Weird Things I Found in Europe as a Sheltered American

As an American who has never left the United States, much less traveled anywhere by myself, up and leaving my little town in Kentucky was no easy task. Being in a foreign land where I don’t speak the language is about as easy as it sounds. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way because it has exposed me to new experiences and taught me to be more resilient, and I am only one month in!

Therefore, with all of my new experiences and cultures that I have been exposed to, I decided to write a little bit about weird (or better yet, different) things in Europe that I didn’t expect as a sheltered American

The floors of multi floor places start at “0.”

This sounds so trivial, but it was the first “weird” thing that I was exposed to because I lived on the 4th floor of my apartment…. Or, in American terms, I would live on the 5th. Basically, the first floor is considered the “ground floor” so I suppose it makes sense that the first floor is floor “0”, but as you go downstairs, the floors go “-1, -2,…” and I just found that completely strange! Yes? No?

People drive on the same side of the road.

Alright, so this was just me being an ignorant American. I just expected Americans only drove on the right side of the road (like we don’t use the metric system or military time). But, my assumption was wrong, we are not unique, and I was surprised for about .2 seconds. Only the UK and all British colonies drive on the left side!

Sometimes, companies leave the credit card number on the receipt.

Now, this should be weird to everyone. What happens if I left my receipt on the table on accident? What if it got in the hands of the wrong person? Luckily I caught it and was able to dispose of the receipt correctly, but here is my advice to keep an eye on your receipts because you never know!

You have to sign a piece of paper after credit card transaction.

I think this is due to the fact that America is more digitized than Europe (not in all cases though!) but anytime I bought anything, even a €2 bottle of water, I would have to sign a piece of paper instead of a monitor. Most of Europe is pretty economically friendly, so I saw this as a surprise because it is such a waste of paper.

People drink alcohol on the trains and in the streets.

Now, unlike New Orleans, Wisconsin, and Europe, most of the United States have open container laws in place, so it was strange to see people walking around the streets with an open bottle of beer. Although I am living in France, I have asked my friends from all kinds of countries (Finland, Germany, New Zealand, UK), and this is the case in so many European countries!

Europeans don’t have air conditioning in living quarters.

Honestly, I was told about this before I got to Europe and I thought it was a joke. How can such big cities that get so hot seriously not have air conditioning?! Do we live in the 1800’s?! Well, apparently so because it isn’t a joke. There. Is. Not. Air. Conditioning.

The showers are those handheld showers.

 Honestly, this was the biggest shock and annoyance to me. As I have learned, as in America you see mostly mounted shower heads and hardly any handheld showers, it’s the exact opposite in Europe. How am I supposed to scrub my shampoo and hold a shower head at the same time? I’m a month into my adventures in Europe and I still don’t know how.

The chargers charge faster.

This is just science. The voltage of the chargers here are 220 voltage, and in America, they are 110 voltage. So naturally, it would charge faster. Much less, something I did not expect. Don’t fact check me on that 😉

Europeans don’t refrigerate their eggs or milk.

When I went to the grocery store for the first time and saw a section of shelves with eggs and milk that WEREN’T in a refrigerator, I was stopped in my tracks. Granted, eggs are laid and aren’t refrigerated, so that wasn’t as strange to me, but cereal with warm milk just does not sound appealing. At all.

They don’t put ice in their water (or their drinks!)

In the month span that I have been in Europe, I have yet to see a block of ice. Restaurants just give you a glass bottle of lukewarm water. Even for mixed drinks at the bars, I haven’t had ice! Maybe I have just been to weird restaurants/bars. I’m now counting down the days until I get an ice cold glass of water.

Everything is closed on Sundays.

Europeans don’t joke about “keeping holy the Sabbath day.” Grocery stores, restaurants, and cafes are closed on Sundays (and if they aren’t, they close super early). On top of that, stores open later and close earlier during the week. So my “fast-paced America” mentality gets time to cool down on Sundays.

All in all, I have had a great time since moving to France. Although this list has portrayed weird things I have found it Europe, it’s what makes my trip here so unique. It makes me more resilient, open, and curious to learn more about European cultures and trends.  

