Tim likes to travel. Follow his adventures as he explores the world.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

12 Doses of Culture Shock for This American in Europe

When you move away from your country and customs and social norms, you expect a bit of culture shock in whatever new country you are visiting. Sometimes that culture shock is an amazing new experience and you wish your home country would adopt that custom. Sometimes the culture shock is so offensive that you can't possibly condone it and you try to avoid it while in the new country. And other times, the culture shock is just what it is, you get over it, and over time you just learn to accept it as a normal way of life.
Photo credit: ww.EnglishGenie.com

Here are 12 doses of culture shock this American has received while living and traveling around Europe. Of course, being an American, most of these revolve around food.

Carbonated ice tea (canned/bottled)

When I moved to Germany, I ordered an ice tea at a restaurant. I was confused when I saw bubbles in my drink, and once I drank it, I realized that it was carbonated. Fluke? No. Traveling around Europe I've discovered many of the countries serve ice tea, exclusively with bubbles. There is no ice tea "without gas" option. However, in the supermarkets and stores you can get regular ice tea.

When I was in the US, I never even knew it was possible to carbonate tea. After living in South Carolina for several years, I became a sweet tea fanatic. The method of making it is simply filling the container half full with sugar, and then adding tea. Sometimes people add lemon, and sometimes people need an insulin shot. But, in all my years of sweet tea-in', I never had it carbonated.


Misleading "American" adjective



While playing basketball in southern Belgium, some teammates of mine invited me over for some food. They assumed that the American would want filet americain. So, I say sure, and dig in. After the first bite, I am confused as to what I'm eating and why it doesn't taste as delicious as I hoped. Well, that's because filet americain is raw American beef. Raw, as in uncooked. Not sure why it's raw, as I've never met an American who eats their beef that way, but that's what it is.
Another time, while eating at a restaurant, I know to avoid the filet americain and I get something else. After a delicious meal, the waiter asks if I want coffee and I agree, but he asks what kind. There is more than one kind? Looking at the menu, I decide, why not, let's try a café americano. That is straight black coffee. Milk and sugar aren't even offered along side. Unless you work at a missile silo in South Dakota, most Americans put cream, milk, sugar, and other things, with just a smidge of coffee.


Yay for butter

I'm in Germany, at the bäckerei (bakery), and I see they serve pretzels. In the US, I loved Auntie Anne's pretzels, with heavy cheese or mustard. So, I decide to get one. These were not Auntie Anne's. They were better! First, the pretzel was deliciously unprocessed and simply tasted better. Second, there was a pleasant surprise in my pretzel, butter! And it made it taste even better.

Same scenario with a ham and cheese sandwich. I hate mayo, but mustard is good, and butter is better. Butter is now my official go to for all meat and cheese sandwiches, and mustard is the backup. Butter is also deliciously baked into croque-monsieurs (grilled cheese), cooked into pasta dishes, and spread on cooked vegetables. In the US, no/low-fat is so heavily preached, that butter gets a bad rep and is under-utilized (except in the south).

What's for dessert?

After having your fill of filet americain, and you want some dessert to go with your café americano, it is very likely that you would select the cheese platter. Cheese, for dessert. Don't worry, it's an assortment of cheeses that we don't have in the US. Or, why not a fruit salad? Or better yet, a digestif, which is post-meal liquor.

Apparently, there are health and gastronomical reasons for eating these types of desserts, as they aid digestion and encourage relaxation. In the US we simply eat a sugar and fat filled dessert, large enough for 3 people, and lick the bowl when we're done. Then after our 30 minute sugar rush, we crash on the couch for 2 hours and sleep it off.

Paying for condiments

A friend of mine made an excellent comment on my post about things I disliked in Europe about paying for condiments. In the US, ketchup and condiment packets abound so much that most people have a gallon-sized plastic bag in their kitchen, full of various condiments that they've received (without asking for) with delivery or take-out food. And McDonald's in Europe wants to charge me 25 cents for a 1oz ketchup/BBQ/random condiment packet??? Yet, the free one in the US is 2oz!


Just kitchen it

Americans have not quite grasped the concept of daily food shopping, or maybe we think we "evolved" beyond having to shop everyday for food? Whatever it is, we have refrigerator/freezers that can store 5 months worth of food, plus another deep freezer capable of storing a moose. In addition, we have a water fountain and ice cube maker built into the front of the fridge. In Europe, not so much.

Many apartments for rent do not even come with an equipped kitchen (fridge, dishwasher, stove/oven). If you are lucky enough to get an apartment that actually has a fridge in it already, it will likely be slightly bigger than the ones you find in a hotel room or a college dorm, and there will be no freezer. Though the fridge is typically built into the cabinets and makes the kitchen look neat.

