19 European Habits That Americans Will Never Understand

While Americans and Europeans may share many things in common, there are some things that we Americans can’t wrap our heads around. When Americans go visit and tour Europe, some things Europeans do leave them confused and scratching their heads.

19 European Habits That Leave Americans Shocked

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One Reddit user asked, “Americans, what do Europeans do that you find really weird?”

The thread received many interesting comments, and we have compiled a list of the top 20. So, let’s dive into some European quirks that have us Americans scratching our heads.

Traveling Across Cities Within the Same Day

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The USA is huge in terms of its geographical land; thus, traveling across cities by road may take more than a day.

An American Redditor said, “My dad living in Germany: Took my boss to a lunch meeting in Belgium today, and then had dinner in the Netherlands. Me in Texas: I had to take a weekend off to make it to the next major city in my state.”

Underage Drinking

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A person wrote, “Smoking and drinking at such a young age. When I went, middle schoolers and high schoolers were doing it freely and parents with toddlers near them would smoke openly next to them. People were even smoking inside of restaurants.”

Another added, “Everyone drinks. It’s accepted. My parents were quite fine with me going to the pub when I was 15 or 16 so long as I didn’t get too drunk. Drinking socially as teenagers is just completely normal and nobody really has a problem with it. Everyone did it, everyone still does it. Alcohol in general is treated quite differently than it is in the USA.”

Language and Dialect Variation

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An American Redditor pointed out, “You can drive five hours in any direction and the people there will speak a different language and have a completely different culture.”

Someone else added, “And the dialect has changed thirteen times, plus there have been three revisions to what bread rolls are called.”

Considering how diverse Europe is in terms of its culture and population, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. From our experience, even within the UK, the dialect variations are extreme enough to confuse the average American.

Smoking Culture

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A user left a comment saying, “The smoking culture. When my family and I visited it was like everyone smoked, even young people and teens.”

Another shared, “Easily the most shocking thing when I went to Europe last (Switzerland/Germany/France) was just how many people smoked tobacco. Everywhere there was a whiff of secondhand smoke.”

Longer Lunch Breaks

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Someone pointed out “The fact that many can take two hours for lunch in the middle of the day and it is considered to be a norm.”

Another person shared, “Two hour lunch is a bit long, but around one hour is more reasonable. Usually a 1/2 or 1 h lunch break is mandatory by law, so you go and eat and enjoy it. We work to live, not live to work.”


Being Fluent in More Than One Language

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Someone wrote, “Speak multiple languages. Most Europeans I know speak at least two.”

A person from the Netherlands elaborated, “In the Netherlands we have mandatory lessons in English and Dutch for the whole school time, and mandatory 3+ years of German and French in most high schools.”

This also applies to Americans from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, many of whom are fluent in English and their native languages.

Open Borders

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One user left an interesting reply saying, “I’m going to Europe on my honeymoon, and it’s been crazy to me how other countries just have open borders. I’m taking the ICE from Germany to France and there’s no border check? It’s really fascinating to me.”

For humanity’s sake, we hope this was just a joke. *nervous laughter*

Someone else shared, “When I was in the Navy in Germany, some of my comrades fell asleep on the train home and woke up in Switzerland. They then got themselves a beer and rode the train back.”

Paying To Use Public Restrooms

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One person commented, “Make people pay to use public toilets.”

A European wrote, “I’m European, and I can’t understand that as well.”

Another added, “I can only speak from my experience in Germany; the public bathrooms were so clean that I was happy to pay. If I’m paying because it keeps it clean, fine by me.”

Bathroom Switches Outside the Door

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Someone wrote, “I can’t remember if this is Ireland specific or a thing in the rest of Europe, but the bathroom light switch is outside of the door. Pray tell, Ireland, just how many times a father or a sibling has flicked the switch on and off or just straight up turned it off while you were doing your business?”

Another user logically explained, “Irishman here. All of our switches are in the rooms themselves, such as bedroom lights, but the bathroom and hallway switches are outside the door/on the wall. The logic is that you turn on the light outside, then walk inside. Walking into a dark room and trying to find the switch is something we’ve all failed at doing, so I guess it makes sense?”

Taking the Fixtures Along When Moving Out

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As outrageously illegal as this may seem to some Americans, it is a common practice across some European countries.

As one person said, “In France people often take the fixtures and fittings, so it’s not uncommon to find a twisted wire hanging out of the ceiling instead of a light, curtains and rails gone, I’ve seen door handles as well. It can get specified in the compromis de vente (sale terms contract) what will be left if one party wants to.”

