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5 Ways I’ve Survived Living in Europe as an American

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

When going online, you can see a lot about people traveling to places throughout the world, each more beautiful than the next. You hear about gorgeous beaches, towering mountains, amazing food, and so much more, but things change when you hear from locals.

It appears locals, especially Europeans, have a lot to complain about when it comes to Americans traveling, studying, or living abroad. From talking too loudly, to not speaking a foreign language, or dressing casually are all crucial mistakes Americans make while abroad.

I’ve been living in London for the past three months, studying at FSU’s London Study Centre. I’ve been constantly nervous about coming off as an obnoxious American in the cities I have traveled to. Here are some things I’ve learned while living in Europe and some things to look out for while abroad.

No athleisure

As a college girl, athleisure is a way of life. It can be dressed up or down, worn to class or the gym, and is honestly just a comfortable option. Europeans prioritize fashion over function, and wearing casual or athletic clothing is an American trait.

As someone who likes to follow fashion trends and lives in a fashion-forward city, I adjusted well to wearing a nice pair of trousers and a turtleneck daily, but sometimes I just want to wear yoga pants.

I say wear what makes you comfortable, but be respectful of other countries’ cultures. For example, don’t wear a tank top in Rome; it’s considered disrespectful in many areas. Also note that wearing uniquely American clothing will put you at risk for scams and pickpockets, especially in a city like Paris.

Smiling on the street

You know when you’re walking down the street and run into someone, having to do the awkward shuffle of figuring out who’s going to go where? When that happens you usually share an awkward smile with that person, laughing at each other’s indecisiveness.

Well, they don’t do that in Europe, and people will simply stare at you and then walk away. This made me feel horrible about the situation when this first happened to me, feeling like I was the only one at fault. Even smiling at someone when accidentally making eye contact is frowned upon in Europe.

It appears smiling is a dead giveaway that someone is American, which is very strange to me as everyone should smile occasionally. I still smile at people in these encounters while in Europe, just maybe not in areas where I am trying to keep a low profile so as not to be a target of pickpocketing.

Foreign Languages

As Europe is home to so many different cultures, there are bound to be hundreds of languages and dialects housed on the continent. It’s impossible to speak every one of them fluently, but Americans are often called out for not trying at all.

It’s important to at least try to learn a few simple phrases in the language of the country you are visiting. You can do this to start a conversation and then ask if there is someone who can help who does speak English. Many cities, such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Prague, speak English almost as much as their native language, but many speak very little English at all, like Madrid.

It’s important to remember that you are a guest in another country, and you need to respect that country’s language and culture, so just try to learn a bit. People in Rome were very excited that I even attempted small bits of Italian, while people in Paris will roll their eyes at you if you even try to bring out your high school French skills.

Each country and city can be hit or miss with language, so just be patient and try to learn something new while you are there.

Volume control

This seems to be the biggest critique of Americans abroad that we talk too loudly. I don’t know how we came to talk loudly, but we do. You must often judge how loud to speak depending on the environment you are in, but in others, the entire culture is a bit quieter. The Dutch are very soft-spoken, while Brits are much rowdier. Do some reading up before your trip to gauge how loud you should be speaking so you don’t accidentally yell at the customs agent straight off the plane.

Political talk

It appears Europeans’ favorite source of entertainment is American politics, and they bring it up constantly. I can’t even count how many times I have been asked what political party I am a part of or who I’ll be voting for in November since arriving in Europe.

Asking or bringing up politics is a bit taboo in America, so it’s quite startling to be asked about it by a random stranger in Belgium. I try to fish out their political ideology before answering, and I only answer if that person is asking for genuine interest, not to start a fight. Do your research and know that all of Europe really hates one particular person in our politics (I think you can guess who).

These are just a few things in a long list of experiences I’ve had that made me realize how different the states are from the rest of the world. At the end of the day, we’re all human and we all want to learn about and experience new things. Travel is great; it’s just super important that it’s done safely and respectfully. Good luck, and have fun with any summer travel you may be planning!

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Michaela Galligan is a second-year student at Florida State University originally from Tampa, FL. She is studying political science and editing, writing, & media studies with a minor in communications and hopes to one day enter the field of political journalism and reporting. She is passionate about politics, football, music, traveling, and all things FSU.