This blog post was updated on August 22, 2019.
You could be anywhere in Europe, and you can ALWAYS tell the Americans apart from the crowd. Yep, we do stick out … and not always in a good way.
On the European continent especially, we’ve certainly got a bit of a bad reputation as being horribly loud, obnoxious, and rude visitors. But, this hasn’t stopped Americans from flocking to Europe at any given opportunity. It could be the attraction of our Old World roots, the availability of cheap flights throughout the year, or maybe we just love to spike our social media “likes” by posting pics of ourselves in front of beautiful European architecture. Whatever reason we have for traveling there, there’s no doubt that Europe is a challenging place to understand cultural faux pas. It may all be very foreign and somewhat strange to us, but there are some unwritten travel etiquette laws that are shared by most countries on the continent, and it’s important that you abide by them when traveling there.
So, this is where you get to be a well-informed and culturally sensitive traveler in Europe! All you have to do is read our helpful tips, and you’ll be navigating its diverse cultures like a pro without suffering the indignity of a foot-in-mouth moment.
Keep it down!
Okay, so not all of us have volume control issue when in bars, restaurants, and public places, but there are some of us who can get pretty loud when compared to Europeans. A safe way to avoid this bad behavior is to always be conscious about it. By being concerned about whether other travelers at the Buckingham Palace tour overhear what you’ve had for breakfast and how it didn’t agree with your stomach (TMI anyway!), you might be able to adjust your volume levels to European standards quite effortlessly. Another way to be a bit more considerate when it comes to volume is to just observe how other Europeans talk in cafés, restaurants, and bars and try to emulate that when you’re out and about.
Before you get to the point…
As Americans, we love to get directly to the point. So as you stampede into an unsuspecting vendor’s store in busy Rome and start asking questions right away, don’t forget to take a few seconds to be polite. By just saying “Excuse me please” in the native language before you dive into your inquiry, you can build a healthy and happy bridge of communication with your hosts. So whether it’s asking for directions, checking where the toilets are, or just inquiring about the prices of souvenirs, it’s always good to open with an excusez-moi or a discúlpame, por favor so that you come off as a polite and non-obtrusive traveler.
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Small talk can sweeten your day
Back home State-side, many stores would be more than happy to cut the small talk and get down to giving you what you want and getting you out the door. But small talk is an art in Europe — an art you need to know, at least to some extent, in order to score some much-need traveler brownie points. Always make sure to throw in a “Hi, how you doing today?” in the local language and you’ll immediately be breaking some ice. Europeans appreciate you taking the time to greet them in this fashion, and so a well placed bonjour comment allez-vous? or a hallo, wie geht es dir? will help establish a healthy line of communication, and who knows, even open up a whole new and unexpected conversation about some great local tips and recommendations!
Hands off the produce
If you’ve ever visited a farmer’s market in any US town, you’re probably used to sniffing, touching, and carefully examining your fruits and veggies before purchasing them. In fact, you may even be encouraged to do so by most of the vendors there. But, when you’re in Europe, getting so intimate with produce cannot only draw some serious stares, but even result in some verbal abuse. So what should you do when in a market in Italy, France, or Spain? All you have to do is tell the vendor how much you need and when you hope to consume them, and the vendor will pick the best fruit and veggies for you accordingly. This is something that European vendors take great pride in, as they consider it their job, and understandably they get very upset when tourists get their grubby hands all over their merchandise. In some markets, you can even ask politely if you can pick your own, and you’ll be given a small bag to do so. In larger supermarkets, you might see plastic gloves available so you can touch and examine the produce yourself, so remember to use them.
To Europeans, dining is an experience to be savored. So whether it’s a small lunch, a post-lunch snack, or a fancy dinner, there needs to be no other distractions to the food on your plate, the wine in your glass, and the good conversation with those around the table. In fact, most Europeans find it annoying that Americans walk around while eating something hastily (yeah New Yorkers, you know what we’re talking about!). The sanctity of eating in Europe also means that, unlike in most restaurants in the US, the waiters will not disturb your meal to bring you the check; you have to ask them for it and indicate that you’re done. It’s also interesting to note that, in places like Italy, even fancy restaurants will require you to pay at the front desk after your meal because the servers just don’t want to intrude on your dining experience.
Carry change in the right currency
Want to know how to really tick off a cashier anywhere across Europe? Just present a big fat 50 euro note when all you’re getting is a bottle of water! Don’t be that tourist with bad travel etiquette! Just make sure to carry some small change with you and you’ll be greeted with a smile at checkout. It’s also important to remember to do some research about the currency used in the country you’re visiting. You should know where the euro is preferred, and where it isn’t. Even among countries in the European Union, some still prefer to use their own money. Countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom all still use their own currencies. All it takes is a little bit of research to know whether you’ll need more Hungarian forints or Danish krone for your trip.
One last tip … about tipping
In a nutshell, tipping is just not necessary and certainly not expected through most of Europe. Servers and other service providers in Europe are quite well paid compared to their US counterparts, and their salaries do not need to be supplemented by tipping. In a lot of European countries, there is a service charge that’s already included in the bill, so locals hardly see the need for a tip, even though they will occasionally throw in a bit extra to round off a bill. If you do feel you need to reward exceptional service, just make sure to pay cash straight to the server. However, keep in mind that, in some places, an overly generous tip might be considered an insult!
When touring Europe, just don’t stand out as “THAT American” and ruin it for the rest of us. Follow these simple travel etiquette tips and you’ll soon be that guy/gal who attracts new friends in some amazing places. Good luck and bon voyage!
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