toilets have 1/3-1/4 of the water, subway doors don't open unless the button is pressed, escalators slow down when they are not in use, my host-mother's lights in her house (among many other houses I visited) were essentially timers that would turn the lights off after a set amount of time, how you pay for bottles that you can return for your money back to encourage recycling, the lack of trucks (I'm from Texas where theres probably more trucks than there are people and I did not see a single one in 6 of the countries I visited in Europe), etc. There really is much more to the list and was very remarkable in elucidating the stereotypical "Merica'" image. Prior to my travels, I had always thought of this to be some far-fetched satirical joke, but it is so true from almost every aspect.

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17. Funny little differences.

Two years ago I moved to Amsterdam as an American. The little differences I remember being crazy at the time:

  • Bicycles. They are everywhere, cars watch out for them, and no one wears a helmet. And everyone cycles to work with them even when it's raining or sub-zero!
  • The Dutch are more animal friendly than in the US (not unusual to see a cat in a cafe or a dog get onto a tram)
  • How little I needed to learn Dutch despite moving to another country where English is not the native language. TV is in English if it's an English program, never met anyone who couldn't speak English in Amsterdam, usually the store clerk will switch to English so you don't even get a shot at practicing Dutch if you want one.
  • My house was built in the late 1600s and is hence older than the USA!
  • Big Bird is blue in the Netherlands! Ok, they claim it's Big Bird's cousin Pino, but you know he really just moved to Europe to seek an alternative lifestyle.

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16. No honkers.

Spent a few weeks in Ireland recently and rented a car. I had never driven on the left side of the road on the right side of the car before, so there was a few days of adjustment before I was really comfortable. I drove really slow down the incredibly narrow roads and not one person honked, tailed me or screamed obscenities at me the entire time, literally a country of the most courteous drivers I’ve ever experienced.

Of course the cliched private bathroom stalls with no huge gaps in the doors. Pooping in public restrooms was completely stress free.

We packed light since we were traveling around the island and were shocked by the complete lack of self service laundromats. With the exception of a few machines at gas stations, they don’t seem to be a thing there.

I know I’ve read Europeans mention how polite Americans tend to be, but everyone we interacted with in Ireland was super polite and friendly. In two weeks we did not have a single negative interaction with anyone, anywhere. It was fantastic.

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15. Better balance.

The rather flat hierarchy. Not a huge difference in wages for the newest employed to the CEO at many companies like there is in America. The CEO loads the dishwasher too!

The number of guys dressing nicely and pushing strollers. As an exchange student like 15ish years ago, I just figured that there were lots of homosexuals and thought it awesome that they could be out. (then later learned that it was paternal leave and they were honestly just caring for their own children....)

This is Sweden btw. I ended up coming back and have been living in Sweden for many years now. But those two stood out.

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14. No threat.

When I was in Europe, to it felt like it was a lot safer. You could go out in the street and people wouldn’t harass you. Everyone just went along minding their own business and you didn’t see any parents screaming at their children or crackheads dancing in the streets or morbidly obese people using that Walmart cart that is meant to be for handicap people. The only downside is that they stare way too much.

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13. How they get around.

While I was in Rome, Naples, and Florence I was surprised by the streets. While the highways were well paved, many, of not most of the streets in the city were cobblestone and pretty narrow. Walking on them all day for a week wasn’t very fun. I also always wondered why Europeans stereotyped Americans as driving big cars, thinking they were referring to large pickup trucks or Hummers. However, when I went to Rome, I saw most of the cars there were pretty small by what you would typically see in America. It was interesting to see the occasional foreign car drive next to and dwarf the little cars in Italy. It was certainly an experience.

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12. High score.

So when I was at the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, there were line ups of people to use the 3-4 breathalyzer machines in the front entrance. This puzzled me, as these people were all very inebriated...why would they need a breathalyzer when they were all clearly so inebriated? I started focusing on a certain group who were all blowing really high alcohol content, until one of them who could barely walk got the highest of all....and they started cheering. I then had the shocking realization: in some parts of Germany, a breathalyzer test is really an alcoholic video game!!! I literally started laughing out loud at this realization.


11. Climate control.

Air conditioning was not as strong or plentiful. I travel to Europe fairly regularly, and in the summer it can get really hot in the cities, with limited or spotty AC. And having grown up in a coastal Northern California town, I need it to be pretty cool to have a good nights’ sleep.

I stayed at a large, European hotel chain in Bilbao one June and the air conditioning was just a wall unit in the ceiling blowing into one corner of the room. So, when I was in that corner I was shivering, and everywhere else in the room I was sweating. Ended up coming down with a summer cold because of the cold/hot/cold/hot within the same room.