Then, there is the likelihood that there is a washing machine in the kitchen. Right below the silverware and between the cereal cabinet and the pots and pans cabinet, is a washing machine. And that's if its even built into the cabinets, because it may just be free standing in the corner. Dryers are about as common as freezers, as clothing lines/racks tend to be preferred.

More European kitchen fun: the sinks don't have water sprayers or food disposals, and food pantries don't exist (for the Europeans: a food pantry is a walk-in closet where Americans store all the food that didn't fit in the (twice as many as you have) cabinets).

Upscale fast food restaurants

Fast food restaurants in the US are not typically associated with fine dining, nutritionally or aesthetically. However, in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and even Romania, I have walked into a fast food establishment, American or otherwise, and have found granite counter tops, leather cushioned seats, bathrooms with televisions and decor in them, and handy dandy digital pre-pay kiosks. The food is still crap, but I feel posh while eating it. It's been awhile since I've been out to eat in the US, but I don't even remember the nice restaurants having such amenities. Maybe they are using all the money raised from selling condiments to pay for these extras?


Censorship, I think not

In a land where freedom of speech is rhetoric, the US has quite a bit of censorship. I did not realize how much we are censored until I moved to Europe.

Driving down the street anywhere in Europe, listening to the radio, you will hear the "f-bomb" dropped in a song, among many other American taboo words. You'll drive by a bus stop with an advertisement with either nudity or profanity, or both. And billboards on the highway will have giant naked women, advertising a wide variety of things, including "adult services". Television shows and movies on regular cable channels will have scenes that only premium-paid channels can show in the US. Even Comedy Central, which pushes the envelope in the US and is still heavily censored, is completely uncensored all day in Europe.

Nakedness in Europe

Keeping in theme with European nudity, they seem to be a lot more comfortable with their bodies than Americans. I remember high school sports and after a game or practice, not one person would use the shower. It was open and everyone would be able to see you naked. Even at gyms, most guys are eyes down and changing under their towel, or not showering at all. Only old guys in the locker room do that.

Every season that I have played basketball here, I have seen that every age group in the club, from small children up to the seniors' league, has no problem showering together. Of course, I can only speak for men, as I am in the women's locker less frequently than the average man wishes.

Nude beaches are taboo in the US. In Europe, if it's not marked as a "must wear swimsuit" beach, then it is fair game to be nude. Moms playing with their kids will just be on the beach topless, playing with their naked babies. Little girls' bathing suits in Europe, seem to not be sold with the top at all, as seen from the beaches and pools. And by little girl, I mean up to age 9 or 10.

Americans, have you ever said to your friends, hey lets go to a spa? If so, was that spa a no-clothing-allowed spa? I cannot fathom any group of Americans, men or women, deciding to go to a spa with their friends, where they will all be naked. And a spa in Europe is not just facials, massages, and mud baths in a private room; it has large pools, hot tubs, and saunas in an open complex where everyone sees everyone...naked.

Metric and Celsius

In the 4th or 5th grade, I remember converting miles to kilometers, pounds to kilograms, ounces to milliliters, and Fahrenheit to Celsius. Who would have imagined that I would actually need to use that stuff one day? Initially, it was a bit annoying to have to convert all the time. After 6 years in Europe, I am easily making the conversions, when cooking in an oven, or checking the weather, or determining how far another city is. I can tell people my height and weight, or follow a recipe using metric.

Switch in tech superiority

When I lived in the US all the coolest new tech gadgets were in Europe and Asia. Pretty much the day I arrived in Europe, all the coolest tech gadgets were in the US and Asia. Europe has fallen behind and, as a tech geek, I am suffering. Plus, with the euro being much stronger than the dollar, buying tech in Europe is much more expensive. Not only do we get tech late in Europe, it costs us more; not my favorite combination of annoyances.

#onlyblackdude

So, I've touched on this a bit in my travel posts, particularly to Eastern and Northern Europe, where I'll see one black person for every multitude of white people. And this isn't about race, but just about noticing the environment. If you are the only man in a room full of women, you notice it. If you are the tallest person in the elevator, you notice it. So, when I look around my environment and I don't see any black people, I notice it; and I love it! I feel so unique and exotic; I am an American AND I'm black! I sign autographs and take pictures with people who have never seen a black person. I also get mistaken for celebrities, yet to date, not to my advantage.

What do you think?

This list is based on my experience and I'm curious if you agree or disagree. For the non-Europeans, what experiences have you had? For the Europeans, how do you feel about these, or the alternatives, when you visit another culture? Thanks for reading!

Also check out 7 Reasons This American Loves Europe and 12 Things This American Can't Stand Living in Europe.

(all images used in this post are from other sources and not my own)
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