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.

Boat on Berlin Lake

Slow down

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.

Paper pile

Lower your expectations

If you have expectations, leave them with your liquids at security.

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 down

I 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.

Looking for European cities to visit? Start here.

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Your thoughts on "Adapt to the European way of life"

  • I've visited Budapest and other parts of Hungary my self. I live right near the Hungarian border and speak bit of the language. For us, Europeans, everything looks and feels normal and may I tell you, Budapest is more laid back than Bucharest...and the pace is much slower in Budapest as well.

    on November 5, 2008 at 9:41 pm Reply
  • Sounds a little bit like living in Korea :) Interesting article.

    on November 5, 2008 at 10:24 pm Reply
  • Agreed. Here in America we seem to keep moving at a faster and faster pace. I remember from my trip to Europe last year, it was about living in the "now." Sloooowwww food. Wine. And lots of walking. Loved it. Dream of living there someday.

    on November 6, 2008 at 4:37 am Reply
  • one thing i never will get used to in europe: lack of service. sometimes a tip based job ain't so bad!!!

    on November 6, 2008 at 8:42 pm Reply
  • Hi Sasha, I just wanted to say welcome to Indie Travel Podcast, but everyone's beaten me to it with topical comments. Oh well! I've never managed to put sour cream in my coffee, but I have managed to "sweeten" Linda's coffee with salt before. Twice. Not one of my best days, I must admit.

    on November 6, 2008 at 2:51 pm Reply
  • Great tips. I've always had to curb my hugging in Asia, but didn't realize it was a no-no in Europe, too. I'll be sure to keep my hands to myself :-)

    on November 7, 2008 at 12:04 am Reply
  • Thank you for this post. I'll be sure to pass this on to my readers. I agree that it's always best to know the region you are traveling in as well as their customs and ways of living.

    on November 7, 2008 at 9:43 am Reply
  • Nothing beats patience, a sense of humour, a smile and a bit of tolerance and adaptability.

    on November 8, 2008 at 9:58 am Reply
  • Yes, indeed, knowing the language and deep connections with locals is essential for a deep immersion experience in Europe ( or probably any where else)! Many things are quite different than Hungary in our 15th century village in Spain where we have wintered for the last 3 years, but I enjoyed your take on expat life in Hungary. I think another key is to live in a small village, in the center of it, if you really want an authentic experience. If one lives like a local you will enjoy the adventure more and live much cheaper than in the US! Love the cities in Europe, but the rural areas and smaller villages have the charm and value. Excellent, cheap mass transit makes all the cities close & easy to explore. We are a family of 3 that have been traveling the world, mostly in Europe thus far and live large on 25K a year total expenses. That is something we never did in America! The quality of life is better in Europe in many ways, especially for families, so we found it only took us about a month to adjust & it was all easier than we expected. ( Including our daughter going to the local school or taking flamenco lessons). I do have a hard time NOT "double kissing" greeting anyone now! ;)

    on November 9, 2008 at 1:12 am Reply
    • nice love spain

      on January 10, 2012 at 9:11 pm Reply
  • @Cristina - Very true, it is entirely different from a native's perspective, and also very variable depending on where you are. If you think Budapest is more laid back, you should see Debrecen, where I live. For the second biggest city in Hungary, it is so calm. @LadyExpat - Thanks so much! I have never been to Korea, but now I am curious...Will be stopping by your site, soon! @Rachelle - Right there with you! You can still live there, if you want. I never thought I would be living in Europe, if you had asked me a few years ago. Now, I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. @Craig and Linda - Thanks! So glad to be part of the Indie Travel team. =) @Nomadic Matt - You know how much that can irk me, too! I've had actual waitresses roll their eyes at us when we walk into a restaurant. @Beth Whitman - I check myself in Asia, too - being from India myself, I know that is a NO-NO. I didn't know it was like that in Europe, too! But it seems like Europe has a Mason Dixon line - North Europe, no touching, and South Europe, too much. But everyone seems to have an issue with the hugging. It's all kisses here. @Jet Set Life - Thanks for that! Hope this helps someone not make the same mistakes I did when I first arrived. @Mark H - Absolutely! You're right on the money there. @Soultravelers3 - I would love to hear about your take, as well. Very true about the quality of life here as opposed to home, especially in Eastern Europe. Though some places like the UK, Norway, and Sweden will be much more expensive, we can really live well on less here. Ditto on the double kissing.

    on November 10, 2008 at 7:07 pm Reply
  • Excellent advice! Having lived in Europe (southern Italy) for five years, I wholeheartedly agree with your tips here, particularly on the importance of just relaxing and going with the flow. In other words, if you're the kind of person who wants everything done yesterday and sees no reason to change that about yourself, Europe just may not be the place for you; Europe isn't changing any time soon. And I'd also like to comment on Soultravelers3's point about small towns as I, too, live in a rural village; I've noticed that a lot of the stresses foreigners feel living in Europe seem to be lessened in a small town, perhaps because we get to know the people more and perhaps bureaucrats, etc., are more willing to help out. The flip side, of course, is that we miss out on a lot what cities can offer, but hey, we can always visit cities, right? *And* live much more frugally as well :)

    on November 12, 2008 at 3:50 pm Reply
  • Great tips and oh so true. Here in Italy, I've run into the same thing. I was shocked at first at how difficult it was to get some small insignificant thing done due to bureaucracy, but I'm used to it now and loving the slower pace.

    on November 12, 2008 at 4:09 pm Reply
  • Great advice! If you can bring yourself to linger, then you will have a great time in Europe!

    on November 13, 2008 at 1:19 am Reply
  • Hi people! That's really a very interesting article. Congratulations! It seems to me a great true! I've remembered the way of acting of one good American friend. I'm European. I like American people way!

    on August 18, 2009 at 11:54 pm Reply
  • Wonderful tips! I particularly loved this quote from your article: "If the western hemisphere is coffee, then the eastern hemisphere is cappuccino and tea." From your descriptions, Europe definitely seems to be much more laid-back than America-- and I believe that this can definitely be a good thing, especially if you know what to expect. Great article!

    on May 25, 2015 at 8:55 pm Reply

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