What do you think of when you think of Europe? Is it France? Spain? Germany? I think most people tend to think of a specific country, but let me tell you, they’re all very very different.
The one thing I can say is that Europe as a whole is much more different from U.S. than the European countries are from each other (with a few exceptions of course). And I’ve heard many American opinions about their visits to Europe, and many of them seem to be misconceptions.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Europe (heck, I’m here right now) and I absolutely love it! Sometimes I forget that I’m the outsider because I’m so used to it already––but that’s the best part, isn’t it?
So Americans, before you come to Europe for the first time, here are a few things not to get too worked up about... Culture shock is real!
There Will Be People Who Don’t Like Americans
Message to citizens of the "Greatest Country of the World": not everyone likes America. In fact, I had this guy spend ten minutes telling me how much he hated America. He hasn’t been to the states (nor did he really tell me why now that I think about it… or maybe I just stopped listening) and he said he’s never going to go. I then proceeded to tell him that I was American, and he said, “no, you’re Norwegian,” which is also true… but I’m also American.
A German guy grimaced when I told him I was from the states.
I think it’s because so many see the United States as a “big bully” of the world. Or for other reasons. It’s always different. Despite this, you’re going to meet many people who love America, and even some that wish they were American (have I taken that too far?).
You’re Going to be Stereotyped
You know that song American Idiot? Yeah, well, that’s you walking down the streets of a European city. It’s not because they hate us, but Hollywood reaches a lot of people. So all those movies about high school and comedies where the character doesn’t know anything… that’s their perception of Americans. I guess we're just not that bright.
Something I get really often is people telling me that Americans can't identify countries (or even states) on a map. Well... this is partly true about American education, but hey, now you know. So before you start traveling, freshen up on your geography a little to prove them all wrong.
More Booze is Normal
I always tell people in Europe that the norm here would be considered alcoholic in the U.S. and they never believe me. People in America don’t drink several pints everyday (which is regular in the UK). And people in Norway drink a bit of beer or wine (lots and lots of Prosecco) during the week and get smashed on the weekend. In America, you just don’t. Unless you’re in a fraternity, you’re not drinking every single day; and even then you don’t drink as much.
The legal age is also much younger. Depending on where you go, it’ll be different, but it’s typically 18. So don’t be surprised when your waitress asks you what you want, expecting you to get some booze with your meal.
It’s actually possible to finish a regular portion at a European restaurant. Don’t expect to order a plate of pasta and get jambalaya from the Cheesecake Factory, which could actually feed a family. I think many Americans get their food and are disappointed, but let’s pause for a second and think about it.
How many times have you gone out for dinner and taken home left overs? That’s not normal in Europe. In fact, I recently talked to someone from Norway who didn’t even know you could take home what you don’t finish. I told him that it was completely normal to take home leftovers and he was left in complete awe.
Also, don’t expect a glass of ice cold water when you sit down at your table. You’ll most likely be offered a glass of tap water with minimal ice, or you’re going to have to pay for a bottle. I always thought the term “tap” was so off-putting (but maybe that’s their trick to get you to buy a drink?). Anyways, don’t get shocked or throw a fit. Your American colors are going to stand out within seconds.
People Are More Reserved
I hear so many Americans describe Europeans as “snobby” or “rude” all the time, and I think it’s a big misconception. You’re probably going to meet some mean people along the way, but we have those in America too, so chill.
I believe this comes from the lack of “outgoing” presence in European countries. You don’t just start talking to strangers you’re standing next to at the bus stop or in the grocery store. If you’re from Europe and wondering if this is true, then yes, it’s completely normal to chat with the bystander in the cereal aisle. There are many travelers from the states that are almost offended by people who won’t have a conversation with them.
Even if they’re complete strangers.
For example, if you were to ask a Norwegian on the side of the street for directions, they’d just freeze up. It’s not because they don’t want to help, it’s just not normal! (But as a side note, Norwegians are pretty weird). Also, don’t expect everyone to apologize when they bump into you. Out of all the countries, I’d say England is the most outgoing, but it’s not in everyone’s culture. So accept it. Appreciate it.
Higher Fashion Standard
I don’t mean Gucci or Armani standard, but to put it into simpler terms: no sweats. Everyone’s attire is generally a little tighter and looks at least a little thought out. It’s no slam against Americans (well maybe a little…), but people dress nicer in Europe! If you’re going to rock your sweats, baggy jeans, or oversized tee, you might as well scream the Star Spangled Banner everywhere you go.