Europe is a popular destination for American tourists. Millions of travelers from the U.S. head to countries such as Italy, France, and Germany each year to experience the history, culture, and gastronomy that the continent is known for.
Whilst there are many similarities between the U.S. and Europe: English is widely spoken and culture shock is, in general, limited, there are certain areas of daily life that differ from what they are used to back home.
Whilst each EU country is unique, such diversity is one of the continent’s greatest appeals, there are general differences between the U.S. and Europe.
Americans should be aware of these distinctions in order to minimize in order to avoid confusion, especially when traveling to Europe for the first time.
European Countries Use the Metric System
Whilst the U.S. utilizes the imperial system for measuring weight and distance (feet, miles, and pounds) Europe applies the metric system (meters, kilometers, and kilos).
When traveling by road, Americans will notice that road distances on signs are displayed meters and kilometers. Similarly, if driving in Europe, car speedometers will show km per hour (km/h), not miles per hour (mph).
Also, when buying produce at a market, shoppers need to ask for the weight they require in grams or kilos rather than ounces or pounds.
Some useful imperial to metric conversions are:
|1 foot (ft)||0.305 meters (m)|
|1 mile (mi)||1.609 kilometers (km)|
|1 ounce (oz)||28.35 grams (g)|
|1 pound (lb)||0.545 kilograms (kg)|
It should be noted that, although the UK is officially metric, the imperial system is still used widely, especially for road distances.
How do you write the date in Europe?
To avoid misunderstandings when booking accommodation in Europe or organizing transport and activities for the trip, it is important to have an understanding of the European date and time format.
In the U.S., the standard date format is mm-dd-yy whilst across Europe, it is written dd-mm-yy.
Confusion may arise if it is not clear which format is being used, taking the 6th of August 2020 as an example:
- U.S. format: 08-06-2020
- European format: 06-08-2020
It is, therefore, a good idea to clarify the month and day when making arrangements.
Europe uses the 24-hour clock
Whilst the 12-hour clock is used in the United States, Europe applies the 24-hour clock (known to American’s as military time). This is key to understanding timetables and airline tickets when traveling.
- 3 a.m. is written as 03:00
- 3 p.m. is written as 15:00
- Noon is written as 12:00
- Midnight is written as 00:00
What Americans Need to Know about Driving in Europe
American’s considering hiring a car to get around Europe should be aware of several things before getting behind the wheel.
Whilst most European nations drive on the right-hand side of the road, the UK, Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta all drive on the left.
Americans who are not used to navigating traffic circles will need to take extra care as roundabouts are far more widespread in Europe than in the US.
Visitors from the U.S. will also notice a difference between how streets are named in Europe compared with back home.
Rather than being given a number, such as 15th Avenue, streets in Europe’s towns and cities are almost always given a name, for example, Church Street or Orchard Lane. European motorways, however, are identified using numbers such as the A66 around Madrid in Spain.
Food, Dining and Restaurant Culture in Europe
Perhaps one of the most well-discussed cultural differences between America and European nations is the attitude towards food and dining.
Mealtimes differ from country to country in Europe. Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Sweden all have dinner at around 6 to 7 pm, slightly later when eating at a restaurant.
However, American’s visiting Mediterranean countries ought to be prepared for much later dinner times than they are used to.
In Spain, lunch is typically eaten at around 2 pm whilst the evening meal is generally eaten any time from 9 pm. It is rare for restaurants to open before 8 pm and those which do will be empty except for fellow tourists.
Portion sizes in Europe are smaller than in the U.S.
Another notable difference when dining at a restaurant, café, or even fast food outlet is that servings are smaller in Europe than in America.
This applies to both food and drinks. It is something to consider when selecting from among small, medium, or large hot beverages (XL is very rarely offered), for example.
Is it customary to tip in Europe?
Tipping is not compulsory in Europe and is done so at the discretion of the diner. Customers who are satisfied with the service received at a restaurant will generally leave between 5 and 10%.
Some establishments add a service charge to the bill so check carefully before leaving extra.
Gratuities are not expected when ordering a drink at a bar but will be appreciated.