Home Lifestyle Things Europeans Do That Americans Just Don’t Understand

Things Europeans Do That Americans Just Don’t Understand

Darren October 4, 2023

Many Americans dream of visiting Europe, but when they finally arrive, they can’t believe the differences between the two regions. They comprehend that it’s not one ubiquitous country and that everything isn’t the same as in the U.S. So today, we’ll look at things Europeans do that Americans just don’t understand.

It’s important to remember that these points apply to some European countries but not all of them. It’s simply fascinating to see what Americans must adapt to when they visit the continent. From public nudity in Spain to leaving babies outside in Denmark, join us on this wild cultural journey below.

Underage Drinking

Americans don’t understand why Europeans begin drinking so young. First, most Europeans can legally drink alcohol when they turn 18. This means they’re imbibing liquor for three years before their U.S. counterparts. Meanwhile, Belgium and Germany allow drinking for ages as low as 16 for low-alcohol content beverages.


There’s also a different attitude toward underage drinking. Law enforcement won’t arrest kids like they do in America. The worst thing is that they’ll confiscate the drinks and pour them away. Furthermore, some European parents will give their children diluted wine at the dinner table (via Drink Aware).

Pay Restrooms

This one would cause a riot in the U.S. because it seems so unreasonable. It’s common for people to pay to use European public restrooms. We’re talking about places like malls, department stores, and train stations. In some countries like Finland, they’ll even force their victims to dial a phone number to unlock the restroom gate.

Our Escape Clause

This is very rare in the U.S. and something Americans can’t imagine. Europeans argue that the money ensures a liveable wage for the workers and the restroom’s upkeep. But no one wants to fumble for change when they’re experiencing a call of nature (via The Travel).

Cheap Healthcare

Americans and Europeans have opposite mindsets regarding healthcare. In the U.S. everybody pays for private healthcare and it costs a fortune. However, in Europe, citizens typically subscribe to universal healthcare from birth. Yes, they pay higher taxes but it means that base healthcare is cheaper.

The Guardian

Some U.S. residents don’t want their hard-earned dollars going toward people who are too lazy to work. Different European countries have varying approaches but most of them have similar systems. Nonetheless, private healthcare still exists and wealthier people subscribe to it (via Griffin Healthcare).

Soft Punishments

Another aspect that Americans don’t understand about Europe is their short jail sentences and lax punishments. The U.S. incarcerates more people per capita than anywhere else on earth. They also impose longer prison terms and life means exactly that. But that’s not always the case in Europe where life can mean 20 years or fewer.


Meanwhile, in the EU, there’s a bigger focus on rehabilitation than punishment. Norway began closing some prisons in 2023 because they didn’t have enough prisoners. They also have relatively luxurious facilities. Some Americans think this approach won’t deter crime but the evidence supports that it in fact does (via TNP).

Paying For Water

In 2023, one TikToker made waves when she made a video mocking Europeans because they don’t drink enough water. This touched a sore spot across the continent and they reacted angrily. However, other Americans jumped on the bandwagon and shared how they resented paying for water in Europe.

Tasting Table

It’s very common for waiters to charge for water in European restaurants. Legally, in the UK, they must provide tap water if customers ask for it. Usually, they’ll try to sell bottled water first. There are also reports in Greece and Spain of charging for tap water (via Insider).

No Fresh Milk

Once again, this differs across the continent but there’s no denying that some European countries don’t drink fresh milk. France, Belgium, and Spain overwhelmingly prefer UHT milk because it’s more pasteurized. It’s also very convenient to store it because it doesn’t require refrigeration before opening it.

The New York Times

However, countries that prefer fresh milk like the U.S. and the U.K. don’t understand UHT milk. They think that the flavor is weaker and they prefer to avoid it when possible. Meanwhile, some Americans think that fresh milk is safer because we consume it quicker (via The Local).


These days smoking is a very anti-social habit in the U.S. But it remains widespread and popular across mainland Europe. It’s very common to see people smoking at outdoor cafes and restaurants while enjoying a drink with their dinner. There isn’t the same taboo as in the U.S.


Ironically, the EU enforces strict cigarette packaging regulations but they don’t work well. They show affected lungs and contain messages like ‘smoking kills.’ However, smoking remains culturally engrained in France, Spain, and Eastern European nations like Poland (via NPR).


