Lifestyle habits vary drastically around the world. Europeans, in particular, have some pretty strange customs that often leave Americans scratching their heads in confusion. From paid public bathrooms to late-night dinners, here are 11 odd European habits that Americans just don’t understand.
1. Paid Public Bathrooms
In Europe, paying a fee to use public bathrooms is the norm. Some defend this practice, saying it keeps the facilities clean and discourages illegal activities inside public restrooms. Others argue that European public toilets are not cleaner than American public bathrooms.
2. Take Everything, Including the Kitchen Sink
When Europeans move, they take everything down to the flooring and fixtures. According to one user, this is a common practice: “In France, people often take the fixtures and fittings, so it’s not uncommon to find a twisted wire hanging out of the ceiling instead of a light, curtains, and rails gone, I’ve seen door handles as well.” Doing that in the United States means you can kiss your security deposit goodbye.
3. The 30-Day Vacay
A thirty-day vacation everyone (yes, everyone) takes in July and August is unheard of in America. Very little, if anything, gets done during those months. Working Americans and their families are used to having a couple of weeks of vacation a year.
4. Soccer (European Football) Is Life
While a segment of Americans loves soccer, that number dwarfs the number of European soccer fans, and their passion for soccer is unrivaled. One person muses, “Two Germans will go into an office and shut the door as though they’re talking about something important. Nope, just soccer.”
5. Late Night Dinners
Europeans typically sit for dinner between 7 pm and 9 pm, when many Americans are winding down after dinner and getting ready to sleep. Dinner during those hours would challenge working adults who have to wake up early and families with young children.
6. Open Borders
Known as the Schengen Area, most of the European Union has eliminated border controls and passport requirements, allowing travelers to cross the borders between their respective countries freely. One user found the idea of open borders strange, remarking, “I’m going to Europe on my honeymoon, and it’s been crazy to me how other countries just have open borders.” Another contributor is fascinated by this phenomenon, writing, “The wild thing is that you can drive from Lisbon, Portugal to Athens, Greece, and pass through several countries with a multitude of languages in about 42 hours.
7. Unattended Babies
Leaving sleeping babies unattended outside in subzero temperatures while the parents do other things is common, especially in Northern Europe. According to an individual from the United Kingdom, “My mother actually did this with me, doing housework whilst I’d be sleeping outside.” In the U.S., that would be considered child neglect and warrant a visit from a child protective services agency and maybe even the police.
8. The Light Switch Is Outside the Bathroom
In the U.S., light switches are generally located in the room they’re supposed to light up. One traveler to Ireland was surprised to find the bathroom light switches outside the bathroom, next to the door. Another user explained that this helped avoid walking into a dark room and fumbling in the dark for the light switch.
9. No Window Screen? No Problem!
When Europeans open their windows for fresh air, they don’t use screens. An open window without a screen during the warmer months is a welcome mat for every flying insect in the region. Americans need help understanding the logic behind this.
10. Underage Smoking
European adults smoking more than Americans is surprising. Even more shocking is the prevalence of European children and adolescents who smoke. Smoking is an integral part of the culture in many European Union countries, and adults don’t bat an eye seeing a child or teenager with a cigarette in their mouth.
11. No Ice By Default
Oddly enough, many European restaurants like in France and Brazil don’t automatically serve drinks with ice. So American travelers can often find themselves asking for ice cubes to be added to their drinks—only to be met with confused stares. “You can ask for ice! It’s just not the default,” says one local. “Yes, you can ask but you’ll get like 5 cubes of ice. Not enough to make your drink really cold,” answers one traveler.
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Her articles have appeared in publications such as Wealth of Geeks, MSN (US), MSN Ireland, Flipboard, The Facts, The Cents of Money, A Dime Saved, The Times (Frankfort), Invested Wallet, Chronicle-Tribune, Mama of Five Blog, Lafourche Gazette, The Herald-Press, Kinda Frugal, Peru Tribune, and Financially Well Off. Stephanie Allen got her start in writing by teaching college writing and technical writing courses. She transitioned to working as a contract technical writer specializing in information technology. Her love for writing on various subjects led her to Wealth of Geeks.