From paying to use public toilets, to being led to the zoo by a complete German stranger, Americans share the most shocking things they experienced while visiting Europe.
[Source can be found at the end of the article]
I had some of the strangest interactions while I was living in Germany.
An old man in my village sat on the same bench with his arms crossed every single day and stared angrily at me every time I drove by. Sometimes it would be 2-3 times/day. One day I decided to go park and sit beside him. As soon as I approached he yelled at me in German and walked off.
I was in Berlin and studying their train map trying to figure out how to get to the zoo. A little old German man walked up to me asked me if I was American. I told him I was and he proceeded to go to the zoo with me and tell me all sorts of random factoids about it. Then we went to a local bar and got hammered together while he introduced me to everyone as his “New friend from America.
When I was living in Munich I parked in a no-parking zone accidentally. I came back to find my car missing. I asked a nearby police officer where to pick it up.
They helpfully just towed it around the corner to a legal spot.
In Rome the little mopeds zoom through the tiny streets. They make American drivers look normal. They park anywhere and go anywhere they can fit at, what seems like, any speed they like.
The tour bus I went on now lets you out against a wall because when they used to let people out on the street an American was struck literally stepping off the bus.
And smoking. Smoking in Europe was a major culture shock for me.
I went backpacking in Ireland for about 2 weeks. Right after I landed, I sat in the upper level on the double decker bus, because they aren’t used where I’m from. I met an old man who took me for a guy who “fancies novelty” and we ended up swapping stories. He gave me his number and said if I find myself on the west side he’d show me around. Turns out that a week later, while I was hiking the Cliffs of Moher I had one hostel in mind I planned on staying in, and it had just closed. I was stranded in a foreign country. Of course, I gave old man a call. He answered cheerfully and picked me up an hour later and gave me an in depth tour of historical spots, old burial grounds, beautiful sights, the works. Ended up meeting his wife and crashing at his place, and I was allowed to wash my clothes there after a week of hiking. They made me an authentic Irish breakfast and sent me on my way. Love that country.
I went to Denmark for a work trip. One night I went to a dinner party at one of my coworker’s homes. They mostly spoke English for my benefit, but gradually slipped back into Danish as the evening went on. I didn’t mind; I’ve traveled quite a bit. It was interesting to hear the occasional English word peppered in.
But at one point, a woman was talking, and a very clearly enunciated expletive came out in the middle of a sentence. I don’t know much Danish, but she seemed to be using it like we would use “thingamajig”. No one else seemed to blink an eye.
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When they told me I had to pay to use a public toilet. It makes sense when you think about it, but I was a teenager at the time and was so sure they were messing with me.
Driving from Germany to Poland in a very sudden and VERY heavy rain storm when traffic stops up ahead. A giant tree had fallen across the Autobahn and was blocking all lanes. Instead of waiting for some workers to come move the tree or cut it up, about 35 people (including us 3 Americans) start breaking branches off the tree, someone had a hand saw and started hacking off bigger pieces. In a matter of 20 minutes the tree was light enough to be pushed off the road enough to open a lane. It was just surreal, honestly. Nobody even really talked to each other, we just started ripping branches off trying to get through. Maybe it wasn’t that weird but I just can’t comprehend that happening in America.
I’ve been to Europe a couple times.
It’s the bathrooms. Europeans know how to do a bathroom. Clean. No weird gaps by the door. There’s a spot to put my purse.
Also the rail systems in Paris and London were fantastic. I never waited more than 3 minutes for my train. Either I have good timing or they are just really efficient
That the tax is already included in the price. It’s so much easier when the price you see is the price you pay.
No I know their taxes are way higher than American taxes but this idea is great.
The French weren’t nearly as rude to me as I thought they’d be.
Also, wasn’t ready for nude beaches and what I would later come to know as the red light district of Amsterdam. Young me didn’t really understand why there were women in underwear just standing in the windows. I just thought they were like public strippers or something.
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Stop signs in France say “STOP”. I happened to be on business trip that took me to Montreal, Quebec, and then to France. In Quebec the stop signs look the same but they all say “ARRET”. In France the first stop sign I saw said “STOP”.
I was studying abroad in the Netherlands and got sick. Went to the doctor’s office at UVA’s clinic (but wasn’t an UVA student), went right in, he checked me out, wrote me a prescription, got it filled.
