There are many cultural differences you may encounter when travelling.
Most may be inconsequential. Some may cause you embarrassment or conflict.
It is wise to research the cultural differences that exist in whatever country you are visiting.
A few examples we encountered:
In Sorrento Italy, while standing in line to purchase fast ferry tickets to Capri, the couple in front of us asked for two tickets and handed the agent a 50 Euro note.
He rejected it saying he had no change. The couple handed the note back saying they had no smaller denomination. The agent again handed it back stating “I am not a bank”.
In Europe, many smaller businesses will refuse to make change on a larger denomination note. If the bill is 18 Euros, they expect a 20 Euro note for payment. Many will get upset if handed a 50 Euro note. Not a major travel issue, but one that can cause some stress while travelling.
Another example involved a restaurant near the Trevi Fountain. We were sitting eating our Pizza and Carbonara, and at the next table sat a woman and her son having a meal. While they were eating the woman’s daughter came by. She had purchased a cone of gelato at the business next door. She sat at the table near her mother and brother. The waiter came over and asked her to leave the table stating that she could not sit there because she had not purchased a meal from them. It was an embarrassing moment to be sure.
Again, not a major travel issue, but one to be aware of.
Also, public bathrooms in Europe are scarce. Many public bathrooms charge a small fee, which pays for the cleaning and sanitizing. I suggest using them whenever possible. The free public bathrooms can be unsanitary to say the least. In restaurants, most will insist that you are a paying customer before letting you use their restrooms.
There is even an iPhone app that tells you where the closest public restroom is. This can be a big issue when travelling in Europe,especially during the heat of summer when you will consume more water while walking around. If you see a public bathroom, use it. You never know when you will come across another.
Also, when visiting one of the fabulous restaurants all over Europe, don’t expect the waiter to run over with your check when you are finished. Europeans tend to linger over their meals, and it is considered rude to bring the check without being asked. So when you are done with your meal and are ready to leave, you have to ask the waiter to bring your check. And in Europe tipping is not the same as in the US. At most restaurants the gratuity is included. If it is not, do not add the customary 15 or 20 percent as in the USA. Adding a euro or two to the total will do. If the service was exceptional, then you can add more if you like. But it is not expected.
Speaking of restaurants, you will notice that most if not all restaurants have their menus posted outside near the entrance. You can see the meals and prices before you enter. Once inside and seated, it is expected that you will place an order. Review the menu carefully outside in order to determine if you actually want to sit and eat. Again, it is about avoiding stress during your travels.
So again, when planning a trip abroad, it’s a good idea to do some research on cultural differences that you need to be aware of. These are often overlooked, but can jump up and bite you at the most inopportune time.