Biggest Culture Shock for Americans in Europe
Culture shock is a real thing. It's not always bad, of course, but it can be a bit weird to be in a place where everything seems just a bit different. Or sometimes, very different.
One of the most common types of culture shock for Americans happens if they're lucky enough to visit Europe. The cultural difference between Americans and Europeans might not be night and day, but it can be a surprise to see how our friends across the pond live. It can even make some people go, "WTF?!"
On Reddit, the so-called "front page of the internet," hundreds of American Redditors have chimed in about the most shocking and surprising things they encountered during their trip to Europe. These are the most common (and funniest) culture shock experiences.
The Tap Water Tastes Great, But 'They Called it Toilet Water'
Redditor elfshoemaker says they spent a summer in Germany and was surprised that nobody drank the tap water, which tasted great.
"They had the cleanest/safest/best tasting tap water, but nobody drank it and they called it toilet water," they said.
Another European Redditor chimed in, explaining that they do sometimes drink the tap water, but most Europeans prefer sparkling water.
According to Babbel, European's love affair with carbonated water dates back to the 17th century, when bottled mineral water was the drink of choice because the minerals were thought to have healing properties.
Smoking is slowly becoming taboo in the United States, especially in major cities, but it's still extremely common in Europe.
"Every outdoor cafe in Europe has at least half of their patrons smoking. My buddy that lives over there says it's just part of their social culture," says White0nRye.
It's not that there aren't anti-smoking measures and campaigns in place. There are. You probably won't have to suffer secondhand smoke during a meal. In the U.K., it's illegal to smoke in pubs, restaurants and nightclubs. But smoking can be very common in some places, like France, where an estimated 34.1 percent of the population smokes.
You Have to Pay to Use the Toilet
Be sure to carry some coins when venturing to Europe. Something that surprised many visitors traveling to Europe was having to pay to use the loo.
In England, most toilets cost .50 pounds — about $0.70 — to use the toilet. There's some debate over whether or not it's worth the cost. Some argue that it allows for the toilets to be kept nice and clean.
"Did you ever pay for a public bathroom in Europe? Those things are clean, neat, warm and sanitary," said one Reddit user.
"I live in England and I'm going to have to disagree there. Filthy and expensive," replied another.
Paris Smells Like Pee
Several Redditors noted that they were surprised that Paris smelled like pee.
Apparently, this isn't some biased thing, either. The city has installed bright red, open-air urinals called "Uritrottoir" that are basically trash cans for peeing.
This might be surprising for some Americans, but for anyone who has been to New York City or New Orleans' French Quarter, the smell of pee is par for the course.
The Drinks Don't Have Ice
Order a drink in Europe, and you'll have it served cool, maybe cold, but definitely not with ice. That's not to say you can't get ice, but you'll have to specifically ask for it.
"They're not cold most of the time either. 'Cool' at best but that's no replacement for ice cold!" said one user who vacationed in Barcelona and Paris. "Every 'cold' drink I had was just lightly refrigerated."
But some people like that the drinks come without the chunks of ice.
"As long as the drinks are cold, this seems better. No dilution and more carbonation," said another user.
Another Redditor encountered some resistance getting those sweet chunks of frozen water.
"My husband and I missed ice so much in Europe. Specifically Austria, Germany and Switzerland. And most places served the drinks room temperature, which ... is just really hard to drink," says MaraJadeSharpie. "We would ask for ice, and without fail would get a disdainful look and rarely actually receive it. Never understood why they had to be rude about it."
Refills Aren't Free
Americans are used to drinking a lot at meals, with free refills (probably because the ice takes up two-thirds of the drink). In most restaurants in Europe, you'll be paying for another glass, something several users didn't expect.
"Free refills is an insane concept to many of us," explained a European Redditor. "And I think that it's because sodas are typically much more expensive over here."
It's also a health concern. Free refills are explicitly banned in France when it comes to sugary drinks. The country passed a law banning unlimited soft drink refills at any price in early 2017 as a health measure.
Everything Is Unfathomably Old
Knowing that Europe is old is one thing. But seeing these huge buildings which have endured for centuries is something else.
"You think you know how old things are, but you really don't. We have things a few hundred years old in the states. In Europe? Thousands of years. It's unbelievable," said one Redditor.