Another summer I was in Paris for several weeks for work and the AC at my office was set at 22 degrees C. Women at the office literally had scarves on because it was “so cold” compared to the temp in their flats. To me, an American, 22 degrees is not so cold when it’s close to 30 outside (22 is around 72 F and 30 is closer to 85 F), certainly not scarf temperatures.

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10. It's another world.

Mostly that they had their own world. Sounds funny but when you never leave your country you tend not to see your own bias of the world. Each country to its citizen is the center of the world. We tend to think we as Americans are unique or exceptional. Well, each country I visited in Europe they seem to think that of themselves too. As an American, you realize that within your culture, you think you are the top in the world, the best country in the world. It is what other countries see as Americans being arrogant. Quickly you realize this myth, at least I did. In fact I saw plenty of cases where we could improve and learn from Europe. You can't truly see that unless you go.

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9. Break it down.

I have several:

  • That many Europeans HATE Americans. I have lied a couple times and told people I was Canadian to avoid a fight.
  • That coffee in Europe is way different than what we get in America.
  • That restaurants don't do doggie bags.
  • That in France, it's rude not to acknowledge people as you enter/leave a place.
  • That people can figure out you're American based on how you eat. I've since learned how to eat with a fork and knife 'continental style.'
  • That American Football isn't that big a deal outside the States.
  • That Europeans know more in general about American politics than the average American knows of the rest of the world.
  • That one must take turns buying rounds of beer in a group.
  • That not everything American is 'better.'
  • That stores are not always open on a Sunday. They also shut earlier than you expect.
  • That Tylenol/Motrin are not sold in giant bottles of 200 pills.
  • That clothes are completely different sizes.
  • ...and that American chocolate is complete crap.

I have learned so much as a human being by traveling to Europe.

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8. Unexpected benefits.

Most of these "shocks" I had already expected but it was amazing to experience it all first-hand.

The first thing: the currency. I went to the UK and the notes all being different sizes threw me off. It was clever, but the 50s didn't fit in my wallet. First world problems, right?

Second, driving. In America, everyone is so overly cautious and it makes traffic horrible and driving more dangerous. It seems to me that in Europe, there is a steady flow of traffic and people don't get ticked off for being "cut off". Ever since then I just hate driving in the US that much more.

Third, the shops. While in America we still have tons of small shops, the majority of what we buy comes from big superstores like WalMart. In Europe, I was so pleased to find, or rather not find, anything like that. I saw a few bigger Tescos but that's about it. I loved it.

Fourth, the people. Everyone was so... normal. There were no massive bodies being carried around by power scooters. The biggest person I saw was maybe 250-300 pounds. But he was pretty tall too.

Fifth, the food. Everything was so much better. I ate at a lot of pubs and every single time I left satisfied, even though the majority of it was unhealthy. But I was on vacation. In America, it's the exact opposite. Every restaurant you go to that is relatively cheap serves processed, frozen garbage. I could tell that when I was in the UK, a good it of the cheaper food I had was still fresh.

Sixth, and most important, the atmosphere. And I mean that in a mental sort of way. In America, you get a feeling that, well, you're unsafe. This never bothers me, but when I was in the UK, I never got that feeling. I always felt welcome and comfortable (probably because I did my best to not seem like a stupid American tourist; I know what most Europeans think of us). All together, it was a great experience and I loved it so much that I'm actually moving to London next summer.

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7. The truth about Paris.

I noticed a trend in all the European large cities was a certain level of rudeness. There are so many people and things that we get desensitized by the strangers and happenings around us. No one has the energy to be friendly towards the multitude of people encountered in a day and this is coupled with the heightened sense of stress and risk found in cities. All this leads to people becoming more reserved and guarded. Paris definitely fits this description but so do most major urban centres.

