The purpose of travel is different depending on who you ask. Some people travel to relax. Some travel to admire nature’s beauty or the historical power of art and architecture. Still, some travel simply for the experience - to encounter cultures and people are ultimately different from what they are used to. If you are one of these travelers, a brave adventurer hoping to dive into the lifestyle of others there are a few things you will want to know - just to make the adjustment a little bit easier. Here our some cultural differences between the US and most of Europe that you may not be aware of.
The biggest difference that you will encounter is the European love for walking, cycling, and public transportation. While here in the US, driving, even relatively long distances, is a daily occurrence for most of the population, many cities in Europe have a very low percentage of daily drivers. Here while young people get their permits to drive between the ages of 14 and 16, it is not uncommon for Europeans to wait until they are 20 or older to get their driving permit. This is because of the extensive public transportation system and a love of cycling. If you plan to visit any of the moderate to large cities in Europe expect this different and ignore the auto instinct until traveling into much more rural countryside.
Another difference to keep in mind is sizing. Almost everything you will come across in Europe is a bit smaller. Culture there dictates slightly more moderation that culture in the US so portion sizes at restaurants, hotel rooms, taxis, and most stores are all slightly smaller than here in the US. Do not be surprised or offended if your hotel room is on the narrow side, or perhaps your dinner entree seems a little slight - that is simply the standard.
In other shopping terms it is also helpful to know while shopping in Europe that cities and towns alike contain far fewer superstores and one-stop locations. Many countries there still follow a system of small shops for specific goods. Also, sales taxes are included in the ticketed price of goods for many European shops, groceries and restaurants. Keep this in mind so as to make sure you know exactly what you’re spending.
Financially, eating out in Europe is a much simpler process. Not only are taxes already included in the listed prices of meals, tipping is often seen as unnecessary. Unlike in the States, servers and bartenders are, by law, to be paid a minimum wage that cannot be expected to be supplemented by tips. This means that in most restaurants tipping is not only unnecessary but occasionally seen as a presumptuous move.
If at this delectable, tip free meal, you’ve planned on meeting people, also keep in mind that time is frequently relative to place. There are some countries where the social repercussions of being an hour late are similar to what it would be like if someone were only five minutes late to an event here in the US. There are yet other countries where people are even more punctual than here in the US. Every country works on its own cultural timetable, which can also often include the use of military time as opposed to a 12 hour clock. Just be sure, whenever in a new country, you have an idea of what “on time” means culturally. Also keep in mind the importance of the group meal in some European nations. The group dinner is often a revered and very important time in one’s day and fast food is often not an option. Meals are considered experiences and precious time to be spent on good conversation, good drinks and relaxing from your day at work or otherwise.
It must be said that of course all of the mentioned differences are generalizations to which there are many exceptions, as each European country has its own fairly unique culture. However, in general these differences do exist, or can lead you to similar differences in your specific place of travel, they are the little details we miss. No matter why or where you travel, make sure that part of your experience is learning about the culture you’re visiting. Chances are that it will open you to a way of living that is wonderful in its own right, and something you may have never thought to try.