Au revior!

Madrid Bull Fights

During my weekend in Madrid my friends thought it would be a very cool experience to immerse ourselves into the culture and attend a bull fight. Bull fighting is a big event in Spain and the matadors are highly regarded in the culture. For example, while flipping through a magazine I saw small articles about celebrities right next to massive articles about bull fighters. Upon arrival the locals were tailgating the event in the square while we were bracing ourselves. When we got into the arena the atmosphere was electric all of the people were very excited. Then the fight started. Watching it was not as bad as I thought because of the energy of the locals but as an animal lover it was a little unbearable at times. However it was a very cool and to experience something that many people don’t get to experience, especially because it will most likely be considered illegal in a few years. Overall, I learned through this experience to always keep an open mind when traveling and taking place in different activities that you are not used to. If you maintain an open mind you may not like certain things but you will never have a bad time. 

Poland

Thus far I have really enjoyed my study abroad experience. I have been fortunate enough to visit Krakow Poland, Vienna Austria and Amsterdam Netherlands. I have loved exploring and learning about each of these countries for very different reasons. Poland was one of the toughest experiences of my life but I would not have changed a thing.

During my time in Poland, I loved exploring Krakow, learning about its deep history and eating some of its traditional Jewish food. Although sad, the history surrounding Krakow’s immense Jewish background and the events that occurred during World War II was a very important piece of history to learn about. Learning about the dark events that took place to the large Jewish population that resided in Poland was an extremely hard pill to swallow. After walking around the beautiful city, visiting memorials, touring synagogues and finally visiting Auschwitz, this experience really changed my entire outlook on life. Once I learned about the gruesome details of the war and seeing what these innocent people endured, I looked at my life in a completely different light. Although it was a very tough trip, I realized how much I take for granted every single day and decided to live every day to the fullest. I would suggest for everyone to have this experience at least once in their lifetime. I am very grateful for the experience Poland gave me and the life lessons I learned in return.


Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam, Netherlands was like something I’ve never seen before. The whole time I was there it didn’t feel real. The city is flooded with canals, bikes, awesome museums, and delicious food. The city has over 100 kilometers of canals, 90 islands, and over 1500 bridges. These canals are lined with storybook houses. Some are tilting because they were built on stilts and the land is shifting, but they are all tall and slim with open windows and hooks at the tops of them so they could bring the furniture in through the window. These canals are also lined with bikes! Every where you go people are zooming past you in individual bikes or two person bikes. I had the opportunity to go to The National Amsterdam Museum, Van Gogh Museum and the Tulip Museum, Each were equally fascinating. The food was my favorite thing. They had every food you could imagine and they weren’t lacking on the sweets. The Stroopwaffels were life changing in the famous Pancake Factory blew me away. Amsterdam was different from all the other cities I’ve seen so far and that’s what made it so special. I will definitely be going back!

Venice Carnival

It is carnival season! Recently I took a weekend trip to Italy were I got to experience Venice Carnival. Venice carnival is the second largest carnival that takes place in the world. Thousands of tourist flock to the island city to experience the tradition that happens every year. I arrived for the kick off of the event and it succeeded its hype. Everyone wears mascaraed mask the whole time which is very cool to see the details of the mask. To put it into perspective their mask are like our derby hats. Then the carnival kicked off with a parade as most events do, but since Venice doesn’t have streets the parade flowed through the city canals. This years theme was blame the moon so all of the floats had that incorporated into them. I thought this parade was very interesting because while it was a parade it felt more like a performance. Most the parades I have seen just have giant beautiful floats but these floats had dancers and performers on them which was very cool. It was very cool to see this cultural event that has been taking place for centuries happen and I would recommend anyone studying abroad in the spring to check it out. 