"Everything is so old and beautiful," said another American. "Someone once summarized it like this. In Salt Lake City (Utah, USA), there is a place called Old Mill from the 1800s, so about 200 years old. In Cambridge (U.K.), there is an Old Mill from the 1200s. 800ish years old. Both places are called old and historical in their respective countries."
Another user, bigedthebad, commented, "Drinking a beer and noticed that the brewery was established in 1489, three years before 'Columbus sailed the ocean blue'."
People Eat Slow
"When I visited Italy, I was shocked by how slow they ate, I was very used to scarfing down food in [less than] 20 minutes for school," says jordaeday.
It's certainly true that Italians eat slowly, with several courses. So, too, do the French, who similarly enjoy long, slow meals, where they can dine and enjoy the company.
Lunch breaks in France can last two hours, which certainly sets the pace for how the French enjoy their meals.
There's No Small Talk
Americans are a smiling, chatty bunch. But in some places in Europe, like England and Switzerland, people mostly keep to themselves.
One traveling American noted that "the lack of niceties and hellos on the subway or street corner" was what shocked them the most. "However, as soon as I landed back in Miami, it just astounded me how NICE everyone was. ... Never saw that in Europe."
Other Europeans chimed in and said that Germans were surprisingly chatty, at least compared to the English. But as a whole, chatter among strangers is quite less prevalent in Europe than in the United States.
Starting a Small Business Is Really Hard
If you do happen to talk to someone in the U.K. about starting a business, you'll find that people are a lot more pessimistic about it than in the United States, where seemingly everyone is an entrepreneur.
"Here [in America] it seems like we encourage small business owners, whereas over there the hurdles are enormous and not so friendly," commented one user, minusthelela.
"This is so true," replied another. "From the hiring process to managing the space, it was a bureaucratic nightmare. It's almost like they want you to fail by finding every little flaw in your process. I understand a need for safety control or what not but it was overkill. Been running a business in the U.S. and I can say that as long as I'm paying my taxes and no one gets hurt, I'll be able to prosper."
It depends on the country and type of business, but it seems like starting a business in some areas can be difficult.
No Air Conditioning
Americans love their air conditioning. Most of the time, it's necessary because of the weather, but even when it's a little too warm, being able to take the air down to that sweet spot for sleeping is a basic luxury.
When visiting Europe, many Americans are horrified that most homes and flats have no air conditioning.
The reason? Most buildings in Europe are old and made out of material that's difficult to modify, like brick or stone.
"It's not efficient in the slightest, and can be extremely expensive to install, especially in old European farmhouses where you'd need to cut chunks out of two-foot stone walls, add insulation, etc.," explains pagwer. "For most southern Europeans at least, you air out your house in the early hours of the day, then close it up until it cools down outside in the evening."
Window units are commonly cited as being too expensive to run, as they are energy hogs. Also, they can prove difficult or even impossible to install in some homes because of the way windows open, and building codes may prevent their installation.
Beer In The Morning? No Problem
One thing Americans might finding surprising about Europe is that there's little taboo about drinking during the day.
"I could walk into the pub at 10 a.m. and nobody cared ... because everyone else was already there," said audioxbliss.
"The greatest thing about being European is that my obvious alcohol problem isn't a problem over here," said another user.
London is especially fond of their beers. The average Londoner spends approximately £83,000, or $117,000, on beer in a lifetime.
World War II Destruction Is Still There
World War II ended over 75 years ago in 1945, but many parts of England still bear the scars of it today.
"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 [sic] them, said jp_jellyroll. " 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. Fascinating to me."
For example, the building above is the Charles Church in Plymouth, Devon, England. It's a 350-year-old church that is now a husk, having been burned out by incendiary bombs during the Plymouth Blitz in 1941.
Magical Shopping Carts
In America, shopping carts usually have one bad wheel, drive sideways and make as much noise as possible when you're pushing them down the aisle. But in Europe?
As one excited Reddit user said, "ALL 4 WHEELS ON THE SHOPPING CARTS PIVOT, HOW THE **** HAVE WE NOT COME UP WITH THAT?"
It's safe to travel to the majority of Europe, but there are still a whole lot of scam artists to look out for. Many of them are just downright annoying.
