Europeans and Americans may be located on different sides of the ocean, but sometimes, it can seem like they’re on entirely different planets. Now, there’s obviously a wide range of individuals in both places with their own individual habits and behaviours, but when you look at both spots as a whole, there are a few particularities that set them apart.
It’s fascinating to see just how cultural norms and accepted behaviours can influence people — someone growing up in Europe and growing up in America would likely have a very different perspective on a lot of things, just based on where they grow up without taking their own personality into account whatsoever. That’s because if you’re surrounded by something, day in and day out, you start to just accept it as a way of life — it isn’t until you see a different way of living, in a spot where they do things differently, that you can truly understand that something you’ve just been accepting is actually ingrained in your culture.
There are countless memes and stereotypes about Europeans and Americans, because in general, they tend to fall on opposite sides of the spectrum. Here are 15 things that every European does without even thinking that Americans just don’t understand.
15. Pay to use the bathroom in a public place (no, we’re not talking about tipping the attendant at the club bathroom)
Using the bathroom when you’re in a public place is just a basic human right, no? I mean, you wouldn’t make a guest visiting your home give you a dollar to use your facilities. Well, while Americans may think that way, Europeans have a bit of a different perspective. In Europe, it’s fairly common to pay a small fee — usually a few coins — in order to enter and use a public restroom. It may seem bizarre to Americans, but to Europeans, it’s just the way it is. You pay to use the service, and in exchange, they try to keep the bathrooms as clean as possible and keep everything there stocked. Americans may give the club bathroom attendant a few coins in exchange for a hand towel and some mouthwash, but that’s an entirely different thing.
14. Greet people with cheek kisses
Okay, there are some Americans that put on airs and try to introduce the cheek kiss into their social circle — we’re looking at you, Real Housewives — but in general, this is a foreign concept to most Americans. In Europe, while there’s definitely room for handshakes and other behaviours like that in a professional setting, in your personal life, you greet your friends and family and loved ones by kissing them on both cheeks. It’s just the way it’s done, and most Europeans don’t give it a second thought. Americans find it oddly intimate because it’s just foreign to them — they’re used to a casual wave or handshake rather than getting up close and personal with someone else. It just goes to show how people from different places can have such a different view on things, even something as simple as how you greet someone.
13. Take ample vacation days, and not overwork themselves
America has developed a culture that prides itself on not just hard work, but overworking yourself — everyone wants to boast that they spend 90 hours in the office in a given week, or that they couldn’t possibly take a day off because the entire business would fall apart without their presence. Everyone is always trying to one-up everyone else and prove that they’re the hardest worker. In Europe, on the other hand, workers value their vacation time. While they’re in the office, they work hard and get things accomplished, but they balance that out by making space in their schedule for regular vacations and relaxation time. This is one case where Americans could certainly take a page of of Europe’s book — sometimes, a short vacation can recharge you and help eliminate the risk of burnout.
12. Live without air conditioning (at least in certain buildings)
In America, there is basically air conditioning everywhere. In the summer, you often have to pack a sweater, even on sweltering hot days, because you know the moment you step out from the streets into a store or restaurant, you’ll be blasted with the arctic air. And if you live in an area that gets quite hot, living without air conditioning is basically seen as torture. In Europe, they treat the heat much differently. Sure, there are plenty of buildings with air conditioner, but a large percentage of them don’t have it. Sometimes, it’s a matter of history, where a building can’t easily be retrofitted to include all that. And often, it’s just because they don’t see it as a necessity — they’ll crack open a few windows in their home or apartment to get the breeze going and call it a day.
Okay, not every single European smokes, but let’s face it — it’s a whole lot more common over there than it is in America. While there are plenty of Americans who smoke, the general public frowns upon smoking and sees it as dangerous to your health. While Europeans definitely have all the same information about the impact that smoking has on your health, their culture is just way more permissive of it, so you’re far more likely to see people smoking as they walk and talk with their friends, or having a cigarette with their coffee at an outdoor cafe. It’s just the way they do things. This is one of the few areas related to health and lifestyle where Americans may have a bit of an edge over the Europeans.
10. Pay for water at a restaurant/cafe
In America, when you’re at a restaurant, water is seen as the most budget-friendly choice — because it’s free! I mean, unless you decide to opt for the sparkling option or something like that. It’s basically just understood that you’ll sip water while deciding on what else you want to drink with your meal, whether that be soda pop or a cocktail. In Europe, that’s not the case — you have to pay to get water with your meal, even just still water. It’s a little quirk, but it’s something that many Americans notice when they’re on the other side of the pond, and it continues to puzzle them. It just goes to show how even seemingly minor differences, such as having to pay a dollar or two for some water, can really stand out when you’re immersed in another culture.
9. Drink alcohol just about anywhere, and at a much younger age
In many European countries, people are allowed to start drinking in their teens — the average drinking age is around 16 to 18. In America, on the other hand, it’s a hard 21 years old. That’s a 3 to 5 year age difference, at a time in one’s life where it makes a huge impact. Many European teens will go out and have a few beers with their friends, or have a glass of wine with dinner, and it’s just a normal thing to do. People will drink in the streets and it’s just a casual thing, the same as if they were sipping a latte in a to go cup. In America, it’s a little different. Many kids drink alcohol secretly, because it’s not legal for so many years, and there are very strict rules about consuming alcohol in a public place. There’s just a whole lot more rigidity in the American views on drinking.