Visiting Strasbourg

One of my favorite places that I visited during my time in Germany was Strassbourg, which lies just within the borders of France. Strasbourg is a very interesting city because it has been passed back and forth between France and Germany many times over its lengthy history. Because of this unique history, there is a strange and wonderful cultural blend between German and French cultures. Although they are a part of France, and French is the official language, it isn’t hard at all to find someone speaking German in Strasbourg, or as the Germans spell it, ‘Straßburg’. This was definitely an advantage for me, as my French skills were virtually non-existent. Strasbourg is pretty touristy, so it wasn’t hard to find menus in English, but it’s always possible to run into a language barrier.

While visiting Strasbourg, I would definitely recommend climbing the tower of the cathedral. While entering and viewing the inside of the cathedral is free, climbing the cathedral is not. Luckily, most places in Strasbourg offer a significant student discount. While the view from the top of the cathedral is not necessarily the most amazing in Europe, it does offer a nice view over the tops of the low buildings that make up most of Strasbourg.

I would also recommend stopping for a glass of wine or a hot cup of coffee in ‘Petite France’. This part of the city is very old and historical. From here you can also take a boat tour along the picturesque canals of the city.

Overall, Strasbourg is an amazing city and deserves a visit, especially if you’re studying in Western Germany or Northern France.

Celebrations

One big difference I noticed abroad was celebrating different holidays and traditions. My first month abroad, Costa Rica had its Independence Day on September 15th. My program had us celebrate by taking part in the Independence Day parade and making faroles, which are decorative lanterns children typically carry through the parade.  We got to walk in the parade and see all of the festivities that took place in the town center.

It was strange being abroad in the fall, because Costa Rica does not celebrate Halloween or Thanksgiving. Some people dress up in the bars on Halloween, so I went with other Americans and we all had some sort of costume, even if it wasn’t well put together. Although it is not as important of a holiday to me now that I am older, it was still strange not seeing decorations up. It did not even feel like Thanksgiving when the day rolled around. I had class in the morning as usual, and in the afternoon I went out with my professor to find a fabric I was looking for to use in a project for his class. I called my family and they all talked about how much they missed me and what they were doing, which felt strange to watch from the outside. Later, my study abroad program set up a dinner for us at a restaurant where we ate typical Thanksgiving food. It was not a bad day, it just felt very confusing.

Learning the Language

One interesting aspect of traveling abroad is the language barrier and learning to speak a new language. I took Spanish all throughout high school, although our classes were not very advanced, and in my first 2 years of college. I was excited to spend four months in a Spanish speaking country. I did not think about my growth in the language much during my time abroad, but it is interesting to reflect and see how far I have come.

 

When I first arrived, I was nervous to meet my host family. My 26-year-old host brother spoke English, but his mother, aunt, cousin, and grandparents who all lived with us did not. I came to their house late at night, so we had a quick conversation before bed. I was able to communicate with them just fine and they kept telling me my Spanish was advanced, but I know it needed lots of work. I started the semester with a month-long class in Intermediate 2 Spanish. I could hear myself improve in grammar as well as my speaking skills throughout the month, and I continued to practice outside of the classroom. When I was with my friends we typically spoke in English, so I made sure to go some places alone. I continued to better my speaking skills in stores, with my host family, and in taxis. I even went to a Spanish conversation group to talk to local college students. Even though I’m not a fluent speaker, I now feel comfortable speaking Spanish.

A Rhein-Main Region Travel Guide

Frankfurt

Frankfurt am Main is the fifth largest city in Germany, and the largest city in Hesse. Frankfurt has a historic center, neighbored by skyscrapers in the Central Banking District. Frankfurt is also home to the European Central Bank. Frankfurt has several malls including MyZeil, a large shopping district with restaurants and businesses. Transportation is easy in Frankfurt. Frankfurt public transport includes the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, and the Straßenbahn (Tram). Frankfurt is also home to two long and beautiful riverbanks lined with riverboat tours and bridges that offer excellent panoramic views of the city and the Main River. Frankfurt also has a zoo and botanical gardens.

Wiesbaden

Wiesbaden sits about half an hour west of Frankfurt, and offers a small city feel. Wiesbaden features a nice inner district that hosts many festivals and markets. The architecture of the buildings along Bahnhofstrasse is beautiful. The center of Wiesbaden also offers a casino and a large park with a pond that’s great for warm weather get togethers.

