We know travel plans are impacted right now. But to fulfill your wanderlust, we’ll continue to share stories that can inspire your next adventure.
With its fascinating history, mouth-watering food, cosmopolitan megacities and charming villages, it’s easy to see why travelers flock to Europe. There’s nothing quite like ascending the Eiffel Tower at night, sampling wine in the Tuscan countryside or strolling along Amsterdam’s canals — as long as you follow certain customs and traditions, that is!
Yes, Europe is amazing. Just make sure you understand military time and the metric system, can drive a stick shift and know better than to plug in your hairdryer. For first-time visitors, trying to figure out the continent’s nuances can lead to embarrassing or uncomfortable situations that can sour a holiday.
Thankfully, we’re here to help you learn what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. Read on to learn about some of the most common mistakes Americans make in Europe and helpful tips on how to avoid them at all costs.
Believing You Have the Right to Go
It’s as if the European Union (EU) had been waiting for an excuse to not allow Americans into its borders. On July 1, 2020, the EU lifted its travel restriction ban (previously set in place due to the pandemic) to certain countries that they didn’t see as a threat to spreading the disease.
What country was not on that list? Yep, you guessed it. The United States.
Especially during the current climate, check all travel restrictions before booking a flight to European countries right now.
Or if you see an amazing deal you can’t refuse, make sure to book a flight that has a good cancellation policy or no flight change fee.
Assuming Everyone Speaks English
Many Europeans have made an effort to learn English, so why not return the favor? Speaking a bit of the local language can go a long way, especially if you plan on going off-the-beaten-path.
You don’t have to be fluent, but knowing key phrases like “Buon Giorno” or “Wie geht es Ihnen” will earn you more respect than trying to communicate through drawings or awkward hand gestures.
Using Planes Instead of Trains
Europe has well-connected and extensive railways, but many travelers are tempted by budget airlines offering rock-bottom prices.
But when you factor in the time it takes to get between the city and these airports, not to mention those long security lines before your flight, traveling by train can still be a far better use of time and money.
Gratuities are a great way to show your appreciation, but they aren’t necessary in Europe, where service charges are already built into a restaurant’s prices.
Even for exceptional service, tipping an extra 10 percent is considered generous.
Expecting Big Portions and Unlimited Beverages
Aside from wearing socks with sandals, asking for a “free refill” in Europe is one of the most embarrassing things an American tourist can do. While we love to supersize our drinks in the U.S., Europe offers more modest pours (for soda, anyway, wine and beer is a different story).
The same applies to food, where the emphasis is put on the amount of flavor, not the size of the plate. On the bright side, you’ll have plenty of room for dessert.
Thinking Bread and Water Are Free
Many diners assume water is free, just like at home, but when a server asks you if you want still or sparkling (or gas, depending on the country), be prepared to pay for it.
The same goes for bread and, gasp, even the butter.
While the charges are small, if you’re on a tight budget, it’s best to skip the sparkling and cut the carbs.
Of course, if you’re a huge bread lover, it never hurts to do your research before. Countries like France (where eating bread is like brushing your teeth) do typically serve bread for free.
Eating American Food
We don’t blame you if you’re not into trying fermented shark, but why go all the way to Europe to only eat at McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken?
It’d be a shame to miss those mouth-watering perogies in Poland or Spain’s famed paella.
If you’re on a budget or simply enjoy fast food, bypass the golden arches in favor of local choices like krokets from Febo (Holland) or smoked fish from Nordsee (Germany).
Dining Near the Major Sites
Dying to see the Roman Colosseum? Fantastic, but the spaghetti and meatballs next door will likely earn a thumbs down. Want authentic fish and chips? The cafe next to Big Ben is anything but a fresh catch.
While long lines and hours spent on your feet might prompt you to run to the first cafe you see, your meal will likely be less authentic and far more expensive than going to someplace a bit farther from the action.
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