Americans Who Moved To Europe Explain Little Things That Make It Totally Different

Americans Who Moved To Europe Explain Little Things That Make It Totally Different

I don't know about you, but I often daydream about living in Europe. Imagine waking up every day in a Mediterranean villa, to the sounds of the crashing waves; walking to the market to buy some fresh ingredients; cooking and eating out under the stars. In many idyllic European towns, time seems to move more slowly, if at all. It's a calming, restorative fantasy.

But, of course, there are lots of things that are completely different on the other side of the Atlantic -- and not all of them would necessarily tickle us pink.

These Americans who lived in Europe recently went online to share the little things that make the old world totally different from the new.

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32. What's That Sound?


I'm from the US (New York for all of my adult life), and it's loud. On a bus? People are talking. In the grocery store? People are talking. Standing in a line waiting? People are talking. Here, in Estonia, it's silent. 75 people on a bus and you can hear a pin drop. A single line open at the grocery store after work and 30 people waiting? Yup, you got it. Silent. At a shopping mall, mid-December and it's full of people but all you can hear are footsteps.

I'm not sure I'll ever get fully used to it. In some ways, it's nice, but in other ways, it's very isolating.

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31. "How Are We Doing?"

Waiters (and service people in general) not being proactive or dropping by just to check on you. Even though I know it’s what I’m supposed to do, I still feel rude having to flag someone down to order or ask for the check.

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30. Did You Hear?

I love where I live in France, and I’ve now been here many years. But I get annoyed how hard it is to find info about local cultural events online. I don’t live in a big city, but I live in a very family-friendly, touristy town, and have to rely on mostly word of mouth or picking up flyers in random places to know what’s going on. It makes it harder to make spontaneous plans, in my opinion.

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29. Free Smiles

I've never been a US citizen, but I lived there for a long time. When I came back to Europe (my homeland of Poland) I couldn't get used to that smiling to random people on the street or just casually starting small talks with people is not a thing you do here. I got many weird stares.

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28. Shopping Day

When I studied in Switzerland, the supermarkets closed around 6 every day except when they were closed on Sundays. Since I was often still working on my projects at school and making my way home by the time the shops closed, Saturday was my only shopping day. If I forgot or was busy during that time period, I would starve until Monday and that was that. No way was I paying 21 francs (over $25 at the time) for a slice of pizza, a coca cola, and some fries at a restaurant.

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27. Quality>Quantity

I’ve lived in Europe ( Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, France, Monaco) for over 20 years. Differences that “shocked” me 30 years ago have changed significantly with Europeans having “caught up” and surged ahead in certain areas.

Initially, the smallness of appliances was a “shock” and I later became aware they were a response to formerly high energy costs. Refrigerators etc. stayed small because city living required people adapt to apartment life rather than large homes in the suburbs. Now New Yorkers are importing European small appliances for their small homes.

Its still a “shock” when I return to the US and see how much people eat out at fast food places. Most Europeans eat at home and prepare their meals rather than buy convenience foods. They also shop more often and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. There are fewer food “trends” like fat free and gluten free yet people are of normal weight and in general very healthy.

One thing that still “shocks” me is how Europeans will save money rather than spend. They stay in the same house or apartment their whole lives and pay off their mortgage rather than upsize or spend the equity. They prefer to buy quality clothing over quantity and are perfectly satisfied with wearing the same scarf over and over again.

Europeans also continue to “shock” me in their use their savings to help their children attend University away from home or overseas and they save for this eventuality. Middle Class Europeans also save for their children’s future and often buy them their first apartment. Americans used to save for their child’s education but now most of them let their children shoulder this burden in the form of student loans that can last over 30 years.

Susan Lopez

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26. The Scarcity Mindset

Everyone eats next to nothing by American standards. People don't gorge themselves, so sometimes it was quite daunting to go round someone's house on the weekend and all they have until supper is tea and a tiny cucumber sandwich. Or order a coffee and get a tiny espresso. Don't get me wrong I love these things but I was raised with a scarcity mindset, so I had to unlearn those habits.

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25. Let's Get Small

I moved to the UK at the end of 2000 and spent nearly 3 years there. I was shocked at the smallness of everything. The roads are narrow, the cars are tiny, the homes are tiny and it is common to buy only part of a house. Where I grew up, if housing was multi-unit, it was a thing to rent (or “let” in the UK), not buy. I understand in some US cities you can also purchase a small part of the building, but seeing this so widespread blew my mind. The home we rented was called semi-detached, meaning it was what Americans would call a duplex. Our half was 500 square feet across two floors. There was nothing detached about it.

