Americans in Europe, Don’t Be Shocked!
So, you want to travel and experience the world in its entirety, and you’re doing it! It was a long time coming, surely, and now it is time to go see the world outside of your own. This means you must take the good with the bad, the ebbs and the flows, the flaws and the awes. There will be wonderful moments that make you feel complete and full of life, and there will be challenging ones that will make you homesick. The trick is to maintain your wanderlusting self all the way through and to remember that every difficult experience makes you a better traveler–and more importantly, a better person.
There will be wonderful moments that make you feel complete and full of life, and there will be challenging ones that will make you homesick.
Since I quit my job and left to go travel, I have been through hellish experiences that made me panic, cry like a baby or call Mom for a pep talk, and trust me, you will go through them, too. But (and this is important!), at the end of each situation I realize how strong I am. When you travel alone, you are forced to just figure it out–on your own.
To take away some of your upcoming culture shock, there are some things we Americans in Europe should expect and not expect. So, don’t be shocked, but here is what I have learned in Europe so far:
1. Customer service, as you know it, doesn’t exist.
The customer is not always right, so don’t act entitled. It will get you the exact opposite of what you want or need. We are spoiled with a very customer service (tipping) based culture in America. Many other countries do not have this norm and you will not receive the same service you may get back home. Being snappy/stern to your waiter when your meal is 30 minutes late at a restaurant back home may earn you a free appetizer; in Europe, it may earn you a very uncomfortable meal with even worse service than you were getting in the first place. Remember, you are not in your comfort zone here, and that’s one reason why you’ve chosen to travel.
2. Restrooms may lack the essentials.
Restrooms with toilet paper, soap, water and towels can be a novelty. Also, many restrooms are gender neutral.
3. Water is NOT a basic human right.
European restaurants will charge you for water. You can ask for tap water (be careful with that, though) but some places will not serve anything other than paid bottled water.
4. Don’t expect English to be the language of the world.
Yes, there are many English-speaking people around the world and usually someone who can help you, but it is pompous and rude to expect that everyone speaks English. I have really struggled with this one. I highly recommend learning a few phrases in the language of the country you plan to visit. Locals appreciate a little effort.
5. Skin and sex are not taboo topics in Europe.
Sunbathing topless will get you a lot of strange looks in the States, but in Europe, it is the norm. Yesterday, I saw two naked men and countless topless women on a beach in Barcelona (and it was not even the nude beach). The good news: no tan lines and feelings of liberation!
6. Food is just not the same–and that’s a good thing!
My recent example: thinking I wanted a “piece of home” by going into Starbucks for my usual iced coffee and finding out they “don’t do that here.” Stay away from the American chains. You had access to them at home. Now, venture out and around and try as much authentic, local food and drink as possible. Fun fact: no one in Europe knows what ranch dressing is. Whoa.
7. Hold on to your money, honey.
Prices are more fluid outside of the U.S. Oftentimes you can negotiate a better deal. Trying this has pushed me out of my comfortable credit-card-swiping zone and I am getting better at it!
What’s that? America is notorious for its overworked, over-planned and over-scheduled masses. Don’t be too taken aback when you see the rest of the world does not operate on the same time frame as you. Be flexible and enjoy the ride.
While the little things listed above will make you stop and take a minute to get your bearings in your new environment, perhaps the most shocking thing you will encounter is yourself. You will surprise yourself every single day with what you are willing to do to survive and to keep pursuing your dream. You will get through very long, excruciating travel days, uncomfortable situations and hard times, and you will change on the spot. Soon you will look in the mirror at a new version of yourself–a better, stronger version.
You will discover all of these things and so much more as you travel in a new place. The beauty lies in the differences you’ll find from your world back home and in having new experiences. While “culture shock” is a very real thing and can shake you to your core sometimes, the gifts traveling can bring you are worth any temporary discomfort. Put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. If I can do it, anybody can! Life is out there in every size, shape, color, language and culture. Get out there and see it all!