8. Live and die by their soccer team
When it comes to sports, you’d have to argue with any American as to which is the most important. There are many Americans who live and die by their NFL team, and others who only care about basketball and lose their minds when March Madness comes around. And, of course, there’s the fact that baseball is apparently America’s national past time — and there are several teams whose fans stretch across generations. In Europe, while people have an interest in other sports, the main one is without question football — or soccer, as Americans call it. Whether you support a particularly iconic team, such as Real Madrid or Manchester United, or simply support your nation in all soccer tournaments, Europeans live and die by their soccer team. I mean, have you seen the stands in particularly high stakes games? There’s even more drama than on the field!
7. Measure things using the metric system
When it comes to units of measurement, Americans are really the most bizarre in the world. While virtually the entire world happily uses the metric system, for whatever reasons, Americans have insisted on sticking with imperial — which means that if you’re an American making a European recipe, for example, you have to convert a bunch of things, which can be downright exhausting. Even something as simple as weight and height can require a quick search to find a converting tool because, well, you’re used to thinking about things in the system you frequently use — if you’re a European watching an American weight loss show, for example, you may have to search what on earth 120 pounds really is in kilograms. It may seem like a minor issue until you realize just how many times during the day you either use or reference units of measurement.
6. Enjoy their meal at a leisurely pace
The easiest example for this particular cultural quirk is coffee. In America, to go cups of coffee are basically a way of life. You’ll see an endless stream of people at all times with a Starbucks cup clutched in their hand, on the way to the office or while they’re out running errands. They hit a coffee shop, grab a coffee to go, and continue on with their day. Europeans, on the other hand, tend to savour the experience a bit more. Sure, there are spots where you can grab a coffee to go, but in general, people will sit down at a cafe, be waited on, have their cappuccino brought to the table, and they’ll sip it and take a real, legitimate coffee break. It’s just another way of life, and we have to admit, it sounds way more appealing than burning yourself because you tried to balance your extra hot latte and a zillion other things on your rush in to the office.
5. Drive much smaller cars, if they do drive
Again, this one is a bit situational. If you’re a European farmer living out in the countryside, you may very well have a truck that helps with hauling things around. However, in general, Europeans who drive tend to have much smaller cars. They’re efficient, they get you from Point A to Point B, and they can easily be squeezed into small parking spots in the city. Makes sense, right? Many European cities and streets are designed with pedestrians in mind, where the cars are a bit of an afterthought. In America, on the other hand, it’s very much a drivers’ world — the roads are big, the parking lots are bigger, and most people drive huge trucks or SUVs. I mean, can you imagine driving a massive truck through the tiny cobblestone streets of a European village? You would literally never find parking because it would be impossible to squeeze that monster anywhere.
4. Take public transit all the time
In general, unless you live in a big metropolitan city with a good transit system, like New York City or Chicago, most Americans just don’t take transit. The transit systems are often poorly planned, particularly if you’re commuting between a rural spot and a city, and it’s just plain easier to jump in your car and drive to where you need to go. In Europe, transit systems are often built out a lot better, and much more frequently utilized. While you still need to drive around if you’re in a rural community, in most cities the transit is efficient enough that many people just never bother to drive at all. Now, their transit system isn’t perfect either, but it just goes to show that putting some time and effort into public transit can definitely pay off.
3. Manage to dine without having a trillion different choices
Europeans and Americans just have different ways of eating, on average. Americans tend to have bigger portions served up, particularly in restaurants, and they also have a lot more options. Chain restaurants often have menus that span 6 or 7 pages, and even the simple act of getting a fast food sandwich can turn into a whole ordeal as you’re asked which of 6 types of bread you want, which veggies, how much of this, how much of that, which of the 12 condiments you want to finish your creation off with, etc. Europeans tend to take a bit of a simpler outlook — you order a ham and cheese sandwich and you’ll get it the way that the restaurant wants to make it, plain and simple. You don’t always need the opportunity to customize everything.
2. Consume room temperature drinks/water
If you were asked how much ice was in the last drink you consumed, you probably wouldn’t be able to answer, because it just isn’t something you really notice. However, it’s something that many Europeans say stands out about their experience in America, and vice versa. In America, drinks at a restaurant are often served with basically an entire chopped up iceberg. You’ll get a few sips of your arctic water before you have to wait for the ice to melt down a little bit. In Europe, on the other hand, drinks are often served without any ice at all. It seems like such a minor detail, but you’d be surprised at how much it stands out when you’re actually sitting down to dine and you receive something that’s different from what you normally expect.
1. Eat much smaller meals, or often several small courses rather than one huge entree
Portion size is an international issue, with more and more people around the world becoming obese. However, there’s no denying the stereotype that portions are just enormous in America. Sure, there are spots in Europe that may serve more generous portions, but in general, they serve up a reasonable amount — in America, an appetizer may pack an entire day’s worth of calories, and an entree would likely be enough for an entire family to share. Europeans tend to eat much smaller meals, and often split their dining experience into a multi-course indulgence — by which we mean a small salad, a light appetizer such as a soup, a small portion of an entree, etc. It’s just an entirely different way of eating that Americans can’t seem to wrap their minds around with their super-sized portions.
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