What Americans Get Wrong in Europe: How Many Are You Guilty Of?

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Daniel is a copywriter who has well and truly been bitten alive by the 'travel bug'. After ticking off several North American National Parks and exploring Europe by train, his sights are now set on South East Asia. Usually with at least one camera locked and loaded, you'll find Daniel wherever there are mountains, lakes or beaches.

Europe has a range of cultures and customs that many Americans can get wrong. 

From misconceptions about coffee orders to the art of tipping, let’s dive into the most common mistakes Americans make when exploring the continent.

Using Planes Instead of Trains

Train in Europe
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Unlike in America, Europe has extensive and well-connected railway networks. Often times it is significantly cheaper, and far less stressful, to hop aboard a train than deal with airport security, baggage loss worries, and terrible airline food.

Europe is also known for its Eurail service, where you can purchase tickets that grant you access to almost every EU nation. There’s nothing quite like watching the world go by from your cozy train compartment and finding yourself in a new country within just a few hours.

Over Tipping

Mostly empty tip jar
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In many European countries, tipping is exactly that, giving someone money on top of their actual working wage. Workers don’t rely on tips for all of their income, so you don’t need to stress yourself with how much to give. A general rule of thumb is to leave a 10% tip and more if you really feel the service was great!

Not Flagging Down Servers

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As waitstaff get a normal wage, and don’t rely entirely on tips, service in Europe may seem a little less attentive. Your server is unlikely to be constantly checking on you, so it’s your job to get their attention as they walk by. It’s not rude to politely ask for another drink or another food order. Try to catch their eye or slightly raise your hand, it will feel weird at first, but it’s completely normal here!

Asking For Big Portions and Unlimited Beverages

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If you’re used to huge American plates of food and unlimited sodas, pretty much all of Europe is going to be a shock to the system. With a focus on flavor and presentation, your food orders might seem a little small. Also, never ask for a “free refill”; that’s simply not a thing, and you’ll only get a confused look from the waitstaff.

Not Realizing Europeans Use Different Times and Dates

24 hour clock
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P.m. and a.m. aren’t so much of a big deal for our European brothers and sisters. They prefer using a 24-hour clock that’s written in military time. Let’s say your flight is at 04:00, that means 4 a.m., if you’re looking for a 4 p.m. flight, then book for 16:00.

Oh, and swap the month and day around when writing the date. September 8th, 2023 won’t be 09/08/2023 but 08/09/2023. Oddly, America is the only country in the world to write the date in that format – go figure! 

Sticking to American Food

Top Kentucky Vacation Spots
LOS ANGELES, CA/USA – NOVEMBER 16, 2014: Traditional KFC restaurant sign. KFC is a fast-food restaurant chain that specializes in fried chicken and is the world’s second-largest restaurant chain.

Listen, sometimes we miss home, and a delicious Big Mac or chicken bucket is all it takes to feel a slice of familiarity. But it would be a real shame to not indulge in the cuisine of each nation you visit. From traditional Italian pizza (sorry, no deep dish here) to trying out some French snails (yep, they really do eat them), Europe is home to some of the best food in the world.

Asking For Your Regular Coffee Order

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In the U.S., asking for “coffee” gets you drip coffee, while in Europe, it prompts the question, “What kind?” Drip coffee is uncommon in Europe, often found at places like Starbucks, and termed filter coffee. Most European coffee options are espresso-based. For an American-style coffee, go for an Americano, or if you prefer milk, look for café au lait, white coffee, or a latte. Another substitute is Nescafé (instant coffee), commonly seen on European menus.

Bringing a Massive Suitcase

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A surefire way to spot an American in Europe is to look out for anyone flailing around trying to control a massive suitcase while navigating hilling, cobblestoned streets. If you can, use a smaller-sized case or, better even, a large enough backpack. Europe is home to some of the most beautiful but quirky buildings, where elevators are rare and old, and spiraled staircases are common.

Trying to Visit Too Many Countries

Americans Get Wrong
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It might be tempting to pack in as many countries as you can while in Europe. After all, opportunities to be there are limited, and everything seems so conveniently close! But trying to visit the entire continent is draining and unenjoyable. In most areas, you’ll want to commit to at least seven days before moving on. That way, you can see the main attractions but also get in some downtime to recharge for your next destination.

Visiting in August

Santorini overcrowded
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If you’ve ever worked with Europeans, you’ll know that pretty much the entire continent seems to take a month-long siesta in August. Combine that with stifling heatwaves and you’ll be heading to a very packed, very hot vacation, and very expensive vacation. Spring and fall are beautiful across Europe, and both seasons offer far more reasonable prices when traveling!

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Arches National Park
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