Another wrote, “I now understand the people I bought my first house from. The woman in the couple was from France and was just taking everything. Literally taking the mirrors off the walls in the bathrooms, taking the towel racks off the walls, and light fixtures.”


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A Redditor wrote, “Have royalty in the modern era.”

A European user replied, “A large number of monarchies are just figureheads nowadays, so the rest of the government can (should) actually get their work done without being forced into the limelight.”

What are your opinions on monarchy in the modern era?

Storing Eggs Out in the Open

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One person left a comment saying, “Keeping eggs on the counter. I know they’re okay to eat, but it’s just so weird to me.”

Someone else explained, “This actually depends on how eggs have been handled before. In Europe they are usually not washed, so the protective layer is still on the shell and it’s okay to keep them at room temp. In the USA eggs are usually washed and need to be kept in the fridge. If you keep washed eggs at room temp, they won’t be okay to eat.”

Do you store your eggs in the fridge or at room temperature?

Pedestrian Culture

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Someone said, “How most cities are walkable. You need a car everywhere in the USA, no matter what.”

Another user added, “You practically don’t need a car and there are supermarkets on every corner.”

While one Redditor shared the following interesting encounter: “I got arrested once in a New York suburb, me and my friends were coming back from some shopping and thought the 3 km walk in a suburban countryside was cool. Police officer told us we were suspicious and a passerby had called him… Three white males in their twenties with shorts and polo shirts… We had a chat with him and obviously, walking is not a typical behavior. He brought us back home just like he was saving us from a bad trip in the desert.”

Washing Machines in the Kitchen

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A Reddit user wrote, “Washing machines in the kitchen.”

Someone else responded, “That’s more of a UK thing because regulations make it almost impossible to have plugs in the bathroom, so the second most logical place to have a washing machine is in the kitchen. In most of mainland Europe, the washing machine is usually in the bathroom or sometimes in the basement if you have a house with a basement.”

Kissing the Cheeks as a Form of Greeting

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Lots of Americans find this common European way of greeting very weird.

Someone said, “My grandma does this, like “left right left.” And I’m always just trying to go for a simple hug because the kisses confuse me.”

Another shared, “In Spain, two kisses are common even when you meet someone for the first time. In the Netherlands, it’s less common, but once you get into kisses, they do three (one cheek, the other, back to the first cheek).”

Washing Dishes Under Running Water

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One Reddit user said, “My husband finds it strange, borderline unacceptable; that I (Polish) wash dishes under a stream of running water instead of a sink filled with soap and water and reuse the dirty water to wash all the dishes. I guess I like to clean the dishes with clean water and not bathe it with all the other dirt lol (To clarify: he does rinse them with water at the end) I’ve asked my other Polish friends how they do the dishes and they’re doing it the same way I do, so at least I know I’m not the crazy one!”

What’s the best method of doing dishes, in your opinion? Soaking or cleaning under running water?

Drinks Served Without Ice

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Someone wrote, “Lack of ice. I just don’t get it. Ice is easy, not that much of a drain and it’s typically available…. Yet asking for ice in a drink is like you have just asked someone to solve peace in the Middle East.”

Someone else sarcastically added, “I cannot agree with this enough. Like dude, I asked you for some ice, not some pictures of your mom.”

Are chilled drinks a necessity for you when dining out?

Sweet Popcorn in Cinemas

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A disgruntled American Redditor left an angry comment saying, “WHAT IS WITH SERVING SWEET POPCORN IN THEATERS?!”

To which a European replied, “You don’t have sweet popcorn at the cinema? First time I had salty popcorn, I almost spit it out.”

Another European user added, “That’s the standard, you guys are the weird one here.”

Do we sense a sweet vs. salty popcorn war here?

French Fries With Mayo

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One Reddit user commented, “I never realized this isn’t common in the US, how can y’all eat French fries without mayo?”

A native European added, “After watching Pulp Fiction, I tried French fries with mayonnaise, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t significantly better.”

How do you like your fries? With ketchup or with mayo?

Cultural Differences

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At the end of the day, cultural differences are what make the world such an interesting and diverse place. Sure, some practices in European cultures may be downright bizarre, but that’s no reason to judge or criticize. Instead, let’s embrace our differences and celebrate the things that make us unique.

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Hi! I am a millennial mom with a passion for personal finance. I have always been “into” personal finance but got inspired to start my blog after a period of extended unemployment. That experience really changed the way I viewed my relationship with money and the importance of accessible personal finance education.