Mainz

Mainz is a decently sized university town with an active nightlife and a well connected train station. If you find yourself in Mainz, I’d definitely recommend a stop at Eisgrub-Brau to share a five liter tower of beer with some friends. Mainz is also home to a massive cathedral and the Gutenberg museum.

Oestrich-Winkel

Oestrich-Winkel is a small wine growing town on the northern shore of the Rhein. It is also home to one of the schools that UofL has an exchange with, EBS Universität für Wirtschaft und Recht. Oestrich is a quaint city with many wineries and wine stands. The specialty of this region is Riesling.

Rüdesheim

About ten minutes by train from Oestrich-Winkel, Rudesheim is a touristy town with many restaurants and shops where you can buy souvenirs and trinkets. Rudesheim also has very steep vineyards and a cable car that takes you up above the vineyards to the Niederwalddenkmal, a massive statue monument that memorializes the foundation of the German Empire in 1871. From the Niederwalddenkmal you can see across the Rhein to the city of Bingen am Rhein and the endless rows of vines. I recommend following one of the trails behind the memorial to one of many structures along the high hills that line the bank of the Rhein.

Bingen am Rhein

Bingen lies across the Rhein from Rudesheim. The easiest way to get between these two towns is the ferry that runs several times an hour. Nestled on a hill in the middle of Bingen sits a castle. The tower that protrudes from the top of the Bingen Castle is free to climb, and offers an excellent view of the surrounding city and the river. Bingen also has a lively main-street type area for shopping, ice cream, or wine tasting.

 

Bacharach

Between Bacharach and Bingen am Rhein are at least four ancient castles that sit high up on the steep hills that line the Rhein. Bacharach itself is a very interesting city, and is featured on many travel guides that claim that it is one of the most ‘well-preserved medieval cities in Germany’. I recommend the castle that perches on a high hill behind the city and the main street. There is even a tiny and cheap ice cream shop that will let you try Riesling-flavored ice cream.

 

Runkel an der Lahn

Runkel is the most remote town on this list, but also one of the most untouched and beautiful. Like many of the other cities and towns on this list, Runkel sits on a river with high, towering hills that line both banks. Runkel sits and the Lahn river, which also runs through nearby Limburg. The river in Runkel is picturesque and going down to a small part on the river bank allows you to have a magnificent view of the castle that stands high above the opposite bank. Exploring the castle isn’t free, but it is one of the most untouched and authentic castles that I have ever visited, and there are several vantage points that offer excellent views.

 

Overall, I found the Rhein-Main region to be one of the most beautiful and peaceful regions in Germany. The Rhine Valley is excellent for a drive, if you’re able to travel through it by car or by train.

 

*Note: Rhein is the German spelling of ‘Rhine’

 

Berlin für Anfänger (Berlin for Beginners)

My trip to Berlin was the first time that I traveled away from my host university. Getting a break from the small village I live in was a relief. A few of us decided to make a quick weekend trip to Berlin. FlixBus is a cheap option for traveling across Europe, but the ride was about 6 hours (when it wasn’t delayed). Overall, I think Berlin is a must-see for anyone in Central Europe.

Here are a few of my recommendations for things to see (Sehenswürdigkeiten):

1. Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral):

Located in the “Mitte” district of Berlin, this Cathedral is beautiful. If you have a student ID you can get a discount for entry and go up to the top of the cathedral. ~€5

2. Museum Island:

In the middle of the Spree River there’s an island with many museums.

3. Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie is very tourist-y but worth a visit. The actual checkpoint is just a shack but still worth the walk.

4. Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)

This famous Berlin sight is on the doors of the U-Bahn (Subway), on the Euro, everywhere. Must see.

5. East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery is a long stretch of the Berlin Wall that is covered in urban-art pieces and is the entrance to the old East-Berlin. While you’re there, I recommend crossing the river to visit the popular burger joint “Burgermeister”.

 

Overall, Berlin remains one of my favorite spots to visit if you get the chance.