The Strangest European Cultural Norms by American Standards
While the United States and the countries of Europe share a great deal of history and culture, that doesn’t mean they don’t have their differences. There are plenty of surprising ways in the way Europeans live their lives compared to Americans. From using a bidet to tipping in restaurants, these are some of the most prominent differences between life in the US and Europe.
Eggs Are Kept Outside of the Fridge
In Europe, eggs are not stored in the fridge. You can find them sitting out at grocery stores and people’s homes alike, just sitting at room temperature. This sounds terrifyingly unsafe, but that’s actually not the case
Trains Are A Primary Form of Transportation
In the United States, not many people use trains, largely because they’re not widely available and tickets are expensive. The same is not true in Europe. Taking a train from city to city or even country to country is a very standard form of transportation, and it's affordable.
Beverages Don't Typically Come With Much Ice
Europeans do not expect beverages like water or soft drinks to be filled to the brim with ice. Americans might find this strange, as lots of ice is a given in the US. Even if a beverage is already cold, ice is still expected.
In Europe, the money is quite colorful. Different denominations of euro come in different colors, in part to help people to easily tell one bill from another. By contrast, U.S. bills all look pretty much the same. Whether it's a one-, five-, or hundred-dollar bill, there's no color variation.
Tipping Servers Minimally or Not at All
In the US, not leaving a tip is considered seriously shameful behavior. The assumption is that American servers rely on their tips to survive, as restaurants are allowed to pay them very little. Therefore, not leaving a tip can leave servers working for basically nothing.
Most Cars Have Manual Transmissions
The standard for cars in Europe is to have a manual transmission, meaning they are stick-shift vehicles. In the US, most cars have an automatic transmission. There are plenty of manual transmission cars in the US, but it's not nearly as common as it is in Europe.
Credit Card Operations Are Typically Done in Front of the Owner
When you pay with a credit card in Europe, you can expect the transaction to be done in front of you. It would be odd, for instance, for a server at a restaurant to walk away with your card to charge it. Instead, they bring the credit card machine to your table.
Walking Is Also a Primary Form of Transportation
Unless you live in a huge yet condensed city like New York, you probably don’t use walking as your primary means of transportation. Everybody seems to drive everywhere, or at the very least, take the bus. Between affordable fuel and sprawling cities, it just makes more sense to use a vehicle.
Teenagers Drink With Their Parents in Public
The drinking age in most European countries is 18, but it's rarely enforced like it is in the US. If a teenager is with their parents, most European cultures dictates that it is the parents' decision whether or not to let their child drink. Servers would never refuse a glass of wine to a 16-year-old with their parents at a restaurant.
Price Tags Already Include Tax
The US does not include sales tax on price tags. Of course, this is calculated behavior on the part of businesses. People have a tendency to spend more money when an item seems to cost less, a subtle way to manipulate customers. Even so, Americans accept the status quo.
More Paid Vacation From Work
In the US, paid vacation is up to the employer. Some jobs don't provide any, and most that do provide much less than their European counterparts. Americans with nine-to-five-type jobs can, on average, expect only 15 days of paid vacation per year.
When You Write the Date, the Month Comes First
In Europe, when you write the date, the day comes before the month. This often confuses Americans, as they write the month first. However, the U.S. is actually the only country in the world that writes the date this way. The difference may be trivial, but it can still lead to real issues.
The Term "America" Means More Than Just the U.S.
Americans view the terms "United States" and "America" as interchangeable. However, Europeans — and the rest of the world — find this inaccurate. When it boils down to it, America is much bigger than just the United States to the rest of the world. It encompasses all of North, Central and South America.
Bidets look fairly similar to toilets and are typically found next to them in Europe. They’re meant for washing one’s lower nethers after going to the bathroom. While many Americans wouldn’t know one if they saw one, they’re not uncommon in European homes.
Children Being Naked in Public Isn't a Big Deal
It's not such a rare occurrence to see nude children in public in Europe. This is most common in places where it makes sense for them to be sans clothes, like the beach. However, in the US, people are much more protective of their children because of the potential dangers of pedophiles — it would be a strange sight to see a naked child on a U.S. beach.
