No matter where you grew up, going to another country and experiencing its culture can be weird for anyone. Just take a look at these experiences some folks shared of European travel – you may wind up appreciating home life more than you thought…
1. Any Race
Multiculturalism and multi-ethnicity. The image of Europe I had in my head before I first came here is that it’s filled with white people, and that’s pretty much it. What an amazing surprise when I came here and saw people of all kinds of ethnicity and culture. I have never seen anyone of African descent before in my life. This was how I learnt how a Frenchman is not just a white dude, but could be of ANY race and cultural heritage, who identifies his first language as French. Same goes with a Dutch person, a Brit, and so on.
2. Street Signs
Lack of street signs. The signs are mostly general directions and since they use roundabouts instead of intersections, I’m not sure how it could be any more confusing for someone that doesn’t know the lay of the land. GPS is the only way. But don’t count on seeing the name of the street anywhere.
3. Days change
So, having lived in Netherlands, and travelled around a bit of Western Europe for the past one and a half years, I have experienced a wide variety of culture shocks, ranging from minor to intensely surprising. However, this is the one which shocked me the most, and still confuses me sometimes: Long days during summer and short days during winter
As someone from India, a country close to the equator, the sun sets at around 18:30–19:00 in the summer, and at around 17:30–18:00 in the winters, so there is very little noticeable difference in the length of the day. Here in Europe however, especially further north, in the summers, the sun sometimes sets at 22:00, or even at 23:00 or later! It’s even later in the northern regions of the Scandinavian countries. This also means the sunrise is quite early, at around half past 4 in the morning. The other extreme in the winter – sunrise at 08:15 and sunset at 17:15 or so. This was extremely weird on those days when I had classes from the morning to the evening, so there were some days when I saw little or no daylight.
Sometimes, even now, I find it hard to get to grips with this; in the summer evenings, when I return from the supermarkets or a dinner out with friends, it’s still bright outside and it feels quite weird!
4. Walk about
The cities were actually walkable! I’m sure there are walkable US cities, but the “Atlanta area” covers about 132.4sq miles, with a population of less than 500,000 within the city limits. Compare that to Paris— 40.7sq miles, with a population of about 2.224 million as of 2014. The pedestrians in London, Paris, Edinburgh, Berlin, to name a few, were a shock to me. Even calmer cities like Geneva and Rome were lively. In Atlanta, I might walk a couple of blocks without seeing anyone in the middle of the day.
“Please, thank you and sorry” People use these 3 words abundantly. At restaurants, waiters are asked like this, “can you get me a pizza, please?” They’re thanked when they bring something. This is also applicable to any laborers. Sorry, is used whenever needed.
6. Fluent in English
Language – words like boot, chips, shag, nappy, napkin. Even though in the US we may take a year or two in high school of French, German, or Spanish we really don’t learn the language because we don’t get a chance to use it. Great to find out most people spoke better English than anything we know.
7. Major class system
I had no idea how much class is discussed in the UK. Just from listening to comedy programs I was pretty surprised. I was also confused over people’s negativity to being (or being perceived as) middle class. (See any joke directed at Jack Whitehall lol) In the U.S. we talk about it as if everyone’s middle class whether or not it’s true. So I viewed it in a positive or neutral light. it took me a while to realize that the UK actually had a rigid class system and upper class people had money since like the dawn of time. I mean I knew that existed but I didn’t think it still had societal relevance.
8. Immaculately kept
People take care of their houses here; but public property is treated like a dumpster. Seriously. I’ve rarely been inside a home in the Czech Republic that wasn’t beautifully kept. Czechs with houses spend lots of time in their yards/gardens planting flowers and bushes and keeping it all up: this makes for some beautiful homes. The houses are built with great attention to detail and constructed to last a century or more. Amazingly well built. Windows are underlined with rows of cheery flowers and everything just looks great.
Even the smaller flats in the [unattractive] apartment blocks that some people live in are cozy usually comfy and people pay attention to making them look nice and airy. They have a special system where everyone on the floor and building take turns to sweep and keep the entry halls and stairwells spic and span.
But if I go downtown to the centre where the shops are it’s a bit of a mess: cigarette butts, wrappings, a bit of graffiti that is never painted over. Lawns in parks or surrounding apartment blocks go unmown for what would be an unacceptable amount of time in the US…
Tremendous amount of spontaneity relating to art, culture, music, etc. No such thing as street musicians in Singapore, and in Indonesia most buskers are poor, doing this just to get money. In Europe, street artists are so good at their craft! Whether they’re playing guitar and singing, or painting portraits, it’s all done with such love and care. Standard is pretty high. True they do it for the money as well, but that’s not the only reason. They want to share their art with people in the streets, and this is a big part why they’re doing it.
Even as a teenager I could tell the difference, and I found it so inspiring. It was also the first time I saw amazing street art. Graffiti is a severely punishable offence in Singapore, who doesn’t even allow chewing gum, and in Jakarta, they’re all just tags and scrawls. In Europe you see beautiful artwork and gallery-grade paintings all over public places!
10. Culinary arts
Distinct culinary practices. Every country had a distinct culinary experience. French pastries, London’s array of pub foods, Italian pizza and gelato, German bratwurst. I know, I know, I’m grossly oversimplifying. But every place had a distinct food-culture. Problem was, I couldn’t find anything resembling a taco or tamale in most cities. Or good Chinese takeout. But doner kebabs kept me satisfied for the time being.
11. Young smokers
I was pretty surprised that just outside my school tons of middle and high-schoolers would smoke like it was nothing. I only knew about some smokers in my high school in the US (never in middle school!!) and they would never smoke in front of everyone like that. You would probably get suspended for smoking on school property in the US, but in France, it wouldn’t be surprising to share a smoke with your teacher!
12. Much much smaller
Cars stood out as much much smaller. Many smart cars and tiny vehicles on tiny roads. I was driving in England which was already a shocker being on the other side of the road, but had to drive through narrow metal posts going through an old village. The car barely squeezed through. In Amsterdam one of the vehicles looked like a toy.