Undoubtedly the world we live in is an incredibly diverse place, and with 195 countries in existence today, it isn’t difficult to see why. For every culture has a history; some are longer and date back further than others, and many more are heavily influenced by the impact that older countries have had on their development; but, as a point of pride, each on is uniquely their own. However, whether you choose to attribute it to human nature and our incessant need to group and categorize things or not, we have put together many countries and nations that were born from European decent and labeled them the “Western World.”
Europe, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand all fall under this category as all were born as we know them today from European emigrants who spoke a European language as their mother-tongue. The culture of the Western World was heavily influenced by the traditions of the Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, Age of Enlightenment and came to fruition through the expansive colonialism that was rampant between the 15th and 20th centuries.
While it can be confusing considering countries that are so far apart geographical as part of the same subsection, the influences on politics, government, and religion cannot be denied. It also doesn’t help that as these countries grew and came into their own, with a more noticeable divide in the culture becoming apparent. And perhaps no divergence is more noticeable than that between the United States and Europe.
“How different could it be?” you might ask yourself, especially knowing that it was Europeans who came and settled here and are in a large part responsible for the country we know today. Although difficult to pinpoint when it happened, somewhere along the way, American culture diverged and began to adopt its own standards, beliefs, and practices, many of which today, are quite different from those found in Europe. In fact, you need only ask an American who was recently in Europe to learn how different it really is – so different, that many Americans are shocked by what they see on the other side of the pond.
So in case your passport has expired or you have no plans of visiting Europe in the near future, we have decided to bring Europe to you by reviewing 12 things that shock Americans when they visit Europe – and we will let you be the judge of who is doing “culture” right.
A prime example of this is the abundance of remnants from two world wars which can be seen all over the place. Many buildings have visible lines across them where new bricks and mortar were used to rebuild after they were bombed. In Germany and the Czech Republic, many towns still have anti-tank hedgehogs stick out all around their borders and along main roads. Many attribute this to the relaxed demeanor of many Europeans, and others feel that they leave it there as a constant reminder of the cost of war.
If you walk into a restroom and expect to see soap, water, towels and in some cases toilet paper, you might be in for a surprise. In fact, you might simply just find a hole in the ground. On top of that, most restrooms in Europe are gender neutral and in some countries, you might even have to pay to use a public facility.
Word to the wise though, it can be tricky if all you know how to speak is English, because, despite popular belief, not everyone will go out of their way so that you can understand them just because you speak English, for that is a poor construct that can truly infuriate even the most kind-hearted of Europeans.
Typically in America, if you were to walk into a Starbucks or another coffee house, you will wait in line, place your order, pay, and wait for your order to come up with a takeout cup. And while some people actually do sit down to enjoy their drink, much more will take it to go, hop in their cars and go about their day. In Europe however, many cafes don’t even offer a take out a cup, nor do they have a counter for you to go to and order. You are expected to sit down, be served by a waiter or waitress and enjoy your beverage at a table. And while this concept might be a little taboo to many Americans, you can’t argue with how relaxed most Europeans seem (and how they also seem to live longer on the whole than Americans do).
European restaurants will charge you for water, and that is pretty much constant across the board. And while you can ask for tap water (although we wouldn’t recommend it), there are many places that will refuse to serve you anything other than a paid bottle of water. Couple this fact with the lack of customer services and you might be in trouble if you don’t know what to expect before you make the trip.
OK, we’ll admit that “People Look Like People” might have you scratching your head, but after this explanation, we think you’ll agree.
In America, there is a huge (no pun intended) problem with obesity. And oddly enough, on the opposite end of the spectrum, it is quite common to run into people who like they spend 20 hours a day in the gym and are frighteningly muscular. While we are not here to body shame anyone, the fact remains that the people of Europe are generally smaller, leaner and have what would typically be considered a healthy physique. And while arguably there is better food in Europe, it does leave you to wonder what the differences in our cultures help to propagate this fact.
If you are going to the movies, you can enjoy a glass of wine at the theater. Going to a museum, you can have a beer while you look at the masterpieces. In fact, a majority of fast food restaurants, some of which are familiar in North America, actually serve alcohol. Is this a testament to the European ability to not drink to excess or is it simply an archaic lack of judgment? Well, we will let you decide, but we’ll just leave the fact that in comparison to Americans, Europeans have a much lower rate of alcohol related incidences.
In the US, in order for a person to see nudity they usually have to purchase a risqué magazine, watch an adult movie, or go to a strip club (not including your own personal adventures). However, in Europe, it is very common to see men and women naked on television, in newspapers and magazines (that you don’t need to be 18 years old to buy), on billboards and in some countries, even dancing in shop windows. And if you are planning on going to the beach while in Europe, be sure to remember that just about every beach is potentially a nude beach. Just remember not to stare.
In America, men are typically taught that it is rude to stare at women, especially long, lingering, border line creepy stares. However in Europe, looking at women seems to be par for the course, and this can often be unnerving for first-time female travelers.
Here, when a man stares at a woman, they will often do so as casual as possible, and if they are noticed, they will quickly turn away and act like they hadn’t done anything. In Europe, men seem quite content to leer at the opposite sex and women, well, I don’t want to say that they enjoy it, but they do seem to be used to it. Perhaps that is why Parisian women have such a reputation for never smiling or making eye contact – and who could blame them.