I have been to Europe so many times, that I have lost count. But it was only when I have actually living in Europe for a significant amount of time (more than 6 years now), that I started to notice a lot of differences between Europe and the U.S. Better? Worse? You decide…
Tax & Tipping
In the US, we’re pretty used to added tax, as well as tipping 15-20% for service. In Europe, this doesn’t exist. If you see a price for a sandwich, then that’s the final price – tax has already been added to the price, so that you know exactly what you’ll pay without any surprises. Tipping is not common, but of course you’re welcome to do so.
I guess we can see that in the US we pay for sitting at a table by leaving a 20% tip because if we got the food to-go, then we wouldn’t need to pay the extra money for a tip.
In Europe, a lot of places will charge you more if you sit in or carry out (about $1 or so more, on each food item and drinks). In Italy, there is a “table charge” of about $5 (or more, in really popular places in the center of main squares, for example). I guess if you’re sitting there for awhile and get a lot of food, this isn’t a big deal, but I find this really annoying when I want to just sit and enjoy a coffee, watching the local people pass by.
Americans are very social and talkative (on average), whereas a lot of European countries are a bit more reserved (depending on where). Spain and Italy are more open to social interaction than Scandinavian countries, for sure. Norwegians are weirdly introverted to the point where they don’t even know how to behave with other humans unless they’re completely drunk – then they just parrot what they’ve seen in movies. It’s really bizarre!
Automatic cars are not as common in Europe – everyone and their mother (literally) drives a stick-shift (manual) transmission car.
In the US, however, it’s the opposite – most people learn on an automatic and never feel the need to learn manual.
Stop signs, and even traffic lights, are rare. If there is a 4-way intersection, then there’s most likely a roundabout. There are slowly becoming a bit more popular in the US (although a lot of people in the US still don’t understand them and freak out a little bit when they roll up to one).
Pro: Keeps traffic rollin’
The smaller, the better. Able to drive on small, older streets, better gas mileage (Or perhaps, “petrol kilometerage”? Maybe?), easier to parallel park, etc. Smaller cars just make more sense for space and for your wallet.
The opposite is true for USA – the bigger the better! Most people drive SUVs. Since I’m from the US, I personally love SUVs, but it really isn’t needed for probably 85% of Americans just driving to work and the grocery store.
Europeans are sOoOoOo much better at using alternative transportation methods than cars. Most people use a bicycle to get to/from work, and public transportation in most Europeans cities is so incredibly easy, that it’s not even worth it to have a car.
Americans, on the other hand, drive absolutely everywhere. Granted, the country itself is the size of all of Europe, but nevertheless, it’s a bit weird to me now in the US to go from the house, to the car, to the store, to the car, to a restaurant, to the car, to a friend’s house, to the car, etc. etc. This can all be done with buses, bikes, and walking, everywhere in Europe.
14-18 years old is the standard drinking age in Europe. The most common is 18.
In the USA, you can buy a gun and die for the country at the age of 18, but you can’t drink until 3 years later. How in the world is that ok?
Most countries, I’ve seen a lot of people rolling their own cigarettes. They buy loose tobacco, papers, and filters, and then roll their own. Surprisingly, the smell of this down’t bother me too much, but the smell of cigarettes from a box in the US make me absolutely sick if someone is even next to me smoking.
In Sweden and Norway, everyone “snuses.” Snus are little tiny tobacco packets that you put between your top gum and lip so that the tobacco seeps into your blood stream. The snus packages look like a hockey-puck-sized container.
All the coffee in Europe (Especially southern Europe, like Spain, Italy, France, etc.) ONLY have espresso – there really is no such thing as “drip” coffee. You want weaker watered down coffee? That’s fine – they’ll make you an espresso and put some hot water in it for you… And that’s literally called an “Americano” (even at Starbucks in the US). It’s called an “Americano” because it’s the rest of the world making fun of our weak ass coffee.
Pro: Great coffee, always.
Con: 12 seconds longer to make.
OK, this one I think is the most interesting… When I went food shopping in Spain, I noticed all the milk was in an aisle that was not refrigerated – just sitting there next to the cereal. I stood there for awhile try to wrap my head around this, but it really didn’t make sense to me because milk in the US is ALWAYS cold! In the store, it’s cold… At home, it’s cold…
In Europe, however, they buy a bunch and just store it in the cabinets until they need it (like a box of cereal)!
So I posted this on Facebook and got a lot of response… and I did a little research on my own, and this is what I found out:
Europe uses the pasteurizing method called “UHT” (ULTRA High Temperature) which is super super hot, for about 2 seconds… which then kills pretty much every type of bacteria in it…
USA uses the pasteurizing method called “HT” (High Temperature) which is just pretty hot, for about 15 seconds… which then kills a lot of bacteria in it (pretty much just the bad stuff), but leaves a lot of good bacteria (like what yogurt has)…
So which is better? Depends who you ask. Do you like convenience? Or do you like good bacteria for your stomach?
