Don't Scream "What!"
When Americans go to Europe, they have this flighty expectation that everyone will be one with them, that we're still deeply connected to our European roots (if that's your descent), and that American culture is just a fruity spin-off of all things English and German.
Squash those expectations. When you go to a world where the electrical outlets are odd-shaped, the food has ingredients you've never heard of, and motorists have no spacial boundary, it can cause a lot of shrieks and angry shouts.
So, we de-bunk the common stresses: some things you should know, before you catch that coveted flight to Paris.
A few helpful hints to keep you from screaming “WHAT!” in public settings:
1. Restaurants close
Most restaurants, especially city ones, close for a few hours during the day, so if you show up at your Yelp choice and find the doors bolted, don’t cry too hard: they’ll reopen before the dinner hour. This happens in big American cities, too.
Buuuuut, for accurate hours, Google all the restaurants you’re interested in. They should have the answers the Yelp might not.
2. Public transport waits for no one.
And the people on and in control of that aren’t one for patience, either. Don't expect to "hold the bus" for your lagging husband (or wife, we play equal here).
3. Not everyone understands English.
Americans have this slightly pretentious lens: we think that, somehow, every nation has dipped a toe into our culture and knows even the basis of our language. Not the case. Expect people to know as much English as you do Cantonese, and maybe the Anglophones will pop up and surprise you!
4. Sparkling or flat?
Unless you ask for flat water in Europe, you’re going to get the sparkly, spritzy kind. It's a European favorite, but something I choked down and called, with watery eyes, to exchange. Embarrassing.
5. Free the bathrooms
Bathrooms are not free unless you’re in America, or a viable, paying customer at a restaurant. Even in America, you sometimes have to search.
6. Not everyone likes Americans.
But not everyone hates them, either. When I was in Paris, after hearing so much debacle about angry French folk who abhor US tourists, I was surprised to find that people kindly gave directions, grinned as they took my photo, and were no shortage of friendly. Even the ones who don't know a lick of English.
Don't expect to be admired everywhere you go: many Europeans think we've messed ourselves over, we don't do things right. Having people hold a grudge against you while traveling can dampen the vibe. With that, though, don't expect people to hate you!
Should you feel any bit threatened, faking Canadianism isn't a shabby idea.
7. Driving is a whole new ball game.
The first time our cab driver flew through London, I let out a few audible shrieks. The traffic rules in Europe are nothing like the American order. And you know what? They're better drivers there. The roads are woven tight, the motorist count is higher, and cyclists aren't afraid to cut corners with double decker buses.
So, yes, you may have a few moments of panic, but just consider the professionalism of these cabbies. You'll most likely be just fine. If you're the one driving? Don't worry about annoyed honkers. Just do you, and do so carefully.
8. You're going to go over budget.
Unless you're a magician entrusted with otherworldly powers, you're going to cross a very dangerous line. Everything is more expensive than you imagined, and that's how it goes: quality over quantity. With the amount of walking you'll do, the upped price of cabs, the Euro signs on those meals, and the gut-wrenching feeling when "the unexpected" strikes and you have to taxi back during a bad rush hour, your credit card will be feeling the hit.
(Speaking of which, make sure you call in a travel plan to your card company: or else they'll shut you down and strand you with no card access. Go cash-prepared, too.)
9. Be firm.
Your kindness could be taken advantage of, so you need to be aware when vendors try to reel you in, and citygoers attempt to push you in to crafts and goods. Pick pocketers will also gripe at you with a ton of colorful methods, so be ready and willing to ignore people and push your way through.
Europe is beautiful, bustling, and all the color and light that you left your home for. When you get to the grit of it, falling in love with a city or country is no difficult task. You'll find yourself equal parts homesick and never wanting to leave.
So, we created a culture shock guide, because gearing up for the good, the bad, and the ugly is only one way to sheer off that element of surprise when you step foot into a new, uncharted territory.