I’m a Europhile; I love most things about the continent from its cobbled streets to coma-inducing pastries. But that doesn’t mean I love absolutely everything about Europe. Like any place it has its quirks, its eccentricities that can at times drive me insane. As a side note, if anything proves that I am 100% American, it’s this list.
I’d like to think that there are some basic human needs that should be taken care of anywhere in the world, and being able to use the bathroom for free is one of them. It’s surprising, if you think about it, that on a continent that professes to be egalitarian and fair that even the bathrooms in the airport require a 50-cent donation. Maybe it’s because we have so much more space here in the US, but with very rare exception we allow our citizens the opportunity to pee free of charge no matter who they are or where they are. It’s strange, it’s bizarre and it needs to stop. I hate having to carry around a change purse full of pee-coins just in case I need them.
At first this complaint seems counterintuitive. One would assume that once leaving American shores that we as a citizenry would revel in the opportunity to not tip every human we meet. Sure, it’s nice to have some extra money in my wallet, but not tipping has caused me more angst instead of less. Perhaps it’s just the way I was raised, but to leave a restaurant and not tip the server seems wrong, horribly wrong to me and I leave feeling guilty, irrationally so. We Americans are quirky but we fundamentally love the idea of rewarding someone for a job well done. It’s proof in the ethos that anyone can bootstrap their way to prosperity by simple, hard work. So I usually do tip in Europe, although not as much and even then a little voice in my head wonders aloud whether or not that person will think me cheap. Europe, if you’re reading this, you should also know that service is almost always better when people depend on tips than when they don’t.
No Free Refills
It was with complete shock on my first adventure outside of the US when, after thirstily downing my cola beverage of choice, I learned that the establishment wanted to charge me for another. In many US restaurants this doesn’t exist, instead we are treated to as many glasses of that cold elixir as we want. The main reason for this has to do with the preponderance of soda dispensers in American restaurants. Instead of selling Coke by the can or bottle, it’s by the glass. Since filling a glass of soda from a dispenser costs pennies, the extra expense of refills is factored into the price of a standard drink. Of course that’s not to say every American restaurant does this and in the fast food world it matters if you’re dining in or eating out, but the fact remains that this basic mark of human decency has yet made it to the Old World.
Sometimes Confusing Trains
I love train travel and I wish that the US had a better infrastructure of fast, reliable train service. But we don’t which means that we Americans are inexperienced when it comes to train travel. In my opinion there is no more convenient way of seeing Europe than by train, but it does have its drawbacks. The first is the concept of making reservations. It’s possible, for example, to be in position of a train pass and yet still you have to purchase an additional reservation. It’s weird and confusing and boggles the mind of first time American travelers. The general rule of thumb with reservations is that if the route is a popular one, like Paris-Brussels, or if it’s a high-speed train, then reservations are necessary. But the confusion doesn’t end there; interpreting tickets, coaches, seats and even placement on the platform is daunting for a first time train traveler with little help provided. However once these hurdles are navigated, it really is a fun way to get around the continent.
Hotels (boutiques and twin beds)
I love hotels. Check that, I love nice hotels. For me they are an important part of the travel experience and my partner and I will do a lot to make sure we’re happy with our accommodations. But this is made difficult in Europe. One way that I ensure the quality of a hotel is if it’s a brand I know and trust, like Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons. But these are somewhat rare in Europe, which prizes the small, boutique hotel above most others. While these quirky hotels can be nice at times they can also be, well, quirky. Frankly it’s hit or miss and can be an agonizing part of the travel experience in Europe. The beds in European hotels most times are also peculiar. In many places around the world if I book a room with a king or queen sized bed that’s exactly what I get. But in Europe instead of a king mattress they just push together two twins, a strange arrangement when traveling with your significant other.
Ah the Euro. A convenient and easy to understand currency, used everywhere from Brussels to Naples. It’s also more efficient than American currency in large part due to the heavy reliance on coins, which last longer than silly paper bills. But we Americans are used to depending on those paper bills and have long since relegated coins to a station of little import. That predilection haunts us though in Europe when we are at first pleased to be able to pay for entire purchases using only spare change, but are later horrified to learn that the coins equaled more than $20. This is our fault and not yours Europe, but it does make saving money while traveling around the continent a financial challenge at times.
