20 differences between the U.S. and Europe
TEFL Worldwide Prague Graduate Kenny Parris, shares his observations while living and teaching English in Europe.
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So as I started to settle into my new lifestyle in Europe, I noticed things that I realized were different than what I was used to. This would happen frequently, almost daily, so I started keeping notes in my phone of all the differences between back home and abroad. No matter how big or small, I thought it would be a great way to remember what things I had to get adjusted too, before they eventually became normal to me. Also, I tend to forget things later on and I knew when I went back home people would ask me what differences I noticed. So in an effort to not get stuck on the question, I planned to use my notes as an answer. Here, I list 20 things I’d like to share that are different between the nations. Some I’d say are more exclusive to Prague, but throughout my European travels, I’d say most are applicable to many countries within the continent. So here we go:
- Restaurants – Free water, refills and condiments – Free water?….what free water? That’s just not a thing at many places, or you have to go out of your way to specifically ask for tap water. Otherwise, when you ask for water they’ll bring it to you in a nice glass bottle, which you’ll see charged to the bill in the end. Also don’t forget to say “still” or “no gas” water, because the 1st preference here is sparkling. Don’t expect ice-water either, maybe it’ll be cold from being in the fridge, but ice doesn’t get served in drinks nearly as much (frequency and quantity) as in the US. Oh and when you’re looking at the cost of water on your bill, just look right below it for the cost of the bread that the waiter offered you (how am I paying for it when you offered?!) and the ketchup, bbq sauce or mustard. But don’t worry, because at least mayo will be free with orders of fries sometimes. It’s a European thing.
- Pay for public bathrooms – Travel from country to country and you’ll see several outdoor “Toilet” signs. Great right? After all that walking, there’s a bathroom at your convenience. Just make sure you have the equivalent of 50 cents to pay for it. Fast food places will charge you to use the bathrooms as well. The best way to get around this is to just go to a mall and use it in there. I think that strategy works anywhere around the world.
- No leashes on dogs – I can’t say this is everywhere in Europe, but DEFINITELY this is the case in Prague. The dogs are like people here and no one walks with a leash on them! Sometimes you’ll see a dog way down the block with no owner in sight; but no, no, no, it’s not a stray dog…the owner is just still around the corner, on the previous block, across the street, waiting for the walk signal to change. Dogs have free reign here, and I got to admit, they are VERY well-trained so there’s nothing to worry about.
- Dogs allowed everywhere – Speaking of dogs, they are allowed just about anywhere. In the malls, restaurants, trams, metro/subway. It was really odd seeing that at first, but their good behavior allows for this to eventually just become commonplace.
- Drinking age and ID checks – The legal drinking age is 18 mostly everywhere, but the “actual” or “expected” drinking age is well below that. There’s a certain level of tolerance and acceptance that’s present in Europe with drinking, that just isn’t the case in the US. It’s ironically comforting actually, because although people start drinking younger here, and they don’t ID check at bars, still no one acts out of control. Drinking is such a social gathering activity, and Europeans take full advantage of that aspect of their lives. Again, as loose as the drinking policies are, no one acts out of their element. So don’t be the American nuisance!
- Name days – This was something that was new to me. In many European countries, each day of the year represents a special celebratory day for someone’s name. It’s basically a second birthday, and some people even consider it bigger than their birthday.
- Nudity – Americans get wild and crazy, but there’s still this nationwide reservation when it comes to nudity. Europeans are just the exact opposite. Many of us have heard about the famous nude beaches, in places such as Barcelona. I’ve even seen someone go topless at a public pool in Prague, with many people around. The people here are just way more comfortable with the idea of no clothing. A note for guys: In the men’s locker room of the gym, the guys are extra comfortable with nudity, so be prepared.
- Free education – I’d heard about this a little bit before I moved, but wasn’t aware of the extent of it. Here alone in the Czech Republic, students can get their Bachelor’s and Master’s degree completely paid for. It’s such an amazing thing that the system is set in place to create these opportunities for students. The idea of paying back student loans for 10+ years is completely foreign to many people here. I remember talking to a French guy about the price of colleges in America, and he was astounded at the fact that we had to pay for school.
