Top Differences an American Notices in Europe

Having spent months of my life in Europe while travelling in the last few years, I have compiled a list of differences that an American will find interesting. I’m not sure that all of these are present in every European country but all were present on my recent trip to Austria.

  1. There is no “No Smoking”. When you go into a restaurant or a cafe, be prepared to breathe second-hand smoke. You won’t find a No Smoking sign in those places like you do in the U.S.

  2. No fries, cheeps. No Coke, Pepsi. No donuts, pastries. Have yet to see a donut shop in Europe. Seen a lot of pastry shops. No donut shops. Which begs the obvious question - where do all the cops go?

  3. No fans in the bathroom. This was completely strange to me until I realized that this is just more evidence that Europeans think that their sh-t doesn’t stink. Just kidding…sort of… But seriously, the last bathroom in the last hotel room I stayed in completely fogged up during every shower. No fan and - get this - the door to the bathroom automatically shuts. You have to stick a book in the doorway to prop it open. So strange.

  4. Public restrooms have private stalls with floor to ceiling doors. This is definitely one of the best differences in Europe. When you go to the bathroom, you can have complete privacy - a novel concept in the U.S. When they say “water closet” it is almost literal. A bathroom is like a little closet with a toilet. It’s a separate room with a normal doorway and door. Now, of course, there are bathrooms which aren’t much more than a hole in the floor, too, but better restaurants and airports definitely have the private stalls.

  5. Can rejoin the Clean Plate Club. Unlike restaurants like Bennigan’s and TGI Friday’s in the U.S. where your dinner comes in a portion big enough for 4 people, portions in European restaurants are much more appropriately sized. A big eater like me at the beginning of a trip can come away from lunch and dinner still a bit hungry. Given a few days, though, your appetite comes back into line where it should be and meals are generally fulfilling. So it is okay to rejoin the Clean Plate Club (contrary to my advice in the U.S.) in Europe. Maybe this explains why you see so few overweight people in Europe. Hmmmmm…

  6. Not everyone speaks English. If you spend most of your time in really touristy spots, you might get the impression that everyone speaks English in Europe. Certainly its pretty easy to communicate in these areas with high numbers of English-speaking visitors. But go a step off of the beaten path and you are back to using their native language. Its pretty key to have a phrase book or dictionary if you want to eat in restaurants in these areas because the menus tend to be in the native language.

  7. You must lock yourself into your hotel room and lock up on the way out. I haven’t made my mind up over whether I like this or not. First of all, most European hotel rooms still open with an actual metal key. When you close the door to your room, it does not automatically lock itself like hotel doors in the U.S. Instead, you have to take your key (most times) and lock the door from the inside. That’s right, there is a keyhole on the inside which you need to use. So if you forget this, you can have your room door open to the world. There is a definite downside to this idea. If there is a fire in your room and you can’t find your room key, you are screwed. You can’t get the door open again without taking your key and unlocking the door. Not something I want to be messing with while running from a ton of smoke and flames. Okay, I made up my mind. Charlie no likey.

  8. A single is a single and a double is a double. When you get a room for the night at a hotel in Europe, the rate is calculated by the number of people in a room, not by the number of beds or any other measure. In the U.S. you might see a bunch of college kids on a road trip who pile 10 to a room in some motel for the fixed price of the room. In Europe you’re paying for each head that goes through the door.

  9. Beer and wine are okay with lunch, dinner, and business meetings. Alcohol is not taboo in Europe as it is in the U.S. Here, if someone has a beer during lunch and smells of alcohol upon returning to work, that individual is on the short road to unemployment in most companies. In Europe, it is almost expected that you drink something alcoholic with lunch and dinner. It is very uncommon to see a European drinking soda with these meals.

  10. There is no such thing as a king or queen bed. Even when you get a room that comes with a king or queen bed, it’s still two smaller beds pushed together. I have never seen a single mattress in the king or queen size in Europe. And to think that all of those real-world royals are missing out.

  11. Risque videos on regular TV after midnight. If you get offended by seeing that which is usually behind closed doors, don’t turn your television on after midnight in Europe. Not all stations - but definitely a few - have pretty explicit videos running during the wee hours. Unlike the U.S. where access to that type of thing is restricted to those 18 and over, Europe has no issues with late night public broadcast of this content.

  12. Your taxicab is a Mercedes-Benz. Almost every taxicab I’ve been in, in Europe, was a Mercedes. Not sure exactly how that works because I think a Mercedes is still pretty expensive over there but many cab drivers still use them.

  13. No .coms, only .countries. Websites which are hosted outside of the U.S. are usually not dot coms. The dot com ending seems to be mainly American but I am not sure why. If the U.S. went by the same convention as everyone else, our websites would end in .us instead of .com or .org or .net.

