Top Ten European Cultural Differences

A trek through Europe is often eye-opening. It can provide the neophyte historical and cultural insight, as well as serving as an arena for self-exploration. All this being said, to avoid culture shock it is prudent to keep in mind the following European cultural differences.

10)Elevators Have Negative Numbers- The idea of a negative floor hurled me into a whirlwind. Then, too, were it not for the sign that said Shop-Cafe-Restaurant, I might not have known to get off at 0. Look closer at the picture. -2, and -1, which technically can’t even exist, were major tourist sites; a film museum was on -1, and the ground floor was on -2.

9) Small Cars- Almost everyone jokes about how small European cars are. I never thought them exceedingly minuscule. Until this trip. I’ve driven in a Fiat before, but cars like this seem built for a Lilliputian. Look closely. The back seat and trunk are one infinitesimal compartment.

8) Large Drinks-Generally the local beer is a good deal. For example, in Prague, a huge mug of Pilsner costs 2$. What is more, the size of drinks, particularly beer, tend to be much larger than in the U.S. As you can see, this huge mixed drink is not for one person. This being said, given how much our European counterparts tend to drink I would not have been shocked if one of them imbibed the contents of more than one glass.

7) Beggars Really Beg-Worse even than seeing the poverty in certain countries is learning that beggars in Prague actually get on their hands and knees. Then stay that way for hours. This is an unfortunate situation. So I don’t mean to in any way make light of it. But it is a very different cultural experience than New York or Los Angeles where hobos tend to hound you for cash.

6) Mcdonald’s Is Classy-This London Mcdonald’s — located near the London Eye (a large ferris wheel) — is spotless, sleek, and modern. The designer couches are comfortable. The tables are painted an inviting color and the trendy frosted glass adds to the elegant ambience. The immaculate urinals automatically-flush. Given the decor, it was surprising this Mcdonald’s didn’t serve English Breakfast Tea with Victoria Sponge Cake.

5) Learn to Love The Stairs- A great number of stairs are pretty much the norm. The image on the left is from a staircase leading you up to a ramp, leading you to another staircase, leading to the bottom of Buda Castle. The right shot is shortly after crossing Charles Bridge on the way to Prague Castle. Most churches, towers, and mountainous scenic views requires a hike and a half. Often you have to pay for the privilege. It’s a worthy trade. But be prepared.

4) Statues Often Urinate- These two, outside the Kafka Museum, face each other and heed the call of nature. Perhaps to some this was Kafkaesque, although personally I found it mildly disturbing. If you look closely the water even has a distinctive neon hue, which, perhaps, adds to the whole mystical nature of the proceedings. In Belgium there is a Mannekin Pis, a bronze statue of a little boy engaging in similar shenanigans.

3) Vespas Are Incredibly Popular- This is particularly the case in Italy where Vespas are even more popular than gelato. While gelato, or Italian ice cream, is quite the craze in Italy, with one establishment serving huge heaps of it on large rolls, and lines around the block, Vespas are still more beloved. The picture on the left is from Rome, where, owing to the lack of crosswalks, ever-changing street signs, and drivers barreling down cobblestone streets in Vespas, one had better proceed with caution. The right image features gelato from Giolitti’s, which is as popular as Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan’s West Village.

3) Churches Dominate- Churches like Florence’s Duomo, dominate the skyline of many European cities. In Rome this is a law: no building can be as tall as St. Peter’s Basilica. Jewish sites are rare, although there is the opportunity, at times, to tour a Jewish ghetto. The bottom image is from the Jewish Quarter in Prague. The picture features the headstones in a Jewish Cemetery, the only place Jews were allowed to be buried. Bodies were piled one atop the other, the limited space endlessly shrinking until the crowded tombstones became crooked. It seems a big drop off from the majestic image on the left to the dilapidated cemetery on the right.

1)You Pay To Use The Bathroom- When I planned my budget for this European adventure, I did not add in all the fees I might rack up using the W.C. The price is often around one Euro (1.30$), a small fee, some would say. But if you frequent the bathroom you can quickly find yourself in penury. Don’t expect a luxury bathroom either. The toilet seat is remarkably thin and/or, at times, non-existent. The right image is from a motel room (shower, toilet, bidet, sink are all in one miniscule space), yet it is likely a big improvement over what you will find (minus the bidet) after paying $$$ to use the toilet.



Matt Nagin is a writer, comedian, actor, and educator. His latest book, “Do Not Feed The Clown,” is available on Amazon. More at

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Matt Nagin

Matt Nagin is a writer, comedian, actor, and educator. His latest book, “Do Not Feed The Clown,” is available on Amazon. More at