What are some things that (lovingly) annoy you about Europe?
42 thoughts on “I Love You Europe, But Sometimes You Annoy Me”
The one for me is no facecloths in hotels!
Yes! So weird
Haha, this is a lot of fun to read as a European (who has traveled in the US before). I find dollars confusing! WHYYY would you have paper bills for something as small as a dollar? I feel like I spend so much money when I’m in the US and constantly spend bills ;-) They’re much harder to distinguish from one another as well, than euros. I know the tipping is a very touchy subject, but I dislike having to tip everywhere in the US because restaurantowners don’t take their responsibility to pay their staff. I think it’s much more fair to see it as a sign of appreciation. If service was ok, you just did your job like you’re supposed to do & get paid for, if it was very good, you get a tip :-) I’d personally rather have half decent service from a well payed waiter, than a overly friendly waiter who is only nice because of my money. But that’s personal ofcourse :-)
I agree on the hotels though. Even a gamble for Europeans!! ;-) I find the refills in the US so weird also. If you buy 1 pizza, you don’t get new pizza until you’re full.. so why drinks? I absolutely love the USA though, going back this summer, so this is no hate, just laughing about our cultural differences :-) XX
I agree with you on every point especially the paid toilets and beds!!!
Yes, especially the pay toilets! And I’ve always wondered why I have no trouble catching chicken buses all around Central America, but am embarrassingly awful at European train travel.
So interesting how different views exist on this depending on culture! It does annoy me that you don’t get free refills here in Europe, because I almost always finish my first glass before dinner is even served. And the toilet money is annoying as well. But I have to agree with Explorista on the tipping. When we go to restaurants we almost always tip anyways, not a lot and depending on the service as well as prices, but still. One thing that, for whatever reason, really irks me about the US is that they don’t have the metric system. To me it just makes SO much more sense and is much easier to convert, so I just don’t get why Americans tend to not feel the same. Haha. A very interesting topic!
Agree on the pay toilets. Don’t like those at all, but I did get really good at scouting out the free toilets. They do exist, but are not always handy. A coin purse is needed. :)
No facecloths. After my first stay in a hotel, I bought my own and now always travel with one.
Tipping. Well, I have a beef with tipping. If US employers paid their wait staff better wages then there wouldn’t be a need to tip. Basically employers rely on the general public to subsidize the wages. And, not all service type jobs get “tipped”. eg. store clerks, gas station attendants, and so on.
On my first trip to Europe (eons ago), I thought so many things were strange, but I soon realized that they may do things differently, but it works too! After all the differences are what make travel that much more interesting.
As a European it stresses me terribly that I have to give tips in the US, and I know I’m not the only European to think this way. It stresses me because I can always do wrong. I can give too little, too much, I have to calculate stuff etc.
You say that people will serve you better if they depend on tips. I believe that, but I think it’s wrong. I believe that when you work in a field of work giving a good service is part of the job. I know this is the ideal situation, but I do feel that that’s the way it should be.
On the other hand I think it’s wrong that in the States so many people depend on tips. You might do a hell of a job, if you’re serving mostly cheap asses (which, I guess, is possible) or tourists who aren’t in the know (or choose not to know), you’re screwed.
It’s also not so that there’s no tipping at all in Europe. We actually do tip a lot. We just tip when we think the service was really good. Not just the good you can expect it to be, the good it should be, but just that little more.
I think there’s a real big culture difference there. Either way, tipping stresses the hell out of me:)
Which reminds me of another thing: the fact that sales tax is only added to the sum once you’re at the counter. Why is that? Why not just put on the price tag how much it will in fact cost?
But I’m drifting off here, sorry:)
Because it is a sales tax and not a VAT(typically7%vs 25%)
I agree re: the price you see on the shelf not being the price you pay. It should just be written on the shelf to include all taxes, like it is everywhere else in the world.
I have fond memories as a child going to the sweet shop on the way home from school, seeing what small change I had in my pocket and buying sweets that added up exactly to that amount. Sad that you can’t do that in America as you don’t know how much it is going to cost!
