There are several things people coming to Europe from America may find strange once they find themselves moving around in this beautiful continent, so in order to prepare those who will be coming for the first time we’ve made a list of the most commonly shocking things americans experience in Europe.
Paying for using restrooms
You can be taking a walk at a park, having a trip to the beach or just wandering in a plaza when nature calls, you need to find a restroom and the only one within a reasonable distance has a person sitting there with either a fanny pack or a clear jar. What would you do?
In Europe it is normal to pay for using the restroom in a public space. Now, they don’t normally charge a lot (mainly €0.50, but in some touristic places it can even rise up to €3) but when you think about it, it’s not that bad. Those restrooms tend to always be clean, smell nice and have enough toilet paper, soap and paper towels. Not bad for someone who desperately need a toilet, right? Plus, these people are just trying to make a living, it’s better to relax and be nice.
Drink alcohol with meals
This happens in many european countries, perhaps it’s the price of the water in the restaurants (although in the main eastern european countries the tap water quality is very good). It’s normal to find beer in fast food restaurants’ menus at lunch time, and to see people drink wine with their meal at lunch and dinner. It may seem strange to see people consuming alcohol before 5pm in a week day, but this is just how chill europeans are and a reflection of the ‘enjoy-the-moment’ attitude towards life.
Bidets, for those unfamiliar with the term is a low oval ceramic basin for washing ones private parts usually located next to the toilet. The French were credited with the invention of the bidet, although nowadays it’s not only used in Europe but in Latin America, East Asia and the Middle East. In North America however, it’s not so popular, since the basic function is already covered by a toilet and toilet paper (plus many automated toilets include this feature now).
Perhaps it’s a way for citizens to decorate their city or maybe it was seen as a symbol of wellbeing in the past, having fountains all over a city is quite normal in Europe. We’re talking about parks, roundabouts, intersections, office buildings and museum entrances (if not more). Fountains are a beautiful thing to look at and they make their surroundings a bit more natural and relaxing. Some cities get so creative that people can’t help but taking pictures of them while traveling Europe, thumbs up!
Infrequent friendliness towards strangers
The American continent (north, central and southern regions) are famous for people being nice and welcoming with people waving at strangers, smiling on the streets and apologizing for bumping into other people by accident but in Europe it is not the case, especially in the big cities. Americans often find Europeans rude in crowded areas like shopping malls, the metro and bus/train stations. People in the old continent tend to be more reserved and don’t normally trust strangers, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can can definitely catch you off guard if it’s the first time you visit the continent (shoutout to our Canadian friends).
Most American cities and towns only have intersections controlled by traffic lights while in many European countries it’s more common to find roundabouts. It’s very useful since waiting for a traffic light to change takes more time than just slowing down and taking a roundabout (though big vehicle-loaded intersections have traffic lights in roundabouts) which is great. We suggest to our American friends to be prepared when a car or bus takes a roundabout at a higher speed than you’re used to (you might get dizzy).
Everything is closed on Sunday
In America there’s a strong work culture in which everything is open 7 days a week (with work hour changes, of course), and everything is available instantly at any time while in many european countries shops, supermarkets and local businesses don’t open on Sunday at all since it’s a day dedicated to family, friends and rest; although there are certain businesses that stay open like malls and theaters but everything else is closed, it’s a part of the relaxed way of life in this part of the world, even in busy cities.
Portion sizes & Several plates in a meal
The average american may feel tricked when receiving an order at a restaurant believing it will be the same size as the ones back home, well, surprise!
Western Europeans eat their food in smaller portions, plus the normal meal doesn’t consist in only one plate and dessert. In this side of the world the typical meal consists in a starter course, main course, cheese course (mainly in France) and dessert.
Europeans don’t generally consume energy drinks as often. In America people drink it after a workout, when feeling sick, during a hangover, and even just to refresh the body but in Europe these drinks are not that easy to find. There are supermarkets that may offer one brand or two while there are others that simply don’t have them.
Paying for water
Isn’t it strange to see people that live in cities with some of the best quality water in the world buying water bottles? Americans normally drink from the faucet (depending on state water quality standards) and are constantly startled to see people paying for water in restaurants across Europe (when you can get it for free in many countries). Some say it’s a preference of taste while in some european countries/cities the quality of the water is not suitable for human consumption.
Greeting with kisses
All across the European continent people greet each other rather differently, in the UK and in many northern european countries it’s normal to greet with a handshake (just like in the US and Canada) while in the southern regions it’s more common to greet with kisses (like in Latin America), but only in woman-to-woman and woman-to-man salutations, except in italy where men can greet other men with a kiss. Now, in these kisses the lips never (never!) touch the cheeks. These kisses consist in cheek to cheek contact while kissing the air (air kissing), and depending on the country and region there can be from one up to four kisses (hello South of France!) per greeting.
Americans find this odd since a kiss (even an air kiss) is a highly personal thing to do reserved for family and love interests only.
Compact Manual Cars
There are many jokes out there on how americans normally drive automatic vehicles, but humor aside that isn’t far from reality since in Europe most cars are manual. There are automatic cars in Europe but this feature makes vehicles more expensive. Another thing that most americans find unusual are the small cars and thin streets. The average EU country is smaller than Washington or Texas but has a denser population. The distance between Austin and Dallas is smaller than the one from Paris, France to Brussels, Belgium and most people prefer to travel by airplane or bus (one less reason to have large cars.
Anyways, we may have our differences but we’ve also have to admit that we have many similatiries. We have more in common than we may think.
Which similarities do you know?