In my experience as a Canadian living in Paris for some time, I have found that in addition to the typical 'big city' personality Paris also has a unique sense of public vs private life. Parisians appear cold in public but are very warm people when you enter their private realm. As opposed to many Canadians who find no issue engaging in casual and friendly interaction with strangers, it's my sense that Parisians find this kind of interaction to be disingenuous and superficial. They know that these people are not actually 'their friends' in a real and meaningful sense and find no reason to 'pretend' otherwise. I've spoken to Parisians visiting Canada who are confused when they have a friendly time with someone at a bar only to have that person never speak to them again- this seems to be strange for them. All that being said, I think many Parisians are labelled as 'rude' when they really just have a different perception of casualness.

back-view-brunette-paris-2883042-200x300.jpgPhoto by Edward Eyer from Pexels

6. It all comes down to the egg.

Without thinking, I had applied for a study abroad program, had been accepted, and before I knew it, I bought the tickets and was on a plane landing in Frankfurt. I had landed in Germany for a study abroad, 3 days before the program even began. I knew nobody -- it was just me, a brand new city, luggage, and a map. It was a totally surreal sensation, knowing that anyone I had ever met was thousands of miles away, that I could not even attempt to run into someone whose face I knew. I check into the hotel after nearly sleeping through the stop at my destination, and immediately make an excursion into my new surroundings, completely alone. I buy a pack of cigarettes and walk around the city, take some coffee and have a smoke.

I knew German and having studied it for 1 1/2 years, knew enough phrases and syntax to ask for drinks order food at a restaurant. Trying to make my way around town, wandering aimlessly and taking in the sights -- it was terrifying, it was awesome, it was stressful, and it was completely beautiful. I was exhausted though, so I turned in for the night.

Well, I go to sleep and wake up the next morning and go to the dining room. The lady who owned the hotel (a really charming, small place) comes up to me and asks if I want a hard-boiled egg. I say sure. A hard boiled egg would be nice.

Except... With all the stress of being in a totally new environment, she brings me a hard-boiled egg... balanced on a small plate. The plate has a round crevice in the middle on which the egg is balanced, and next to the egg is a small spoon.

I stared at the egg for a good 2 minutes. How was I supposed to eat this thing? Why was it served on this plate? Was I allowed to take it off the plate? What was this spoon for? Do I have to scoop it out? Do I break it with the spoon? Do these people have salt with their hard-boiled eggs? Is there a culturally appropriate way of peeling a hard-boiled egg? Do they eat the yolk -- is the spoon meant for scooping the yolk out of the whites? Is it for breaking up the egg and using it as a condiment on this piece of bread I just got? Where do I put the eggshells? Can I just toss it in the trash? Do I have to pile the eggshells on the plate? If I just grab it and eat it with my hands, will they look at me like I'm a barbarian?

Then I saw a man across from me. He picked up the spoon, tapped it a few times to crack it, peeled it open, sprinkled some salt on it, and ate it. Just like a real, live, human being.

But those 2 minutes staring at that hard-boiled egg is probably the most vivid 2 minutes of my study abroad. I felt like a fish out of water.


5. The European sampler.

Disclaimer: I have loved every country I’ve been to/have lived in and would return to them all ASAP if I could. I also traveled to most of these places with someone who had impaired walking at the time and needed accessibility, so I do have some biases.

England: People assuming I was stupid (mostly men in pubs). Drinking during lunch and returning to work. Drinking on the train (these were both pluses.) People commenting on how much I smile at strangers. The weird obsession with guessing what your ethnic background is. It felt like every person I talked to had a fantastic sense of humor but I might be biased. Pregnant women smoking and drinking in public.

Iceland: no cold medicine when I had a really bad cold. I got nose spray that did nothing. Eggs costing $6. Silence in stores. The number of white blonde people. (The only people of color we saw the entire trip were other tourists). Delicious, tender meat.

Germany: everyone standing waiting for the crossing signal even when no cars were coming because it was 1 am. And then the dirty looks I got when I went for it. Everyone smoking in playgrounds. Doner places on every corner.

Czech Republic: absolutely no regard for people with disabilities. Also lack of safety features with street construction. When I was in Prague a sidewalk was being dug up, all they had was a thin wooden board to reach the shops past the street. Nothing preventing anyone from falling into the 6-foot chasm on the side of the road. Watched a biker basically almost fall right in. Everyone had a coffee recommendation and 100% of them were delicious. Everyone wanting to help us with our Czech and forgiving us and our pathetic American tongues.

Austria: smoking in every single restaurant. Some not even having smoking sections, just straight up smoking. subway stations all had working elevators that were fast. Random strangers helping us avoid scammers without asking. More smoking in playgrounds, often around very small children.

I’m sure there are others but those are the ones I’ve specifically discussed with people when they’ve asked!

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4. Better step it up.

Privacy...Feels like it's flipped over there. Things we discuss here among friends as commonplace (religion, salary etc.) are RARELY spoke about in any public setting there. However, nudity and personal space is completely different. Not uncommon to see topless and fully nude people all over the beaches of Spain and France. While in American it's utterly taboo. The meals were similar, in America we have our own tables and quiet conversations. Many times over there I was seated so close to others that we ended up in each others conversations and by the end of the dinner had new friends. Bananas man. Everything seems to have its place over there and it's easy to see how an American can come off wrong..Think of it like you're trying to put away some dishes in a kitchen you've never been in.