There are no clothes closets in these tiny homes; you have to get a piece of furniture called a wardrobe, which still holds very little. Appliances are also very small. Our baking sheets did not fit in the oven at our UK home; we had to buy new smaller ones. There was no dishwasher in the kitchen; the clothes washing machine was there. It only handled very small loads and took a very long time, but not nearly as long as the clothes dryer under the stairs. That was 2 hours minimum; sometimes 4 hours for blue jeans.

I was also shocked at the level of taxes and the number of regulations. Such silly things as no window screens because there had at one point been a tax on them, or the three wheeled car had been invented to save on a wheel tax. There was road tax, TV tax, and more! Then VAT on top of all the other things; petrol sold in litres, etc.

It was beautiful and I enjoyed seeing the historical sights very much, but I would never want to live in such a cramped, tiny expensive place long term.

Marcia Smith

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24. Not Everyone Is An Extrovert

As an American living in the UK, I'd say that adjusting to a more reserved way of expressing emotion. I'm used to being very direct and expressive; if I'm feeling angry or happy or sad or excited, you know right away and I'm not at all shy about it, and I'm used to most other people around me being similarly direct and open about what they're thinking or feeling.

In the UK, I feel like people are a little more indirect and keep their emotions more tamped down. It was especially hard for me to get used to this in a romantic relationship, because for a while I'd perceive my boyfriend's more reserved manners to mean that he was mad at me or that he didn't like something I'd bought for him. Nope, he just isn't quite as out in the open or intense about his emotions as I tend to be.

I'm also getting used to quietly tutting people who jump the queue or stand on the wrong side of the escalator instead of just straight-up calling them out like I would back home. Walk left, stand right!

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23. You Make It Sound Amazing

Moved to Prague from Atlanta. Honestly, feeling so free was the hardest.

Safety? I feel safer alone, hammered, on a Friday night at 3am on a dark street than I did in the U.S. on my couch. Hookers? Legal. Safer and cheaper.

Pot and other stuff? Buy 'em in a bar, police don't care, it's a small fine if you're caught, but they don't even do that.

Healthcare? $98 bucks a month for 100% coverage. Mental health and previous conditions INCLUDED.

Not needing a car/car insurance/car payment/petrol because Europe actually has functioning Public transport.

Haven't seen a gun in 2 years.

Despite not speaking the language, people interact with each other more here and you're much more likely to make friends with a stranger in public and not worry about being cut into pieces.

People take their voting and civil duties much more seriously.

Honestly the hardest thing has been remembering to bring my own bag when I go shopping; everything else has been wonderfully pleasant.

I think because they lost their freedoms for so long under USSR rule, they cling to them and fight for every little thing. Maternity/paternity leave, 6 weeks vacation, mandatory holidays for businesses so workers can have family time. The tax rate for me is about 13%. Compare that to 34% back home.

Come visit Prague; I'll show you around.

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22. Dress To Impress

Last year I spent 9 months in Ukraine. The women there are always dressed to the nines, even just going grocery shopping. One girl there explained to me that, since clothes are so expensive there (one pair of jeans can be two months salary, easily) the women only buy really nice clothes that will last them. They don't buy simple stuff that they can throw on and be casual, so they're always dressed up even in day to day activities. Even their casual jeans and t-shirts are still things that I see girls here wear on nights out.

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21. Stiff Upper Lip

Moved to the U.K. in 2014.

The British are emotionally...different. Not as gregarious and open as Americans. Being here a while now I’ve learned that once you make a British friend, they’re your friend forever. But for the first year or so it was quite lonely. I felt like no one liked me which wasn’t the case at all. They just don’t show it and they’re awkward and bone dry all the time. I now love this and have great affection for my adopted countrymen.

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20. You Can Go With This, You Can Go With That

Infinite choice is very much an American thing.

In the UK, I can go into a cafe and ask for a chicken sandwich, and get one In the USA, if I tried to do the same…

Me: Chicken sandwich please

Him: White or brown?

Me: Oh, you mean bread? Brown, please.

Him: Single or double?

Me: Oh, you mean a double-decker sandwich? Um, single-decker please

Him: Salad or plain?

Me: Er, plain please.

Him: Cream or pickles?

Me: Oh, yeah, uh, pickles

Him: Mustard or brown pickles?

