When you’ve traveled for a while, you know that every country (and sometimes even specific cities) has its own set of social and cultural norms. A smart traveler will try to stick to these norms, perhaps so as not to stand out, or to at least appear respectful of the place they’re visiting.
But if you haven’t traveled much and are just sticking your toes in the water, you might not know all the things that could make you look like a disrespectful jerk, or that just could cost you a whole lot of money that you don’t necessarily have to spend.
With that in mind, someone on Reddit recently asked, “What should people avoid when traveling to Europe?” (Note: A handful of replies have adult language) Some of the answers were right on track and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I was even guilty of some of them on our first trip to England and France in the mid-90s.
There were thousands of replies; here are some of the most helpful (a few replied edited for brevity, clarity or adult language):
- Avoid any restaurant that tries to strong arm you into entering. — Kanguin
- (In reply to above) “come come sit down” as they shove a menu in your face, fast talking, usually offering a free drink/entree/dessert, basically trying to get you to feel bad about turning them down. — AutomaticMistake
- Another thing which primarily applies for Giethoorn, but also any place in general. STAY OUT OF PEOPLE’S YARDS. For those who don’t know, Giethoorn is a small village where instead of streets there are canals. It is quite the tourist attraction where they can rent boats to travel through the canals. However, some people fail to comprehend that it’s still an actual village and people live in the houses. It has occured on multiple instances that tourists walked into the gardens of residents to take pictures. — ThePotatoSauce
- Bringing too much s**t. You have to schlep everything on the train and through the city. And no one in the city is going to care that you wore the same pants everyday cus you will literally never see them again — Diegobyte
- I’ve seen it in Paris, France, Barcelona, Florence…any popular tourist destination is going to have pickpockets. These scams vary, and you should read about them before you go so you’re aware. Some of the ones I’ve seen:
— People in costumes (mostly Roman centurions) will accost you for pictures with them, and demand an absurd amount of money for the pictures.
— People will shove an object or a flower into your hands and then demand money. You may have to very aggressively say “no”
— Someone will approach you with a map and ask for directions (their accomplice is behind you while you’re distracted, and helping themselves to your stuff)
— Someone will lay out paintings on the ground near monuments like cathedrals, and when you inevitably step on one (because you’re looking up at the Duomo, not at the ground) they’ll demand an absurd amount of money for the painting you just stepped on.
Basically, you just have to understand that if you’re a tourist in a city, no one is going to have a good reason to talk to you. No one needs directions from you, no one needs a petition signature from you, anyone trying to stop and talk to you in a major tourist destination is likely a scam.
If you do get into a situation where someone is demanding money from you (maybe you stepped on a painting or took that ill advised picture with the Centurion) just say, “Okay, let’s go find a police officer and I will pay you in front of the police officer.” That usually gets them to back down quickly.
You may have to be aggressive about not letting people touch you or put something on you. My husband had to yank his arm away from someone trying to tie a bracelet on him outside of Castel Sant’Angelo. I had to quickly move away from someone shoving a rose in my lap on the Spanish Steps.
And also, watch your stuff. Don’t absentmindedly sling your purse over the back of a chair. Don’t leave your phone on the ground next to you while you have a picnic on the Seine. I have a black purse by PacSafe that has some anti-theft features, like a lock so I can lock it to a chair at a cafe and a lock on the zipper so it can’t be easily zipped open. Sure, a determined person could break into purse, but it’s all about not being an easy target – it’s enough of a deterrent that if someone does try to help themselves to the contents of my purse, it’ll be too much trouble and they’ll go pick someone else.
