Europe vs. U.S. What’s the difference?

Above: Another difference I’ve noticed is Europe has a lot more graffiti than the U.S. A lot of it is quite beautiful, like this wall I found in Paris.

Since I’ve been traveling/living in Europe for a little over a month, I wanted to share some of the cultural differences that I’ve noticed along the way. I’m sure this is only the beginning of my global education!

1. Coffee is smaller and stronger here.

In America, we’re used to a small coffee being about 10-12 oz. In Europe, coffee usually only comes in one size, and it’s a maximum of 6 oz! However, I cannot drink the coffee black as I would in America because it’s so strong. I’ve recently been ordering cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and adding a little sugar to enjoy a morning brew. The coffee is good, no doubt, but I do miss my large cups of American coffee!

2. Water fountains are almost non-existent.

I usually pride myself on drinking over 8 glasses of water a day back home, but here in Europe it is harder (and more expensive) to access water! Although I brought a water bottle here, I’m only able to fill it up at home or in the sinks of public bathrooms. I have yet to find a water fountain anywhere! Restaurants also charge for water, making me more inclined to order the house wine for the same price.

3. Food is an important part of the day and enjoyed as such.

Meals and snacks in America always seem to be on the go, whether through the drive-thru or scarfing down a home cooked meal in 20 minutes. In Europe, it’s rare to find a cafe that will serve you coffee in a portable cup. Fast food restaurants are also not very common. Most of my meals in Europe, but especially Spain, have lasted for at least an hour. People are expected to spend the meal chatting and relaxing. Not a bad way of doing it, in my opinion! I love the laid back attitude Spaniards have when it comes to enjoying a meal!

4. Cool kids don’t wear backpacks.

While I knew my green Eddie Bauer backpack wouldn’t exactly be the most fashionable bag amongst college students, I was surprised to see that most girls didn’t use backpacks. Instead, they carry laptop-size briefcases that have a shoulder strap. They’re very cute, and I’m tempted to buy one so I can try to blend in more and not be the nerdy American.

5. Never, ever leave the house without a scarf.

My friends and I learned this lesson our first week. The winters in Europe are a humid and wet cold that tends to stay trapped in your bones hours after you have gone inside. Therefore, a scarf is necessary to stay warm and blend in. Men, women, children and babies all wear scarves. Even if the temperature is at 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), wear a scarf. My host mother, professors, random people on the street have looked at me funny and asked if I was cold if I chose not to wear one that day. Usually I wasn’t cold without it, but moral of the story: wear a scarf.

6. Whatsapp. Whatsapp. Whatsapp.

In America, having a cellphone plan with unlimited texts seems to be an essential. Here in Europe, however, most people don’t use SMS messaging at all! Instead, they use the free app, Whatsapp, for all of their communication. This app can be used on a Wifi network or through data usage, and it’s a great way to connect with friends and family back home because it’s free and there are no international issues. I also use Whatsapp to communicate with my Spanish friends since that is their preference, too. This way, all of my communication is organized in the same place.

7. Graph paper is normal for note-taking.

When I went to buy school supplies, I was shocked to see the few options there were for notebooks and folders. It was especially difficult to find notebooks that had composition lines instead of graph paper. While I thought that was odd in the store, when I began classes I realized that most students use graph paper to take their notes, even if the notes are solely written words! I suppose it helps keep notes more organized?

8. Apartments are freezing!

This has proved to be true in every single European flat I have visited. Carpet is not as common here as it is in America, so it’s easier to keep homes cooler in the summer. However, this means they are cooler in the winter, as well. Europeans also tend to be frugal with their heating systems. I often have to layer up just to stay warm inside!

Europeans certainly have a different lifestyle compared to typical American culture, but I have learned to appreciate, and even enjoy, some of these customs. Who knows, maybe I’ll come back to the U.S. after adopting a couple of these habits!

Are there any other European-U.S. differences you’ve noticed? Let me know in the comments below!

3 thoughts on “Europe vs. U.S. What’s the difference?

  1. In the Czech Republic there are many specific differences! Almost all you listed, but also since they were under communist control until very recently there are very intetesting social norms. On the metro or tram you do not talk or even look at anyone, at all. This roots from “secrect police” in public so Czech people wanted to blend in & not stand out as much as possible. Also, Czech people have a list of names that they can choose from for their child. I found this extremely surprising, until my Czech RA compared it to being able to name your child “chair” in the US & how silly it is.

    Thanks for sharing Emily! I relate to many of these differences.


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