Me: (starting to get frustrated) Can I just take that as it is with nothing more, thanks?

Him: Why didn’t you ask for that in the first place?

Stan Hayward

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19. Europe Is Hard

I lived in Italy for three years. Here’s the problem with being a non-European in Europe. It gets lonely.Europeans from every country are nice and friendly.They are welcoming and polite. But, you will never be one of them. Even if you marry into their families, speak the language, practice their customs and go as native as you could ever think of. You still aren't one of them.

This is very different from the US. We get a lot of criticism for smiling too much and being overly cheerful. But there are a great number of people that are very genuine in their overly happy ways. We are known for adopting people into our lives at a very intimate level not typical among other cultures. A kid from the deepest of the deep rural in a fly over state, can find a home and a family of strangers in NYC. A city kid who had never left the five boroughs of The City, will be just at home after a short adjustment period in Nowhere, USA. The same applies to every immigrant who makes their way to our shores. Welcome to the family.

And for an American, not being able to get anything we want, any time of day or night, is a tough thing to adjust to. It gets annoying. While I fully appreciate a slower lifestyle, when you get used to something, it is hard to adapt. There are a lot of little idiosyncrasies like that that get old, or even after adapting sometimes come back up. August is vacation time in Italy. Nothing is open. Nothing gets done. It has its nice parts, but at the same time, it can be a hassle.

Finally, there is the novelty of being an American. It absolutely doesn't matter how much you try to assimilate, you're the American. As an American, you tend to be culpable for every bad thing your country does. As an American, everything you do is what Americans do. I tried not to talk politics with Europeans. I tried not to talk culture with Europeans. And I hated talking America with Europeans. It sucks. Stay away from universities.

Most of the American expatriates I know in Europe are either ridiculously wealthy or connected to the military. Either way, they really only have one foot in Europe. The wealthy pop back to the USA for a quick fix. The military and other government affiliates live or work on little American islands. The folks I’ve met that aren’t connected directly to the USA tend to be either of a particularly introverted nature or are well plugged into an expat community.

Europe is hard.

Dallas McKay

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18. Mind Your Own Business

I moved to Germany half a dozen years ago. Leipzig specifically. Anyway, one thing is that being nice to strangers is highly frowned upon here. People in the stores act like they're furious that you want to buy things from them, a smile and a wave will get you looked at like you're some kind of creep, and saying something like "hey cool t-shirt" to a woman is akin to propositioning her. Like, hey lady, calm down, I'm married. I just like that band too.

Anyway, I don't let that change me, if people wanna think that I'm a weirdo who's bad at flirting -- that's their problem. For the most part, I prefer it here though. I definitely feel it's a better place to raise kids.

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17. The More You Know!

It took me a while to grasp the concept of eggs being left outside of the fridge.

Eggs sold in the US go through a washing process, which (if done correctly) makes them less likely to spread salmonella. However, it also removes a natural protective coating, which protects the inside of the egg from bacteria etc so the egg must then be refrigerated. So the US likes to rely on the washing process, and Europe on the natural coating. Also, in much of Europe, egg-laying hens are vaccinated against salmonella, removing the major incentive for washing eggs.

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16. A Simpler Time

Here are some of the differences my family found when we moved to France some years ago:

We had only one car, a small refrigerator, and no microwave, and we were somewhat strapped for cash (since I didn’t have a work permit there). But it didn’t matter, because there wasn’t the same social pressure to have lots of “stuff.”

Life was simpler there—-similar to what I remember from my own childhood, back in the sixties. Businesses were mostly closed on Sundays, which were considered family time. Around our neighborhood, we’d see extended families having Sunday dinner around long patio tables. After dinner, it seemed to be the custom to go for walks around the neighborhood, and we’d see many small groups of people walking past our house and peering curiously into our American car.

Local schools were excellent, as was the food served in them. No dried-out, mass-produced cheeseburgers and Tater Tots for those kids! They’re served real food, and it’s arranged on real dishes, rather than handed out in a paper wrapping with a disposable spork.

Produce was much better quality than that sold in the typical U.S. supermarket.

We didn’t have much money to spend, so we took short road trips (up to perhaps 90 minutes each way) on weekends. But that meant that we could visit any number of chateaux, independent wine and cheese makers, medieval churches, beautiful panoramas, museums (Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop, as well as WW2 museums filled with memorabilia. We had many roadside picnics; charcuterie and wines that are considered luxuries here in the U.S. could be bought for very little at the local markets.

