This is a list of some things we learnt whilst travelling in Europe that were new to us. Sometimes we learnt from other people, sometimes we learnt the hard way. We’ve compiled this list so you’ll look substantially more intelligent and ‘in the know’ than we did. You’re welcome and happy travels!
1. When you ‘cheers’ with someone (in Germany, Austria, Switzerland), you must touch the bottom of the glasses together (NOT the top) whilst looking each other in the eye intently. If you don’t do this you may suffer a bad sex life for 7 years. Fortunately, we learnt this early.
2. You usually have to pay to use public toilets (0.50-1 euro). You have two options 1.) Make sure you have money on you always or 2.) Go to a café, buy a drink and use their toilet for free. Make sure you use a free toilet when the opportunity arises and definitely make the most of the experience if you do pay (just sit there… for a few extra moments to get your moneys worth).
3. Some escalators are automated. This means they look like they’re not working and you take the many stairs instead, then someone stands on them, they work and you realize you could’ve taken them all along. Of course, if you stand on them and they don’t move then perhaps they really are broken. Yes, this was one of those ‘learnt the hard way’ points.
4. In many countries it is rude not to tip (e.g. Switzerland). An adequate tip is about 5-10% of the total amount.
5. Consider using a suitcase with wheels and not a backpack. Something we constantly regretted. Europe is so easy to get around that a suitcase with wheels would’ve been a lot easier. Obviously this depends on exactly what you’re doing and where you’re going. Just think about it though. We didn’t before we left, but we sure did during the trip.
6. The cars drive on the right side in Europe. This means that foot traffic also stays on the right e.g. when standing on escalators, walking or lining up.
7. In Switzerland, they use Swiss Franks and not Euros. That was awkward.
8. European food is based around bread. Bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Along with cold meats, cheese and whatever else is going. You will be considered strange if you’re following a low carb diet. The locals will be 100% genuinely concerned for you and how you will cope without bread.
9. If you eat cheese fondue (which you should, especially in Switzerland), it is important to know there are many controversial rules involved that differs from family to family. The two rules that seemed to be universally followed are 1.) when dipping a piece of bread in the cheese, you must also stir the cheese so it doesn’t burn and 2.) whoever drops the first piece of bread into the cheese is doing the washing up that night.
10. In some countries people are allowed to drink alcohol in public spaces. It’s ok. You’ll be ok. It’s so weird when you’re come from a country where it’s prohibited. People grab a bottle of beer on their way to work, whilst showing you around or to sit down and drink with friends beside the road. I had to fight my instincts not to run and throw my bottle in the opposite direction when we came across police on the street. Hardcore, oh yeah.
11. People leave beer bottles on the street. Don’t yell at them for this as there is a reason. In some countries (e.g. Germany), you are paid to return beer bottles. People leave bottles around for homeless people to collect and make money from. Apparently the bottles are gone within seconds.
12. There’s a lot of rich history throughout Europe. If you aren’t a history buff, google/wikipaedia it a little before you get there. Sometimes tour guides ask questions of the audience. Also it’s better when you understand what you’re seeing.
13. In some European countries, people can be quite direct in how they communicate. Don’t get offended. This is just one of those cultural differences.
14. In some European countries, nudity is very socially accepted. Sometimes there are no walls in the shower blocks so you’ll all be showering naked together. Will had quite the experience, as he was the first one to discover this fun fact. A few main city parks have nudity sections and it is not uncommon to see people of all ages sunbaking in the nude.
15. There are major differences between a ‘coffee shop’ and a ‘café’ in Amsterdam. If you’re really looking for coffee, go to a café. In coffee shops you will find illegal but ‘tolerated’ cannabis. Thankfully we were warned before I went hunting for my morning coffee. Another potentially awkward moment waiting to happen.
If you’re planning a trip to Europe, be sure to check out our ‘Useful Websites for Travel in Europe’ article!