15 Things European Countries Do Differently That The U.S. Should Learn From

Many Americans love traveling across Europe but are sometimes surprised by unexpected differences in conversation, culture, terminology, and behavior expectations.

If you’re considering a journey to Europe this year, you might encounter these 16 differences on your travels.

1. Restaurants: Free Water

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Don’t expect free water in Europe, and if you ask for tap water, note the involuntary response. Tap water! How common. If you don’t specify your preference, a nice glass bottle of water will appear on the table, and you may notice a fee on your final bill. If you want iced water, you’ll need to ask for it.

2. Use of British English

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Many European countries use British English because that’s how the language is taught. Subsequently, they may be confused when you ask for a fanny pack or a pair of pants. In Europe, “pants” means undergarments, not trousers. If you’re on vacation and you cannot make yourself understood, it could be you’re confusing Europeans with American English terminology.

3. Paying To Use Public Bathrooms

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Don’t expect to use a public loo for free in Europe because although there are plenty of signs for public toilets, you’ll pay around 50 cents for the privilege. While we appreciate there’s a cost to maintain toilets so they’re clean and hygienic, some public toilets in Europe are graffiti-filled, stinky, and unpleasant.

4. Dogs Are Allowed Everywhere

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Not everyone likes dogs; you don’t see many dogs in American public restaurants. However, in Europe, dogs are treated like family and welcomed on trams, the metro, restaurants, and the mall. Surprisingly, unlike many unruly American woofers, European dogs are better behaved than most children.

5. No Leashes On Dogs

Woman playing with pet dog
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In some European countries, dogs wander around without leads. They’re not stray dogs, either. Most dogs are well-trained and return to their side with a quick whistle from their owners. In the United States, dogs are primarily on leashes, and nobody wants to walk streets full of dog poop with no owner around to shout abuse at.

6. Drinking Age And ID Checks

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In most countries, the legal drinking age is strictly 18. In most European countries, there’s a more relaxed attitude towards underage drinking. Young people seem more in control of their drinking habits. Drinking (without excess) is part of the European social culture; few bars and restaurants ask for an I.D.

7. Paying For Grocery Bags

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Europe takes caring for the environment seriously. To minimize the use of plastics, stores charge a small fee for plastic grocery bags. You’re welcome to bring bags of your own. Indeed, that is an encouraged activity for grocery customers.

8. Public Transportation

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Europe generally has a better transportation network than America. It’s easy to move around using metros, trams, or buses. Many European countries, like Amsterdam, encourage a bike culture, with many Europeans buying or renting a bike to travel rather than using a car.

9. Free Education

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American college education costs are high — six figures in many cases — unless students can get a scholarship. In some parts of Europe, it’s possible to get a Master’s or Bachelor’s degree for free. Europeans value gaining an education as a benefit to the working environment rather than an expensive accolade around a student’s neck.

10. European Dining

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Dining in Europe is a more relaxing and quality experience than dining out in America. You don’t feel like you’re a customer on a conveyor belt, rushing to eat your food so the restaurant can get the next group to your table. While that sounds heavenly, you might find the service frustrating if you expect your server to be attentive when you need them. Settle back and enjoy.

11. Tips And Tax

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Tips are not generally mandatory in Europe. You can choose if and how much you want to tip. No hidden taxes pop up mysteriously on your bill, and even in top-end restaurants that state “tip is not included,” it does not mean tipping is compulsory. If you decide to tip, 10% is sufficient, unlike America, where it’s creeping up to the expectation of paying as much as a 20% tip.

12. Paying With Cash

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America is fast becoming a cashless society as we depend on whipping out the debit or credit card to pay for goods. You could easily exist without cash in your pocket. In Europe, it’s the opposite. Some establishments are “cash only” and don’t take cards. When visiting Europe, make sure you have some cash to flash.

13 Portable Credit Card Machine In Restaurants

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Portable credit card machines reduce the risk of fraud because the transaction happens before you. If an establishment takes your card to the back to swipe it, it increases the risk of fraud.

14. Maternity Leave

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Work-life balance can be challenging in America as the work-until-you-drop culture encourages a nation of workaholics. In the U.S., there’s an unwritten expectation that new mothers should return to work as quickly as possible, often within three months. Some European countries, like the Czech Republic, encourage women to take up to three years’ maternity leave and continue paying a percentage of their salary until they return!

15. Personal Space

dining outside
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Personal space is less of an issue in Europe compared to some American states, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. If you’re comfortable with a 2′ to 3′ distance between strangers, expect to feel agitated by Europeans crowding your space. They may come across as rude because they won’t apologize if they bump into you or stand too close.

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