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Europe INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL TRAVEL TIPS & INTEL

Europe v. America: Cultural Differences To Know Before Taking Off

RossHelen / Shutterstock
RossHelen / Shutterstock
Written by Suzy Guese

Though European countries all come with their own set of customs, languages and quirks, their close proximity to each other and similar histories do create a shared culture among the nations. And when you head on over across the Atlantic, there will certainly be practices you might encounter that aren’t the norm in the U.S.

Before you head off on a European vacation, here are 10 practices you might want to be aware of about the area before takeoff:

You’ll Usually Need To Ask For The Check

In the U.S., the check is almost always brought out immediately once you finish a meal. Seldom do you have to ask for the check. This might be all thanks to the U.S. tip system where many wait staff make most of their money on tips. However, in Europe, most likely, you’ll be sitting at your table for a very long time if you don’t ask for the bill. In most countries there, when you sit down to dinner, you essentially “bought” the table for the night.

Expect To Pay To Use a Public Toilet

Got to go? In the U.S., you can usually find a public toilet, albeit a stinky one relatively easily. In Europe, public toilets are few and far between. When they are there, you’ll often have to pay to use the toilet, usually a few cents to a cleaning man or woman. A good rule of thumb is to use the facilities when you are at restaurants or at attractions you visit. You won’t have the displeasure of using a public toilet and paying as a result.

Double Beds at Hotels Are Often 2 Twin Beds

When you book a hotel advertised as having a double bed, in most cases, you would expect a full bed waiting for you when you check in. However, in many instances, a double bed is often two twin beds pushed together. Unless a bed is advertised as a “king”, most likely you’ll be hitting the hay on a throwback twin from your college days.

Wi-Fi Can Be Spotty and Unreliable

I have to have a Wi-Fi connection to work when I travel, so I tend to never rely on the connections in Europe after many failed attempts to connect. From Ireland over to Greece, I would often find Wi-Fi to be spotty at best and non-existent at worst. Sure, this can’t be said of every spot in Europe. And if you rely on your accommodations having great, fast Wi-Fi, you might be quite disappointed: many hotels will just have Wi-Fi in public areas, not in the rooms.

Sundays = Forget About It

Most of us do a lot of our shopping for the week ahead on a Sunday. In Europe, you might have trouble finding shops and grocery stores open on a Sunday, especially in small towns and more remote areas. While some countries might have groceries stores and other shops open on Sundays, hours are generally limited. Sundays in Europe tend to mean seeing more closed signs than open.

Personal Space Often Doesn’t Exist, Especially in Mediterranean Countries

You might get in line to pay for something in Europe and notice a little old lady right on your coattails. This is perfectly normal in Europe, especially in Mediterranean countries. Personal space often doesn’t exist – a fun discovery to make in airport lines. More often than not, you will be elbowing for room at baggage claim, to get off your flight or to board.

Look Out For Speed Cameras

Renting a car in Europe? If you have a need for speed, you might get caught on camera and face a charge on your rental car for putting the pedal to the metal. While you might see a police officer pull over a car for speeding, speed cameras are quite popular throughout Europe to catch people going over the limit. Some countries will place a camera symbol sign just before a camera presents in the road. Others will hide the speed traps and you might not know you passed one until you get home and either have a ticket or notice your rental car has charged you extra for speeding.

Clothes Dryers Aren’t Common

When I spent three months traveling around Germany, Spain and Italy, one thing was certain. Clothes dryers weren’t common. While in Germany, when I could find them, they weren’t always the most efficient or fast drying. In Italy, clothes dryers are not the norm. Most people dry their clothes on racks positioned over courtyards or on balconies. If you are planning on staying in Europe a long time, know that you might not always find dryers like you might expect you’d be able to.

Europeans Don’t Put Down Their Fork and Knife While Dining

If you find yourself dining out in Europe, you will be labeled an American quite quickly by how you hold your fork and knife. Europeans tend to keep their fork in their left hand and knife in the right, preventing the typical American practice of having to cut up your food, put down the knife and pick your fork back up again. There is a whole history behind why Europeans eat this way and why Americans never got the memo.

Flip Flops Are Only For The Beach or Shower

When summer rolls around, most of us strap on our flip-flops, even if we aren’t headed to the beach. Flip flops are everyday footwear for many Americans but not Europeans. You might face some funny looks for wearing flip-flops to sightsee. Most Europeans reserve wearing flip flops for time on the beach. In addition, they are also considered shower shoes.

While not all of Europe might embrace these practices, you will find at least a couple of these customs when you explore the continent. To avoid standing out like a tourist or even coming home to surprise speeding tickets, keep these practices in mind when traveling about Europe.

Have you traveled to Europe? What other practices did you encounter that you would add to the list?

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About the author

Suzy Guese

Suzy Guese is a travel writer from Denver, Colorado. She caught the travel bug after taking her very first flight at just three months old—she was headed for Disney World—and has been a total travel junkie ever since. From family car trips across North America to stints abroad in Europe, Suzy travels the globe with her redheaded temperament in search of sarcasm, stories, and travel tips to share with anyone willing to listen. She blogs about her travels at http://suzyguese.com.

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