I’m always annoyed when I spend Weeks and months learning another language when I visit another country, only to be sneeringly served/helped/assisted in Engish
Yes! So irritating
As a European, I’m tempted to turn it around:
I was in the US 1998 and one thing, that totally upset me, is that every city, that is not a big city, just has the 10 same boring chain restaurants like McDonalds, Subway and so on serving food with almost no fresh items like vegetable and fruits. Maybe that has changed meanwhile?
Free refill is a nice thing, but I’m glad it doesn’t exist in Europe, because drinking 2 liters of those soft drinks per day with all their sugar in them almost certainly will make you a diabetes II person later in your live.
Hotel beds: Don’t ever go to Japan! :-)
But thanks for the interesting points. Train reservations can indeed be confusing. :-)
I’m going to find out all about those trains in August in Italy. Trains were a bit confusing in Japan as well–but ridiculously simple here in Taiwan. And those pay toilets are going to kill me. Japan and Taiwan have tons of free public toilets (seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever been more than a five minute walk from one; they’re like 7-11 around here).
Be especially careful with Italian trains. I was in Rome termini station, sitting comfortably inside the train bound for Florence waiting for departure when I noticed people hurrying out. I then went back out to check the reason why only to realise that they changed the platform of departure with 5mins to go – and it’s at the other end!
The beds drive me insane! A double bed where I come from is perfect for two people and long enough for a 5 foot 10 person. In Europe it’s barely wide enough for two and your feet hang off the end.
Nice to read this, as a european traveller, who likes to travel in the USA! ;-)
I like the FreeRefill, the free restrooms in the USA.
I too love everything about Europe but I do have to agree on those beds. I hate when they push the two twins together when I’ve requested a double or two separate beds. It can be just a little too cozy when traveling with a friend or with my brother.
YES! I laughed out loud when I saw pay toilets! At least there are public restrooms. I just got back from Paris and had the toughest time trying to find a bathroom. Luckily, there are free restrooms in front of Notre Dame.
As someone who often has to explain Europe’s pay toilets, you are (generally) paying for the maintenance of the restroom, or as I’ve heard many people call her “Madame Pee Pee.” Your 25-50 cents goes towards cleaning supplies, which is why the facilities are often cleaner than the ones you get here in the states… or at least that how it was explained to me. Frustrating, yes, but c’est la vie!
Are you crazy? Not tipping is amazing! Haha, tipping is the single most annoying thing about travelling around America. But I know what you mean about paying for public toilets – that is really annoying. In countries like Belgium it annoys me that quite often you even have to pay to use the loos at McDonald’s.
I have to disagree about the tipping – I save so much money when I am not worrying about tipping overseas. I agree however that bathroom usage should be a fee-free experience. :D
Ha! You made some good points. Some would make a good basis for hours of discussion like tipping and refills, others annoy me quite a lot as well. Especially paying for toilets! Having grown up in eastern germany I found it disgusting to learn that more and more places start to charge for toilets. First it was public toilets, then train stations, gas stations on the autobahn, even warehouses where you actually go to spend money…
And trains! Well you are right, train travel is great! But train services change from year to year (mainly with the general development to make travel more expensive) and they are different from country to country. So getting around is a learning process for europeans as well. Maybe if you never care for the money and always book full service than this doesn’t apply…
In general I’d say what makes europe complicated is the nature of all those different countries with their different rules etc…. but it makes it quite smpathetic and diverse as well, right :)
Oh if I can add one thing about the toilets… the people cleaning these are quite tactic as well. Sitting there next to the table staring at you as you enter or go, always making sure there is a 50ct or 1€ coin lying there as a psychological trick and even taking away all coins given that are smaller than 50ct to indicate nothing below is accepted…
Another thing which I found different is the lack of doughnuts in the hotel’s breakfast. USA vs Europe wins on this issue.
I like the no tipping required in Europe because it means those employees are making a living wage. But I agree, it causes me a great amount of stress as an American and I am constantly worrying if they think I’m cheap if I tip less than I would in America.
Ha ha ha, I definetely agree ! Nice comments.