Pharmacies Basically Only Sell Medicine
If you go to a European pharmacy, you're just going to find medicine and items directly related to medicine. This makes sense, as selling medicine is a pharmacy's intended purpose. You certainly won't find items that are damaging to your health. Meanwhile, in the United States, a pharmacy is pretty much never just a pharmacy.
The Metric System
Only three countries in the world still use the imperial measurement system: the United States, Liberia and Myanmar. People from Europe find it incredibly strange that a wealthy, influential country like the US hasn't switched over to the much more logical metric system, which uses multiples of 10 between units rather than the haphazard numbers familiar to Americans..
A Person's Heritage Is Rooted in Where They Were Born
When you're European, where you live is usually where you’re from as well as where your ancestors were from. A German's lineage is typically from Germany and a Norweigan's lineage is typically from Norway. Americans, on the other hand, are never just American.
Never Checking IDs to Get Into Bars
Unless you look middle-aged or older, plan to get your I.D. checked when going to a bar or even ordering alcohol at a restaurant in the United States. There are strict laws in America against serving alcohol to minors under 21 years of age, and if a bar or restaurant allows it and gets caught, there are hefty fines involved.
You Have to Pay for Water in Restaurants
One reliable thing about dining out or going to bars in the United States is that you always get water for free. In many restaurants, they bring it to you without you even having to ask for it. This is especially convenient for avoiding a hangover the next day when you’re out drinking.
Europeans Often Aren't In a Hurry
As a general rule, people in Europe are in much less of a rush on a daily basis than Americans. If you're at a restaurant, it's a slow experience, and servers won't generally bring you the bill until you ask for it to avoid making people feel rushed.
No One Advertises Prescription Drugs
Because the healthcare system in the United States is for profit, it's normal for drug companies to advertise prescription drugs on television and elsewhere. In Europe, where most countries have universal healthcare, seeing advertisements for prescription drugs is essentially unheard of.
Europe's Grocery Stores Are Not Supersized
In Europe, neighborhood grocery stores are modest in size compared to those in the United States. That could have to do with the fact that many European cities are more compact, so there isn't exactly room to fit a giant inside the city center. It also might be because the cultures in Europe don’t necessarily equate bigger to better.
Restaurant Portion Sizes Are Not More Than You Can Eat
It's common knowledge that the typical portion size in U.S. restaurants is huge, often a lot more than a person can or should eat in one sitting. When you go out to eat in the United States, you can expect to be full or even uncomfortably full when you exit the restaurant.
Servers Are Not Too Involved in Your Dining Experience
When you’re dining out in Europe, interactions with your server are minimal. For the most part, you only talk to them when you need something. That makes sense, as when you and a friend go out to dinner, you're there to spend time with your friend, not the stranger who is taking your order.
There's No Such Thing As Free Refills
If you order a drink at a restaurant in the US, especially a soft drink or coffee, many times, free refills are included. This is true from fast-food restaurants all the way up to some fine dining establishments. Europeans find this custom to be kind of absurd, albeit not necessarily unwelcome.
Higher Education Is Very Affordable
It’s preposterous to Europeans that Americans have to go into massive debt in order to attend a university in their country. To get a four-year college degree in the United States can cost tens and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of dollars. On the other hand, for Europeans, higher education is either very affordable or free.
Grocery Stores Have Limited Choices
At a European grocery store, if you're looking for ketchup, it's normal to find one or two options and nothing more. If you're looking for bread, you might have several options, but nothing overwhelming. If you're looking for salad dressing, you might not find more than a couple bottles to choose from.
Paying to Use the Bathroom
When you're out and about in Europe, using the bathroom isn't always free. Restaurants refusing bathroom access to people who aren’t customers is the rule rather than the exception, malls and stores sometimes charge a small fee to use their bathrooms, too. This is completely normal in Europe.
Cash Is Often a Necessity
Lots of places accept credit cards in Europe, but not all. In many cases, there's also a minimum purchase to be able to use a card, often over $10. That's why it's much more common for Europeans to carry cash: They're likely to encounter a situation where they'll need it.