Style...My first time in Paris was when I realized I need to step it up in a big way. Friend and I went out to a dinky bar and were sitting around having a beer when these three young Parisian men came in. Each of them could have been on a damn magazine cover. They had their own look, were obviously close friends, but this seemed like just another night to them. Stylish clothing, perfect fit, not at all overdone. I realized then that I would not be banging any French girls with them as my competition (note: I was wearing a t-shirt, ripped jeans, and stupid gym shoes). Even in other countries I visited, everyone is just put together well. They match. They aren't necessarily better looking all the time, but hey even a package of socks looks better with a bow on it.

Dancing...I live in chicago and the majority of clubbing consists of standing around boozing while the dance floor guys relatively unused. EVERYONE dances over there. We would go out to some random club or bar and people would just dance to the music. Was absolutely lovely.

The odd generosity... They were so quick to offer things. "Oh you're in a hotel?? Why?? Come stay at my place, we'll show you around!" As an American I instantly think two things. Rape/Death. Not necessarily in that order. It was completely genuine though! I met several people over there and I can't think of one person who didn't offer up their home or at least a meal to me.

A few country notes:

French: They love being French, and that's it. Respect it and you'll be fine.

Spanish: Can be super shy, but really a friendly place. TAPAS!

Sweden: That thing about Swedish Women? Totally true! Also, they're very well spoken, but not very open with people they don't know. Approach casually and you'll meet some awesome folks.

Denmark: Bikes!! BIKES EVERYWHERE! Super Americany really.. Everyone seems like they're just from the east coast, living in some town you've never visited. Hmm, and sandwiches don't come with a second piece of bread.

bicycle-3015569_1280-300x200.jpgImage by Mabel Amber, still incognito... from Pixabay

3. No second guessing.

In Germany, everything and everybody was on time. If you were 4 seconds late to the shuttle, it's gone, driver's not looking out for you. The beauty of this is that the next one will be on time.

Also, at every restaurant, if your order an alcoholic drink, it comes in a glass that has the volume listed for whatever you ordered, usually 0.3L of wine, or 0.5/1.0L for beer (should I say 0,5 or 1,0) liters right on the side of the glass. This glass is USUALLY branded with the drink you ordered as well. In America, there are no markings on the glassware, so you're guessing if it's a legit 1.0L or w/e. And here you can get a bud light poured into a coors light glass, no cares given. In Europe you are never second guessing whether you got a fair serving size. To this point, the WATER WAS MORE EXPENSIVE than any beer you could order, and it always came in a recyclable glass bottle that was clearly used before. Sometimes these bottles have deep ridges in them from the recycling process (you can see grooves where the bottle ran along some sort of cleaning belt or something).

You have to pay to use most public restrooms, which is fantastic. As an American you might find this ridiculous, but the point is that if you were to use a public restroom, you're often obligated to buy something at whatever location it is. However in Europe, because you're paying to use the restroom, they can afford to pay someone full time to monitor the state of the restroom. Most public bathrooms were pristine. And frankly, in the US, i'd rather pay $1 to use a clean bathroom than force myself to buy a french fry somewhere so I could ask for the key to the bathroom, only to find out it's riddled with diarrea.

The crosswalk. Do. Not. Ever. Cross. When. You. Don't. Have. The. Go. Symbol. Even if it's perfectly clear and there's a 0% chance of failure getting to the other side, people will stare you down if you cross the road when you don't have the right of way. In fact, I'm sure there's some penalty in the form of a massive fine if you get caught doing this. I'm from Boston, where the "don't walk" sign is merely a suggestion, and it's the easiest way to spot the tourist.


2. They don't say "Howdy."

When I (an American) spent my first exchange year in Germany, my first culture shock happened when I was just walking down the street of a small town. A little old lady was walking by and I smiled at her friendly-like, after which she took a few steps, spun around, and asked me if she knew me. I stammered something back, but after that I tried to control my habit of greeting strangers. As an American who is used to casually talking to anyone on the street, I found it hard to make friends because they view friendship so differently than we do. For them, friendship is for life and it's deep and it's incredibly meaningful and serious. For everyone else, there's "acquaintances" and "good acquaintances". Americans have a much broader definition of friendship and somehow it's easier to break the ice and let someone in your life here. A friend of mine studying these differences in grad school says that in Germany, calling someone an "acquaintance" or a "close acquaintance" brings people closer, whereas amongst Americans, it seems to imply a certain distance from them.