"[A]t the Vatican it's unbearable. Fake petitions, friendship bracelets, guys wearing vests telling gullible visitors they bought the wrong tickets. It definitely put a damper on the experience," said soonerguy11.
In other threads, Redditors chimed in about the scams, which included shysters putting friendship bracelets on wrists and demanding payment, shoving roses in hands and demanding payment (and throwing a fit about stealing if you don't).
"Roman here," commented Obelix13. "It irritates even us, who have learned to spot a beggar or scammer from a km away."
Commercialized Nudity is Normal
It's no secret that American television is more violent than European TV, while being much more conservative when it comes to nudity. Although it's weird actually seeing that in person.
"First night in the hotel, flipping channels at about 9 p.m. 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," said aveganliterary.
They went on to say that "totally naked models" on wall calendars were side-by-side with Hello Kitty ones, with children's books around the corner.
Beer Is Cheaper Than Water
A common shock for many U.S. travelers to Europe is the cost of water versus beer. While you can get tap water for free, mineral water isn't cheap. Many Redditors commented that water (or wine, if you're somewhere like France) is more expensive than beer in the pubs.
Users did point out that there's a German law on the books that says if a place serves alcohol, it has to serve a nonalcoholic drink that's cheaper than any of the alcoholic drinks on the menu.
Sometimes that drink is milk.
"That's why in most bars you can order a glass of milk, which is cheaper than beer (or whatever the cheapest alcoholic drink is). [It's] a clever way to say '**** you' to that law," said another user.
Personal Space? What Personal Space?
In America, we love our personal space. America is a big country, and we take our sense of space for granted. We're most comfortable when strangers are kept 10 feet away from us, while acquaintances can be about four feet away before things get uncomfortable.
"Europeans didn't seem to have any sort of issue just standing or sitting right on top of each other (and me)," commented Maxwyfe. "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."
Maxwyfe clarified he stayed in Spain, while studies have shown that Southern Europeans are comfortable with a conversational distance of just two to three feet.
It's Impossible to Figure Out When Shops Are Open
Keeping set, reliable business hours is pretty important in the United States. In Europe? Not so much.
"I found the times when stores and restaurants would open quite strange," said aztecchocolate, a user who said they lived in New York City and traveled to France. "Everything seemed to be closed until maybe 10, or so, in the a.m. Coming from NYC, where most things start to open at 6-7 a.m., 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."
This is also something that can frustrate other Europeans.
"English here, the whole opening hours thing drives me mad when I visit the mainland. It never seems to be consistent either, just random parts of the day where **** all works," responded Timmy_Mallet.
Timmy went on to describe a vacation to Portugal, where he was looking to rent a jet ski from a shop on the beach. They got the business owner's number, but the following day, the shop was closed.
"Called him up and he made some excuse about being on lunch but would sort it in an few hours. He never came back," recalled the user.
Bathroom Doors Don't Have a Gap
This one is a nice surprise for visitors.
American bathroom stalls are notoriously uncomfortable and not entirely private.
"In the states, the doors have a 12 inch gap under them and inch wide gaps on the sides. Making inadvertent eye contact with someone on the *****er is so ******* awkward," said Gravy-Leg_.
In Europe, the stalls are closed off and private.
Wondering why? American stalls are designed that way in case of an emergency, so people can see if someone is having a (non-poop-related) problem. The large gap at the bottom of the stall can also let first responders drag someone out without having to break down the door, and it also makes it easier for the janitorial staff to mop the floor, according to Mental Floss.
Plus, it discourages any bad behavior, like drug use or sex.
Everything Is More Energy Efficient
"The biggest shock for me was conservational nature of the entire continent," said one user. "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."
Additionally, almost all cars are equipped with a start-stop function, which turns the engine off when the car is stopped and turns it on again when the brake is released or the clutch is pushed in. That's due to environmental concerns and also because fuel is much more expensive there.
Generally, Europeans have a much smaller carbon footprint than Americans.
Public Displays of Affection Are on Display
"The amount of PDA I saw in Paris. Two people just full on making out on the street corner and everyone passing them by like this is normal. Two people pretty much dry-humping on a park bench and no one batting an eye," said one user.
"In Europe there really isn't PDA, unless you're making an orgy in a McDonalds, everything else is fine," said another, cheekily.