We attended local dances in and around Brittany (“fest noz”) for a few euros apiece. Great exercise and a lot of fun for practically nothing.

After living there for a few months, I came to the conclusion that, while Americans excel at making money, French people excel at life. We had to economize greatly while we lived there; yet it stands out in my memory as one of the happiest times in my life.

Diana Arneson

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15. You Feel Me?

Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, just doesn't work in my head. 24-hour clock no problem, metric, yeah all right but Celsius? Just can't 'feel' what 14 degrees is suppose to be.

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14. Park It

What annoys the heck out of me out of Europe is having to plan where to park, always and anywhere. I have to think about what time to get home because the streets may be full and there is no where to park within 2-3 blocks (garages are not a thing). I have to leave early for work to have a chance to park somewhere.

When I need to grab something from a store, I have to check if that store has a parking lot. Or if not, if there's a parking lot somewhere close. If I go to the supermarket in the city center with a long shopping list, chances are I have to pay for parking, or worse, I'm towed, because I spent over an hour in that store. (And if I couldn't grab something because my parking time is running out, and then realize I need item after 10pm or on a Sunday, I'm just out of luck because everything is closed.)

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13. The Solution Is More Revolving Doors

So the doors don't open the same. In the US, the doors almost always open away from you on the inside and you pull from the outside; this is a fire safety regulation. In the UK at least, it is never consistent and I always open the wrong way.

Also, its a lie that Britain uses metric. They do something worse than metric or imperial. THEY MIX THEM! It's so annoying.

School uniforms are a pain and it's also weird how judgemental people are based on your accent. In America, you can't really tell how much money someone makes based on their accent.

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12. Puppy Love

In Europe, it's hard not being able to pet people's dogs. People in the states were usually so friendly about it. I'm not saying all Europeans, but the ones I've come in contact with look like they are going to knife me if I try to ask to pet their dog.

People let their kids run wild and what not. But the dog... that's a different story.

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11. The Real Difference

At the core, there is one very important difference in values between the US and Europe, and depending on which side each person identifies with, they will feel more comfortable in the US or in Europe: as a gross generalization (which I am aware of, so flame away if you so feel the need), in Europe, the common good is more important than individual preference, whereas in the US it is the opposite.

Thus, folks who are driven by individual performance, individual achievement, individual wealth accumulation, are more likely to find life more to their taste in the US, whereas those folks who feel that society is measured by how it treats the least well-off, are more likely to find life more to their taste in Europe. (There are, of course, individual exceptions to this rule.)

Bruce Epstein

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10. Are You Being Sarcastic?

I've been in UK for the last 4 years. People walk everywhere and a lot of people don’t have driver's licenses, which is weird for me coming from South Carolina and now living in a large city.

The humor is also definitely different -- you know, the way people joke. Like, no one will actually say they’re kidding and I always feel like I have to guess. The sarcasm is strong, so sometimes I’m just not sure. Especially being in Scotland.

Also all the tax being included in the price. You actually pay what the ticketed price is. No more adding extra for each item you put in your shopping basket. Whaaaaat.

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9. Well, I Could Never Live There

I lived in the UK for a while back in 2008. Mexican food does not (okay, barely) exists. I need me some burritos.

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8. Cop Out

Police where I live don't carry guns and are, for the most part, way more friendly than their American counterparts. I actually talked to one of them about not being nervous around them and he said it was because they didn't carry guns. It's taken me a while to adjust to this actually, because when I lived in the US and was near cops it would make me nervous as hell even though I didn't do anything bad.


7. Do It For The Kids

In our experience, there were some things that were “better” for our lives in Paris than is the case for us in San Francisco, California (where we were from and where we have now returned).

First, as parents of a young kid, there were many things that were available to us “for free” (and no, they were not really “free.” We had a much more substantial tax burden, which was the source of funds. They are not provided by “the government” like manna from above).

The museums are free for children. Cultural events (e.g., concerts) are available at greatly reduced prices for them. Parks have organized, hands-on events (near us was the Parc Monceau, which had in the spring a gardening atelier for kids, including their own vegetable or flowering plant to take home and cultivate, for example). The city government encouraged families.

In San Francisco, it seems just the opposite. The city (famously) has the smallest percentage of households with children in the whole of the US. The parks seem to cater to young tech types. Taking your kid to a concert or theater event is going to be hundreds of dollars, which puts those sorts of things beyond reach for many.