That was all there was to it. Need doctor, go to doctor, get help. The prescription cost me about ten euro, that was all I paid for the whole ordeal.
I got up early every morning to sit outside and watch rush hour traffic in Dublin. Now, in the US, we have super wide streets, multiple lanes for turning at intersections, and ONE PERSON can ruin the whole operation. For everybody. For the whole morning.
In Dublin (Camden Street Lower), you’ve got narrow lanes, bus stops directly across from each other, a bike lane THRU THE MIDDLE of an offset intersection, and a bike swap station just next to it.
… every morning, it was smooth as silk. I was there for four days, and I only heard a couple of horns honking. If someone cut into traffic or across it, everyone made room and carried on with their life. The buses arrived at their stops simultaneously more than a few times, nearly blocking the road, but nothing ever came to a complete stop. It was beautiful.
Here at home, we have I-81, three lanes wide in each direction, and an unexpected lane change blows everyone’s mind for 5 miles.
I was in London for a few months, and my first night there I was stopped by two young women on a street who heard me talking to my friend. They asked me if I was American and I said yes. They asked what state and I told them I was from California. They immediately gasped and asked for a picture with me and my friend. I posed the hang loose sign and all, and was surprised that Californians were treated in such high regard.
Turns out that was a one time thing, and no one in London really cares who you are.
Visited Iceland. Other than the awe-inspiring landscapes, my shocking moment was that there was not one unattractive Icelander. I’m certain they’re out there, but goodness gracious.
Every N1 we stopped in, the cashier was 5’7″-6’3″ and beautiful/handsome.
If I stop into an Atlanta gas station, there’s a greasy man who looks as though he ate the previous greasy man and usurped the cash-box.
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One thing I saw when I was traveling in Rome has stuck with me for years. I had gotten off the subway in a location that was more centrally located for tourism (Colosseum, etc.), and as I was walking up the steps I noticed a homeless man with an infant child. Feeling sorry for him, I gave him a few Euros and went about my touristy day. Upon my return to the same subway station early in the evening, I recognized the same homeless man, with an entirely different infant child. I’m sure of it.
I spent most of that night staring at the stars, wondering what kind of underground baby rental service was going on.
I was in London when suddenly hundreds of nude people on bicycles come out of nowhere. Cops just stood there watching (not like they could do anything). As I stood there in amazement, one of the people put his arm around me and said, “Quite a sight huh?
A few weeks ago, I walked to France from Switzerland. I got a coffee, then walked to Germany. Then walked back to Switzerland. Whole thing took about 75 minutes. There were no border guards, no passport checks, no lines or gates or anything. Just a flag when you cross the border and a sign reminding you to use Euro over Swiss Francs. It was as easy as walking to another town in the same county in the same state back home.
Schengen blows my mind. Some people are like, “yah, just gonna a hop over to France to pick up some groceries.”
Long ago, we had something similar growing up in Upstate NY. There were small paths where you just kept driving and realized you were in Canada when the signage changed to kilometers. Most of those roads are gone now, or at least no longer show up on Google – and crossing over a guarded border is relatively easy/quick – but still… how we don’t have a similar agreement with Canada is beyond me.
Nice, France is very close to Italy. For some reason, the boys on the beach in Nice are extremely creepy and touchy, but I didn’t get that impression in Rome or Venice.
In Nice, I had some guy grab my ankle while I was swimming as a joke, total stranger. Another total stranger grabbed me around the waist (I was just wearing a bikini mind you) and pretended to throw me off the narrow platform we were on and into the water, but pulled me back (my friend and I were trying to walk past them for a better view of the ocean). Him and all his friends laughed but didn’t pursue me or anything. This was broad daylight, and a crowded beach. I just couldn’t believe how comfortable these guys were with doing that to a complete stranger.
In Italy hearing an Italian guy exclaim “Mama mia!” I thought that was just a joke phrase in television shows, I couldn’t believe I heard it in real life.
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Germany: I saw a man probably in his 40’s walking in a pedestrian shopping area wearing cut-off denim booty shorts. To make it better, he was overweight and extremely hairy.
