Well, it’s my last week of undergrad! I wrote my last paper on Sunday (don’t worry, I’ll read it again before I turn it in) and now I mostly need to do some reading for my remaining classes, French studying, packing, and cleaning. Also, plan my time with my parents here – because they’re coming on Thursday! I’m so excited. As a result of the busyness, I don’t know that I’ll post again this week, but I have my very-thorough college recap post coming on Monday and I will catch up on comment responding. And, of course, I’ll be on Instagram.
I’ve been in Europe for about 10 weeks now, and I’ve traveled a bit within the continent, so I’d say I can pretty fairly judge some of the main differences between the US and Europe.
I certainly didn’t get major culture shock coming here. Overall, being in Western Europe is really a lot like being in the US. People here dress similarly (but with less athleisure), use Facebook, and take pictures of their food. That said, there are some cultural quirks that I noticed that are inconsistent with the American way.
Everybody speaks more than one language. Is that a generalization? Of course, but it’s pretty accurate. Generally, it’s other languages plus English. In most cases, unless you’re passable at the main language, a European will hear your accent and try switching to English. I suppose this could be annoying if you really want to polish your language skills, but honestly, it is usually much appreciated on my end. There are also countries known for not switching to English. France is (accurately) one of those. In Switzerland and Greece, though, my English was met with enthusiasm by locals so they could practice.
The moral of the story is that, sure, people appreciate when you try their language, but if you struggle, they’re usually capable of and happy to help by speaking English.
In cities here, public transportation is everything. Sure, there’s a decent amount of public transportation in large US cities, but Zurich is less than half the size of Columbus, and Zurich operates mostly by a tram system. Ask about public transportation in Columbus and you’ll get a hesitant, “Well, there’s COTA, but…”. Now, as a person who likes driving and the privacy of cars, I don’t love public transportation. That said, it’s done quite well everywhere I’ve been, and I’ve only had about four transportation-related panic sessions in the three months I’ve been here.
The US is a 24/7 culture. It’s the land of early mornings, workaholism, and 24-hour grocery stores, restaurants, and gyms. Most of Europe is totally not like that. Streets feel pretty dead in the mornings and people are more apt to work a standard 40 hours. Grocery stores stay open a little beyond regular business hours to make sure people can swing by after work, restaurants often close for some arbitrary chunk of hours in the middle of the afternoon, and gyms generally don’t open until the beginning of the workday. Sundays are a coin toss, but a lot of things are closed.
Cafe & Restaurant Service
The average US restaurant tries to serve you as quickly as possible while still being welcoming and relaxing. They move your meal along at a reasonable pace and leave the check with you toward the end of the meal. The implication is clear: “Take your time, but not too much.” And if you sit in a coffee shop for an extended period of time, you probably feel obligated to keep ordering something so you’re paying for your seat.
In a restaurant in Europe, everything moves much slower. It’s rare to have a French dinner that is shorter than three hours. You also need to ask for the check at the end of a meal, and the waiters don’t exactly make it easy to catch their eye and ask. You can also just sit somewhere with an empty cup of coffee for as long as you want and no one comes to ask if you need anything else or gives you a check to move you along. Nope, you can just stay there forever.
In Europe, if you order water at a restaurant, it will be bottled and expensive. And if you ask for tap water, because it is totally safe in most places, you’ll often get a dirty look. If you ask for some kind of soda, it will also be bottled and miniature.
Alcohol is pretty much acceptable all the time. I see people at coffee shops with wine or beer on my way to school at 8:45 in the morning. Business people drink on their lunch breaks. Wine and dinner go together.
I don’t know enough about coffee to really speak to this, but coffee is also different here. If you asks for “coffee”, you’ll usually get a teeny tiny little espresso shot, not the cup you’re expecting. To get that, you have to ask for American coffee (or filtered, I believe).
It feels to me like Europe is way behind on this. In the US, I use cash to tip occasionally and I carry a little with me in the event of some crazy emergency. Even the vending machines I use let me use a credit card. Here, cash is a necessity. Plenty of restaurants, some cabs, and stores don’t take cards or have a relatively high minimum payment for cards.
And not only is there a lot of cash, but there are also a lot of coins. Coins are not just worth 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents, but also 1 and 2 euro. If someone owes you 10 euro, there is a high likelihood that they will give you a handful of 2 euro coins.
You can argue that x country eats healthier than y country, but dietary stuff is pretty subjective. Or that drinking so much actually makes a unhealthier than b. However, smoking is like the thing that’s going to kill you tomorrow, and everybody here does it. The most unpleasant part of walking around in Europe is that you will probably have at least three people blow smoke in your face every twenty minutes. You can try to hold your breath around it, but you will fail because it is everywhere.
Do any of these surprise you? Anything you’ve noticed while traveling?
What exciting things are happening in your life this week?