David W. Budd

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6. Howdy, Partner

I'm still a U.S. citizen but I've traveled and lived in Europe for work for a lot of my professional career. So I hope I qualify.

One of the more difficult cultural quirks was having to sit at a table with strangers when going out to eat. I worked in Germany for 6 months a few years ago and, while it makes sense from an efficiency standpoint, it's super awkward when your not a social butterfly.

Also, the prevalent use of 'partner' when referring to your opposite-sex significant others. It took me a while to stop assuming they're in a same-sex relationship. Funny enough, I now mostly use partner to refer to my girlfriend now that I'm back stateside and I get people making the same assumption about me.

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5. Look Both Ways

I studied abroad in London during college. The first day in the country, I was almost hit by a car because the cars there are on the other side of the road. Also, as a Bostonian, I’m used to jaywalking, so that didn’t help, either. Took me a while to get used to figuring out the way to get a on a bus, too.

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4. Slower Isn't Always Better

I moved to Italy, Sicily to be exact, and it was hard for me. I liked the area and my in-laws a lot, but I was not used to the slow-paced environment that came with it. I'm from the South and it's slow down there, but somehow Sicily was even slower. The massive number of holidays where everything is closed make it hard to live. The fact that everything closes at 1pm to 4pm was hard too.

Electricity was expensive and you couldn't store the energy from your solar panels, so even if you had air conditioning you didn't run it much because of the cost.

Hospitals sucked (my kid was born there) and the job market did too. A good paying job in Sicily at that time was €800 ($896 US) a month, but most of the jobs were €450 a month, and they paid you in cash too. You just can't raise a family on those wages.

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3. I Take This Personally

When I was in England back in the mid 2000s, I was starving. Went into a Subway and asked for a footlong. The employee just gave me this giant "what in the world are you talking about" stare. I looked up at the menu and the only thing listed was 6 inch subs.

Finally, as she put it all together she asked, “So you want two?” The she proceeded to cut the full bread in half and build two of the same sandwiches separately.

That is when I realized Americans might have a problem.

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2. Pay Per Pee

My first couple of days in Rome, I got all the touristy stuff out of the way: the Colosseum, the Forum. But I still didn't really know the lay of the land.

I was walking near the Vatican one afternoon when I really had to use the men's room. I saw a public bathroom just up ahead -- lucky me! So I peeled off the street toward it. Just as I was about to enter, a big, angry-looking man near the entrance stuck his arm out and blocked me.

Who knew it costs money to use a public bathroom in Rome? It really surprised me!

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1. Are You Finnished?

My wife moved to Finland so we could live together -- a reasonable improvement over having an entire ocean between us. Here's just some things she had to adjust to:

Fast food portions: American portions are ridiculous. For what you pay for a potato field worth of fries, you get a medium here. Large fries in a Finnish McD are on par with small in the U.S.

Obedience to traffic lights. Even when the road is clear, Finns will mostly still wait for the light to turn green.

Public drinking. While technically not legal, police (and other people) don't really care if you behave yourself. Parks are filled to the brim with people drinking in the summer. You can walk out of a store, pop open a cold one and sit in front of the store drinking it. We were caught by a small summer raincloud and downed a bottle of white wine right there by the bike racks while we waited for the rain to clear.

Public Transport. It's everywhere, it's efficient, it's reliable. I've lived in two cities, I've never felt the need to buy myself a car. Wife doesn't have a car. We live about 5km away from downtown, and it takes us 15 minutes to get there during the day, 30 tops any time of the night.

Makeup. People don't use it nearly as much. Natural blemish hiding and subdued highlighting is common, but anything beyond that, you just don't see on other people besides 18-20 year olds who have just moved away from home to a new city and are going out to party.

Security. She's never seen a cop ticket anyone here. She doesn't flinch or feel unsafe anymore when she sees a cop, because cop salaries aren't predicated on them ticketing people as much. On the flip side, we've even walked through the roughest neighborhoods during the small hours of the morning and didn't feel like it's a place we shouldn't be. She can take a bus or the train whenever, to wherever, and never think twice.

Healthcare. She was reluctant to get to the hospital when she discovered my knives are sharp and cut her pinky TO THE BONE. She was so reluctant because it would've been a month's salary down the drain in the states. Here, for a foreigner at the time, with no insurance, a doctor stitching up her finger cost under $200.

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