The Not so Subtle Differences Between American and European Life

Culture shock is a phenomenon that happens to many travelers in countries around the world. We become accustomed to the way of life in our home country and it is easy to forget that there are so many other traditions and practices that others consider commonplace that we do not. I have been living in Ireland for about three weeks now and during that time I noticed quite a few things that are a normal way of life here that would not happen at home in America. Here are a few of the Irish ways that I have found to be the most interesting and shocking.

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1. Tipping Is Not Necessary

At home, it is understood that many working professionals expect a tip when providing you with a service. In Europe, this is not the case. Tips are typically reserved for exceptional service and would still only be a few Euro. Waiters, taxi drivers and bartenders all make their money from a paycheck and not the gratuity of their customers.

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2. Accurate Pricing

In America, if you run to the store to pick up a few items, by the time you get up to the register you have a rough idea of what your total should be, but never exact. We are used to hearing a higher total than the price of our items due to the tax. However in Europe, if you bring an item that costs five Euro to the register, all you will pay is five Euro. You always know how much you are spending and can much more easily provide exact change allowing for a quick transaction.

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3. Which way is right?

One of the most surprising occurrences I have experienced in Ireland has been simply walking around my campus or in the city. I took for granted that it was understood to stay to the right. Everywhere I go at home I walk on the right side of the sidewalk, go through the door on the right and take the stairs that are on the right. Very rarely does anyone in America not adhere to this unspoken rule. When I first arrived in Ireland I immediately started bumping into more people. At first, I thought it would be because they drive on the opposite side of the road so maybe they walk the same way. This was not the case. Everyone just walks where there is space and you have to make room for yourself to get where you need to go.

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4. There's No Need to Clean up After Yourself

Many places in America allow you to order and pick up food and then sit where you would like and return your dishes after. Many coffee shops have places to put your mug once you are done and a spot for any plates or silverware as well. Here, it is common to leave these types of establishments with all of your dishes on the table. By default, this feels as though I am being rude. However, multiple employees have told me to leave my things behind for them to clean up after departing. It is, however, a nice change from doing my own dishes all the time at home.

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5. Your Personal Bubble Will Be Popped

Typically, Americans will take the seat that allows them the most room and privacy. If there is space we will take it. That is not such a common practice in Europe. It is normal for a stranger to take a seat right next to you on the bus even if there are other seats open. People you do not know may join you at a table simply because that is where they want to sit. You will find yourself observing pieces in a museum with others right by your side. It definitely takes some adjusting to, but personal space is not as big of a deal as it is in America.