  14. Salads do not have lettuce. I’ve had lots of salads in Europe and none of them had lettuce. They all had what we would call a “spring greens mix” and usually a bit of some sort of slaw or other accompaniment. They are also, typically, pretty small salads. I don’t remember ever seeing a salad which was an entree like we have in the U.S.

  15. Man’s best friend is welcome in restaurants. It is not uncommon to see a dog sitting under the table next to you in a restaurant. The dog will typically be muzzled so as not to bark or bite but they are welcome in most places you can eat. Not sure what they do about footballs - I mean, cats. Whoops…did I say that out loud? Hehehe.

  16. Tipping is not customary for a normal meal. In a lot of restaurants, the tip is already factored into the bill. If it isn’t, tipping is not expected except in cases where exceptional service has been rendered. Imagine that - tipping only to reward someone for duty above and beyond. Maybe its a Renaissance kind of thing.

  17. Plan on walking or taking public transportation. The easiest way to get around cities in Europe is to walk. If it’s too far to walk, take a bus or use the subway, if they have one. Cabs are expensive and don’t get you there much faster than the bus. In cities like Paris which have excellent subway facilities, there are people who never ride in a car because the subway goes almost everywhere and they can walk everywhere else.

  18. Fresh orange juice is never fresh. Let me just put it this way: yuck, yuck, and yuck. Orange juice in Europe is just gross. It’s more like orange-flavored sugar water. They do not have anything like Minutemaid where the orange juice is similar to freshly-squeezed. After finding this consistently across Europe, I now believe that there are Europeans out there who go through life never having had freshly-squeezed orange juice. This just seems like some sort of multinational tragedy.

  19. No paying at the pump. I have yet to drive a car in Europe but I’ve walked past a lot of gas stations and none of them have the credit card acceptance facilities common in U.S. gas stations today. Looks like you always have to go inside to pay.

  20. On does not mean on. I’m not sure I like this one too much because it’s implemented differently in different hotels. However, since many European countries are considerably more energy conservation-conscious than the United States, you will find energy-saving measures over there not common in the U.S. When you walk into your hotel room and turn on the lights and nothing happens, you need to find the master switch. Almost all hotel rooms I’ve stayed at in Europe have some sort of master switch. If the master is off, none of the lights work and many of the outlets are turned off automatically. This is a convenient way to “save state” in your room. In other words, turn on all the lights and other fixtures you want and then on the way out the door, hit the master switch instead of turning off individual lights. When you come back, flip the master again and the “state” of the room is magically restored. The problem with this is some of the hotels make this somewhat mandatory by implementing a master switch which turns on only if you put your room keycard in a slot. That’s right - when you come into your room, before you can turn a light on, you need to take your room key (only works if its a keycard) and stick it into this master switch slot which then enables the room electricity. Obviously this guarantees that the power is turned off when you leave since you have to take your keycard with you. If no one tells you about this, its pretty easy to get frustrated trying to figure out why the lights don’t turn on and especially so if its nighttime and the room is dark. Been there, done that.

  21. You might have two toilets. One is a toilet and one is a bidet. I’m not going into this here. If you are still confused, watch the original Crocodile Dundee movie.

  22. You must ask for the check. In the U.S. you will often be handed the check in a restaurant as soon as the server figures you won’t be ordering anything else. In the U.S., restaurants and cafes want a high turnover and move customers in and out ASAP. In Europe, the server will not bring you the check until you explicitly ask for it. Know how to say “check, please”. This is one of those phrases that is very helpful to know in whatever language they speak in the country you are visiting, i.e. “Zahlen, bitte.” It’s not uncommon to see someone sit in a cafe for hours, nursing one or two cups of tea. I personally saw this one guy sitting in a cafe in the morning and still sitting there when I was going out for dinner. I think this says a lot about the pace of life in Europe as compared to the U.S.

  23. You can count on McDonald’s but it’s not exactly the same. After having any number of ethnic meals in a country, its nice to know you can always get a buger and fries at McDonald’s. But as anyone who has seen Pulp Fiction knows, McDonald’s in Europe has a similar menu but uses different names for certain items. The example in the movie is the Royale with Cheese as the equivalent of the Quarter Pounder since they use the metric system in Europe. But other small differences exist. For example, when you get mayonnaise or ketchup packets for your fries, you have to pay approximately 35 cents for each packet. There are specialty sandwiches, like the McCroquette, which have no U.S. equivalent. And in a lot of stores there, you can order beer with your “Extra Value Meal”.

I am certainly not an expert in travel but these are the most obvious differences that I can think of off the top of my head. Not sure how they apply across the board and many of them are not unique to Europe alone but apply in other countries other than the U.S. Can you think of others? Am I wrong on one or more of these? Leave a comment!