Today we’ll be flipping a recent show called ‘American Things Europeans Find Weird’, a clip that didn’t sit well with some of our viewers. We should first provide the disclaimer that these kinds of shows focus on either stereotypes or behavior that might be common, but certainly not traits belonging to everyone of a certain country or continent. Not all Englishmen are habitual tea drinkers and not all French folks have a penchant for reciting romantic poetry, and no, a good deal of Americans don’t take their beloved Smith and Wesson to the shopping mall. We also understand that Europe is a very diverse place with countless cultures, but what we’ll attempt to do today is present traits, habits or actions that happen in Europe and are perhaps common, that could be construed as strange to visitors.
We’ll start with food. Now, depending on where you come from in Europe, eating habits change dramatically. If you visit places such as France, Italy, or Spain, you might find that food is much more than sustenance and meal times are quite a cultivated matter. In Italy, you could expect to take a two hour lunch, sometimes with wine, on a workday! Food matters. In France or Spain, dinner might last all night, and again, wine is often there at the table. Dinner is often sacrosanct, and it’s a time for sharing and talking, and often many courses are served. For most visitors to these countries, if they end up being invited to a family dinner, they will often be pleasantly surprised by the sheer volume of treats and also the wonderful conviviality.
You may also find that once you have made the acquaintance of some Europeans, they can be quite tactile and for some people get a little too close. While in some Southern European cultures, you might find men, just friends, holding hands as they walk down the street, it’s not uncommon in Italy, Portugal, France or Russia for men to cheek kiss as a sign of friendship. You might have to be very close to that person, but once you’ve established a close bond, this is something you may have to get used to.
After visiting France, you could be in England an hour later, and try to kiss a man on his cheek there, and he may take offense. One thing people might find peculiar about the English is their orderliness and sometimes utilitarian nature. In England, compared to the continent, people can be quite serious about things. This could be how much emphasis they put on an orderly queue, or even how much they espouse not making a fuss. Some people call this the stiff upper lip, meaning someone shows great restraint. You’ll find people don’t complain much in restaurants, or even are quite nice to someone who they hate – if not pushed to the extreme. But the English are also renowned for their propriety in times of adversity, much the reason why Rudyard Kipling once wrote, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” He was referring to English people dressing up in the hot tropics during the time of Empire. Anything to keep up appearances.
We will now move over to the Netherlands, a country that has surprised many visitors time and again. One of the most shocking things to people is Amsterdam, first with its rather open and diverse red light district, but perhaps more so because there are cafes you can go in and choose from quite a lengthy menu of marijuana. In most countries, you might find drugs and prostitution in rundown parts of town, but in Amsterdam these days, it is quite safe and also picturesque. Another thing you might find strange in the Netherlands is the amount of bicycles and how they crazily zip about. The Dutch respect their bikes, and drivers must respect them, too. In the Netherlands, there is even a special way to open a car door so there is no way you will open it on someone passing by on a bicycle. This involves opening the door with the hand farthest away from the handle. Kudos to the Dutch for coming up with that. Some people call it the “Dutch Reach” and it’s a lifesaver.
If you are going to spend a significant amount of time in Europe, you might come across the most passionate, and sometimes scariest sports fans you’ll ever see. While football hooliganism is sometimes said to be a British thing, most infamous in the 70s and 80s, it is widespread across Europe. People literally die for the game, or their team. In Eastern European countries, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Turkey, or Croatia, you’ll find supporters with units that look more like Special Forces. In Italy, Spain, and the UK, supporters at once cry over the beautiful game and then later vent their anger by tearing up parts of cities. You will find this in other parts of the world, such as countries in South America, but let’s say if your average Canadian got caught up in this, they might find it rather peculiar.
If you were to come across some hooligans and made a run for it, you might find that you easily got lost. European cities are old and weren’t designed using easy-to-navigate systems. You could say many cities in Asia are relatively new cities in terms of them being built up to modern standards, and most American cities were created in a block system. Wandering through alleyways in Rome, following those country roads in the Scottish countryside, or navigating the cobblestone streets of Dubrovnik, is one of the highlights of any trip. But before GPS came about, getting lost was assured.
Let’s say you are lost, and you stop at a local bar for a drink. One of the great things about some places in Europe is the homy feel of some of these old establishments. They might open ‘til very late, or people in some parts of Europe may not even go out until 11pm. In more rural communities, you might still find people driving after a few drinks, and in most parts of Europe, you won’t be blasted with AC while having to endure sports on 6 TVs. While you’ll find American style sports bars in Europe, one charming thing you’ll still find is that the pub, the inn, the café, will have a homely touch. You’ll also find in Europe that a lot of young people get away with drinking. The age limit law in many European countries may not so assiduously be enforced by pub owners or police. If you are American, you’ll also find that police in most of Europe are not so much in your face as they are in the states. They seem to be a nicer breed of cop. If you are young and want to party, head to Europe. Ironically, laws are laxer and there is, for the most part, less crime.
You might need a drink to calm your nerves after you’ve experienced a day of watching nude people at the beach. Certainly in Spain and France, you’ll find toplessness to be absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, and we are not talking about nudist beaches. Go there a second time, and you’ll just get used to it, and maybe even throw caution to the wind and strip yourself.
As most of you are English speakers watching this, or can understand English, we feel we must give you a word of warning if you visit the UK. That warning is: You might not understand people when they speak to you. You think you speak English and know what it sounds like, and then you find yourself asking someone in Liverpool where the ‘The Beatles Story’ museum is. What you hear back sounds like a foreign language. Down a few pints of Guinness in Dublin, and start a chat with a guy with a very broad accent, and you’ll be equally confused. The accent can change from town to town, so even if you fully understand a Mancunian (that’s someone from Manchester) you might have problems following someone’s gist on the wonderful and wild moors of Yorkshire – and you’ve only driven for 45 minutes. It’s actually fascinating to behold.
We’ll leave you with that, and hope you can see the delights of Europe one day. If you’ve already visited Europe, Let us know in the comments what you found strange.