This is another cultural practice that Americans don’t understand and even find terrifying. It’s ubiquitous across southern Europe in countries like Spain, France, and Portugal. Men and women extend greetings by kissing each other’s cheeks. Often they’ll simply graze cheeks but it’s the same idea.


Puritanical Americans would never dream of this and don’t want anyone entering their private bubble. We must note that Northern Europeans don’t do this either and it freaks them out too. Maybe there’s something about the warm weather that causes folks to lose their inhibitions (via QZ).

Mayonnaise on Fries

Mayonnaise is a classic condiment but it’s losing popularity in the U.S. Meanwhile, Americans don’t understand why their European counterparts insist on putting it on French Fries. The potato snack is extremely popular in Belgium and they always serve mayonnaise with them (via The Culture Trip).

Taste Atlas

It’s more likely that Americans will put ketchup on their fries or maybe salt and vinegar. They tend to put mayonnaise on sandwiches or with salads. That’s why they think it’s weird to put it on their fries. Belgium recently applied for UNESCO World Heritage status for their fries, so don’t tell them what’s right or wrong!

Keeping Your Credit Card

This is a cultural quirk that catches many Americans when they travel to a European country. Usually, they hand their credit card to the server when they’re ready to pay. Then the server takes their card away before returning it to them. But this is very uncommon in Europe.

Restaurant Hospitality

Instead, they bring the card machine to the table and the customer settles their bill there. This isn’t a big deal but it’s one of those small differences that can be confusing. Europeans prefer to see what the waiter is doing while some banks forbid waiters from handling their cards (via Travel Stack Exchange).

Not Washing Eggs

This is a scenario where Americans and Europeans take opposite approaches. In the U.S. it’s mandatory to chemically clean the outside of eggs before selling them. Then stores must refrigerate them to lower the risk of salmonella. Americans don’t understand why Europeans don’t do the same.

The Guardian

However, when chickens lay eggs there’s a protective coating around the shell. EU countries don’t wash the eggs because they believe it’s dangerous to remove this coating. They think that it will allow bacteria through the shell and into the egg. It’s interesting because both sides care about public health (via Forbes).

Leaving Babies Outside

The very thought of this will horrify the average American. But it’s a completely normal cultural practice in places like Denmark and Norway. Their maternity advisors even recommend it because the fresh air helps babies to sleep. That’s why it’s common to see a line of prams outside restaurants.


But what about kidnappers and dangerous abusers? It’s important to note that Danish mothers don’t simply abandon their children. They wrap them under down blankets and they’re usually in full view or with a baby monitor. Furthermore, they’ll also check their temperatures (via Kid Spot).

Public Urinals

When we say public urinals, we mean exactly that. The pissoir is a French invention that would make the average American recoil in horror. They were a common fixture on small streets in their cities where men urinate themselves in times of need. This probably wouldn’t even be legal in the U.S.

N.Y. Post

Men would be suffering arrests for indecent exposure all over the nation. However, the French believe that it is sensible and sanitary because it dissuades men from peeing on the street. There’s no denying that this can be very tempting after a few drinks late at night (via Smithsonian Magazine).

Small Cars

The most popular vehicle in the UK in 2023 is the Ford Fiesta. In Germany, they favor the Volkswagen Golf while the French opt for the Renault Clio. All of these cars are small hatchbacks that don’t take up much space. Compare this to the U.S.’s favored vehicle, the Ford F-150.


Americans love trucks and don’t understand why Europeans squeeze themselves into tiny boxes. For their part, Europeans think that nobody needs a truck except for lumberjacks and construction workers. This is a massive cultural difference that will never change (via Car and Driver).

Breastfeeding in Public

We may not like to admit it but Americans can be very puritanical when it comes to public nudity. This is one reason why it’s uncommon to see women breastfeeding in public spaces in the U.S. People will freak out when they see women performing this completely natural and healthy act.

Sanford Health News

Americans don’t understand why women in Europe expose themselves but they have a different attitude. Nobody there would question a mother for feeding her child or consider it to be indecent. Mount Sinai agrees that breastfeeding is healthier than formula but the latter remains dominant in the States.