That being said, don’t let the fear of being pickpocketed deter you from travelling! Rick Steves has a story about a family that had their passports and thousands of dollars stolen from them immediately upon arrival in Amsterdam, and they still had an amazing trip. Just be aware, and have a plan in case the worst happens. — evilcaribou
- To avoid, letting the taxi know you don’t know where you are or where you are going, the bad ones will drive you in circles and run the tab up. — Spirited_Tadpole_508
- Don’t assume that everything will be open during the hours you’d expect in your home country–this is true no matter where you’re going. It varies by country and region, but in my experience, grocery stores, banks, post offices, etc., had much more restricted hours than they do in the US. In the US, it’s rare for a grocery store to close before 9 PM, if it’s not open 24 hours. In Europe, it’s normal for grocery stores to close quite early, and for things to be closed on weekends, though this varies by country.
Also, mind your manners. In America, you can often skip over the formalities without being seen as rude. In Europe, this is much harder. Be more direct about what you want, and more polite about requesting it. Part of what perpetuates the unfortunate “rude American” stereotype is that Americans tend to find European manners blunt, and Europeans tend to find American manners invasive. — frisky_husky
- Restaurants in touristy areas that have signs out front with pictures of the meals and the price featured prominently. — apfsmith
- Should be obvious, but I‘ll say it anyway: don’t do the „Hitler salute“ while in Germany. Not even as a joke – it’s illegal. And: Holocaust denial is illegal in 18 European countries. — plueschlieselchan
- Do not, for the love of god, wear stilettos in Germany. You will slip and fall down in front of 100 people including children who will point and laugh at you as you wobble away on the cobblestone with quivering ankles — gigibigbooty
- Be respectful to memorial places. Don’t come to the idea to make selfies or similar.
Inform yourself about the traditions of the country. In some countries, you can openly make smalltalk with strangers, while in another one, you do have to approach them like a wild animal. — ES-Flinter
- Don’t f**k around with the royal guards in London — Bout3Fidy
- If you’re from the US don’t sign up for the BS $10 per day international service with Verizon or other service providers. Nearly any airport you arrive in will have a place where you can buy an sim card to put in your phone at fraction of the price. For instance, I once got a sim card in Seville, Spain for something like 12 Euros and it came with a month of service and 9 GB of data. — wcruse92
- Avoid speaking without exchanging greetings first (in France at least) and not responding in kind when someone greets you. In other words, exchange bon jours before you ask where the toilet is.
Avoid letting your kids act like monsters in public–in restaurants, in particular.
Avoid rushing through meals (unless your kids are acting like monsters). — __Pers
- It really, really, REALLY depends on which part of Europe you are talking about. For example, Finland and Italy are very different places with different social cultures. Heck, there are differences even inside a country!
Some tips in Finland, capital area especially:
— Never sit right next to a stranger unless the bus is super cramped or something. Otherwise, you’ll be regarded as a creep. Also don’t walk or stand too close to people if there is space. Finnish bus stops are actually a bit funny with how people spread horizontally as far away as possible while still being at the proximity of the bus stop.
— Don’t speak loudly in public spaces, only if you really have to. Otherwise, again, you’re a creep. (This is more a city thing.)
— Don’t interrupt other people (unless, again, you have to, or the other personis REALLY rambling on and you have limited time to speak). This is actually a significant difference between Finns and aforementioned Italians: interrupting or more like “elbowing” in conversations in Italy is normal “traffic rule” and implies active engagement and listening (assuming that both parties are “elbowing”), while interrupting in Finland implies that you aren’t valuing what the other person is telling. (Source: I’m a Finn that worked a bit with Italians, I kinda needed to learn new “traffic rules” with them, it went fine after that!)
