A while back we wrote a post on what foreigners are surprised by when they visit America. Here’s the flip side: what Americans are surprised by when they visit Europe. Any time you travel to a foreign country, there are bound to be some notable and subtle differences between home and away. That’s part and parcel of the adventure. A recent survey on Reddit asked Americans, “What was the biggest culture shock when you visited Europe?” Here are some of the resulting observations of American tourists abroad.
1. Beer in McDonalds!
Beer and other alcohols in places I wouldn’t expect to find them. I was quite surprised to be able to have a beer at a museum; I’m used to the intellectual set pretending to not want anything to do with alcohol. It was like I was actually in a land made for adults instead of children.
2. Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better
Normal-sized bodies. Very few jacked body-builders, very few morbidly obese people. They just have generally lean, healthy physiques.
3. Nude vs Prude
As a teenage Texan boy who visited Germany in high school, I’d say the biggest shock was the billboard at the end of our street with a topless woman on it. I looked at that thing so much I still have it memorized 20 years later.
4. Don’t Take Parisian Snootiness Personally
The French are generally nice, it’s Parisians who are assholes and give the whole country that reputation. And they’re not singling you out because you’re American – they’re assholes to each other too.
5. Perpetual Puffing
The smoking…. People smoking everywhere. Restaurants, street corners, cafes… When I landed in Vienna there was a 10 x 5 meter plexiglass box in the airport where 7 Austrians chain smoked while waiting for their luggage.
6. Penny For Your Thoughts
I realized how many freebies we get in the US. Free refills, as much ketchup as you want in fast food places, free toilets, etc. In Europe, you have to pay for everything. I got used to it.
7. Siesta Time!
Spain: Alright, it’s afternoon, time to get some errands done. Took me a full week to realize 2-5 the whole country shuts down.
8. The World Didn’t Begin in 1776
The sense of history and age that is everywhere. Buildings that are hundreds and thousands of years old, roads that have been walked for a hundred generations, etc.
9. Polyglots Everywhere
All the Dutch seem to speak five languages but act really humble about it and say that their English is terrible.
10. Wine is Cheaper
Soda is expensive in Europe, man. I’m not a big beer drinker, so I’m used to ordering a Coke or something at a restaurant when my friends go drinking in the US. But whew, don’t you order a Coke at a restaurant in Europe. It’s gonna cost you.
11. Cross At Your Own Risk
When I visited Rome, people just walk into the crosswalks and the cars just stop for them. I’m from NY. I can jay walk with the best of them… but f*ck 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. And those drivers… they sense weakness.
12. Tolerant and Open Minded
In Amsterdam, my buddies and I stopped by a McDonald’s to grab drinks while we walked around the city. I saw a white kid, with crazy dreadlocks, crazy Hip-Hop styled clothing/half-Rastafarian clothing grab his tray, turn to a very crowded room, scouring for a table and not see an empty one. This is when a man in full business attire pulled his tray back a bit on his table, and beckoned the guy to come sit with him. This wouldn’t EVER happen in the U.S.
13. Pedestrian-Friendly Culture
The fact that I could easily WALK everywhere I needed to go within a town in Germany.
14. Savor the Moments vs Go-Go-Go
How slowed down everything is. When you go to a cafe, there’s usually no to-go coffee. You’re expected to sit down or stand at the bar and drink your coffee slowly. Out to dinner, meals last hours and start way later than they do here. We would always stand out as the fast moving Americans on our way to class.
15. Living History
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 them to shit. 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.
16. Ketchup Is So Gauche
I was ridiculed about asking for a ketchup bottle for my burger and fries at a restaurant near Normandy. Four french men in the booth behind me kept doing their Frenchy type laugh (OHhhohnnhonnn) and pantomiming out squirting ketchup onto food. They even grabbed the bottle off of my table and started to pass it around between them making jokes about it.
17. Pay For the Privilege
I don’t know if I’d call this a culture shock because I was only visiting Paris for a few days… but I was surprised when I had to pay to use public bathrooms. I mean, I’m a big fan of being able to just walking into a bathroom and poop when I need to poop. Public bathrooms at an American mall might not be very clean, but I’m glad I don’t have to drop two dollars to poop.