Rome, Trevi Fountain: Dude approaches my wife and hands her a rose. He tells her it is a gift. My wife said thanks. He turned to me and asked for 50 Euro. Wait, what? That’s not how gifts work. He said if I didn’t pay, then he should be able to take my wife to his hotel. I laughed and told him he had about 10 seconds to get out of here.
Rome, non-tourist area: Found a restaurant. I ordered ravioli and waited like 30 minutes. It arrived. It was microwaved Chef Boyardee ravioli.
So not my story but my friend, also an American who had just traveled through Europe for the first time.
She said that while she was in Paris, there were a couple of kids who kept trying to pick pocket the crowd of tourists. She only noticed because she was on a tour and the tour guide warned them as soon as he saw what was going on. Most brushed them off and smacked them away but one older woman became so enraged when she found them trying to steal something from her purse that she began screaming and trying to smack them with it. A large, and apparently daunting, man saw the scene and came over to see what was wrong. As soon as he realized what was happening he began to yell and threaten the kids. The kids were acting like it was no big deal, not even running away, just laughing and imitating the man. He went to grab one of them and another one grabbed a glass bottle from the ground and broke it and attempted to fend him off with it. Eventually the kids ran away and everything settled down, I guess.
She said that was the most interesting tour she experienced in all of Europe.
Was having dinner in a restaurant in downtown Paris, that was filled with guests.
My wife and I were having a conversation at a volume level slightly above a whisper. And had ZERO problem hearing each other. Suddenly, I stopped, looked around and realized – So THIS is how you should have a civilized conversation in public.
No yelling, no people yammering loudly into their mobile phones, no random outbursts of anger or belligerence. Just a bunch of tables having private conversations.
I was stunned, and then impressed. Learned how to be a better adult that night.
I went unconscious at the post office in Portugal and someone called the ambulance. I was given tests, treated, and spent the day (and fed) in a hospital bed.
Being from the states, I was worried the whole time about what this extravagant trip to the hospital would cost. I paid 79. Out. Of. My. Pocket!!
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Many years Ago I traveled through Europe before starting grad school. I was in the Zurich train station sitting in front of a row of shops and a shop girl came out and said something to me in what I assume was Swiss. All I managed was a blank look, and she quickly said something else in French. This time, I managed to shake my head, and she then rattled off something in German. I finally spit out “English” and she smiled slightly and said “I need to take the chair in.”. So, she only had to go through 4 languages to communicate with this brilliant American college graduate.
The first night my wife and I were in Athens this last summer happened to coincide with gay pride. We were out and about and found an outdoor party happening at Syntagma Square. There were plenty of the usual rainbow flags and some racy outfits as one might expect for pride weekend, but then we stumbled upon a guy stumbling around completely naked, pretty obviously trashed.
Later in the islands we saw nude beaches and in Italy we saw a woman going for a nude night swim on the coast in Naples, but that all seemed normal compared with the guy casually nude in the middle of a crowd that first night.
Went to Greece when I was 18 on a student trip. Our guide warned us not to give money to the beggars when we saw them. Little did I know these little old ladies and a few younger women were going to come up to all of us, dressed in all white with their faces painted white and get right up in our stuff, crooning out ‘kalimera, kalimera’ with outstretched hands. I’ve seen beggars and homeless before, there’s plenty in the United States, but they rarely approach you, and never in groups like these women.
One or two women started tugging at my sleeves and then I felt fingers in my back pocket (my wallet was stuffed down the front of my pants, we were warned about pickpockets the day before). At that point I yelled at them, which scared them off and I went on my way. I’ll remember that trip for the rest of my life, it was a fun time.
The portion sizes for everything were tiny. Go ahead and lay on the fat American jokes because I know everyone always says our portion sizes are huge, but even stuff like the drink with your meal was too small. And if I just wanted a glass of water to drink, the only thing they had were small, overpriced bottles.
And how about the continental breakfast at our hotel costing an extra 15 per person and only offering like two items? That’s not a breakfast!
I was in line for the Catacombs in Paris. This french guy is in line, finishes his water bottle, and chucks it at the garbage can 20 feet away. He completely misses, it’s in the middle of a sidewalk. He doesn’t move a muscle. A few moments later, a random lady picks it up, throws it away, and says “WHY?!” to the French man. He had absolutely no reaction.