— Don’t take schedules lightly. A Finn says 2 PM? They MEAN 2 PM sharp. — AavaMeri_247
- As an American who did this foolishly: American chain restaurants. You flew 5,000 miles across an ocean, don’t waste your time eating American food you could have gotten in Ohio. Don’t just try the “local” stuff, go out of your way to find small mom and pop restaurants that the actual residents prefer. — Ut_Prosim
- Insinuating that Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland – and possibly some parts of Cornwall are in England. Doesn’t go down too well. — Peg_leg_J
- Taking a s**t somewhere without buying something. — Dennis_enzo
- Staying in major / capital cities the whole vacation. You will only see a small part of culture there. Try travelling to some smaller cities or even village. — nepnop
- Complaining that something isn’t how it is in the US (or whatever your home country is) — mkg4169
- If you’re a woman going to Italy, you should know it’s more conservative than you think. You can’t enter holy places and churches with bare arms or knees showing, and that’s more places than you would expect (like the Colosseum and the Pantheon). Even in the height of blistering summer, bring something for your shoulders or a light poncho cover up. — Beth_Harmons_Bulova
- Americans: do not look left first when you try to cross a street in the UK as you do in the US. Learn to look right before crossing a street as that is the direction the vehicle that will hit you is coming from. — Callmeoneofakind
- Dressing “patriotic”. I saw a lad in the West of Ireland in a shirt with a big screaming eagle on it and a wall of text on the back like “this is AMERICA, we salute the FLAG, we pray to GOD, we speak ENGLISH… and if you don’t like it I’ll help you pack!” He was in a Gaeltacht at the time, one of the few surviving areas were the Irish language is the default. — SeriouslySuspect
- Don’t make small talk, especially in northern countries. It’s not part of our cultures and it’s freaking us out big time. We’re not rude, we’re just minding our business, be respectful — abfukson
- Asking for ice. Unless you want a French waiter looking at you like you took a s**t on the table. Actually, go ahead and s**t on the table. It’s better than asking for ice. — StopBigHippoPropgnda
- If you’re gay or lesbian don’t walk hand in hand or show affection to each other in Amsterdam, especially at night.
Even though it’s the gay capital off the world a lot of tolerance is gone (in many major cities in Europe actually).
Wished it was different 🙁 — micave
- Going to capitol or big cities and then complain about immigrants and other foreign people being there. I once watched an American travel blogger making a 30 minute rant about the lack of german culture in Frankfurt and there being to many non germans and tourists. — alkair20
- When arriving in Iceland on your way to France and going through customs, don’t answer the question “What is your destination?” with “Europe”. Also when they tell you “Sir you are in Europe”, don’t answer with “Real Europe”. I travel abroad about once a year and this is the only time that I have been “the dumb American” (to the best of my knowledge anyway) and I cringe every time I think of this. — dvrooster
- Welcome to the Netherlands, we hope you enjoy your stay!
Please DO NOT walk on the bicycle lane! If you’re walking on asphalt or pavers that are painted a purple-ish red, you’re on it, and you’re on your own.
Please DO NOT get close to the edge of the canal if you’re inebriated! Every year several tourists get drunk or high, get too close and fall in, and drown. The bodies are sometimes found in parts due to a boat propellor.
Please DO NOT smoke weed in public! We’re quite liberal when it comes to drugs, but no one apart from you enjoys that distinct smell when they’re trying to do some shopping.
Please DO tip your waiter if you think they provided good service! We don’t have tipping culture the way they do in the US, but occasionally your waiter will go above and beyond, it’s nice to have that reciprocated. — SupahSang
- Don’t order an Irish Car Bomb in Ireland. Watched a guy do it right in front of me and it did not go down well. — SrupsOG
- Learn Hello, Goodybe, Please, and Thank You in the local language and always say hello when entering small establishments and always say goodbye — XxDiCaprioxX
- Avoid forgetting that you are a guest in someone else’s home. A large reason why a lot of tourists, Americans in particular, get such a bad rep abroad is that we show up demanding that everyone serve our needs and see to our comforts. These towns and cities are opening their doors to you, to share their history and food and culture, and you need to respect that fact.
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When in France or Italy where the morning is a ‘Continental Breakfast’ (ie toast or roll with coffee/tea only). Do not go into places and ask for an American Breakfast or for eggs. In Cinque Terre I saw several signs in store windows which read: “We do not serve eggs. When in our country, eat our food.”