Haha. My new husband hated the push-together beds we had on our honeymoon through Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
Matt, it’s quite interesting to read your opinion on things in Europe! Having been raised in Europe and lived in the US for many years, I feel that I have a very different perspective on a few items you mentioned. The pay toilets for example are a very recent development, but I don’t see the difference to the US where a cleaning lady is expecting to receive a dollar when you leave the toilet…
The no tipping in the rest of the world is actually a great blessing! Not only do you actually know how much you are spending on a meal, including tax and all, but also the waiters are receiving a proper salary and don’t try to rush you out the door once you are chewing on last bite of your meal…
What the free refill of these sugary drinks is concerned, the US is finally realizing that the consumption of these beverages, especially in high quantities is one of the reasons for many health problems. Cities like New York have already banned large containers and so forth to cut back on the resulting hospital costs…
While I can’t speak much for hotels in Europe, I do have to say that I prefer having dollar bills my pocket over Euro coins. I am actually finding then too heave and difficult to track as well… :)
I (California woman) lived in Europe about 5 years. One irksome thing about many parks in Europe : no walking on the grass. Giant swathes of beautiful lawn in shady parks on sunny days, but in many places it’s “Keep Off The Grass,” stay along designated paths, sit on the benches please. As an American, that leaves you feeling a little bit ripped off.
You forgot to mention how hard it is to get ice in your drink.
Why are Americans obsessed with ice? It waters down the drink, and if you order a soft drink, it comes straight out of the fridge so it IS cold. Ice gets you less for your money. In the summer I get it – but I was recently in extremely cold Wyoming where it was snowing, and they still gave you ice in your drink. Why??! Contrary to some online claims, Europeans do not like their cold drinks lukewarm – they like them cold, but with the actual flavour of the drink rather than 50% water (i.e. ice).
Regarding trains, I did find the Paris Metro very easy to use, and without being very fluent in French.
I’m going to be brutal here so hold on to your hats!
1. Pay toilets are a great idea however the execution is not quite right. The idea is that you have someone being paid to clean it. The issue is they don’t do a very good job.
2. Tipping should be banned in the US. Ninety percent of the workers in American don’t get paid tips, why should the other 10%? If I don’t do a good job at work I get fired. That’s a pretty good incentive to do a good job. I’ve heard all the arguments and I don’t think any of them hold water. Those folks are hired to interact with the public, providing good service IS their job. Pay them a reasonable wage and be done with it. I also think that tax should be included in the price so we know up front what the cost is.
3. Free refills should be banned in the US as well. With the majority of citizens in the US falling into the obese category the last thing we need is to give out free high fructose corn syrup drinks. And how much sugar water do you really need to drink in one sitting? ONE 24 oz soda has nearly 1/2 cup (2 TBS to be exact) of sugar which is twice the recommended daily allowance for an adult male. Pick up that one refill and you have enough sugar for a week.
4. I have no problems with the trains although once I did have a Eurorail pass and I still had to get a reservation (in France) before boarding. After doing the calculations and realizing I was paying more for the pass than just taking trains I stopped buying them. The pass is just you buying a voucher which you then have to show to get a ticket. I’ve had trains changed out from under me in NYC more than in Europe.
5. The hotels can be quirky but that’s what reviews are for. Don’t just rent one blindly. I usually go for homestays and apartments. I spend about 7 weeks a year in Europe and I’d say 80% of that is in apartments thanks to airbnb and roomorama.
6. I am indifferent about the coins. Our coins are worthless so I just drop them into a jar at home and our 1 dollar bills stack up so much I try to get rid of them. A bigger irritation in Europe to me would be the lack of debit/credit cards everywhere. In the US you could buy anything you want with a card, in Europe not so much.
Free refills? Really? One of the reasons why so many ppl here in the US is overweight! Free refills should be banned! LOL
This is so stupid. You guys are so self-entitled. Free refills…stop screwing the planet idiots. You’re wasting resources like mad when at least 50% of the planet needs them more than you. You are officially an idiot, congrats.
So I bet you’re a lot of fun at parties :) Talk about self-entitled…
Oh yeah…love the pay toilets. Grrr. I seem to need one just when I have no change.
