Living like a local in Europe
Getting the chance to live in Europe is something many people only dream of. But once you are here and begin to settle into a routine, you will quickly notice there are many differences from life in America. Adjusting to these differences and learning to live like a local will improve your European experience and help you feel at home.
Home sweet home
Now that you’ve settled into your new home, you probably noticed some things missing, like central air conditioning and heating and window screens. Most of the year, air conditioning isn’t needed, but you can find portable air conditioners online or at an AAFES Exchange. You can also buy removable screen film to apply to your windows, or even make your own full screens with supplies from the local hardware store. But check with your landlord before starting any home improvement projects.
Recycling is a huge part of life in Europe; failure to do so can result in fines ranging from 25 to 600+ euros. In parts of England you can expect on-the-spot fines of 110 pounds. Recycling requirements vary by country and by town, so check with the housing office or your local town hall. When in doubt, ask your host nation neighbors and watch to see which bins or bags they set out for pick-up.
You know what they say: yard work is something nobody notices until it’s not getting done. Your European neighbors have no problem telling you that your yard isn’t up to snuff and may give you dirty looks if you don’t keep clean windows, cleared street gutters and a manicured lawn. And you are legally obligated to keep the sidewalk around your property clear of snow and ice in some countries. Be careful of your yard work habits, however. Each country in Europe has its own quiet hours, and mowing your lawn or using the weed-eater during quiet time is illegal.
Quiet hours extend to other habits, too. Barking dogs are frowned upon. Noisy children playing in the yard or loud music should be avoided after 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. in Germany or 7 a.m. in Italy. England’s quiet hours are from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Additionally, quiet hours during the day are from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Germany and extend until 4 p.m. in Italy, and don’t forget that Sunday is for quiet activities like reading or playing a board game; no yard work or manual labor outside is permitted. It may take a while to adjust, but quiet time gives you the opportunity to recharge your batteries by relaxing and spending quality time with your family.
Did you notice that your refrigerator resembles the mini-bar in your last hotel room? This is because the Europeans shop several days a week, buying only what they need for the next few meals. Look at it as an opportunity to eat fresher foods and waste less, a healthier and wallet-friendly habit.
When shopping, carry local currency as many smaller markets do not take credit cards. If you live in Germany, check with your bank about the new “giro card.” It works the same as the German EC card and is very convenient. Also, keep spare change handy because shopping carts may require a deposit which you will receive back upon the cart’s return. Most markets charge for grocery bags, so bring a cloth sack or recycled plastic bags from the commissary.
Don’t be afraid to shop on the economy; it is a great way to sample local favorites, amazing cheeses and eggs so fresh you may find feathers in the carton (really!). The produce looks too good to eat, and the breads are heavenly. The wine selection is huge, and don’t be surprised at the prices – in the United States, a $2-bottle of wine is not acceptable for consumption, yet a 2-euro bottle of European wine can be incredible! Beautiful fresh produce, exceptional wine and specialty cheeses, sauces and jams can also be purchased at local farmers’ markets and festivals, so don’t miss out on these shopping opportunities!
Cuisine in Europe is amazing, so don’t be intimidated by the menu. Many restaurants near installations have English cards, but even if they don’t, familiar words can provide clues. Bring along a dictionary or your smartphone to translate or be adventurous and just pick something!
Europeans enjoy leisurely meals, and everything is prepared fresh, so expect dinner to take longer than an hour. Servers will stop by your table infrequently to avoid interrupting you and your dining companions. To signal that you are ready to order, close your menus, and if you need something, make eye contact with the server. You will usually need to ask for the check, so learn that phrase in the local language.
Tipping is different in Europe and varies by country. In Germany, a good rule of thumb is 1 euro for every 20 euros, given directly to the server. Giving a 10-percent tip for good service is the norm in Italy, and the percentage is lower in Spain but higher in England. For more information about tipping, visit Rick Steves.
The most important tip for eating out is to enjoy the experience! Try dishes that you’ve only dreamed of, and enjoy the conversation and people-watching opportunity. Relax, savor your food and order another glass of wine.
Your experience in Europe is what you make of it. Get off base – see a castle, eat a fabulous meal or go to a fest. Make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You’ll be glad you did.