Our culture is a wonderful one, but has many idiosyncrasies. Of course we have noticed them, and now I find that visitors from Europe notice them, also. I came across this interesting list of things that people traveling here from Europe find odd about our culture. When you read the comments, I predict you will not be surprised. In many ways, Europeans do it right, especially the first thing on the list – price tags on purchases.
They said, “With price tags without tax included, how do you know how much you’re spending when you get to the cashier?” In Europe the entire price is listed. If there’s a tax on it, that is built in. The price tag says $15.75, not $14.99. When you go up to pay, that’s exactly what you need to get out of your wallet to take the item home. I believe we should do the same.
The Frenchman said, “Tipping – it was incredibly hard for me to wrap my head around how much is appropriate for this service. We don’t do it.” In other parts of the world where I have traveled, tipping is not expected. Everyone will tell you that and yet it is so ingrained in us that we can’t imagine walking away without giving the server some extra money for himself or herself. In Europe they truly do not expect it, but I also noticed that when they are waiting on Americans they believe they might get a tip. In other countries, employees are paid for their time by their employer instead of from the customer.
The Brit said, “Advertising prescription drugs is the weirdest one for me. Here, you ask your doctor for brand X antidepressants seen in commercials on TV. In the UK, your doctor tells you what drugs you should take, not the other way around.”
I agree. Just about 50 percent of advertising on TV now seems to come from prescription drugs. How are we supposed to remember what they are for? Shouldn’t we expect our doctor to know what is best for us?
I hope the maker of this product isn’t offended, but I love this next statement from a European. The visitor said. “Aerosol cheese, like seriously I would try it at least once, but that stuff looks like cancer to me.” It just doesn’t seem right that cheese should come from an aerosol can!
Our casual phrases can also insult those foreigners around us. A visiting Italian friend was very puzzled at American’s use of the phrase, “oh really,” in group conversations. Somehow he took that as a person challenging his opinion when in reality it’s just some habit a lot of us have. It basically means something is interesting. The guy was red in the face after an hour because he literally thought everyone in the group was challenging every single thing he said.
Another Italian said, “Your toilets are too low in the stalls and there are massive gaps around the door so that people can see in. You can put a man on the moon, but you can’t design a setup whereby I can use the public restroom in comfortable privacy.”
In my experience, most restroom doors in Europe go all the way to the floor and fit tightly around the sides. That turned out to be really nice when I realized I was in a coed facility in Paris. I stepped out of the stall and saw a man coming out next door. Egad, what a surprise! We stepped up to the neighboring sinks, washed our hands and left without a word.
But on another day I was trapped in a stall in a French train station. The door wouldn’t budge as I tried to leave. It was so hot in there – no AC in the restroom and now I was stuck in a very small place. I’m a little claustrophobic! I couldn’t crawl under because the door went to the floor. As the heat increased so did my thoughts of escape. I began to ask for help in my very best French. Finally, two women were able to yank it open. I had to restrain myself to keep from hugging them! Yea, I was out of there!
A Spaniard said, “I find it really weird how college football players are like celebrities. They are scrutinized and have fans and do TV interviews. It just boggles my mind so much. They’re just students doing extracurricular activity.” Ok, he has a point, but don’t they idolize soccer players?
I love this statement from a European: “Soft drinks are free-flowing everywhere in the U.S. At McDonald’s you get a gigantic cup for a dollar and it comes with unlimited refills. Even at a restaurant, before you finish your coke they bring you another one. The first time you say, ‘hey, I didn’t order this,’ but then you realize it’s free.”
Oh how I know the difference. When in Paris my friend, Marianne, and I decided to stop at a cafe and have a Diet Coke. Only there they call it Cola Light. It is brought to the table in a bottle because you have to beg for a glass of ice in Europe. They just don’t understand the concept. I only got two cubes. Each tiny bottle, the size of old coke, was $6.50 and the second one was another $6.50. At that point, we had invested $13 in cola! The total liquid is the same as a large Coke from Wendy’s for which they charge $1.
And finally, another foreign visitor said, “in the U.S., there’s a very blasé approach to credit card security. Signatures don’t matter.” In Europe the server comes to the table with the credit card machine and swipes the card right there. They don’t take your credit card to another room and return 10 minutes later.
We can sure learn from each other’s cultures
(Melanie Behrens – firstname.lastname@example.org)
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