Love not paying tips…North American restaurant owners need to pay staff a decent wage. In Europe and elsewhere you can leave a tip, but it is not expected as I have found it to be especially in the US.
Trains…yeah, they can be fun. I was taking the train from Naples to Rome. All of a sudden I found the train was going the other way. At the very last minute another train had come on the line with no notice…
Actually love the money…bills are coloured and increase in size as with value. Same with coins….get bigger as value increases.
Pay toilets do seem to be more common in some countries than others. France? All over the place. We just returned from Denmark and I never once saw one that required money, after using restrooms in the Copenhagen airport and a big department store. And, some friends who were traveling with us and took a train reported they were free in the train station as well. I will say that pay toilets I’ve encountered have often been pretty clean, but I’ve also found that airport restrooms are generally cleaner in Europe than in the US, and seem to have attendants constantly working in them.
As for tipping, I kind of like the no tipping idea, and that the cost of my meal is already set at a point that pays the employees a livable salary. I’ve rarely had bad service in Europe, although it typically is slower. I think it’s more a cultural difference than a tipping difference – the expectation is that if you go out to eat at a nice restaurant, you’re not in a rush, you’re there to enjoy the meal, and they’re not going to disturb you, but will get you what you need when you ask for it. It also seems to vary by country; in Scandanavia and the UK I oten find that it’s more American style attention, whereas in places like Germany and France you do have to ask them to come over more often than not, but when they do, they are helpful.
There are a number of well-regarded restaurants in the US that are going tip-free and paying their employees decent wages. It will be interesting to see if that has any effect on service, but I suspect it will not, as they are mostly higher end restaurants in big cities.
One thing that does annoy me – having to actually check out of hotels when you leave. It does seem like some of the big chains in Europe are slowly getting on board with the idea of not requiring guests to check out, and swipe credit cards again at check out, and sign receipts, and insist you take a paper receipt in an envelope, but it’s still not the norm there. Unlike the US, where you can walk out of most hotels on your last day, leave the key card in the room or drop it in a box on the way out, and they’ll just email you a receipt, in most of the rest of the world, the expectation seems to be you will go to the desk, wait in line, wait while they print a receipt for you to review and sign, then they charge your card, make you sign that receipt, then print a new copy of everything and put that in an envelope for you to take. It’s not a huge deal, but it does add time, and at busy places, I’ve waited in line up to 15-20 minutes to go through the whole process. In the US, unless you’ve got a reason to talk to the front desk about something, you just walk out when you’re ready to go, assuming you’re not leaving late or early.
As a Brit, I find it unnerving checking out of a hotel by just walking out, without seeing a human. What if there is a problem with the bill? I would rather hear about it straightaway so that I can dispute it if necessary.
I stayed at an airport hotel in the Netherlands recently that did this, and I still went to a human just in case, as it just felt really weird, incomplete and security/financially risky to leave without notice.
Interesting article, nice to see the perspective of an American in Europe.
Free refills are rare for extremely obvious health reasons. I love free refills in the US but my dentist doesn’t.
Tipping – there IS tipping in Europe, but it’s just more reasonable. No tipping in a bar or cafe, whereas in a sit-down restaurant it’s normal to to 5 or 10%. Anything more is extreme unless you’re in a very high-brow restaurant, where 15% might be the absolute limit.
Why should you be tipped for doing your job? I work in an office all day and don’t expect a tip just for turning up to work. In Europe, we have better employment rights and a higher minimum wage that has no exemptions. The customer should not have to pay for the employer’s mistreatment of its staff. I agree that American service is fantastic, but it’s only for financial motives. Japan is the best – no tipping, ever, but outstanding service.
Pay toilets – depends on the country. In France, it free almost everywhere. In Germany, it’s the opposite – even in some restaurants and petrol stations you have to pay to use their loo even if you have bought something from their establishment. I find this dreadful. In the UK it’s hit and miss – it’s always free in shopping centres, department stores and motorway service stations, and usually everywhere in smaller towns but not in big cities.
I went to the US recently and discovered Sonic – I miss those 44oz drinks bigger than my head!
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