One of the greatest things about traveling is seeing how other people around the world live. We all are humans and have the same human needs, we just tend to go about satisfying those needs differently.
Going out to eat, what people wear, how people interact, and other cultural differences are so fascinating to see and experience when you travel.
Here are a few (kind of random) observations of differences I've come across as an American traveling in Europe over the past several years:
1. It's not common to have ice cubes in water or soft drinks, and iced coffee is pretty much nonexistent.
You'll notice that water and soft drinks will come to the table with no ice, different than being half-filled with ice in the US.
Iced coffee is also very hard to find outside of a Starbucks or McDonald's (American chains)... I only went to Starbucks once during my last trip - it was a 15 hour work day and an iced coffee emergency!
I try to avoid hitting up Starbucks abroad as the local coffee tastes better and is often cheaper, but I always see if I can get ice cubes!
I get THE weirdest looks when asking for ice cubes for my coffee though. So many people would shake their head in bewilderment that I would drink iced coffee. Even if I told them I was from the US and it is a very "American" thing to do, they'd still be puzzled, haha...
Maybe one of these days I'll learn to like hot drinks...
2. Water is not free at restaurants
Most restaurants do not automatically give you free ice water like they do in the US. Sometimes if you ask for tap water, they may give it to you, but usually you order it and pay for it. You'll have the choice of still or sparkling water.
Oftentimes it comes cold and bottled, with a glass if you choose to pour.
If you drink water like a fish and don't want to spend a ton of money on multiple waters while eating out, get bottled water at grocery stores to sip on and stay hydrated in between meals.
Side note: tap or bottled water was served at restaurants for free everywhere I went in Iceland.
3. Tip less for restaurants or services than you would in the US
Tipping culture is at an extreme in the US: 20% or up is standard at restaurants and you usually tip 10-20% for other services (like nails, taxi, massage, etc.) Not tipping the standard amount is considered rude of the guest and a slight to the person providing the service.
It depends on the country, but most restaurants in Europe accept 5-10% of the bill for the tip. Sometimes you just round up to the nearest even number.
If you pay with a credit card and sign the receipt, there is no line for you to add a tip like there is in the US. In this case, if you want to tip on the card, tell the server how much. So if the bill is 9 euros and you want to round up to 10, tell them to put 10 euros on the card.
It's tough to get out of the high-tipping-mindset when you're in Europe. I remember my first visit to Europe five years ago and feeling so weird giving a "small tip" instead of 20%...just know that they will think you're weird if you overtip them!
(And servers get paid normal salaries, not $2-5/hour like in the US).
Tipping varies all around the world, and it is very important to know what the "tipping culture" is when you're traveling. A quick Google search usually tells you what you need to know!
4. No host stands at restaurants
It's rare to see a host stand at a restaurant in many parts of Europe, where you wait for a staff to greet you and seat you at a table.
Simply find an open table, grab a seat, and the server will come up to take your order.
I wonder if this also has to do with the size of restaurants in Europe being somewhat smaller than those in the US. It would be easier to scan the room and notice who just sat down. Though I'm not really sure.
5. Paying for public restrooms
Make sure to have 50 cents to a euro or so on hand for using public restrooms.
Either you'll put your change into a coin slot to enter, or go through a turnstile machine and get a ticket, or there will be an attendant expecting a tip (like in Las Vegas, but minus the perfume and lotions on the counter).
Sometimes foreigners (especially those who don't pay for public restrooms at home) will try to sneak past or crawl under the turnstile to avoid paying the 50 cents because they think it's "wrong" to charge. Just pay it!
The money goes toward keeping the restroom clean and stocked with soap, toilet paper, etc. If there's a person by a tip bowl, know that that's their job.
Don't be rude and ignorant about this.
6. "Multivitamin" is a juice flavor
I've never heard of multivitamin juice prior to visiting Europe and to be honest, I'm still not totally sure what it exactly is...except for the fact that it tastes good!
On my last trip the multivitamin juice was usually on tap next to the orange juice at hotel buffets.
7. Soft pretzels "bretzeln" are everywhere in Munich
My first visit to Munich, Germany was for Oktoberfest, so when I saw the soft pretzels everywhere I thought it was to celebrate the traditional snack during the festival season.
Upon visiting Munich again this summer, I saw the bretzeln available at restaurants and cafes throughout the city!
I definitely enjoyed this as soft pretzels are some of my favorite snacks to eat in Germany and Austria.
8. Nutella is everywhere and peanut butter is hard to come by
Nutella in Europe is like peanut butter in the US, except Nutella is acceptable for breakfast (pastries or on toast), or on desserts any other time of day.
Nutella croissants are my personal favorite and I always find myself succumbing to their deliciousness while in Europe!
I've never seen peanut butter at a restaurant, hotel buffet, or cafe in Europe. You can usually find mini peanut butter jars at grocery stores if you are craving it though - and usually, it's in the same aisle as Nutella!
9. People dress up
Unlike your former college campus or suburban town in the US, baggy sweatpants and "I'm-wearing-gym-clothes-but-not-actually-going-to-the-gym" outfits aren't really seen outside of, well, the home or the gym.
People tend to always look put together, even in casual outfits (think skinny jeans and clean daytime sneakers like Converse) when out and about or running errands.
Baggy sweats with flip flops and messy hair may work for a Target run back home, though you don't really see that in European cities.
10. Have cash with you
Some places don't accept credit card, or only take card if you are paying 10 euros or more. You may not find out until you are about to pay, and you don't want to be screwed if you don't have any cash on you.
Though if you are paying with your credit or debit card, make sure it has a chip. When I used my card in Europe I never used my card's swipe function since they've been using the chip system for years.
Book a Place to Stay in Europe
My all-time favorite booking website is the well-known Booking.com - I’ve used it for years all over the world.
It is the easiest way to search and find the best hotels (hostels too!), especially based on reviews. I always check the reviews on Booking, even if it’s a name-brand hotel. You never know!