- Paying for grocery bags – Put this in that “water, bread and condiments” category because these aren’t coming free! Bring a reusable bag, or do like I’d do and bring a backpack.
- Use of British English – Vacation or holiday? College or University? Flat or apartment? Mobile or cell? SMS or text? Queue or line? Trousers or pants? I’d switch back and forth so many times based on who I was talking to just to be more relatable! It’s a cool thing that even though it’s the same language, English, it can be so different based on where it’s being used. That’s the fun part though, we as native speakers get to expand our vocabulary or change our style a bit when we speak.
- Don’t rush you or bother you in restaurants – This is one of my favorite parts about European dining, THEY DON’T ANNOY YOU! No one is constantly coming to your table, interrupting your conversation to see if everything is alright. They’re also not rushing you out to get the next group in. This is probably because they’re not working for a multitude of tips like American servers. They allow the dining experience to be just that, an experience. On the flipside, this can get a bit frustrating when you’re in a rush, because you will have to flag down the server sometimes. All in all, you definitely feel a sense of ease when dining.
- Portable credit card machine in restaurants – This is great when it comes to the topic of fraud. No need to worry about a waiter taking your card to the back, because they’ll always swipe right in front of you with the portable machine.
- Paying with cash most places – However, the only way for them to swipe your credit card is of course if they even accept credit cards. In the US, we’re almost a cashless society. You can literally go a whole week without any cash on you and just swipe for every purchase. Not over here though. Whether it be a restaurant or certain shops, you’re always going to find yourself in a “cash only” situation, and after a while you’ll learn to always carry some on you.
- Tip/tax –Tips aren’t as required as in the US, instead it’s more of a tip at your own discretion. And if you do decide to tip, 10% will suffice, none of that 18-20% stuff over here! Of course, higher end restaurants will expect a tip, and I’ve even seen it written on the bill and servers mention that “tip isn’t included”. But mostly, it’s your choice. Also in regard to price, what you see is what you get. Tax isn’t tacked on to the bottom of the food bill in many places, as it’s already figured into the price of the meal.
- Some places have no A/C – Central air conditioning isn’t omnipresent as much as you’re probably used to. Someone may or may not have an A/C unit in their flat or office, or even a restaurant, so the window will be your source of ventilation. This isn’t really a big issue though, as larger establishments such as grocery stores or malls will be well-ventilated at all times.
- So many coins! – Get ready to have heavy pockets or wallet/purse! Mostly all of the countries, regardless of the currency, use a wide range of coins for their smaller units. It can get frustrating at times carrying all those coins (especially those 1 and 2 cent/crown ones!). We have a tendency in the US to devalue coins and use them as just some spare change. But in Prague for example, the 50kc coin is pretty significant and can buy you a lot more than 50 cents can get you in the US. So don’t treat it as scrap money, it has good value!
- Maternity leave – Americans can seriously be workaholics, to the point where the quality of life can be sacrificed. Women will conceive, and then be back at work within a month or two! So imagine what it was to my surprise when I found out that women in the Czech Republic actually get 2 – 3 YEARS, yes, YEARS, of maternity leave! Crazy right?! And even better, the company will continue to pay them a percentage of their salary during this time. It’s wonderful that mother’s get to be in their child’s life so much in the earliest years, without the stress of work.
- Public Transportation– Europe is just better than America at this, point blank, period. Buses, trams, metros, they’re all there for your convenience in every country you go to. You can even go an alternate route and rent a bike, as many places have designated bike lanes throughout the cities. Try biking in Amsterdam, and it will change your life!
- FroYo/gelato – America has a FroYo (Frozen Yogurt) craze and Europe has a gelato craze. You can find both in each place, but you’ll notice one more than the other. Both are amazing, so eat as much as you can wherever you are!
- Personal space – We Americans kind of have an unwritten “2 feet (60 cm) of distance” rule when talking to each other or standing near a stranger. That gets lost a bit in Europe, especially when on public transportation. Also, you may not hear an apology when someone cuts you off while walking or brushes your shoulder. But of course, this is also the case in places like New York!
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