My second year in Germany I learned a lot too. People in public keep poker faces, and it's especially fun on trams where everyone has to find something to stare at quietly. Although some Germans have no qualms about staring at all, especially if they're elderly I think.

If someone had to describe German and American culture in one word, I would say American culture is "adolescent", while German culture is "adult-like". Germans are much more independent and ready for their lives than we are at the same age... Yet I found Germans care a lot more about what other people think of them than Americans do. Germans wouldn't be caught dead in public with sweatpants on (unless maybe they were at the gym), and when I told my fellow German students about our "pajama days" in high school, they almost didn't believe me!


1. You get the gist.

I've been a lot of places in Europe, here's what I've learned:

Spain: Getting anything done before 10 AM is impossible, nobody is awake! Madrid and Barcelona might as well be different countries. Barcelona is all busy busy and business suits, Madrid is traditional and very laid back. EVERYTHING shuts down from Noon to 2 PM because siestas are very serious business. I was in Madrid when Real Madrid and Athletico were playing, the entire city.....stopped. Everyone was glued to the game, even the cops. Everyone is religious but nobody seems to go to church (according to my sister). Everyone seems to collectively pretend as if Franco never happened.

England: Many of the bars are older than my country. It's either depressingly grey or peeing rain. Sometimes the sun comes out and the country freaks out. People like to complain about something called a Freddo or a 99 which apparently, does not in fact cost 99p. I learned to love PG Tips while I was there and was subsequently informed that its not very good tea. I've since gotten a box of Yorkshire Gold from my local tea shop, it was really good tea to study my GREs with.

Wales: So many sheep.

Italy: You can't swing a dead cat without hitting something that is 200+ years old. Everyone rides a Vespa and answers their phone by saying "pronto" which is really cool. I love the fact that some of the Aqueducts are still in use by the cities. Being able to drink straight from the fountains is pretty damn cool. Gelato is god damn amazing and my favorite Gelato place is called Portofino and it was in Rome.

Poland: All your women have such big boobs! You've been invaded so many times that you have traits from all the other countries. I went mushroom picking with my host family and thought I was going to die from something I would eat. The national food is pork and it was served to us at almost every meal.

Denmark: You Danish drink to win. I saw so many people getting hammered on park benches at Noon. Sit in any cafe and you'll be treated to a casual parade of gorgeous long haired Danish women going by on bicycles. Tons of babies everywhere.

The Netherlands: I will trade you whatever American thing you want for Poffertjes and Stroopwafels. All the Dutch seem to speak five languages but act really humble about it and say that their English is terrible. I'm pretty sure you have more bicycles than people. Walking through the red light district of Amsterdam as a sixteen year old with my parents was almost painful. It was like being given an ice cream scoop with a glass dome over it. Cheese is also serious business. Did I mention that I mix up your flag and Russia's?

Sweden: The first thing I noticed is your cities are so quiet! No cars honking their horns, no music playing or dogs barking. I couldn't even find anyone talking on their cell phone. Nobody seems like they're in a rush either Sometimes it was eerie being in cities that quiet, just the sound of bicycles going past. Speaking of which...

Bicycles are the other amazing thing. People own and ride bikes in my country but the bike paths aren't nearly as well kept or used by so many people. We rented bikes in Gothenburg to tour the city and had a great time. It was slightly unnerving to see that almost nobody was wearing helmets or other safety equipment. I have a cousin who suffered a major injury from bicycling some years ago and I've always worn a helmet since.

Swedish food is expensive but excellent. The minimum for a meal was about $22 and it took us a while to find restaurants that would serve traditional Swedish cuisine. At a certain point we decided to start eating fast food to save money but that was fine because it meant we got to try Tunnbrödsrulle (so strange) and Kebabrulle! Sadly, I never got to try reindeer. But the food wasn't as expensive as....

The drinks. Drinking is expensive in Sweden. I understand why the Swedish sometimes go to Copenhagen for drinks. The Swedish become different people when they start drinking. Nobody wanted anything to do with us during the daytime but everyone wanted to talk with us in bars while they were drinking at night. We even got invited into a bar in Malmo when someone realized we were Americans. Everyone wanted to ask us what we thought about Snowden or why so few Americans have passports.

The candy! You Swedish take candy so seriously! We found entire stores dedicated to Lösgodis and we made sure to try it. We were not a fan of the salty black licorice candy, you can keep that.

licorice-473792_1920-300x200.jpgImage by Nat Aggiato from Pixabay