The Country Might Just Shut Down in the Afternoon
"Spain: alright, it's afternoon, time to get some errands done. Took me a full week to realize [from] 2-5 [p.m.] the whole country shuts down," said one user in a comment that received over 2,000 upvotes.
Spain's shops and businesses close from around 2-5 p.m. so people can relax and eat, while bars and restaurants shut down from 4 p.m. until 8 or 9 p.m.
Italy also has a similar afternoon break called a "riposo," which typically lasts from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Bikes. Bikes Everywhere
"Visiting Amsterdam, I was shocked to see SO many people riding bikes. I've never seen that many bicycles in my life," said BrightZoe. "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."
Bike theft is certainly a big issue. In 2019, over 8,000 bicycles were reported stolen in Amsterdam.
There Are No Screens on the Windows
"Everywhere I went, there were no screens on windows. Bugs just flew in if they want to when a window is open and everyone is okay with that?" said lablover. "In the summer it's hell. I'll be eating dinner at a restaurant, it's hot out so windows are open so I don't have to sit in an oven, and then there are just bugs everywhere."
Similar to why there are no air conditioners, there are generally no window screens in Europe. With a lack of demand for them, some people, like expatriates, fashion their own. And there are some screens that can be purchased which attach with tape to windows, allowing for people to install them without damaging the window opening.
But most people are used to swatting away the bugs.
The Wait Staff Seemingly Don't Care About You
Going out to eat in Europe can be a bit of a culture shock for Americans, because we're used to waiters running over and checking up on us during a meal. In Europe, it seems like the wait staff just don't care.
"In Spain, you have to sorta wave and call for service, especially for the final check," said Cranky_Monkey. "They will literally leave you at a table with empty glasses for hours unless you ask. They consider it rude to intrude, and it makes Americans feel pushy to ask or wave our hand for attention."
That's true for Spain and for the rest of Europe, too, especially outside of the touristy areas. Europeans want to be left alone during their meal, and would find the American dining experience intrusive. So while it goes against most Americans' nature, it's OK to beckon people over with a nod or wave.
No Clothes Dryers
Americans are used to having a room or half of a room dedicated to laundry, including a washer and a dryer. In Europe, some homes only just have a washing machine, and it's usually in the kitchen. That washing machine might also be an all-in-one unit and can also dry clothes, although many people will dry their linens on a clothesline.
"I's actually a smarter way to dry clothes, though requires more work and results in crunchier clothes," said ClownfishSoup. "However, cheaper and no need for a large dryer somewhere. In the US and Canada, I've never been to a house that didn't have both in a dedicated laundry room or a closet."
Public nudity isn't extremely common in the U.K., but you might end up happening upon a naked bloke in the wild in some areas.
"I just got back from Berlin and there's a huge city park that runs through it. From the road driving passed it I saw that EVERYONE WAS NAKED...IN A CITY PARK...like EVERYONE...OF ALL LIKES AND AGES..." commented thefoag. "Later my wife and I went down to the hotel pool and again, there was both men and women alike just letting it all hang out. Bratwurst and pork knuckle, everywhere. My wife literally went into a panic and spun around on the spot as if she was not supposed to be there and started speaking gibberish.... 10/10 would totally go back (seriously, loved it)."
It's not illegal to be naked in many places, like England, unless the act was done to shock or offend someone. So even if you are shocked, if the other person didn't mean to do you any harm, then it's alright by the law.
The Cafes Turn Into Bars
Know your clientele. In France, the cafes serve coffee, but when it's nighttime, things get friskier.
"Studied in France and I was shocked to see the cafés turn into bars at night. They just switched out the menu and it went from selling hot cocoa to whiskey on the rocks!" said is_it_soy.
That might be surprising, but Parisian cafés are more like restaurants than cafes, with a full bar and a kitchen.
Cars Stop for People
You have to be careful using the crosswalks in America, because we all know we're just one distracted driver away from a lifetime earning's worth of medical bills.
In Europe, though, the drivers are apparently much more courteous at the crosswalks (or "zebra crossings").
"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 vacation...it was like playing a terrified game of double Dutch," said one Redditor.
"Seriously, just walk out into the middle of the road and you'll be fine. I felt like Marla from fight club," said one English user who decided to do like the like locals do in Greece.
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