No Circumcisions

This is another aspect of child healthcare that Americans don’t understand about Europe. Almost 70 percent of boys in the U.S. underwent circumcision. Meanwhile, only 8.5 percent of males in the U.K. receive the procedure with similar rates across mainland Europe (via Exberliner).

Miami New Times

Usually, they do it for religious reasons in Europe but it’s more widespread in North America. That’s because of the puritanical mindset that still subconsciously affects citizens across the continent. It horrifies many Europeans to consider chopping a piece off their newborn child.


Soccer is overwhelmingly the most popular sport in Europe. It’s one thing that Americans will never understand about the continent. We don’t know why they obsess over a bunch of men in tight shorts running around and falling over. Why don’t they watch a real game like American football?

Front Office Sports

Scandinavian countries love winter sports like skiing and ice hockey. Meanwhile, southern European nations enjoy basketball, handball, and other games. But soccer remains a constant across Europe and produces the biggest sporting stars. We’ll agree to disagree about this one (via Bleacher Report).

Gun Ownership

Americans love guns more than almost anything else in the world. In 2020, there were an estimated 433 million guns in civilian possession in the U.S. However, most of Europe has very different attitudes. For example, it’s extremely difficult to acquire a gun in the U.K. and only limited options are available (via The Trace).

Out in the Nature

Handguns and high-power rifles are illegal with farmers owning most of the weapons. Switzerland and Serbia are massive outliers because it’s possible to acquire high-power weapons there. Meanwhile, hunting is extremely popular in Scandinavian nations but there aren’t any AR-15s.

Public Transport

L.A. citizens agree that public transport is a great concept but it’s something that’s beyond them. It’s impossible to live in a West Coast city without a car. However, it’s a different story in Europe where almost everybody depends on public transport. We’re talking about the bigger cities here not rural areas.


Meanwhile, Americans also fly everywhere and rack up air miles. Europe has expansive rail networks that cross borders between countries. It’s possible to take a high-speed train from London through the Channel Tunnel and enter mainland Europe without sailing or flying (via Rail Europe).

Driving Stick

Most Europeans drive a stick shift in their vehicles but Americans don’t understand why. One of the main reasons why manual cars remain more popular than automatic alternatives is because they’re more economical. Fuel is expensive so Europeans save money by changing gears themselves.


According to Reader’s Digest, 98 percent of Americans drive automatic cars. One reason is that they like eating while driving while Europeans don’t multitask. Automatics also carry a negative connotation in Europe because people assume the driver isn’t very skillful.

Unobtrusive Waiters

Many Americans complain about restaurant service in Europe and think that it’s not good. That’s because the U.S. servers constantly check if everything is okay and serve refills. But there’s a very clear reason why they do this. American servers depend on tips so they’re desperate to impress customers (via The Guardian).

The Guardian

However, this isn’t an issue in European countries because they have a liveable minimum wage. Furthermore, there’s also a different cultural attitude toward general service. Many Europeans find American servers overbearing and irritating. They want the restaurant staff to leave them alone unless they specifically request assistance.

Military Ambivalence

Something that shocks Americans when they go to other countries is their ambivalence toward the military. It’s common for U.S. servicepeople to receive many benefits. People will even allow military members in uniform to skip the line in coffee chains and restaurants. They’ll always thank them for their service.

The Independent

But this isn’t the case across Europe. Some of them resent the U.S. military and think they’re the world police. Meanwhile, they don’t care much about their national militaries either. Countries like Ireland and Iceland barely think about them at all (via Euro News).

Multilingual Citizens

Only 20 percent of Americans are bilingual with most of them coming from Hispanic backgrounds. But it’s a very different story in Europe where almost 70 percent of people speak at least two languages. They usually speak their national language as well as English but some countries have multiple.


For example, Spain has multiple indigenous languages including Catalan and Galician. This is something that many Americans don’t understand when they visit Europe. There are extreme cultural differences across the continent so it’s important to be aware of these (via The Guardian).

High Taxes

Some U.S. states do have high taxes but Scandinavia takes it to another level. Danish workers pay an average of 35.5 percent tax on their income. Compare this to Florida, which doesn’t even have an individual income tax. However, the Danes like this system because it goes back into society.


