This blog post was updated on April 9, 2020.

Ever been traveling somewhere in Europe — maybe you’re at the Tower of Pisa or at the Eiffel Tower — and you just KNOW there are other Americans around? Yep, we’re loud. Some may even say other unflattering things about our traits as travelers, but there’s no denying it’s not too hard to spot the American in the crowd wherever you may roam around the world.

Europe is a popular jaunt for most Americans. It could be the historic and biological ties to the Old World, it could be the abundance of cheap flight deals, or it could just be that we love snapping more selfies in front of artistic European monuments for our social media accounts (probably the last reason). No matter why you travel, Europe can be quite a daunting challenge in terms of understanding cultural nuances and proper behavior across the whole continent. We’re talking dozens of countries that share borders and have some similarities, but who also have a lot more differences as well. However, using a bit of common sense travel etiquette can help you be a polite and well-liked traveler who can safely navigate its diverse cultures.

So blow off the bad rap as a loud, obnoxious, and entitled American traveler. Follow these simple steps and you’ll be welcomed with open arms and open minds wherever you are in Europe!

Two words: “Volume Control”

Two young girls in Parisian outdoor cafe, drinking coffee with croissant and chatting.

Yes, yes, we know not all of us sound like we’re using a megaphone while clinking glasses in a nice restaurant in Berlin, but it’s something that we should be very conscious of. And it doesn’t just matter when you’re dining. Often times, our loud voices can be heard echoing through the cathedrals, halls, and public spaces — and it just draws too much attention to ourselves. Just observe how other Europeans talk in cafes, restaurants, and bars and try to copy their volume level when you’re out and about.

Before you ask…

Americans love to get to the point. But in our love of straight shooting, we often shoot ourselves in the foot when communicating with Europeans. Whether it’s asking for help, inquiring where the restrooms are, or just checking on the prices of knick-knacks, it’s always good to start with an excusez-moi  or a con permesso so that your question comes off as polite and not obtrusive and rude.

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Greetings go a LONG way

A street food vendor selling pizza by slice outdoors

So you walk into the store and ask right away, “how much?” for this and “how much?” for that — it may save the store owner some time back home State-side, but you may be just being a little coarse for European standards. Take the time to pop in a little “Hiya, how you doing this morning?” if you walk into that shop in London, or a “¡Hola! ¿Qué tal?” when you go into that soccer souvenir store in Madrid. Breaking the ice in this way is something Europeans appreciate, and will go a long way in making sure you strike up a great conversation, that, who knows, might end up in some cost-saving tips or even an invite for a local event you didn’t even know about!

Don’t prod the produce

Back here in the US, when we usually visit a supermarket, or any market for that matter, when fresh fruits and veggies are on display, we play the diligent fruit/vegetable expert and go on to touch, squeeze, and sniff before we commit to buying. Well, when you’re in countries like Italy, Spain, and France, this is a definite no-no! Ask the vendor what you want and they will pick the best fruit or veggies that you need based on when you intend to eat them. In fact, they pride this act as being their job, so don’t get all hands-on with their goods! Doing so can even draw some serious verbal abuse. In some markets, you can actually ask politely if you can pick your own and you’ll be obliged with a small bag to do so, or in some larger supermarkets you may actually be provided with plastic gloves so you can examine the fruit before purchase.

Check, please!

young woman in pink dress and hat calling a waiter while drinking coffee in French vintage cafe

In most European restaurants, dining is an experience. You get your food served in an unhurried manner, you nibble away, sip on some wine, talk to your friends, and repeat. In this very laid-back atmosphere, servers will not interfere with your meal unless required. This also means you can’t expect to be given the check, as they would feel this is rude behavior that’s forcing you to hurry up and finish; you need to ask for the check once you’re done. It’s also interesting to note that, in places like Italy, even fancy restaurants will require you to pay at the front desk after your meal because the servers just don’t want to disturb you until you’re done.

Carry small change in the right currency

Cashiers across the continent will roll their eyes at Americans when they present a crisp 50 euro note for a bottle of water. Don’t be that guy or gal with bad travel etiquette! Just make sure you have some small change with you and you’ll be well received at checkout. It’s important to also know where the euro is preferred, and where it isn’t. Even among countries in the European Union, some countries still prefer to use their own money. Countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom all still use their own currencies. All it takes is a little bit of research to know if you’ll need more sterling pounds or Croatian kuna for your trip.

A tip about tipping

The waitress refuses to receive a tip from the client in the hotel bar.

In most cases, it’s just not necessary. European servers are well paid, and their earnings don’t rely as heavily on the generosity of customers as it does in the US. In a lot of European countries, there is a service charge that’s already included in the bill, so locals hardly see the need for a tip. If you are giving something for what you thought was exceptional service, then just make it in cash directly to the server. However, keep in mind that, in some places, an overly generous tip might even be considered a bit demeaning!

If you’re traveling through Europe, just don’t stand out as “THAT American” and ruin it for the rest of us. Follow these simple travel etiquette tips and you’ll soon be that guy/gal everyone wants to buy a drink for. Good luck and bon voyage!

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About The Author

Socialite, philanthropist, costumed crime fighter by wait...that's bad ... Musician, writer, travel junkie, dog lover, and database of useless information. I love to learn about new cultures, experience new cuisines, meet new people, and have a few laughs along the way!