You’ve dreamed your whole life of traveling or living in Europe. Your tickets are booked, your bags are packed. You think you’re ready to go, but are you? If you want your trip to be as pleasant as you always dreamed of, just keep a few things in mind.
I know this might seem obvious to say, but Europe is completely different from anywhere you’ve ever been. It is full of history and old-world culture, and each country is as unique as the next. I thought I knew what Hungary was going to be like before I moved here three years ago, so I did very little research before I showed up. I was in for a world of surprises!
Trust me, guys, Europe is like nowhere else.
In my extreme culture shock of coming to Eastern Europe, every day yielded a discovery about how to live and who I was. Turns out I knew nothing at all. I went in there gung-ho, ready to take on the world. I ended my first day crying over a broken coffee cup, after buying sour cream instead of milk to put in my coffee. Here are some tips to adapt to an European way of living, so you don’t end up crying over spilt sour cream.
In the words of Guns ‘N’ Roses, all we need is a little patience. Life in Europe is much easier, more laid back. If the western hemisphere is coffee, then the eastern hemisphere is cappuccino and tea. The more pressure you put on something to get done, the longer it seems to take. We want things done before we’ve even said it, but it never happens. Here, meals are taken with ease, people linger at restaurants over drinks; go shopping for groceries near daily. The pace of life is more akin to that of the tortoise, as opposed to the hare-brained lives we live at home. Love it and enjoy it, because that is what they do.
Just keep asking
If you want things to get done faster, then put on your press hat, and start asking some questions. The bureaucracy here is no joke. Europeans are professionals at it – I wonder if they give red-tape courses at European universities? So if you need a residence permit, to sign an apartment contract, to register for school: ask what papers you need. Ask all the questions you can think of: when you need to turn it in by, if there is anything else you are missing, anyone else who needs to sign those papers. Get an email address, a telephone number, extension codes – as many connection points into the office as you can think of. It is the only way you will get things done in an efficient fashion. Otherwise, you might find yourself like me, going to the Immigration Office six or seven times! Ask, ask, and ask again.
Lower your expectations
If you have expectations, leave them with your liquids at security. If you have no expectations, you will never be disappointed. Luckily for me, I had such low expectations of Eastern Europe, I was always pleasantly surprised. I am not saying be cynical or pessimistic or assume everything will go wrong. On the contrary, it is only helpful to be positive or optimistic. But what is it that my grandmother always used to say? “Plan for the worst, and hope for the best”. Because it really does turn out amazingly well, over all. Every single day, I find something new about Europe to love. I love how loyal people are once you get to know them, the sense of humor, and how even big cities can have small-town appeal.
Tone it downI hate to break it to my fellow Yankees, but we have a reputation for being over-friendly in Europe. And that is not a good thing. So when you go, take a step back. Smile, but don’t go overboard. And don’t be offended if people don’t say hi back every time. It takes time for them to warm to you, no matter where in Europe you are. And don’t go around hugging people. Although it’s socially acceptable in America, hugging is regarded as extreme in Europe. Funnily enough, two-cheek kissing seems too personal to me, but I have a feeling that by the time I head back home, I’ll be kissing everyone.
Give it a go
The best piece of advice I can give you is go with a totally open mind. Make friends with locals. Try to learn the language. Even if speaking other languages is not your forte, they will appreciate the effort you’ve made to try. Not only that, but by knowing local people, you will really get a feel for the people, the culture, everything. To seasoned travellers, this might seem overly obvious. But you’d be surprised at the number of students in my program that – after six years – are not friends with a single local person, and don’t know a stitch of the language.
So grab your bags and get ready to go. Leave on your jet plane and hope to see you in Europe soon. Maybe we can sit and have a cappuccino. Promise there won’t be any sour cream in it.