This is all about perspective because they think it improves the everyday quality of their lives. Yes, they have less disposable income but they have an advanced education system and great public facilities. Not everybody enjoys this and maybe Americans don’t understand it (via Tax Foundation).

Eating Horse

Yes, some Europeans enjoy eating horse and consider it to be a delicacy. It’s relatively common in France although it won’t be on every restaurant menu. It is legal to eat horses in the U.S. but almost nobody does it because they think it’s barbaric. However, the French will dismiss this with a Gallic shrug.

The Atlantic

They’ll question why it’s acceptable to turn a horse into dogmeat but humans can’t consume it. Belgians, Swiss, and Germans also consume horses without batting an eyelid. There are some strange meats in the U.S. though which would turn European heads such as alligators (via The Daily Meal).

National Service

Later we’ll talk about how most European countries don’t obsess about their militaries like the U.S. However some nations continue to exercise a practice that doesn’t exist in North America. National service is mandatory in Finland, Denmark, and Greece, amongst others (via DW).

The Canberra Times

Geopolitical reasons play a part in this. For example, Finland shares a long land border with Russia while Greece maintains tensions with Turkey. It’s very common to see young men in military fatigues on public transport in Scandinavia. Conscription has high approval ratings in the region.

Uncensored Songs

Some Americans reported that they couldn’t believe their ears when they went to Europe. They went into a cafe or a shopping mall where there was music playing in the background. So far everything is normal but then they hear explicit lyrics. Usually, radio stations censor these in the U.S. because they offend people.

Conde Nast Traveler

However, uncensored lyrics remain common in Europe. Remember, English is not a native language in most of these nations so the words don’t resonate in the same way. Ireland and the UK do censor their lyrics because they’re English-speaking. But still, expect to hear naughty words on the continent (via Digital Spy).


This is something that disturbs Americans more than anything else when they go to Europe. They don’t understand why people are always naked. Nudist beaches are commonplace in countries like Spain and France. Women sunbathe topless in many places too (via Trips to Discover).


But it’s not only the warm countries where people strip off. Saunas are massively popular in the Nordic countries and it’s culturally normal to be naked. Mixed-gender saunas are relatively common and nobody bats an eyelid. It would freak out the average puritanical American.

Unfurnished Apartments

This is another alien concept for Americans but something that’s relatively common in countries like Germany. It’s not usual to find stripped apartments with no appliances. The rent is cheaper but the new tenants must purchase everything themselves. We’re not just talking about a microwave but an entire kitchen unit.

Deposit Photos

They’ll also furnish the entire apartment including beds, chairs, and tables. This would scandalize Americans if landlords introduced a similar model. Some Europeans like this because they don’t want to use other people’s belongings. But it can be very expensive to move from place to place (via Housing Anywhere).


Americans drive everywhere because city planners made it impossible for them to walk safely. Now it’s a culturally engrained practice and most U.S. residents accept it. However, it’s a different story in Europe where people will walk to the store. Children will also ride their bicycles to school or walk together.


Parents would probably receive social service visits in the U.S. if they allowed their children to do this. Unfortunately, the U.S. has created an environment of fear. For all of the talk about freedom, it’s not easy to be outdoors without a vehicle. Europeans don’t understand this when they move to America (via The Sun).

Long Vacations

Most European countries require longer vacation times than the U.S. This gives them more freedom to travel and explore the world. U.S. companies don’t understand how their European counterparts maintain productivity. However, it turns out that happiness is an underrated quality.

New York Post

Meanwhile, countries like Sweden trialed four-day working weeks. Typically, workers also enjoy more protection than in the USA. It’s illegal for employers to automatically fire their staff unless they’ve committed an egregious act. Elon Musk discovered this when he fired his Irish staff in Dublin (via RTE).

No Tipping

Something that most Americans find jarring in the EU is the different tipping culture. It’s not mandatory to tip in most European countries because they’re paid a higher, liveable minimum wage. Customers tip because they want to reward wait staff for their service and not out of obligation.

AFAR Media

Usually, they’ll say to keep the change or something like that. This is a massive difference and it also affects Americans when Europeans visit the U.S. That’s because they resent paying an extra 20 percent because the U.S. refuses to fix its minimum wage rules (via Fortune).