Pro: Convenience. Easy to store, won’t go bad, always have milk on hand
Con: No good bacteria left in it – just the calcium.
24 hour time instead of AM and PM. We only use this system rarely in the US and dub it as “military time.”
Dinner in the US is usually right after work, around 5pm (17:00), but in some European countries (especially the hotter ones), dinner can be as late as 10/11pm.
Celsius, not Fahrenheit. A LOT easier, once your get used to it… ready?
Memorize these 3 temperatures:
0°C is freezing point (32°F)
20°C is room temperature (68°F)
40°C is disgusting (104°F)
If you can memorize those, then you can make a logical guess of everything in between
If you want more help with conversations while traveling, then check out this article.
Some countries you might find bidets instead of toilet paper.
Clothing, as well as shoes, are different sizes in Europe. For example, my shoe size in the US is 6/7, which is about 38 in Europe. This is also true for shirts and pants.
Speaking of kilometers… Pretty much everyone else in the world uses the metric system, except the US. I was born and raised in NY, and I teach math, and I’m still not 100% sure what we even use! Gallons, pints, quarts, ounces, (liquid ounces in different), cups, etc. Why?!! It’s ridiculous.
Pro: Everything is based on 10 – sOoOoO much easier using metric!
240 (World) vs. 120 (US)
Pro: Devices charge a lot faster everywhere else in the world.
Con: Technology from the US will eventually have a meltdown if charged on 240 repeatedly… My laptop, camera, and cell phone can no longer hold any charge at all. Also, 240 is a bit more dangerous and is more expensive.
Sim card system throughout the world. The US still has phones which are locked to certain carriers and to take it abroad requires a special “international plan.” Of course, decades later, the US is finally starting to move away from this system (AT&T, Sprint, as well as smaller newer companies), but the big provider still have locked phones. Why?!!
Pro: More cell phone flexibility when traveling to other countries.
Con: Must pay for full-priced cell phone, and no “free upgrades” with cell phone providers.
Most European countries provide free higher education.
Pro: No (or much much fewer) student loans, and society is bettered as a whole.
Con: Higher taxes (but not really)
In most countries in Europe, when the clock strikes 4pm/5pm (whatever the end of the work day is), everyone just shuts their laptops and goes home – they could be in the middle of an email, but it doesn’t matter. If the work day is done, then it’s done, that’s it, nothing more to it… Time to go home to family, friends, outdoors, or a couch – whatever you’d like, but work must stop. This is really good for mental health and keeping a healthy balance in life.
Europe also has shorter work days, as well as more vacation days (usually 4-6 weeks of vacation).
They also have one who year off Maternity Leave for new mothers! And Paternity Leave for new fathers (not a whole year, but still a lot of time)!
In Norway (I’m not sure about the other countries), not only do you get sick days for yourself, but you also get sick days for each child you have. This way, if your child is sick, you can stay home from work to be with them and not have that count against your own sick days.
In Europe, they use A#. Basically if you start with A1 and fold it in half, you’ll get two A2 papers. If you fold A2 in half, you’ll get to A3 papers… and so on, and so forth (forever).
The standard paper in printer is A4, so you’ll sometimes hear Europeans say use this as a term for a boring person in life – “Yeah he was nice, but he was too A4 for me” – meaning a person is just in the box, nothing wild, simple, plain, planned out, boring.
In the US, the stardard paper in the printer is called “Eight and a Half by Eleven” – that’s actually how we say it! This is because the dimensions of the paper are 8.5 inches by 11 inches.
Out of the top 10 most efficient health care systems in the entire world, Europe holds 4 of those 10 spots (according to this infographic). I avoid politics like the plague, so that’s all I’m going to say about that…
Again, pretty political, but it’s pretty crazy that a lot of countries in the world don’t even arm their police officers and still have less shootings overall in a decade than the US has in a week (more or less). It’s insane, and sad…
I can’t speak for most countries, but I know that the jail in Norway is amazing. If you check out pictures of a jail cell in Norway, I swear it’s a better set up than most college dorm rooms! Here in Norway, they even let the prisoners go to court on their own! They’re given a train/bus ticket and told to be back by a certain time. Jail in Europe is about reform and being integrated back into society. Norway has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world. Only 20% of Norway’s formerly incarcerated population commit another crime within two years of release. The U.S. has one of the highest: 76.6% of prisoners are rearrested within five years.
In the US, we have a two party system (where both are pretty fucked up, honestly). In most European countries, there are multiple parties (all big parties, where your vote isn’t “lost” if you vote for who you like). The two parties of the US (both) are ultra mega conservative on the spectrum of politics in Europe.
If you’re curious about specific conversions, check out this article which will help you when you travel =)