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"8 Surprising Things You'll Encounter While Traveling in Europe"

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Europe is a beautiful continent full of diverse cultures, traditions, and languages. As a seasoned traveler, I've been fortunate enough to explore many of its countries and cities, and along the way, I've encountered some surprises that I never would have expected. Here are just a few of the surprising things I've encountered on my travels in Europe from an American's point of view.


1. Well-behaved Dogs

One thing that surprised me about traveling in Europe is how well-behaved dogs are here. Unlike in the United States, where dogs are often not allowed on public transportation, dogs are welcomed on trains and buses in many European countries. Additionally, dogs in Europe are somehow incredibly chill and well-mannered. They are so much calmer than their American counterparts, often going unnoticed in restaurants and on trains.

2. English is Common, But Communication Can Be Tricky

While it's true that many Europeans speak English, don't expect to be able to convey complicated things. Europeans often learn English as a second language in school, and their English is far better than most Americans' second language, but they may not be as fluent as you think. Unless you happen to be truly fluent in the local language, don't expect to be able to convey anything but the most basic courtesies and requests. You'll have no problem ordering food and drinks, asking for directions, and talking about basic interests, but the complications of language and vernacular make it difficult to connect with locals and truly understand their culture.

laundry line

3. No Dryers or Garbage Disposals

Another surprise I encountered was the lack of dryers and garbage disposals in European homes. Instead, people tend to hang dry their clothes and dispose of their garbage in separate bins for recycling. We've had a few adventures figuring out the intricacies of these seemingly simple methods.

4. Trains are Awesome, But Not Perfect

European trains are often touted as being fast, extensive, and on time, but in reality, they're not always as efficient as they seem. There are some major benefits to trains in Europe, like the lack of security lines, the ability to bring anything you need onto the train, and the extensive coverage of locations, but don't expect a catch-free experience. Trains are often late and workarounds for outages can be very slow and inconvenient. Strikes, rail maintenance, and mechanical defects cause frequent delays and reroutings, so don't expect a worry-free experience. That said, the convenience is outstanding and well worth some headaches to avoid flying.

5. Quality Over Quantity

Americans hold a pervasive perception of Europeans being lazy, reinforced by slower service and a lax attitude in service-based industries. I've found that the reality is far more nuanced and can be summarized in this way: Europeans value quality over quantity while Americans are willing to sacrifice quality for quantity and speed. Europeans take their time to do things, but they produce high-quality products every time. This is most obvious in the restaurant industry, which is highly competitive in both locations. Europe rarely has large or chain restaurants, but the percentage of high-quality restaurants is far higher than in the US. Frozen dishes heated in the microwave and cookie-cutter menus are not tolerated in Europe, so restaurants with quality ingredients and excellent dishes always win out.

6. Limited Tech Tools

While the US is full of early adopters of new technologies, Europe still lags behind in some areas. Google Maps hours aren't always accurate, websites have only basic information, and user-friendliness is often lacking.


7. Seating Yourself at Restaurants

In Europe, it's more common to seat yourself at restaurants instead of waiting to be seated by a host. This can be a little uncomfortable at first, but it's actually very convenient (even empowering) at most times.

8. Helpful Waitstaff

Speaking of restaurants, one of the best features of European restaurants is that the waitstaff supports all tables, rather than a 1:1 relationship. You can flag down the first waiter you see for help, rather than waiting for your dedicated waiter. European restaurants employ far fewer waiters, but this shared system is far more efficient benefiting the restaurant and customers.

In conclusion, Europe is a continent full of surprises, but that's part of the adventure, and it's what makes traveling so exciting! Have you seen surprising customs in your travels? Please shares them in the comments.

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