Europe: cultural differences you might bump into
People around the world have different cultures that make them unique. When travelling to a far-off country, it is wise to acquaint oneself with its people’s way of life to avoid unpleasant surprises. This helps the visitor to adjust their expectations and know how to react when presented with unusual situations.
Below are a few cultural differences every student travelling to Europe can bump into easily.
What's the story with the alcohol?
In many parts of the world, alcohol is highly regulated. There are specific drinking hours, age requirements, and alcohol vending establishments. When it comes to age, some European countries (such as Moldova and Georgia) allow 16-year-olds to drink without restrictions.
However, other nations (such as Austria, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland) limit the type of drinks teenagers (16 years and above) can take. For a student coming from the USA, where alcohol consumption is only allowed for persons above 18 years old, this new found freedom can be overwhelming.
While a good number of European countries may allow youngsters to drink alcohol, most of them have stricter blood alcohol content (BAC) limits for drivers irrespective of age. These range between 0.02 - 0.05 compared to America’s 0.08.
Have a bite. Think again.
One of the greatest dilemmas in a foreign land involves deciding what to eat. The language barrier gets in the way. How do you order strange delicacies? For instance, foods on the menu with somewhat familiar names such as filet Americain or café Americano can tempt young travellers to think that they know the delicacy. To their shock, these terms mean nothing close to what one may expect.
The filet Americain, for instance, is common in Belgium and is raw beef puree! Who would expect that? Well, to avoid such instances, you can always ask for details before ordering to make sure you get what you expect.
The thing with the seasoning.
While one may be used to getting condiments for free in restaurants, in some parts of Europe, customers pay for everything they get - it could be ketchup, mustard, sauce. And they all come at an additional cost (this also applies to beer refills). But hunger is the best spice, which means that... when you're hungry, all these small extra costs won't matter that much.
It is a major shift from the American lifestyle where customers get refills for free, and drink till they are satiated. This makes it (sometimes) necessary for a student planning to study in Europe limit their condiments if they are to keep their expenditure on meals manageable. It's not always the case, though.
Kilometres, kilogrammes and whatnot.
Most school syllabuses cover units of measurements. However, in some areas of the world students are used to imperial standards (pounds, feet, gallons etc) rather than metric units (meters, kilogrammes, litres). In Europe, they use metric standards. This means that, for an engineering student or a major in mathematics, one will need to condition their minds to use metric units.
Also, in all conversations, it will be necessary for students going to Europe to adopt metrics so that people will understand better. For instance, when you are telling your weight, it should be in terms of kilogrammes and not pounds, and the units of distance will be in kilometres and not miles (except for the UK). This is very important since it will cover every aspect of your daily life in the foreign European country. So, the earlier you adapt to the metric system, the better.
Sending a friend-request?
For students who are used to an outgoing culture where people easily interact with foreigners, it could help to note that some Europeans such as the Swedes are a bit reserved. They do not take it politely if you, for instance, are overly outgoing. Generally, people in Sweden like to lead private lives. This does not mean, under no circumstance, that you will not make friends, just that it might take a little longer.
It is expected for people around the world to interact differently. While this list covers only five European cultural "shocks", it is advisable for you to research more on the specific country you intend to live and study in. This will give you better insights on how to relate with the locals without offending them or being offended.
Special thanks to Martha Simons for providing us with this article. Martha is a freelance writer and editor, fluent in 4 languages and she is well-experienced in marketing. Her goal is to help people around the world communicate more effectively and benefit from it. She currently works at Translateshark.